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Nats 2012 Minor League Rotations: Guesses and Results

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Yunesky Maya led the Nats minor league starters for the 2nd straight summer. Photo Jim McGregor/Syracuse Chiefs via milb.com

I stumbled across this post, titled “Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012,” posted March 1st 2012, while looking for something else last week.  And I thought to myself, hey now that I’ve finished the reviews of the minor league teams, lets see how I did predicting the rotations at the beginning of the season!   I’ve also culled through the post-2011 season review posts for some preliminary guesses at the time.

(Note: I linked to NationalsProspects.com Luke Erickson‘s guesses in the above link for another perspective in the 2012 spring training).

Players are bolded the first time they’re mentioned, but not afterwards.

AAA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Maya, Milone, Stammen, Meyers, Peacock, Martis
  • Mar 12 Guess: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann
  • Opening Day Rotation: Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Maya, Roark, Duke, Lannan, Atkins

What happened?  My prediction was way, way off; only Maya was the constant, but we knew that the second he proved he couldn’t get out MLB hitters last fall.  The team traded two of its probable AAA starters (Peacock and Milone), lost a third to the Rule-5 draft (Meyers, who honestly we probably will get back once the Yankees are done screwing around with him) and a 4th to Minor League Free Agency (Martis).  Meanwhile, who knew that Lannan wasn’t going to make the MLB opening day roster?  Then, the team released Buschmann before he appeared in a game (he played 2012 in the Tampa Bay organization).  Ballard was a starter, just not in AAA.  Stammen, in a surprise to me, made the conversion from AAA starter in 2011 to MLB bullpen guy and had a great  year.  Lastly, instead of using more internal options like Roark the team signed two MLFAs in Duke and Atkins.  I suppose I could have guessed that the team would go with Roark before Arneson as a starter (given Arneson’s rubber-armed handling in 2011).  It just goes to show how much the creation of AAA teams has changed over the years.

AA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Rosenbaum, BronsonDemny, Olbrychowski,  Solis
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Olbrychowski, Gilliam
  • Opening Day Rotation: Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Rosenbaum, Demny, Gilliam, Perry, Ballard/Pucetas

We were a bit closer here, getting 3 of the 5 guesses right.  Sammy Solis would absolutely have been in this rotation if not for his Tommy John surgery; we’ll cross our fingers for him to return in 2013.  When Solis went out, org-arm Mandel filled in.  Evan Bronson is still with the organization on Milb.com but never threw an inning in 2012 and isn’t on the Big Board.  I can’t find a single bit of google information indicating if he’s still with the team or not.  Weird.  Meanwhile I had just guessed too high for Olbrychowski; he spent most of 2012 as a starter in Potomac.  Nobody could have guessed that we’d have traded Balester for Perry, that Perry would have stunk as a reliever, and then would show up in AA remaking himself as a starter.  Ballard and Pucetas were MLFA pickups designed to fill holes in the system, though based on his prior experience I had Ballard pegged in the AAA rotation.

High-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill, Karns
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill
  • Opening Day Rotation: Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Grace, Ray, Swynenberg, Olbrychowski, Karns

I was far off here as well; Purke got hurt, Meyer, Hill and Karns started lower than I would have guessed  and Selik was converted to a reliever.  I was right only on Grace (thought technically I thought Olbrychowski would be a starter, just not back in Potomac).  Winters was a MLFA (the fifth such MLFA who has appeared as a primary starter in our top three levels; is this a statement of some sort?).  As we’ll see in a moment, I was right about Hansen, just wrong about the level.  Lastly Swynenberg came out of nowhere; he was effective in middle-relief in low-A; who knew he’d win a spot in the high-A rotation?  I thought Ray would have done a few turns in low-A; instead he debuted in Potomac and struggled to make the jump.  I lost faith in Karns between September 2011 and March 2012; as it turned out he was one of the 5 top starters (in terms of appearances) for the year while putting in a career season.

