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2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Taylor Jordan's phenomenal rise from A-ball to the majors is this year's high-A story of the year.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan’s phenomenal rise from A-ball to the majors is this year’s high-A story of the year. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

This is the 4th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2013 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

Note: from here on down, there’s more than a few examples of small sample sizes.  Plus, I know many readers here were frequent Potomac game attendees and may have different/better opinions than I.  Please comment if you disagree with the sentiments here.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Ray, Jordan, Cole, Turnbull and Hill.  It ended with Purke, Demny, Mooneyham, Solis and Schwartz.   There were quite a few changes along the way; I counted 9 promotions throughout the year.  Lets take a look at the High-A starters for 2013, starting with the original five and then counting down by the number of starts.  Because there were so many promotions, we’ll be referring to the AA and MLB posts frequently here for more detail.

  • Robbie Ray got the ball opening day and never looked back: he dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  See the AA-writeup for more. Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan gave up just 5 earned runs in his first 6 Potomac starts of the year, quickly earning him a promotion to AA.  We all know the story from here; he blew up AA and then gave the MLB team 9 good starts before hitting his post TJ surgery innings limit.  See AA’s and the MLB post for more detail.   Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole made his triumphant return to the Nats organization, escaping his hellish 2012 season in the California League by coming back to Washington as bounty for Michael Morse.  Cole threw about 100 innings in High-A across 18 starts and was 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA.  His FIP was considerably better and he averaged more than a K/inning, and the team pushed him to AA as a 21 year old.  See AA’s post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Kylin Turnbull lasted just three high-A starts, giving up 10 runs in 17 innings and was demoted to low-A.  See low-A’s post for more.   Outlook for next season: Attempting High-A’s rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill threw 84 innings of sub 3.00 ball across 14 starts in Potomac, earning a promotion to AA mid-season.  See AA’s write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Blake Schwartz blitzed through 4 starts in low-A and was quickly promoted to Potomac, where he led the staff in starts, wins and innings.  He finished the year with an 11-4 record with a 2.65 ERA in 132 innings.  His ERA was a bit masked by a low BABIP, resulting in a FIP that was a point higher.  He had a nice 4/1 K/BB ratio, a relatively small WHIP, and a decent enough K/9 rate.  Another excellent small college find by the Nats scouting staff.  Outlook for next season: You have to think he’s in the AA rotation; what more does he have to prove in high-A?
  • Sammy Solis made it back from Tommy John and gave Potomac 57 innings over 13 apperances with a decent 3.43 ERA.   He did miss some time mid-season but came back pretty strong.  He was also the P-Nats’ #1 starter in the playoffs, giving them one great and one not-so-great start in the post season.   Solis was added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft by virtue of his being eligible; now there’s talk about him possibly featuring as a lefty-matchup guy at the major league level.   I can see that eventually, but not from the start of the 2014 season.  I can see Solis going to AA to get some reps against better hitters and possibly covering for injuries/need later this year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation for now.
  • Brian Rauh started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen as an 8th inning guy, didn’t really pitch that well but was pushed up to Potomac anyway, where he suddenly slotted in as a starter and ended up giving the team 12 starts over 16 appearances with a 4.22 ERA (4.81 FIP) over 64 innings.  He made way in the rotation late in the season for Brett Mooneyham and worked out of the pen again for the playoffs.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, perhaps a starter.  Perhaps a release candidate.
  • Matt Purke finally looked healthy after years of shoulder issues.  He over matched low-A and was pushed to Potomac in early July.  In 12 starts he was 5-3 with a 4.43 ERA, 1.39 whip, and 3.58 FIP.  He got the ball in the ghird playoff game and pitched decently enough.  What concerns me is his lack of dominance of A-ball hitters; he sported just a 6.05 K/9 rate as a starter in High-A this year.  This from a former first round pick, a dominant lefty who was undefeated as a freshman in college in a good baseball conference.   What are we to make of him at this point?  On the bright side, he’s only 22 and still has a couple of option years left, so the Nats have some time to see what they have (unlike, say with Solis, who is 25 and needs to show something like right now).  Outlook for next season: High-A starter once again, looking for a quick promotion to AA.
  • Paul Demny couldn’t make the jump to AA as a starter, and was demoted back to Potomac mid-season.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  In 8 Potomac starts, he was 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA with about a K/inning, which he should have done considering that he’s in his 6th pro season.   See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Brett Mooneyham pitched most of the year in Hagerstown before a late-season bump up to Potomac, where he promptly got shelled.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Ivan Pineyro got 3 starts in High-A before he was flipped for Scott Hairston.  See the low-A post for more. (Editor’s note: corrected for the right Hairston thanks to John C comment).
    • Brian Dupra got a few spot-starts; see the reliever section.
    • Marcos Frias posted a 7.59 ERA in two starts and a few relief appearances and was released 7/24/13.   See the AA post for more.
    • Rob Gilliam made two forgettable starts in High-A before getting pushed up to AA.  See the AA post for more.
    • Hector Sylvestre got called up from the rookie league to make one spot start.  See GCL post for more.
    • Ross Detwiler and Ross Ohlendorf both made one rehab start for Potomac.  See MLB post for more.

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by looking at closers first, then by innings pitched.

