Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Ladson’s inbox 12/18/12

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Lots of loogy talk in this off-season; Burnett's a hard man to replace. Photo: masnsports.com

Another edition of mlb.com’s Nationals beat reporter Bill Ladson’s Inbox, this time from 12/18/12.

As always, I write my response before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Who will replace Sean Burnett as the lefty specialist in the bullpen?

Q: Is there any chance of the Nationals getting J.P. Howell to fill Burnett’s spot? Do you think the club needs him?

A: The Nats 2013 Loogy right now is likely to be minor league acquiree and former franchise 1st round pick Bill Bray.  If he’s healthy, and if he makes the team.  He’s the leader in the clubhouse right now, given the real lack of left handed relief in the farm system right now.  Clicking on baseball-reference’s great franchise pitching depth chart, there’s really not a single viable option that pitched above AA still in the system (I like Patrick McCoy, who did decently in AA, but he wasn’t picked up in Rule 5, which implies to me that he’s definitely not MLB ready).  Zach Duke seems set to be the Tom Gorzelanny replacement; the long-relief/spot-start/mop-up guy, and not necessarily the one-out guy.  The team is still involved with rumors of signing J.P. Howell, and of course could still re-sign Michael Gonzalez, who did so wonderfully for is in 2012.  However, lots of teams are in on lefty specialists right now and we may get out-bid.  I’m partial to Bray; he is a Virginia guy, went to William & Mary, and is the cousin of a buddy of mine (who, when I saw him last weekend, promised to have access to tickets if Bray makes the team).  Lets cross our fingers (stated completely selfishly).

Do we “need” Howell/Gonzalez?  I don’t know if we “need” another lefty, but I’d like another lefty in case Bray isn’t ready to go.  So I’d like to see another acquisition of someone for depth.  I think the bullpen looks better with a second lefty late-innings guy.  Ladson wrote almost exactly what I just wrote, naming all the same points.

Q: When looking at the 40-man roster, could you tell me what Yunesky Maya has to offer?

A: Maya still serves as last-ditch starter help, in case of a rash of injuries at the MLB level.  Despite his poor performances in two prior MLB stints, he’d still be preferable to other career minor league veteran options we probably will have in AAA this year (thinking the likes of Roark, Broderick, or Mandel).  His salary is guaranteed; we might as well keep him around as insurance.  If you’re looking to complain about a 40-man spot being wasted, look no further than Carlos Rivero.   Ladson calls the Maya signing Mike Rizzo‘s worst, and says the same thing I do about starter insurance.

Q: Who do you think has more of an upside: Michael Morse or Adam LaRoche?

A: An oddly worded question; I’m not sure either guy truly has upside at this point in their careers.  Michael Morse is in the last year of a contract, his sub-par defense has him outside of Rizzo’s vision of a pro-defense team, and there’s no guarantee that his 31 homer performance in 2011 wasn’t a complete one-off.  Adam LaRoche is already in his decline years and any guaranteed money is considered a big risk.  The best thing to do for the team would be to get LaRoche to return on as short of a guaranteed contract as he’ll take, and to flip Morse for some farm system depth (vastly depleted in the last 14 calendar months).   But, life isn’t that simple.  LaRoche has to be thinking for himself, and knows that this is the best and last time he’ll have to earn an 8-figure guaranteed deal.  So he has to max things out.  If someone else offers him 3 guaranteed years, he just has to take it.  He’ll never get $13M/year offered to him again.  Which would leave Morse in a contract year playing an easier defensive position (1B), and hopefully being 100% healthy he puts up another 2011 season.   Ladson is a pro-LaRoche guy.

Q: Considering his last outing in the postseason against the Cardinals, is Drew Storen the Nationals’ closer entering Spring Training, or will he have to win the job?

A: One badly timed blow-up won’t cost Drew Storen his job; he earned it back after taking a back seat to Tyler Clippard all summer, and that’s how things will stand going into 2013.  Clippard really struggled down the stretch in the role, and I cannot see any spring training competition at this point.   One thing that wouldn’t surprise me would be a trade though; only one guy can close, but both Clippard and Storen are closer-quality arms.  It could be lucrative to the team in terms of prospect depth to move one or the other to a team in need of a closer (and a team that values saves).  This move may not occur until next off-season though, when Clippard’s salary expectations will be far higher than the team may be willing to stomach for a non-closer.   Ladson says he expects Storen to be 100% and to get 30-35 saves.

Q: Burnett, who was a valuable asset in the bullpen, signed a two-year deal with the Angels. Couldn’t the Nationals have matched that kind of deal?