Low-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Hansen, Jordan, Cole, Ray, Estevez, McGeary
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns
  • Opening Day Rotation: Estevez, Dupra/Karns, Meyer, Turnbull/Hill, McKenzie
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Hill, Meyer, Turnbull, Estevez, Hansen

What happened?  The team traded Cole.  Jordan was injured more than we were led to believe in late 2011 (he had Tommy John surgery after the season was over).   I predicted Hansen, Ray, Hill, Estevez, Meyers and Dupra would be starters, just got the levels wrong.   My Mar 12 guesses were somewhat accurate in that we got Turnbull and Karns right.  McGeary struggled through yet another injury filled season and may be nearing the end of his baseball career.  I thought Estevez was getting squeezed out with all these high-profile starters rising up.  I figured McKenzie had lost his starting shot; clearly his performance in 2012 should end his chances at getting another 2013 starting shot.  I guess the lesson here is that it can be awful difficult to determine the difference between a High-, Low- and Short-A guy.

Short-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks.
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Jordan/Medina, Baez, Monar, Encarnation, and Smith
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Encarnation, Monar, Lee, Mooneyham, Fischer/Pineyro

My guess of 3 returners and 2 draft picks wasn’t entirely accurate; there wasn’t a single 2012 draft pick in the 2012 opening day rotation.  We got Baez pegged correctly but the rest of the predictions were off.  Manny Rodriguez, a converted infielder, spent the whole year on the 60-day DL.  Dupra was in high-A.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys dropping down from Low-A (Jordan, Encarnation) comprised the rotation at the beginning of the season.  Monar was a repeater from 2011 who didn’t get a ton of innings last  year.  Eventually some 2012 draftees (Mooneyham, Fischer and others) got starts as expected, and helped drive Auburn to the playoffs.

GCL:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Mieses, King, Encarnation, Medina, Marcelino
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Mieses, Barrientos, Pineyro, Vasquez, and Schwarz
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Vasquez, Mieses, Hudgins, Selsor, Pineyro/Schwartz

Finally we got one right (well, right from Mar 12 guess anyway).  The GCL rotation was Mieses, 3 DSL graduates and one 2012 draftee.  Eventually more 2012 draftees (Hudgins, Selsor and others) consumed most of the rest of the starts.  King disappeared from the rosters; he’s still in the organization but was never assigned this season.  Injured?  Disciplinary issues?   There seems to be so much inconsistency in the DSL graduates that it almost isn’t worth tracking them until they appear in a higher level.  Honestly, this is why I don’t really follow the Dominican Summer League teams either.

Phew; that’s a lot of Nats minor league starters.  As it showed, its really, really difficult to predict this stuff from a computer in Northern Virginia, scouting the stat lines.  But its really fun, so we’ll continue to do it :-) .

Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012

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Solis’ TJ surgery news thins our already-too-thin starting pitching minor league depth. Photo via Natsinsider blog/Mark Zuckerman

With Spring Training in full swing, most of the focus is on the Nationals 25-man roster and who may or may not make it.  Even with the additions to the major league roster, our minor league starter development is still incredibly important to this team for the long run.  Despite having Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez each locked up for many years (roughly, 2016, 2016 and 2018 respectively with options exercised), the rest of the rotation is not exactly set in stone for the long run.  Wang and Jackson are on one-year FA contracts and Lannan doesn’t seem a lock to be tendered this coming off season (where he’ll face arbitration for the third time and, if he stays here and puts in 30 starts, could be in line for something close to $8M in 2013).  That is, if Lannan is still even with the team in a year’s time (he seems surplus to requirements right now and may be a trade candidate).

Even more importantly, three key starters in our farm system went the other way for Gonzalez.  Our 2012 AAA starter safety net of Milone and Peacock is now set to be the 4th and 5th starter in Oakland, and our most electric younger arm (Cole) is now one of Billy Beane‘s best prospects.

That being said, lets talk about what the 2012 minor league rotations may look like, and where interest may lie with up and coming arms.  Experienced readers will note that, by and large, I only focus on minor league starters.  That is because, for the very large part, that pitchers rise up in the minors as starters and only get converted to be relievers upon failing as starters.  If you look at our current bullpen; Clippard, Rodriguez, Burnett, Gorzelanny, Detwiler and Lidge are all former starters, converted to being relievers either because of poor performance or for physical reasons.  Only Storen has grown up entirely as a reliever.  Therefore, the odds of a guy who is already pitching in relief in the lower minors rising up to be a part of the MLB bullpen is relatively slim.  Loogies?  Another matter, but still a difficult path (just ask someone like Josh Smoker).  Therefore, I tend to focus on Starters with occasional lip service given to closers per level and other relievers who are pitching their way into promotions.