  • Robert Benincasa earned 17 saves in 25 apperances for Potomac to lead the team in saves.  He earned his promotion after starting the season as Hagerstown’s closer.  His numbers on the year: 34/9 K/BB in 30 innings, 3.30 ERA, 1.23 whip, 2.80 fip.  His performance earned him a placement in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 4.00 ERA in 9 innings of work.  Outlook for next season: Depending on the numbers, I could see him in the AA bullpen or beginning in High-A with a look for a quick promotion.
  • Richie Mirowski dominated to the tune of a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Rob Wort started the season in AA, struggled, missed 5 weeks with an injury, but then settled in as a back-of-the-bullpen guy for Potomac.  In 34 innings he posted a 3.71 ERA but more impressively had a 48/29 K/BB ratio.  Well, ok, the 29 walks in 34 innings wasn’t that impressive, but the 48 Ks was.  Unfortunately for Wort, this is the FOURTH season in a row he’s been in Potomac.   He had absolutely fantastic numbers in 2012 but couldn’t back them up.  It may be safe to say he’s hit his limit organizationally.   Outlook for next season: Another shot at AA bullpen but may end up back in High-A.
  • Greg  Holt put up solid numbers as a middle reliever for Potomac, leading the bullpen in innings while going 9-0 with a 3.71 ERA in 70+ innings.  I’m concerned with his 55/33 K/BB ratio in those 70 innings; that just seems like too many walks and not enough K’s.  He’s progressed each of his three pro seasons; will he keep moving on up to AA for 2014?  Outlook for next season: Possibly in AA’s bullpen, more likely back as high-A middle reliever.
  • Colin Bates had a really nice season for Potomac this year, posting nearly a 6-1 K/BB ratio while still striking out nearly 7 guys per 9 innings pitched.  He posted a 2.61 ERA over 62 innings pitched, his second straight season advancing a level and posting a sub 3.00 ERA in the bullpen.    Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Brian Dupra earned two promotions on the season to end up in Potomac’s bullpen, where he put up pedestrian numbers (1-7, 4.96 ERA, 1.49 whip).  A college senior draftee with very little bonus money investment, Dupra’s usefulness to the organization may be at a limit.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition, possible release.
  • David Fischer started the year in Hagerstown but was quickly bumped up to Potomac, where he served as a long-man out of the pen.  He hit the D/L in mid August and never returned.  On the year his numbers were pedestrian; 4.30 ERA in 44 innings.  He did maintain a great K/9 rate (10.84).  But Fischer’s problem is the same as his fellow low-bonus/college senior draftees currently toiling in A-ball; its move up or ship out.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Matt Grace threw 28 innings of quality relief and was bumped up to AA.  See the AA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Rafael Martin didn’t make his first appearance until July, and when he got to Potomac he was great; a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings.  As well he should; two years ago he was a closer in AA and posted a 1.77 era.  What is he doing in A-Ball?  The Mexican league free agent signing in 2009 seems like he should be back in AA, where he’s shown he can compete in the past.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Derek Self couldn’t make the leap to High-A, getting demoted to Hagerstown after putting up a 6 ERA in 29 innings.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again.
  • Tyler Herron quickly showed he was too good for High-A and was promoted to Harrisburg after 20 innings.  See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Christian Meza lasted about 5 weeks in Potomac, putting up a 6.62 ERA and greater than a 2.00 whip before getting demoted back to Hagerstown.  See the low-A post for more.  Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possible release candidate.
  • Travis Henke toiled most of the season in Hagerstown and got a late-season promotion.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Cameron Selik struggled through 10 appearances and 11 innings throughout the course of the season, missing a ton of time as he struggled with injury.  He can’t go back to Potomac for the fourth straight season, can he?   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen if healthy, otherwise perhaps an unfortunate release candidate.
  • Other guys who had short stints with Potomac this year:
    • Ben Hawkins threw 8 innings and was released.
    • Justin Thomas threw just one inning in Potomac during his tour of the low-minors this year; see the Low-A post for more.

Summary

No less than 18 guys got starts this year for Potomac, in a 142 game season.   All five of their opening day starters were moved out (four up, one down) by mid-season, and yet the team still made the playoffs.  That’s a great testament to the pitcher development going on in our low minors, and I think it is going to show on the big club very soon.  Its not hard to see potential in a whole slew of the starters who passed through Potomac this year.

On the reliever side, there’s a couple of guys here who may make an impact, but there’s also a whole slew of right handed middle relievers who were college senior graduates who may very quickly find themselves pushed out by the later crops of college senior draftees.

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg's squad.  Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg’s squad. Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 3rd in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Harrisburg/AA’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series: Washington/MLB’s 2013 review and Syracuse/AAA’s 2013 review.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (featuring Danny Rosenbaum) and 2011′s version (featuring Brad Peacock) of this post specifically for Harrisburg/AA.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Harrisburg 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Harrisburg Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay and Karns.  It ended with Karns, Cole, Treinen, Hill and Ray.   There were quite a few changes along the way.  Lets take a look at the AA starters:

  • Brian Broderick got the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t last very long, giving the team 7 mostly bad starts before hitting the D/L.  He got one more rehab start in the GCL and ended the season (I believe) on Potomac’s D/L list.  It doesn’t matter; Broderick’s time with the organization is likely done after quite a whirlwind trip; he was a 2010 rule-5 draftee from St. Louis who pitched for our MLB squad for nearly two months before being jettisoned back to the Cardinals.   St. Louis eventually waived him and we grabbed him in July 2012.  He toiled for AA last year and started there again this year.   Outlook for next season: MLFA, with another organization or perhaps out of affiliated baseball.
  • Blake Treinen, aka one of the “other guys” in the Michael Morse trade, quietly put together a pretty good season for the Senators.  In 21 games and 118 innings he had a 3.64 ERA and a nearly an identical 3.67 FIP.  He’s not a strike out guy (86 in 118 innings for a 6.5 K/9 rate, and he gave up more base-runners than you’d like to see (1.33 whip), which is odd considering his pedigree as one of the hardest throwers in the Nats farm system.  He missed a chunk of time this season with two separate D/L trips but made it back just in time to get hammered as the 4th starter in the playoffs.  I projected Treinen as an eventual back-of-the-bullpen arm thanks to his velocity, but for the time being the team should want to see if he can continue to develop as a starter.  Outlook for next season: back in AA as a starter, looking to push to AAA mid-season.
  • Paul Demny got 15 incredibly inconsistent starts for Harrisburg this year before a D/L trip resulted in his losing his rotation spot and then eventually losing his AA spot.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  AA numbers for the year: 5-6, 4.95 ERA but 86 K/s in 83+ innings.  Outlook for next season: you have to think that he’s done as a starter, having failed to make the leap to AA for the second year running.  I”m predicting he’s in the AA bullpen.
  • Caleb Clay got 13 AA starts after signing as a MLFA before finishing the year in Syracuse.  See the AAA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in the San Francisco organization.
  • Nathan Karns followed up his 2012 Nats Minor League Pitcher of the year with a dominant season at AA: 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 155 Ks in 132 innings.  He was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call-up to the majors this year. (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three MLB starts he got hit hard and was eventually returned (after an 11 day layoff) to the AA rotation.  He finished the season strong and got one great playoff win, but was hammered in the season-ending championship for a sour end to a great season.  Nonetheless, we saw the potential and the organization’s patience has been rewarded.  For now Karns remains a starter.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Rob Gilliam ended up being the primary 6th starter/swing-man for Harrisburg this year, covering in the rotation as its original members got promoted, injured or demoted.  The “forgotten man” in the big Gio Gonzalez trade, Gilliam gave the Senators 18 starts and 90 innings of 4.40 ERA ball this year.  Nothing great but nothing awful; right now I see no reason to think he’s not going to serve in a similar same innings-eating role next year.  Outlook for next season: AA swing-man/spot-starter.
  • Taylor Hill had an exceptional season, stepping up from a guy who was throwing 5.00 ERA ball in low-A at the beginning of 2012 to a guy who was making a name for himself with sub 3.00 ERA pitching in AA by the end of 2013.  He earned a promotion out of Potomac with 14 excellent starts and continued the same work in AA.  His K/9 isn’t phenomenal (around 5.5 K/9 between both levels) and his FIPs show that his ERA was a bit lucky at both levels (3.38 FIP in high-A, 4.06 in AA) but the guy clearly knows how to pitch.  I think he’ll be a key man in the AA rotation next year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Robbie Ray showed why I kept my faith in him despite his 6.56 ERA blow-up in Potomac in 2012.  He dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  Final AA numbers: 5-2, 3.72 ERA, 3.42 whip with 60 K’s in 58 innings.  As we all know by now, Ray was the feature player in the Doug Fister acquisition and clearly made a huge impression on the Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.  I’m sorry to see him go but I’m happy with the return he brought back.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan passed through AA during his dream 2013 season, going 7-0 with a0.83 ERA in 9 appearances.  See Washington write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole continued the trend of Potomac pitchers earning promotions, becoming the 5th of 5 starters who began the  year in Potomac to matriculate to AA.  He did not disappoint, going 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and greater than a K/inning to solidify his status as one of the top prospects in the organization.  The Michael Morse trade that engineered his return is looking better and better for the team.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Matt Swynenberg got a few spot-starts heare and there; see the reliever section.
    • Ryan Tatusko dropped down to give AA a spot start; see AAA post.
    • Trevor Holder and Tyler Herron each got a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  We’ll start with the closers and then run down the relievers by innings pitched.