A: Yes they could have matched the Angel’s offer for Sean Burnett; it really wasn’t that much money.  But, by saving a few million here and there suddenly you have enough to buy a front-line starter.  That’s the right way to build a team in a fiscally responsible way.  That being said, I think perhaps the team was surprised that Burnett “only” signed a 2 year deal, given Jeremy Affeldt‘s 3 year contract for more money (Burnett’s deal has a 3rd year club option).   But Rizzo belives in the same thing that I believe in; bullpen arms are a commodity, can be found for relatively little money and you can get great performance for your dollar.  Think about Gonzalez last year; he was a minor league signing mid-season, and he posted a 132 ERA+ for us in 35 2/3 innings.  I think Bray could absolutely be this year’s version of Gonzalez.  Ladson has a good point: he thinks the Nats were slightly scared off by Burnett’s off -season elbow surgery and didn’t want to guarantee 2 years.

Q: Johnson’s favoritism drives me crazy, and I’m weary of reading about him trying to coax LaRoche into signing. Doesn’t favoritism bother the rest of the team, perhaps cause discord? And does the ballclub truly believe LaRoche can achieve the same numbers next year? I am dubious.

A: A great question; I’ve said in the past that Davey Johnson‘s overt recruiting of LaRoche in the media has to be grating to Morse.  If LaRoche signs elsewhere, I would absolutely believe there may be some discord in the clubhouse between Morse and Johnson that will need to be addressed.  Other readers on this blog don’t necessarily believe this is the case, saying that Morse has to know that “its a business.”  But how would you feel if your boss was overtly recruiting your replacement?  I’d be pissed.  Can LaRoche match his 2012 numbers in 2013?  Sure.  The odds are against him though.  Its more likely to expect declines in production natural with his advancing age.  Ladson says the players love Johnson and would never question him, but didn’t even mention Morse’s name.

Q: Do you think Ian Desmond can pull off another incredible year in 2013?

A: Sure!  Do I think Ian Desmond could also regress at the plate to his pre 2012 numbers?  Yes I do.  I really have no idea what to expect out of guys like Desmond and Roger Bernadina, who both had career years and significantly improved their offense over their career norms.  Are these one-time improvements?  Meanwhile, a guy like Danny Espinosa is in the reverse situation; he’s regressing year to year, and needs to make a leap like Desmond made.  Predictions?   I think all three players stay roughly where they are, Espinosa starts losing ABs against lefties to Lombardozzi, and Rendon starts to force the team’s hand by tearing up AAA in early 2013.   Ladson is really pro-Desmond, saying that he’ll go down as one of the great short-stops in baseball.  That’s heavy praise.

Rule 5 Losses: odds of them coming back?

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Danny Rosenbaum gets drafted by Colorado in the Rule 5 draft. Photo Jeff Mankie via insidenova.com

The Rule 5 draft was conducted on 12/5/12, the last day of the Winter meetings, and the Nats farm system took a hit.

In the Major League Phase (full results from mlbtraderumors.com), we lost:

  • Danny Rosenbaum, who was drafted 3rd overall by the Colorado Rockies.
  • Jeff Kobernus, who was taken 7th overall by the Boston Red Sox, and immediately flipped to Detroit for a utility player.

Rosenbaum’s drafting isn’t a huge surprise, given his stature as the leading lefty starter prospect in our system and consistently being mentioned in top 10 lists and all-star teams.  Rosenbaum’s problem is that he projects as a classic back-of-the-rotation lefty; decent but not eye-popping velocity, good control, keeping the ball in the park and giving you consistent innings, and the Nationals current management has little use for such a player.  He projects almost exactly like John Lannan and Tommy Milone, two lefties that Rizzo didn’t covet and who were either flipped or non-tendered.  Now, before bemoaning Rosenbaum’s loss too much, the odds of him being returned seem nearly 100%: Colorado is absolute hell on pitchers.  He joins a team which lost 98 games and whose BEST starter last year posted a 4.43 ERA.  Colorado is stock piling young starter prospects, running them through an unconventional pitch count limit system, and (I guess) seeing who stands out.  Is Rosenbaum any better than the large handful of starters there already?  I don’t think so; I suspect he’ll be back.  Lets just hope he doesn’t return as damaged goods, as Brad Meyer was late last season.

Kobernus has to be excited; he goes from presumably being stuck in the minors for another year to getting a chance to make the 25-man roster team of the defending AL champs as a utility infielder.  Our 2009 2nd round pick signed an under-slot deal (as did nearly everyone else in that draft thanks to the monies paid to Strasburg and Storen) and has posted decent if not flashy numbers in a steady progression through the system.  In 2012 his slash line in AA was .282/.325/.333 and he was a mid-season all-star.  I guess the team decided it just didn’t need a middle infielder who had little to no power (his best OPS season was in 2011 where he just reached .700).  Can he stick in Detroit?  I suspect he could, given the role he’s asked to perform.  However, I worry that (much like Erik Komatsu in 2011, who it should be noted was NOT picked this year despite still being rule-5 eligible) he won’t be able to hit consistently enough to stay with the big team and may eventually be returned.