Luke Erickson has posted some predictions (for AAA, AA, high-A and low-A), I put in an updated guess on Syracuse’s rotation post Gonzalez trade, and I had a series of posts at the end of last season wrapping up each level with predictions for 2012.  From all those posts, here’s my preliminary guesses on the rotations for the minor league rotations:

  • AAA: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Erickson’s guesses of Atkins and Hernandez though replacing the last two; I’m guessing there’s going to be a wide-open competition for this rotation in this year’s spring training.  And, I specifically did not include John Lannan here; I just cannot believe the team is going to stick him in Syracuse by virtue of his option after signing on to pay him $5M.

First man promoted: I’d guess Stammen, who did have some successes in last year’s call-up, but it’ll take a swine-flu epidemic in the Nationals clubhouse for him to get called up to make some starts.  The MLB staff looks to have two former starters in their bullpen who will get the ball before Stammen gets a shot in 2012, and that doesn’t include the Wang/Lannan 5th starter conundrum.

First man demoted to the bullpen: Arneson; he’s bounced our system around like a pinball lately, and the team seems to use him as a multi-level handy-man instead of a starter prospect.

  • AA: Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Gilliam, Olbrychowski

This list did have Sammy Solis until his TJ surgery was announced, and I put in Olbrychowski, who was halfway decent in a bunch of 2nd half starts in 2011.  I do think Roark is done being a starter in this system but I could be wrong.  Gilliam was the little-known make-weight player in the Gonzalez trade and I think he makes it to the Harrisburg roster.

First man promoted: Danny Rosenbaum, who aced Potomac last year and has the same make up as Lannan.  But, unfortunately there’s no top-10 stars on this list that could make an immediate impact.

First man demoted to the bullpen: Obrychowski, who started 2011 in the pen and may be on a short leash if someone in Potomac lights it up.

  • High-A: Purke, Meyer, Selik, Grace, Hill

I think Purke is advanced enough to start here, as is Meyer.  Of course, I also think Purke’s injury history could work against him and he ends up in extended spring for a bit.  Either way, I think both would be poorly served by sticking them in Low-A.  They’re both first round talents and need to be going against older, more advanced hitters right now.  This rotation is the future for the Nats; if they can’t find a 2014 starter out of this group, then we’ll be spending a ton in the FA pitching market for years to come.  This rotation is hurt by the loss of Taylor Jordan, who will be out the entirety of 2012 with TJ surgery after pitching very effectively for the first half of 2011 for Hagerstown.  Hill is the name i’m least confident in, only putting him here by virtue of his being a senior draftee in 2011, thus he’d be at least 3 years too old for low-A this year.

First man promoted: Cameron Selik; the phenom from 2011′s Hagerstown staff already has a ton of Potomac experience and could move up soon.  Despite their promise, I think both Purke and Meyers will be in Potomac for at least a half a season to get their professional legs.

First man demoted to the bullpen: Grace: he wasn’t entirely convincing as a starter in low-A, but his numbers were skewed by one or two really bad outings.

  • Low-A: Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns?

Maybe the 5th would be Karns, who if healthy could be a quick riser after so many injuries have derailed what was a promising young arm.  I think Ray starts here again with the idea of quickly promoting him, despite his success here last year.  He’s still young.  Of course, I could also see Ray and Hill switching places between low- and high-A.

First man promoted:  Robbie Ray: he out pitched AJ Cole last year without any of the Baseball America top 100 love.  I think he’s the next in a long line of lower velocity but higher result lefty starters that the system has been developing (see Lannan, Detwiler to a certain extent, Solis, Rosenbaum and McGeary for comps).

First man demoted to the bullpen: Karns, if he’s here.  I’m guessing Karns has this season to show that he continues to be a starter prospect, with a back-of-the-bullpen job waiting if he can’t show he’s durable enough to go 6 innings every 5 days.

  • Short-A: MRodriguez, Dupra, Baez and 2 draft picks.
  • GCL: Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.