  • Aaron Barrett was the primary closer for Harrisburg, earning 26 saves, striking out 69 in 50 innings and posting a 2.15 ERA.  His FIP was significantly lower (1.87) thanks to an inflated BABIP for the year.  Barrett’s performance on the year necessitated his protection on the 40-man roster: he was added in November ahead of the rule-5 draft.  His late August injury does not seem to be that threatening; the organization clearly thinks he’s got potential to help and i’m sure he’ll feature at some point in 2014 to cover for bullpen injuries.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, likely the closer again.
  • Tyler Herron is an interesting case: signed out of the independent leagues, he had not appeared in affiliated ball since 2009.  He quickly showed he was too good for High-A and stuck around as a back of the bullpen guy in Harrisburg the rest of the season, taking over for Barrett when he hit the D/L in August.  Final season stats: 6-2, 5 saves,  a 3.11 ERA, and an even better FIP.  Even better: 58 K’s in just 46 1/3 innings.  He proved to be a very versatile arm for this team.  Despite the fact that he was a MLFA signing last off-season, he’s not listed on BA’s MLFA list for this off-season; is he still with the organization?  I hope so: I think he can be useful going forward. Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, if he’s still with the org.
  • Matt Swynenberg served as a longer reliever out of the bullpen and posted a 3.16 ERA in 74 innings over 36 appearances and 4 starts.   He continues his steady progression up the organization but remains off the prospect-radar.  He’s been rule-5 eligible two  years running now and hasn’t been sniffed.  He enters his last  year of pre-MLFA possibly topped out in the organization thanks to a numbers game in the AAA bullpen.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Neil Holland was another big arm in the Harrisburg bullpen this year, posting 63 K’s in 50 relief innings to the tune of a 2.84 ERA/2.43 FIP.   Holland was a 2010 draftee who was Rule-5 eligible this year, but he slipped through the cracks and the Nats get to keep him off the 40-man roster for one more season.   He’s under-sized but has put up great numbers wherever he’s been; it is just a matter of time before he gets his shot.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to start, with a good likelihood of moving up soon.
  • Pat McCoy failed to make the jump from AA to AAA and was demoted back to Harrisburg after 7 ineffective AAA appearances.  Repeating AA for the third year, he posted a 4.32 ERA in 41 middle relief innings.  He exhaused his 6 years in the organization and has already signed elsewhere for 2014.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Matt Grace was one of NINE hurlers who earned promotions out of Potomac this year, and could be the next “sneaky good loogy” prospect that the organization develops.  He transitioned away from starting after the 2011 season and has seen his numbers improve.  In 38 AA innings this year he posted a 3.79 ERA but better looking 2.88 FIP.   He has good control but seems hittable; his career BABIP is especially high.  As with Holland, Grace passed through his first year of Rule-5 eligibility this year without any interest; he needs to push for a AAA promotion to get onto the MLB radar in 2014.   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for the organization, giving up just 2 earned runs in his first 21 appearances for Harrsiburg and getting a surprise  call-up in June.  See the MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization
  • Ryan Perry started the year in the AAA rotation under the National’s grand plan to make him a starter, and the experiment failed.  8 starts later, he boasted a 7.93 ERA.  He hit the D/L, then was demoted to Harrisburg.  There, he was outrighted off the 40-man roster and returned to the bullpen, where he was mediocre (4.43 ERA).   Outlook for next season: he has to show he can get AA hitters out; you have to think he’s starting in the AA bullpen again.
  • Richie Mirowski continues to impress; he has never posted an ERA above 2.61 at any level he’s appeared.  Not bad for a college senior draftee from a no-name college in the 45th round who likely signed for a bonus small enough to fit into the scout’s wallet who brought him his paperwork.  He posted a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  For Harrisburg he had a 12.63 K/9 rate in 20 innings and posted a 1.12 FIP in a small later-season sample size.  Not too shabby.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Pat Lehman was sent to AA after being a successful AAA guy in 2012 thanks to a numbers game; he promptly posted a 5.49ERA, got hurt and missed most of the season after just 13 appearances.  He did appear in 8 rehab games in the rookie league in August but did not make it back out of Florida.   Here’s the problem with Lehman; he has nothing to prove in AA; he already earned his stripes in AAA.  But is there enough room for him on the AAA roster in 2014?  He enters his 6th pro season and will face MLFA next year unless he pushes his way to the 40-man roster.   Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen competition, a possible release candidate?
  • Marcos Frias posted a 6.16 ERA in 19 innings and was dumped back to High-A.  There he posted an even worse 7.59 ERA and was released mid-season.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • Trevor Holder was repeating AA and had posted respectable numbers through the first month of the season when he was suddenly released to make room for Taylor Jordan‘s promotion on 5/8/13.  I was shocked; we were talking about a 3rd round pick after all.  He was immediately picked up by San Diego and possibly proved why the organization knows more than we do; he dropped down to high-A and was lit up in the California league (a 6.39 ERA in 100 innings).  Now, its the California league (land of small ball parks and high altitudes) so the numbers are inflated (just look at what happened to A.J. Cole out there in 2012), but the story remains the same; Holder’s high draft pick was viewed at the time as the Nats “punting” on the pick to save money, and Holder never really proved anyone wrong.  Outlook for next season: in San Diego’s organization.
  • Michael Broadway started in Harrisburg and quickly earned a promotion to Syracuse.  See the AAA writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: in the Toronto organization.
  • Bill Bray returned to the organization that drafted him, and returned to his “home” team; he grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William & Mary and in a bit of a personal interest item is cousins with a friend of mine; he was counting on him making the MLB team and reaping the benefits of free tickets for family and friends :-) .  However he struggled in the spring and was sent to minor league camp.  He stuck around Viera to work on his mechanics, finally got to Harrisburg and then, after just four outings, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.   He’s a MLFA again this off-season and it remains to be seen where he picks up.  I’d like to see him back here again, but Bray’s representatives have to be looking at the crowded bullpen and may suggest he continue his career elsewhere.   That is if he can recover from his latest injury.  To say that Bray has “unconventional” mechanics would be an understatement, and it is no shock that he’s struggled with arm issues his whole career.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, in another organization.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note:

    • Christian Garcia pitched 4 rehab innings during his rehab tour of the organization.  See AAA write-up for more.
    • Ryan Mattheus pitched 4 innings of rehab over three games recovering from his broken hand.  See the MLB write-up for more.
    • Brian Rauh got a one-game call-up to provide bullpen cover.  See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Rob Wort pitched 3 AA innings before getting demoted to Potomac, where he spent the rest of the year.   See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Jose Lozada is normally a SS; he pitched one inning somewhere along the line in what likely was a blow-out loss.