In the AAA phase, the team also lost:

  • Jack McGeary, taken by Boston.
  • Hector Nelo, taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The departure of McGeary represents the end of a relatively tumultuous relationship between the one time upper-end prospect and team, and serves as a continuing cautionary tale of the risks behind drafting and paying high-end high school arms.  McGeary wanted to attend Stanford and worked out a part-time playing deal to allow him to attend school.  Admirable, but not exactly what a team expects for a $1.8M investment.  After a couple of years he decided to finally focus on baseball first, but blew out his elbow in June 2010.   His late 2011 return looked promising, but injuries cost him most of 2012 as well, pitching a grand total of 9 1/3 innings this year.   After 6 full pro seasons he had yet to advance further than Low-A.   Nats prospect fans have waited years and years for the likes of McGeary, Josh Smoker, Colton Willems and other top-5 talent High school arms to pan out, and have been left wanting.  Arguably the best HS arm the team has drafted since relocating to Washington is Patrick McCoy, a lefty with halfway decent numbers in AA this past year and who has been passed over in two successive rule 5 drafts.  At least the current regime seems to understand this; they’ve signed exactly three HS arms in the last three drafts combined and they’re all familiar names (Giolito, Cole, Ray).

Nelo ended the year as the AA closer, with pretty decent numbers, but himself was a 2011 minor league free agent and seemingly was considered nothing more than an organizational arm for the team.  He was a right handed reliever in a system filled with such players , and his departure shouldn’t be missed too much.


In the end, the Rule 5 draft was as we expected it; it was rather anti-climactic for Nats fans who thought we may get a new player or two to try out.  But as has been stated elsewhere, when the 25-man roster is nearly finalized for the 2013 season, there exists little need to experiment with a rule 5 draftee.

Duke, Bray signings: excellent, under the radar moves for Rizzo

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Zach Duke seems an easy one-for-one replacement for Tom Gorzelanny. Photo AP Photo/Jeff Roberson via rr.com

It was clear that the Nats stood to lose all three of their left-handed relievers this off-season, either by free agency (Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez) or by salary-driven non-tenders (Tom Gorzelanny).  And it also became pretty clear that the price for quality left-handed relief is on the rise, on the backs of Jeremy Affeldt‘s 3yr/$18M deal to remain with San Francisco.  The Nats have all-but-announced that Burnett is going to be too expensive for them as a result.  Furthermore, the Nats farm system faces a specific lack of quality left-handed reliever options in the upper minors (2012 Nats farmhands Atahualpa Severino having been DFA’d off the 40-man roster in 2012, Corey VanAllen posting a 6+ ERA in 2012, and Patrick McCoy only having reached AA.  Plus both Severino and VanAllen are minor league free agents to boot), so the team clearly was on the market for FA lefty relief.

Mike Rizzo took two nice steps towards rebuilding this lefty reliever depth with the 12/3/12 signings of Zach Duke and Bill Bray to one year deals.  Duke salvaged his career in 2012 by putting in a 15-5 season in AAA starting, then providing decent (albeit generally low-leverage) relief for the big club in September.  He signs a major league deal, significant because he has 6+ years of service time and thus cannot be sent back to AAA without consent; clearly Duke is meant to be in the bullpen in 2013.  He seems to be a perfect like-for-like replacement for Gorzelanny, a lefty ex-starter who has the flexibility to pitch anywhere from one-batter to 5 innings as needed.  Its tough to draw a ton of conclusions from Duke’s 13 2/3 September innings (short sample sizes), but his numbers were great (1.32 ERA, 1.098 whip and 10/4 k/bb in those innings).  I don’t think I like Duke as much as Gorzelanny, but at the likely price (terms were not announced but I’d be shocked if this was for much more than a $1.5M deal) compared to what Gorzelanny likely makes in arbitration ($3M or more) this represents a good bit of business.