There’s almost no point of trying to predict the short season rotations, but I do believe that the names listed here aren’t going to make the Low-A roster but are still worth keeping as starters in extended spring.  We had almost no starter talent in the GCL last season, with only Mieses making enough of an impression to keep him in that role.

Lastly, Taylor Jordan and Sammy Solis start the year on the DL, unfortunately, both with Tommy John surgery.  They would have both been prominent members of their rotations after great seasons last year, and their injuries further thin our starting pitching depth post Gonzalez trade.

Who is going to start for Syracuse in 2012?

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Craig Stammen looks set to lead a potentially weak 2012 AAA rotation. Photo unknown via sabermetrics.com

We all know who went the other way in the Gio Gonzalez trade; A significant portion of our starter depth, especially at or near the majors.  Both Tommy Milone and Brad Peacock got a few starts in September last year, and both fared relatively well (albeit against somewhat weakened or dis-interested opponents).

Prior to the Gonzalez signing, one would have thought that the MLB 2012 rotation was mostly set, with Ross Detwiler taking the 5th spot over Milone and Peacock by virtue of his (lack of) options status.  That would have left both these younger starters in AAA waiting for their opportunity.  With them now in Oakland’s organization … who is going to start for Syracuse in 2012?  Who represents our starter depth in case someone gets hurt?

At the end of the 2011 season, if one had to guess Syracuse’s 2012 rotation you would have probably guessed it to be Milone, Peacock, Brad Meyers, Craig Stammen and Yuniesky Maya.  This would essentially be the same rotation Syracuse ended their regular season with (replacing spot starter JD Martin with Milone, who by that point had departed for the majors).  Now consider this same group:

  • Milone: traded to Oakland
  • Peacock: traded to Oakland
  • Meyers: picked up by New York in the rule 5 draft
  • Martin: signed a minor league FA deal with Miami

Only Stammen and Maya now remain, and frankly I’m not sure who else the team is going to get to start in Syracuse in 2012.  Here’s a list of every one who made starts in 2011 at Syracuse: Red means they’re no longer with the organization, Blue means they were making re-hab starts or were starts by guys who are out of options for 2012 and aren’t appearing in Syracuse:

Name W L ERA whip G GS
Tom Milone 12 6 3.22 1.03 24 24
Craig Stammen 10 7 4.75 1.43 25 24
Yuniesky Maya 4 9 5 1.24 22 22
Brad Meyers 6 5 3.48 1.31 17 16
Ross Detwiler 6 6 4.53 1.49 16 16
J.D. Martin 3 7 3.93 1.13 30 14
Brad Peacock 5 1 3.19 1.25 9 9
Garrett Mock 0 3 6.28 1.67 16 4
Erik Arnesen 0 2 3.57 1.42 3 3
Ryan Tatusko 3 4 4.54 1.79 23 2
Chad Gaudin 0 2 4.38 1.62 6 2
Chien-Ming Wang 0 1 6.75 1.59 2 2
Stephen Strasburg 0 0 1.8 0.4 1 1
Tom Gorzelanny 0 1 9 1.5 1 1

So, by category of starts:

  • 69 were made by players no longer with Washington (including Rule-5 draftee Meyers, who may very well be returned but for now is a New York Yankee)
  • 20 were made by Detwiler and other MLBers on re-hab assignments.
  • the remaining 51 games made by guys who may or may not feature in 2012.

That’s 63% of your AAA starts made by guys who won’t be making any 2012 AAA starts for this organization.

Well, you may say, perhaps we should just be expecting all those AA pitchers from 2011 to be rising up.  Except that our AA rotation was filled with reclamation projects and minor league free agents in 2011.  Here’s a comparable look at those who made AA starts for the franchise in 2011 (again, with red and blue indicating the same as above):