Summary

Harrisburg got a ton of really good pitching this year, both from the starters and from the relievers.  And a ton of it matriculated up over the course of the year from Potomac.  Three guys on this squad jumped straight to the majors, and it isn’t hard to see another couple of these guys getting MLB debuts in 2014.

 

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predictions

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First off, this is partly a post of self-flaggelation, to show how far off my various predictions of what the 2013 minor league staffs would look like by doing 2012 season-ending analysis.  Such is the nature of minor league pitching staffs in the modern day; they’re a combination of spare parts, rising stars and hangers-on and they can change rapidly with trades and spring training performances.  Every trade and every MLFA signing trickles down and fouls up predicitons.

Here’s my End of Season 2012 post with predictions for each of the 2013 minor league pitching staffs.   We’ll use that as a basis for the Opening Day 2013 rosters of the four full-season minor league teams.  Just for fun we’ll throw in (and start with) the MLB prediction.  Note that this early in the season we don’t really know who’s shaking out as starters and relievers necessarily for these minor league teams; i’m just going on first week usage right now.  As always, Luke Erickson and nationalsprospects.com, the Nats Big Board and the tireless work by “SpringfieldFan” is much appreciated here.


MLB Nov 2012 Prediction

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, FA or other acquisition
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Garcia, a FA left-hander (possibly Burnett), a FA long-man (possibly Gorzelanny).
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang

MLB April 2013 Actual

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, Haren
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Duke, Rodriguez, Soriano
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang, Gorzelanny

MLB Discussion: It wasn’t going to be that difficult to predict the 2013 Nats pitching staff make-up by looking at our staff and their FA status heading into the off-season.  The rotation filled its one spot with Dan Haren.  The bullpen was 5/7ths predicted correctly (if you count Zach Duke as a FA left-hander acquisition).  Christian Garcia‘s injury opened the door for one more season of Henry Rodriguez, and of course nobody could have predicted the Rafael Soriano purchase.  Lastly all 5 of the predicted departures occured, in addition to Tom Gorzelanny being let go.


AAA Nov 2012 Prediction

  • AAA Rotation: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko (swingman), Arneson (swingman), Severino (loogy), Davis, Lehman, Nelo (closer), Martin,  Mandel

AAA Apr 2013 Actual

  • AAA Rotation: Ohlendorf, Roark, Maya,Perry, Rosenbaum ( eventually Young)
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko, Mandel,  Davis, McCoy, Crotta, Abad, Romero, Bramhall
  • AAA D/L: Kimball, Bray, Meyers, Torra, West, Garcia (technically XLS), Accardo
  • AAA cut/released/FA: HPena, Mann, Zinicola, Arneson, Atkins, Ballard
  • AAA Missing: none

AAA Discussion

We were 3/5s correct on the rotation, and probably would have been 4/5ths right if Brad Meyers was healthy.  Ross Ohlendorf and (eventually) Chris Young are new faces here, both being former MLB starters who are taking the Zach Duke route of signing on for full seasons as AAA starter insurance for the big club in the hopes of rebuilding value and finding a MLB job for next year.  Brian Broderick is indeed back; its just that he’s starting for AA instead of AAA.  Lastly Danny Rosenbaum was returned to the team after his spring Rule-5 adventure and was put in AAA instead of AA, where (as we’ll see in a second) I would have predicted he would start.  Once Young is ready to go, I see Tanner Roark turning into the swingman/long-man.

On the bright side (pun intended), when was the last time a professional baseball team had TWO Ivy League alumni pitching in its rotation??  Both Young and Ohlendorf went to Princeton.  I wonder if they have NYTimes crossword puzzle competitions instead of (assumedly) video game competitions on off-days in the clubhouse.

As far as bullpen predictions go, next year I’m paying more close attention to who are 6-year free agents.  Arneson, Severino and Nelo were all MLFAs and have either signed on elsewhere or are facing forced retirement.  Tatusko, Davis and Mandel are onboard.  Lehman is (surprisingly?) in AA, perhaps a victim of the numbers game of the Nats signing (and keeping) a number of minor league lefty relievers this off-season.  I would guess, looking at the names in the bullpen, that Erik Davis is the closer but who knows what the usage will be like.  Lastly Bramhall was a MLFA signing over the off-season who just got placed on the AAA roster to replace the injured Accardo.


AA Nov 2012 Prediction

  • AA Rotation: Rosenbaum, Holder, Gilliam, Karns, Grace, Demny (swingman?) or MLFA?  Solis if he’s healthy?
  • AA Bullpen: Frias, McCoy, Selik (maybe high-A again), Holland (setup),  Wort (closer), VanAllen (loogy), Demmin (maybe high-A again), an org arm or two to fill in.

AA Apr 2013 Actual

  • AA Rotation: Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay, Karns
  • AA Bullpen: Holder, Frias, Holland, Wort, Barrett,  Krol,  Lehman, Swynenberg
  • AA D/L: Solis, RMartin, Olbrychowski, Selik
  • AA Cut/released/FA: VanAllen
  • AA Missing: none

AA Discussion

We got, well, not much of this right.  Of my starter predictions: Rosenbaum is in AAA, Holder is here but seems to be the long-man right now, Gilliam is hurt, Solis is still on the DL, and Grace is back in High-A.  We do seem to have at least gotten Karns and Demny right.  Broderick was a surprise FA signing, his being a favorite of the Nats organziation per our Rule-5 experiment with him a couple years back.  I’m surprised he’s not in the AAA rotation though.  Treinen was a trade-throw in from the Morse deal and takes a spot in this rotation, while Clay was a 2013 MLFA signing who (surprisingly?) made the rotation over the likes of other candidates.

The bullen prediction is all over the place: We got Frias, Holland and Wort right.  McCoy is in AAA, Selik is on the AA D/L and VanAllen and Demmin were MLFAs who were left unsigned (and per the big board are still unsigned).   I thought Barrett and Swynenberg would be in high-A instead of AA, I (and most others) thought Lehman would be in AAA, and Krol arrived as the PTBNL in the Morse trade.


High-A Nov 2012 Prediction

  • High-A Rotation: Swynenberg, Ray, Meyer (maybe AA?), Schwartz (maybe low-A), Rauh(maybe low-A)
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Barrett (maybe AA) , Testa, Smoker (loogy), Hill, Meza(perhaps a starter?), Holt, Hawkins, Bates, Mirowski
  • High-A bullpen Release candidates: Olbrychowski, McCatty, Applebee

High-A Apr 2013 Actual

  • High-A Rotation: Ray, Jordan, Cole, Turnbull, Hill
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Herron, Mirowski, Holt, Hawkins, Meza, Bates, Self, Grace
  • High-A D/L: Smoker, Applebee, Gilliam
  • High-A Cut/FA/Released: Demmin, Consuegra, Samuel, Testa
  • High-A Missing: McCatty, Olbrychowski

High-A Discussion

The Potomac rotation guess was already light; a couple of the guys I was guessing might be in low-A are indeed there (Schwartz and Rauh).  Swynenberg is in the AA bullpen.  Meyer was traded.  Only Robbie Ray returns.  I thought Jordan was going to repeat Hagerstown.   We got Cole back in the Morse trade and bumped up Turnbull from short season (over Mooneyham, interestingly) Lastly Hill seems to have beaten out Grace for the 5th starter spot.