Meanwhile, re-obtaining Bill Bray returns a special player to the fold; Bray was the franchise’ #1 draft pick in 2004.  He’s a local kid (grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William and Mary, and he’s the cousin of a buddy of mine.  Apologies for the name dropping :-) ), and he represents a pretty good gamble by the team.  His numbers with Cincinnati are very up-and-down, but when he’s on, he’s good.  Signing Bray on a minor league deal allows him to compete for the 2nd lefty spot in the bullpen, but also gives the team 40-man roster flexibility to stash him in AAA to start the year if he’s still not recovered from his 2012 injuries (he missed most of 2012 after two separate muscle strain issues).  Or, if he’s looking like he’s in a 5.00 ERA form versus a 2.90 ERA form, there’s no damage in letting him work out kinks in Syracuse.  I like this move a lot.

Two good pieces of business to start the Winter Meetings for Rizzo.

As a side note, the Adam Kilgore article in the Post this morning reports a couple of interesting points:

  • The Nats plan on working Duke out as a starter this coming spring.  Now, as mentioned above Duke cannot be optioned to the minors by virtue of his service time, so I’m hoping that this move is merely as insurance against a spring training injury to one of the rotation members.  I’m not worried about Duke’s ability to adapt to a drop to the bullpen though; he did so admirably enough in September of last  year after starting in Syracuse the whole summer.
  • Christian Garcia is once again reported as “taking on a starter’s workload” in 2013 Spring Training.  I had an email chat with Luke Erickson about this topic and may turn it into an opinion piece.  What do we make of Garcia’s constantly reported conversion to being a starter?

Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Danny Rosenbaum led the Senators staff in 2012. Photo via wn.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the AA version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are not discussed.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Robert Gilliam, the “forgotten man” in the mega Gio Gonalez trade in December, made the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t live up to his billing.  He got 13 starts before going to the bullpen, and then eventually getting demoted to Potomac.  Season AA numbers: 3-7, 6.38 ERAOutlook for next season: The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation.
  • Paul Demny took a step back in his progressive career with the Nats, going 6-8 with a 5.43 ERA in 23 starts before moving primarily to the bullpen at the end of the season.  He’s still very young (just turned 23) but he’s finishing his 5th pro season and 2013 will be his “walk year.”  Interestingly, the Nats named Demny one of their AFL participants, an odd selection based on his performance this season. Outlook for next season: as with Gilliam, I’d be surprised if Demny remains a starter.  AA bullpen as a swingman unless the team needs a 5th starter.
  • Jeff Mandel started the year in the Harrisburg rotation and put in 11 middling starts before getting moved to AAA to replace an equally ineffective Mitch Atkins.  This marked the third straight season he had started in AA and moved to AAA, a sure sign of an organizational arm who filled in where needed.  Outlook for next season: see AAA post.
  • Danny Rosenbaum was supposed to be the Ace, the Star of this rotation.  He was the highest-ranked prospect and was the Organization’s best starting pitching prospects.  He didn’t really live up to his billing, going 8-10 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.31 whip in 26 starts.  He looked great his first 10 starts and then struggled the rest of the season.  He turns 25 in the off-season and is Rule-5 Eligible.  I think the team has to protect him.  Outlook for next season: Added to 40-man roster ahead of the Rule-5 draft but back in AA to start 2013, with an eye on a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Mike Ballard was a Minor League Free Agent signed from Baltimore (after failing to make it in the Houston organization after 5 minor league seasons).  You would have thought he’d have been in AAA but started the season in the AA rotation.  After 12 up-and-down starts he got absolutely pounded on June 13th, hit the DL with “elbow discomfort” and has been there ever since.   Final season stats: 1-5, 4.31 ERAOutlook for next season: released.  You hate to cut a guy with a season-ending injury, but business is business.
  • Ryan Perry, astutely acquired for Collin Balester (who failed to impress in Detroit and was DFA’d earlier this year) in spring training and he competed for the MLB bullpen.  He featured briefly, was ineffective and was optioned to AAA.  The team took a look at his repertoire and decided to try to convert him to a starter in AA.  The results?  Pretty good; a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 whip in 13 AA starts.  Outlook for next season: here’s the problem with Perry; he’s out of options for 2013.  He was added to a 40-man roster in April 2009, and burned options in 2009, 2011 and this year.   So he has to either make the MLB club or be DFA’d at the end of spring training.  So look for Perry to compete for the #5 starter job or be considered trade bait in the off-season.
  • Kevin Pucetas is another Minor League Free Agent who probably was too experienced for AA (as with Ballard); he spent the previous 3 seasons in the Pacific Coast League.  For Harrisburg in 2012 he was excellent out of the pen early (posting a 1.59 era in 34 relief innings) and then was relatively mediocre in 12 starts (5-5 with a 4.81 ERA).  You have to think he was merely filler for a gap in pitcher development in this system and will be looking for work elsewhere for 2013.  Outlook for next season: with another organization.
  • Trevor Holder finally looked like he was putting things together early in Potomac, earned a mid-season promotion to Harrisburg and put up a 3.78 ERA in 10 starts (9 actual starts plus a 10th game where the “starter” went one inning on a rehab assignment).  The knock on Holder was that he was a total signability pick in 2009 after the team spent big on Strasburg and Storen.  It is good to see him putting some things together.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Ryan Tatusko got 8 starts in 27 appearances in a long-man/spot-starter/swingman role for the team.  He was slightly better as a reliever versus a starter (his splits showing a 2.72 ERA with greater than a k/inning as a reliever, a 4.50 ERA in his 8 starts).  I have always liked Tatusko (not the least reason of which is that he writes a blog) and was eager to see him contributed after he came over (with Tanner Roark) in the Cristian Guzman trade.  But his time with the organization may be at an end; he just finished his 6th minor league season and he took a step back with the organization.  Outlook for next season: I thought he’d have been in AAA by now; perhaps 2013 is the year.  AAA swingman.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Brian Broderick: the team’s former rule-5 pick never made it with St. Louis, and when he was released the Nats picked him up.  He got a handful of appearances down the stretch and finished the season with 3 starts.  The team clearly likes the guy and seems willing to give him a chance.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
    • Austin Bibens-Dirkx, he had a couple starts early before getting promoted up to AAA, where he probably should have started the season based on his experience.   Outlook for next season: (as copied from the AAA post): with another organization.
    • Adam Olbrychowski got called up to make the last start of the season.  Outlook for next season: see High-A post.
    • Of note: Chien-Ming Wang made no less than NINE rehab starts in AA (and fifteen overall minor league rehab starts).  You can argue whether or not the organization was “bending” the DL/service time rules or not; either way I can’t see how Wang stays with this team for 2013 and beyond.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  They used an awful lot of them.