Name W L ERA whip G GS
Shairon Martis 8 6 3.05 1.22 23 23
Tanner Roark 9 9 4.69 1.4 21 21
Erik Davis 5 7 4.79 1.61 19 18
Erik Arnesen 8 4 2.43 1.1 26 16
Oliver Perez 3 5 3.09 1.39 16 15
Brad Peacock 10 2 2.01 0.86 16 14
Ryan Tatusko 2 4 5.94 1.83 12 9
Daniel Rosenbaum 3 1 2.29 0.97 6 6
Brad Meyers 3 2 2.48 0.96 6 6
Jimmy Barthmaier 5 3 5.05 1.55 39 2
Carlos Martinez 3 4 5.34 1.42 32 2
Chien-Ming Wang 2 0 0 0.73 2 2
Garrett Mock 0 1 13.5 2.05 2 2
Luis Atilano 0 1 13.5 2.5 2 2
Stephen Strasburg 1 0 0 0.17 1 1
Evan Bronson 0 0 2.25 1.75 1 1
Henry Rodriguez 0 0 0 0.75 3 1
Doug Slaten 0 0 0 1 1 1

AA Start Summary:

  • 67 were made by players no longer with Washington (including all minor league Free Agents for the time being, even though some may re-sign eventually)
  • 4 were re-hab assignments by current MLBers.
  • the remaining 71 games made by guys who may or may not feature in 2012.  This includes a few starts by Arneson

That’s 50% of your AA starts made by guys no longer with the organization or re-hab starts.  Arneson pitched well enough, but he’s no prospect; he’s 28 and starting his 6th minor league year.  Roark and Tatusko both struggled in 2011 and seem destined for the bullpen.  Davis was demoted, Bronson only called up for a spot AA start, and Rosenbaum pitched well in 6 late season starts but needs more AA seasoning.  So not a lot of help coming up from Harrisburg.

Luckily, the Nats have been adding minor league free agent signings left and right, guys who probably will feature.  By my notes, here’s the arms we’ve added so far this off season:

  • Matthew Buschmann, rhp: taken in the rule5 draft (AA phase) from San Diego, he was reasonably successful in 2011 in the AA Texas league before getting pounded in 20 appearances (15 starts) in AAA.  By virtue of his rule-5 drafting, he’s pretty much guaranteed to be on the AAA roster in some capacity.  He is a starter; will be be one of Syracuse’s starters?
  • Joaquin Waldis, rhp, signed to a 1yr ML FA (former club: San Francisco) with an invite to Spring Training.  He was a reliever all of 2011 and was most likely signed to provide some depth in the middle relief phase.  Not a starter option.
  • Jeff Fulchino, rhp, signed to a 1yr ML FA (Houston), invite to ST (split contract).  Was relatively mediocre for Houston and San Diego last year, again signed for some reliever depth/spring training competition.
  • Robert Gilliam, a rhp thrown into the Gonzalez trade, is a starter but only was at Oakland’s Class-A entry in the California League last year.  He seems set to be in the AA rotation in 2012.
  • Mike Ballard, a lhp starter given a 1yr ML FA (Baltimore), invite to ST.  He was relatively effective for Baltimore’s AA affiliate in Bowie, but less so at AAA Norfolk, where he started the season.  He is a full-time starter and seems a likely candidate for our AAA rotation.

Ok, It seems like we may have our answer.  It looks like your AAA rotation will be Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Buschmann and Ballard.  Here’s a quick rundown on these 5 guy’s AAA numbers for 2011:

Name Age as of 4/1/12 W L ERA whip G GS CG SHO SV ip H R ER HR hb bb so
Craig Stammen 28 10 7 4.75 1.43 25 24 1 1 0 142 163 80 75 18 1 40 127
Yunesky Maya 30 4 9 5 1.24 22 22 1 0 0 129.2 133 73 72 14 5 28 98
Erik Arnesen 28 0 2 3.57 1.42 3 3 0 0 0 17.2 22 7 7 2 0 3 15
Mike Ballard 28 2 4 4.91 1.624 10 9 1 1 0 51.1 66 31 28 7 17 38
Matthew Buschmann 28 6 5 7.31 1.837 20 15 1 0 0 88.2 129 75 72 11 33 60

Without sounding too judgmental … that’s not a lot of AAA depth in case something happens.  Only 2 of these 5 are even on the 40-man, and those who are have either proven to be ineffective at the major league level (Maya) or seem destined to be used as middle relief/organization filler (Stammen).  If Meyers gets returned, look for him to replace Arneson one for one (since Arnesen seems destined to be the minor league utility guy, as he was used last year).

I’d have to say; if someone goes down with injury, we’ll most likely look from within the MLB bullpen (in the form of Gorzelanny or Detwiler) for starts.