The Bullpen prediction looks pretty good: 7 of the predicted guys are here (Smoker on the DL, Meza, Holt, Hawkins, Mirowski and Bates).  Barrett indeed is in AA.  Testa was released.  Of my release candidates McCatty is in XST, Applebee and Olbrychowski are on the DL.  Lastly both Samuel and Consuegra were off-season MLFA signings who didn’t pan out and have already been released.


Low-A Nov 2012 Prediction

  • Low-A Rotation: Turnbull, Jordan, Purke (if healthy), Monar, Mooneyham
  • Low-A Rotation Competitors: Hansen, Lee (loogy if not), Encarnation, McGeary (if finally healthy)
  • Low-A Bullpen Competition: Anderson, Estevez, Dupra, McKenzie, Henke, Davis, Boyden, Benincasa, Hudgins, Dicherry, Mudron

Low-A Apr 2013 Actual

  • Low-A Rotation: Anderson, Mooneyham, Pineyro, RPena, Encarnation
  • Low-A Swingmen: Rauh, Schwarz, Dupra
  • Low-A Bullpen: Fischer, Harper, Henke, Hudgins, Benincasa
  • Low-A D/L: Estevez, Purke, Simko, Mesa, Weaver
  • Low-A Cut/FA/Released: Kreis, Lucas, Upperman, Hansen, Monar
  • Low-A Missing: Hollins, Hicks

Low-A Discussion

Historically the hardest to predict, the Low-A team.  Of the guesses for the rotation last fall, we only got Mooneyham right.  Turnbull and Jordan were bumped up a level.  Purke is still hurt.  Of the “competitors” the team flat out released Monar and Hansen to my surprise.  Monar was really good in Auburn last year, and while Bobby Hansen wasn’t nearly as dominant as a starter, I thought he’d at least get a shot at being a loogy after so many years in the organization.  Jack McGeary was selected out of the org during the minor league phase of the rule-5 draft.  Lee is in XST limbo right now.

So who are these surprising Low-A rotation guys?  I thought Anderson would be relegated to the bullpen in Low-A; instead he’s the opening day starter.  I thought Pineyro would repeat short-season ball but he made the full-season team.  And lastly I thought Pena was destined for another season in short-A.

Rauh and Schwartz, after I thought they had shots in the rotation in high-A, seem to be taking the roles of “2nd starters” for now, each having gone multiple innings in relief of the starter.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them becoming full time starters if one of the 5 guys ahead of them falter.

Most of the rest of the predicted bullpen are 2012 signees who are currently amongst a large group of extended spring training guys who will be battling it out for short-season jobs with 2013 signees.   And we seem to have a very large group of them; the big board lists in excess of 30 hurlers who are currently still in the organization, who are not on the D/L officially, but who are not assigned to one of the four full season teams.   That’s a lot of arms for just a handful of spots in short-A and the rookie league after the 2013 draft occurs.

Written by Todd Boss

April 11th, 2013 at 8:41 am

Posted in Majors Pitching,Minor League Pitching,Rule-5

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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.

2013 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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After finishing the evaluation of all 6 minor league pitching staffs, plus finally finishing (and posting yesterday) the MLB season review,  here’s an entirely too-early projection of what the staffs and rotations may look like in 2013.  This post assumes for the time being that all major and minor league FAs will opt out and we’ll be looking to fill spots.  In these cases I’ll mark FAs to be as needed, though we very well may acquire these players in trade.

Note: some of these projections are slightly different from the original reviews posted in the per-level links, to account for moves, performances and roster moves that have already happened or seem set to happen this off-season.  I’ve also made some slight adjustments in order to make the rotations and bullpens work at each level.

(notations: FA = free agent, MLFA == Minor League Free Agent)

Staff Review links: MLB is here, AAA is here, AA is here, High-A is here, Low-A is here, Short-A is here, GCL is here.

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, FA or other acquisition
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Garcia, a FA left-hander (possibly Burnett), a FA long-man (possibly Gorzelanny).
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang

MLB Narrative: 4/5ths of the rotation are no-brainers.  The 5th starter is the question mark for 2013.  Do we re-sign Jackson and pay him more as a 5th starter than our big 3 guys?  It doesn’t seem so after the team declined to give him a Qualifying Offer.  Do we trade from depth (RH relief, middle infield) and find a 5th starter that way?  Do we find a 5th starter from within?  Meanwhile the bullpen is now full of hard throwing righties, but we could lose all 3 of our lefties.  We may need to work the phones to retain these guys, or else we’re on the FA market.  I think (despite my discussion about converting Garcia to a 5th starter) that he’ll remain in the bullpen and may bump Henry Rodriguez out of a job.  One of our two closer-quality guys (Clippard and Storen) could be moved, cashing in on their value, which could open up a spot for a FA acquisition or a promotion from AAA.

Lots to be decided this off-season for Mike Rizzo, and this hasn’t even mentioned the dominos that will fall if/when the team makes a contract decision on Adam LaRoche.

  • AAA Rotation: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko (swingman), Arneson (swingman), Severino (loogy), Davis, Lehman, Nelo (closer), Martin,  Mandel

AAA Narrative: We have a lot of long-serving minor leaguers here; as it stands now only a few of them are even 40-man roster guys (Maya, Perry, Garcia).  The modern AAA roster construction is one of “spare parts” and prospects; do we have enough prospects to cover for injuries at the MLB level?  Which one of these AAA starters would Nats fans feel comfortable filling in were one of our starters to go down with injury?  Perhaps the Nats need to work on some starter depth via trade.  Brad Meyers was just returned from the Yankees after a season-long DL stint after being Rule-5 drafted, and seems likely to slot right back into the AAA rotation when he’s healthy.  Perry seems set to get a 4th option and should slot in here, looking to convert back to being a starter.  Broderick is a former Rule-5 pick and was claimed from St. Louis, who dumped him late last season.  I don’t think he’s anything more than a 4-A starter, but the organization seems to like him.

  • AA Rotation: Rosenbaum, Holder, Gilliam, Karns, Grace, Demny (swingman?) or MLFA?  Solis if he’s healthy?
  • AA Bullpen: Frias, McCoy, Selik (maybe high-A again), Holland (setup), Wort (closer), VanAllen (loogy), Demmin (maybe high-A again), an org arm or two to fill in.

AA narrative: We have a couple of interesting candidates in the AA rotation to start, but what may be more interesting is to see whether the likes of Gilliam and Demny hold onto their spots with the talent ready to rise up out of high-A.  Meanwhile, the bullpen has some interesting arms to keep an eye on.  I forgot to mention Solis in the AA write-up but remembered him here.  Two big questions for me in this AA rotation for 2013: 1) is Rosenbaum for real or is he going to sputter out before reaching MLB potential?   And, 2) Is Nathan Karns ready to make the leap?  I think Karns can quickly put his name in the mix to get promoted to AAA based on his performance in 2012.