  • Marcos Frias finishes his 6th pro season taking a step back from his 2011 numbers in high-A.  On the year, a 4.82 ERA in 65 1/3 relief innings.   He’s still very young, being a DSL graduate and yet to turn 24.  Technically he’s rule-5 eligible but its hard to see a team taking a flier on a RH reliever without knock-out stuff.  Outlook for next season: back in AA bullpen.
  • Erik Davis was generally excellent all season for Harrisburg, posting a 2.52 ERA in 64 1/3 relief innings.  He earned a late season promotion to AAA.  The former starter and trade bounty for Alberto Gonzalez technically is rule-5 eligible but the risk of losing him seems slight.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, looking to become the next Christian Garcia.
  • Patrick McCoy had a pretty good season out of the pen in Harrisburg; 7-3 with a 3.70 era in 58 1/3 innings.  He was rule-5 eligible in 2011 but didn’t get picked up.  Now he’s one year from being a Minor League Free Agent.  Outlook for next season: AA or perhaps AAA bullpen, whoever needs a left hander.
  • Hector Nelo, who was released by Texas in April of 2011, finished the year with strong numbers as the team’s primary closer.  He had a 2.73 era and 16 saves in 52 2/3s innings over 47 appearances.  More importantly his K/9 rates really jumped from 2011.   He’s the kind of big-time arm that Mike Rizzo loves (he can reportedly hit 100mph) and should get some looks going foward.  He’s tied to the organization for one more season.  Outlook for next season: the closer in AAA.
  • Rafael Martin was as unbelievably bad statistically in 2012 as he was good in 2011.  How do you go from a 1.65 ERA across 2 organizations in 2011 to a 6.69 ERA in 2012?  Perhaps the answer is either a late-season injury or fatigue; in his last four appearances in AA this season he gave up 11 earned runs; the 6 appearances before that just one.  He’s no spring chicken though; he’s already 28 and is far far too old for AA at this point.  Outlook for next season: bullpen in AAA and hoping for a rebound to 2011′s numbers.
  • Cameron Selik pitched 1/3 of an inning in AA before a season-ending injury.  Outlook for next season: See High-A writeup.
  • Pat Lehman got promoted to AAA.  Joe Testa got demoted to High-A.  See those write-ups for outlooks.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league FA in another organization.
    • Zech Zinicola came back to the team after being rule-5 drafted in late 2009, and remains an organizational arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier split time between AA and high-A.  Org arm.
    • Corey VanAllen was demoted down from AAA and then got hurt in July.   Org arm, maybe a loogy in AA again.

Summary

Harrisburg struggled to find a good consistent group of starters.  My guesses on what role these guys will play next season list too many guys getting dumped into the bullpen, so it may be interesting to see who gets another shot at starting in 2013.  Unfortunately these injuries and inconsistencies cost the team a near-certain 2nd half playoff spot.