  • High-A Rotation: Swynenberg, Ray, Meyer (maybe AA?), Schwartz (maybe low-A), Rauh (maybe low-A)
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Barrett (maybe AA) , Testa, Smoker (loogy), Hill, Meza (perhaps a starter?), Holt, Hawkins, Bates, Mirowski
  • High-A bullpen Release candidates: Olbrychowski, McCatty, Applebee

High-A narrative: there’s too many arms for too few slots right now in all three of the A-levels.   There’s a ton of release candidates, and some guys who could be higher or lower.   I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the organizational meetings where all this evaluation is done.  Meyer dominated High-A last year; could he start in AA?   Barrett (by virtue of his AFL appearance) may also be AA material.

The same goes for the Low-A team below: I’ve got 5 logical rotation candidates, another 4 guys who make sense to be in the low-A rotation, and a slew of guys who seem to have earned their way to the low-A bullpen.  But there’s only 7 slots to go around.

  • Low-A Rotation: Turnbull, Jordan, Purke (if healthy), Monar, Mooneyham
  • Low-A Rotation Competitors: Hansen, Lee (loogy if not), Encarnation, McGeary (if finally healthy)
  • Low-A Bullpen Competition: Anderson, Estevez, Dupra, McKenzie, Henke, Davis, Boyden, Benincasa, Hudgins, Dicherry, Mudron

We acknowledge the folly of trying to predict short-season staffs which will mostly be populated with 2013 draftees, especially under the new CBA that shortens negotiation times, making it more likely college seniors are drafted (who sign quickly with zero leverage) and get playing.  That being said, there will definitely be guys who stay in extended spring training for a couple months and then get placed on these rosters along with new draftees.  Here’s some guesses based on 2012 performances; all blank spots filled by 2013 draftees or by some of the guys who drop down from low-A.

  • Short-A Rotation: Baez, Pineyro
  • Short-A Bullpen: Smith (if not released), Fischer, Medina, Pena, Mendez

GCL blank spots filled by younger 2013 draftees (HS, Juco and college juniors/seniors from smaller schools) and by rising DSL grads.

  • GCL Rotation: Mieses (if not released), Barrientos, Vasquez
  • GCL Bullpen: Heredes

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Nathan Karns parlayed his first healthy pro season into an Organizational POTY award. Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

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

Here’s the High-A version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA 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 generally not mentioned.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Kyle Winters, an off season minor league free agent pickup, was Potomac’s opening day starter.  But he wasn’t long for the rotation; he got shelled en-route to posting a 7.02 era in 8 starts before getting released.  It does not seem like anyone else picked him up (except perhaps in Indy ball).  Lets be honest; it is never a good sign to have minor league free agents playing significant roles on high-A ball clubs.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • High-A proved to be too much for Bobby Hansen, who put up a 5.85 ERA in 6 starts (9 total appearances) before being moved back to Low-A, where he spent 2011.  He’s young; he has yet to turn 23, so even low-A isn’t the worst place for him.  But he’ll be entering his 6th pro season in 2013 and you’d like to see him throw more than 50 innings in a season.  Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.
  • Adam Olbrychowski wasn’t able to build on his 2011 season in High-A, regressing badly and posting a 6.24 ERA in 26 appearances (16 starts).  He lost his rotation spot halfway through the season and didn’t fare well out of the pen.   This trade didn’t work out for either team really (the Nats traded Justin Maxwell to the Yankees for Olbrychowski    in January 2011 and released him themselves; he now plays for Houston).  Outlook for next season: either one last shot in the High-A bullpen or released.
  • Matthew Grace put in his third year as a full-time starter with the Organization, and he continues to be hit or miss.  On the season he posted a 9-12 record with a 4.84 ERA and 83/48 k/bb ratio in 141 1/3 innings, but you never know what you’re getting with him.  His final start of the season featured 8 shutout innings, but his first start in August was a 3-inning 9 hit meltdown.  Outlook for next season: the organization stuck with him after a 5.17 ERA in a full season of low-A; no reason to think they won’t continue to stick with him in 2013.  AA rotation, perhaps re-peating High-A if the numbers don’t work out.
  • Matt Swynenberg was in and out of the rotation, not really excelling as either a starter or a reliever on the year.  7-5, 4.92 ERA on the season.   He was a bit unlucky on the season; he had a .343 BABIP and his FIP was a bit lower than his ERA.   Outlook for next season: he’s still young (turned 23 in February) and has plenty of time to improve.  And, given that he was a 28th round draft pick, anything he contributes is absolute gravy to the organization).   Look for him to be leading the High-A rotation in 2013 with an eye for mid-season promotion.
  • Robbie Ray was last year’s sensation, an 19-yr old dominating in Low-A.  He clearly suffered from a sophomore slump, going 4-12 with a 6.56 ERA in 22 “starts” (I put that in quotes since he had one 5-inning “relief” appearance in June).  What happened?  His K’s were down, Walks up, HRs up, BABIP unlucky, and his FIP was a full point and a half lower than his ERA.  So it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Plus, he’s only 20 in high-A, where a lot of college guys take a year and a half to get to.  I’m not worried at all; i’ll bet he’s back to being dominant in 2013 repeating the level.  Outlook for next season: back in the High-A rotation.
  • Nathan Karns finally got a healthy full season of pitching under his belt after getting paid 3rd round money as a 12th round draft pick in the high-spending 2009 draft, and the organization finally got a look at what Karns can do: A 2.17 ERA in 24 appearances (18 starts) across 116 innings between low- and high-A.  This was no fluke either; all his advanced stats support his performance and give reason to believe he’ll continue to develop.  He was named the Organization’s Pitcher of the  Year for 2012, usually a great indicator of future success for this team.  He’s a big guy with a great pitching frame (6’5″, 230lbs) and an even better mustache (see his profile picture at milb.com).  I think Karns may be our best or 2nd best starter prospect right now.  A ight concern may be his hitting the DL in mid-August after a couple of mediocre outings; I’d guess that he’s reached an innings limit for the season and was shutdown with an unspecified injury.  This may also explain why he’s not appearing in the AFL after such a season.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Trevor Holder finally got promoted past high-A after repeating the league for the 4th time in 2012.  He got 10 starts in Potomac before being moved up mid-season.  He was pretty good in his 9 starts in High-A this year: 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA. Outlook for next season: (from the AA post): AA Rotation.
  • Alex Meyer excelled in 7 late-season starts in Potomac after throwing 90 innings in low-A to start the  year.  Final high-A stats: 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings.  His ancillary numbers declined slightly moving from low- to high-A (as one would expect), but his core capabilities seem to be the same.  He’s a HUGE guy (6’9″) and the downward plane on his fastball makes it incredibly difficult to hit in the air (only 6 homers allowed in 139IP).  A lot of pundits (myself included) were critical of Meyer starting in low-A as such an advanced draft prospect, but his numbers in high-A (a more legitimate evaluation of his skills age- and experience-wise) give great hope.  The organization has had him working on mechanics all year, worried that such a big guy was going to struggle to repeat his delivery (as highlighted by this Baseball America article, subscribers only sorry).  After being basically a 2-pitch guy in college, Meyer has reportedly added a 2-seam fastball that he throws at the same velocity as his 4-seamer to go with an 87-mph change-up.  Suddenly he’s a 4-pitch guy (2 plus-plus, one plus and one fringe) and that gives him a great chance of remaining a starter.  A 6’9″ throwing upper 90s has to look like 100+ to a hitter based on his release point, and despite most scouts opinion that he’d make a fantastic shut-down closer with his 2 plus-plus pitches, he has more value to the team as a starter.  Outlook for next season: I think he starts in High-A rotation again with an eye towards quick promotion to AA.
  • Robert Gilliam underperformed in AA, got demoted to high-A and gave Potomac 7 up-and-down starts down the stretch.   Final numbers in Potomac: 1-2, 4.25 ERA in 36ip.  Outlook for next season: (cut-n-pasted from AA post): The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation with Meyer sitting in High-A waiting in the wings.
  • Taylor Hill got three late-season starts after toiling all year in Hagerstown.  Outlook for next season: see Low-A post.

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Ryan Demmin served as the mop-up/swing man for the team, giving them a K/9 reliever with a 4.57 ERA on the season.  He got a couple of spot starts but only went 7 innings between the two.  He gives up a lot of hits but doesn’t walk guys.  He could continue to be a useful middle reliever.  Outlook for next season: Likely the high-A bullpen again, though he could slot up to AA if the numbers don’t work out.
    • Paul Applebee, as with Demmin, was used mostly as a long man and got a spot start before going down with injury in June.  He wasn’t great when he did pitch (5.00 era in 36ip), but he’s been useful in the organization for a while.  Outlook for next season: High-A mop-up guy again, not knowing how severe his arm injury is.

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

  • Neil Holland continued an excellent string of seasons for this organization since being drafted in 2010.  He was close to unhittable in 2012: a 1.64 era in 60 innings and a sub 1.00 whip.  That’s fantastic.  Outlook for next season: see if he can repeat his performance in AA.
  • Rob Wort had, frankly, a pretty amazing season as Potomac’s closer.  He had an era of 2.38 over 56 2/3 innings, and had 13 saves.  That’s not why he was amazing; He had 95 Ks in those same 56 2/3 innings.  That is a 15.09 K/9 rate!!  For a 30-th round draft pick (i.e., a guy who was never really expected to make it out of rookie camp), that’s incredible.  Outlook for next season: closer in AA.
  • Joe Testa couldn’t repeat his excellent 2011 Potomac results, putting up an ugly 5.17 era in 38 IP.  The ugly part?  A perfect 1-1 ratio of walks to strikeouts on the year (31 walks, 31 Ks).  He turning 27 in December and is entering his 6th minor league season; I think its safe to say 2013 is a “show me” year for Testa. Outlook for next season: hard to see him moved up to AA; I see him repeating in the High-A bullpen, perhaps a pure Loogy.
  • Cameron Selik looked to have “figured out” the bullpen after being a starter for most of 2011, and had a fantastic 34/3 k/bb ratio in 22 high-A innings.  He earned a promotion, but begged out of his AA debut with what probably was a torn Lat.  He didn’t pitch again after June 5th.  A shame, since it would have been nice to see how he fared upon reaching AA. Outlook for next season: I’d start him in the High-A bullpen again to make sure he’s healthy, then promote him up to AA.
  • Aaron Barrett has gone from unknown 9th rounder to organizational top prospect in one season; after tearing through Low-A with 52 Ks in 34 innings, he allowed just 2 runs in 17 high-A innings to close out the  year.  His performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League along with a number of other high-profile Nats prospects.  Outlook for next season: As with Selik, I’d imagine he belongs in the AA bullpen; we’ll see if the numbers work out.  If not he starts in Potomac looking for a quick jump.
  • Josh Smoker, the Nats poster child for NOT drafting high school arms early, threw a grand total of 9.2 innings between three levels this year.  Its hard to believe, but he’ll play his 6th minor league season in our system in 2013 and then he’ll likely move on.  Outlook for next season: if healthy, High-A bullpen to try one last time to resurrect his Nats career.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in High-A 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.
    • Adam Carr, a 28-yr old in high-A after spending most of 2011 in AAA.  Org arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier looked great in 19 High-A innings; he should since he’s 28 and in his 8th minor league season.
    • Shane McCatty struggled through a 6-week mid-season injury and an 8.83 ERA in high-A.  Nepotism seems to indicate that he’ll get another shot in 2013, deserved or not.
    • Wilson Eusebio was promoted twice, both times inexplicably based on his performance, and ended up getting lit up in Potomac.  He may be out of baseball after 2012.

Summary

Summary Potomac’s 5 opening day starters finished the season with these ERAs: 7.02, 5.85, 6.24, 4.84 and 4.92.  Thankfully guys like Meyer, Holder and Karns replaced some of these starts with decent ones later on in the season.  They got great performances up and down the bullpen though, which helped the team to remain in playoff contention late into the 2nd half (despite their sub .500 record).  At least they were dominant at home (21-13 first half, 21-15 second half), giving the Potomac fans a lot to cheer for.

Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff year in Review; 2011

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Danny Rosenbaum was your opening day starter, and best hurler of 2011. Photo Jeff Mankie/News & Messenger via insidenova.com

(3rd in a series; scroll back to earlier posts for AAA, AA reviews).

The defending Carolina League champs Potomac had some big shoes to fill, with a number of their impact players from last year departing and moving onwards and upwards.  2011 saw an interesting rotation full of question marks, and by the end of the season the rotation featured one of the franchise’s most important pitching prospects.

Here’s the status of the Potomac pitching staff at the end of the season (ages are as of 9/30/11)

  • Rotation: Demny 22, Selik 24, Olbrychowski 25, Bronson (L) 24, Solis 23
  • Bullpen: Smoker (L) 22, Nelo 25, Testa (L) 26, Wort 22, Holland 23, Frias 22, Holder 24
  • Spot starts: Clegg (L) 24
  • Promotions: CMartinez, RMartin, Lehman, Rosenbaum
  • up-and-back: Bronson
  • Demotions: Demmin, Weaver
  • DL: EDavis 24
  • Cut/released (spring training and/or mid-season): Fabian, Phillibaum, Dill, Beno, Caldera 25, Morrison 24

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Rosenbaum, Holder, Frias, Demny and Clegg.

  • Danny Rosenbaum was your opening day starter, and easily your best starter in High-A this year.  He put in 20 appearances (19 starts) and pitched to a 6-5 record, 2.59 era, 1.17 whip with 108/41 k/bb in 132 IP.  The lefty looks like another in a long line of lefties this system is developing; not necessarily overpowering fastballs but pitches with guile and control.  Much like Lannan, Milone or even teammate Solis, Rosenbaum will probably be a difficult pitcher to evaluate going forward, with scouts not knowing how to rate his ceiling as a starter.  Outlook for next season: Rosenbaum was promoted at the very end of the season and had six very productive AA starts.  He should start in Harrisburg in 2012.
  • Trevor Holder has been fighting the “overdraft” label since his 2009 drafting as a 3rd rounder despite a less-than-stellar college career.  After the Strasburg money outlay, many pundits thought that his drafting represented an “affordability” pick, and sure enough he signed as a college senior for far less than slot.  Holder was given no less than 14 Potomac starts before mercifully being demoted to the bullpen, where he put in a few more relief appearances the rest of the season.  Final season numbers: 3-8, 5.77 era.  Outlook for next season: Holder should start 2012 in Potomac’s bullpen, and it would be the fourth year he’ll be in high-A.  He’s officially in “organization guy” territory now, and unless he markedly improves soon he’ll be closer to a release than a future with this team.
  • Marcos Frias is an interesting case; in 2010 he was awful as a starter for Potomac, yet he was given another shot in 2011.   He got four early-season starts and wasn’t half bad (he had two good starts and one really bad one in April) and was demoted to the bullpen when Selik got promoted.  Once he got to the bullpen?  He was fantastic, posting a 1.67 era in 54 relief innings.  The DSL graduate is still very young, and the Nats may have found a valuable bullpen arm.  Outlook for next season: Frias should be in the AA bullpen, perhaps in the mix to be the closer.
  • Paul Demny was the only hurler in the rotation who started and stuck in the rotation for the entire season, finishing the year with 26 starts, a 10-10 record and a 4.32 era.  He’s still young (he’s in his fourth pro season and has just turned 22), but he’s also at the point in his pro career that he needs to start showing progress above the A level.  As a JuCo signee he’s rule 5 eligible this off-season but there’s very little chance he gets selected (at least in the MLB phase), so the team has a bit more time to evaluate him.  But 2012 is a make or break year for him.  Outlook for next season: Perhaps he starts in high-A again, but he could be pushed up to the AA rotation depending on how the rosters shake out.  I’m not sure he did enough to earn a promotion on performance in 2011, but a numbers game of recent rising college draftees may put him on the AA roster.
  • Mitchell Clegg had nine mostly poor-to-incredibly bad starts before being demoted to the bullpen, at which point he had a couple of spot starts but worked mostly in the bullpen the rest of the year.  On the year: 4-7, 5.50 era and he was equally bad out of the bullpen (starting split: 5.11 era, relieving split: 6.00 era).  Outlook for next season: he’ll be lucky to make the 2012 Potomac bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s released after spring training.
  • Cameron Selik earned a promotion to Potomac after five stellar outings in Hagerstown (where he gave up exactly one earned run in 29 innings) but wasn’t able to replicate that success in high-A.  He gave the team 16 starts before being moved to the bullpen in August.  As a starter in high-A he was 4-9 with a 4.57 era.  Outlook for next season: he’ll be in the Potomac rotation, looking to improve his 2nd year at the level.
  • Adam Olbrychowski was struggling during the first half as a middle-reliever in the Potomac pen, then was surprisingly inserted into the rotation, where he performed markedly better.  He posted a 5.63ERA in 16 relief innings, then posted a 3.71 era in 15 starts during the second half.   I may be wrong, but I believe he’s rule-5 eligible this coming off season, though his status as a mediocre-to-halfway decent right hander in high-A probably keeps him safe for the time being.  Outlook for next season: good question.  He’ll be 26 and in his 6th minor league season next year, but he clearly improved once he hit the rotation.  I’d say he starts in the AA rotation with a short leash.
  • Evan Bronson logged a lot of frequent flier miles this season; he was left in extended spring training, then joined up with Potomac a few cycles into the season.  He lasted a few starts, got dropped from the rotation when Solis joined the team, made a quick appearance in AAA and a spot start in AA, then finished the season back in the Potomac rotation.  Phew.  All in all he posted a 5-5 record in high-A in 23 appearances and 12 starts.  He was clearly better in relief than he was as a starter, often putting in long relief stints and holding down the fort.  Outlook for next season: He’s put in good numbers in high-A two years running; time for him to move to AA.  I’d guess he gets a look as a starter but serves as the long man/spot starter in AA.
  • Sammy Solis had a slight injury in the spring, then started in low-A (a bit low for an accomplished college draftee of his stature).  Once he made it to high-A though, he did not disappoint.  In 10 starts he posted a 6-2 record with a 2.72 era, a 1.28 whip and had 53/11 k/bb in 56 1/3 innings.  Whats really interesting about Solis is his splits; despite being a lefty he dominated right handed hitters, posting a 1.97 era split against them (albeit with a .260 BA against).  Outlook for next season: Solis remains one of our better starter prospects though, and should advance quickly up the system in 2012.  He will start in the AA rotation and may end the season in AAA.
  • Erik Davis struggled in AA, earning a demotion to high-A, where he was even worse.  0-5 with a 6.75 era in six starts, ending the season on the DL (unclear if it was for a legitimate injury or a roster manipulation preparing the team for the playoffs).   Outlook for next season: (from the AA post): he starts in the AA bullpen on a short leash.
  • Other Starters of note (non-rehab): Alex Caldera had two awful starts and was summarily released in April.   He was acquired for cash from Kansas City in late March and after his release picked up with the low-A affiliate of Florida.

Potomac Relievers:

  • Pat Lehman was fantastic early on as the closer and earned a mid-season promotion.  Outlook for next season: (from the AA post): he sticks in the AA bullpen, competing for the closer role.
  • Hector Nelo took over as the primary closer after Lehman’s promotion and was similarly productive.  He had a 2.40 era in 41+ innings and earned 18 saves. He really has turned around his career; getting released in April by Texas, signing with Washington two days later and looking like a new pitcher.  He was a 25-yr old in high-A though; he’ll need to produce at the next level in 2012.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen in perhaps a setup role.
  • Josh Smoker has remade his own career post arm injury, putting up great numbers in a later-inning relief mode.  On the season he was 5-2 with a 2.31 era but more importantly 56 Ks in 50 innings.  He’s rule-5 eligible but is in little danger of getting plucked away.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Joe Testa and Neil Holland were both excellent in middle-relief.  Unfortunately Testa is way too old for high-A and may be considered the “extra guy” we got in the Ramos-Capps deal.  Holland is much younger and pitched his way out of Hagerstown early.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen for both, though Testa may not be long for the organization, losing out in a numbers game.
  • Rob Wort couldn’t follow up on his excellent 2010 numbers in Potomac and took a step back in 2011.  He’s young though.  Outlook for next season: he repeats high-A, again in the bullpen.
  • Dean Weaver and Ryan Demmin both were demoted down to Hagerstown; we’ll cover them in the Low-A review.
  • Other relievers with appearances: Rafael Martin was dominant and earned his promotion to AA.  Kyle Morrison was released after just a few appearances early on.  Carlos Martinez bounced around the organization and pitched a few ineffective innings for Potomac.