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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.

 

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Roark was the story of the year from Syracuse. Photo via milb.com

Roark was the story of the year from Syracuse. Photo via milb.com

2nd in a series: here’s the opener, reviewing the Major league squad.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011′s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.

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

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Ohlendorf, Roark, Maya, Perry and Rosenbaum.  It finished the year with Maya, Tatusko, Rosembaum, Mandel and Clay.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original 5.

  • Ross Ohlendorf took a minor league gig with the Nationals to try to revitalize his career and went a somewhat pedestrian looking 4-6 in 13 starts.  His FIP (3.49) was better than his ERA (4.22) and his K/9 was good as he revamped his windup.  A streak of good starts led to his June call-up, where he basically spent the rest of the season as the Nats’ long-man/spot starter.  He tired as a starter, only going past the 5th inning three times, and Davey Johnson seemed hesitatant to use him because of it.  Outlook for next season: he did enough to get tendered a contract (which he quickly signed; 1yr/$1.25M), and seemingly he will slot back in as the long-man/spot-starter role for the MLB team.  He doesn’t seem to have enough to compete and win the 5th starter competition.  Will the team dump him to AAA as an inexpensive starter insurance policy?  I doubt it for now; they probably opt to keep Ohlendorf as the last guy out of the pen.
  • Tanner Roark started in the rotation, got shelled in his 2nd and (especially) his 3rd starts, and got dumped to the bullpen.  He toiled there for weeks before getting another shot in the rotation, and when he did he did very well.  By the time he got called up in August he had recovered from his 3 2/3 inning 10-run debacle in early April to post a 9-3 record with a 3.15 ERA and a 0.99 whip in AAA.  All he did upon arriving in the majors is pitch lights-out (a 252 ERA+) in 50 innings mixed with starts and relief apperances.  Outlook for next season: he’ll compete for the 5th starter job in spring but may not win it.  Its hard to imagine a guy who threw 50+ innings of 1.50 ERA ball to NOT make the team the following spring; he could end up replacing Ohlendorf as the long-man/spot starter for the MLB team.
  • Yunesky Maya made nearly a complete season worth of starts for Syracuse, going 8-8 with a 3.87 ERA.   However in his third (and last) opportunity to pitch for the major league club he got hammered, which led to a DFA in late May and an outright to Syracuse.  Maya pitched out the string, was not called up in September and was released in late November.  Outlook for next season: he has signed a minor league contract with Atlanta, closing the book on an unsatisfying tenure with the Nationals organization.
  • Ryan Perry started the year in the 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).  How odd; last year we were worried about Perry getting that needed 4th option; now he’s an org arm in AA.  This guy was pitching in a playoff team’s bullpen at 22, now he’s turning 27 and banished in the mid-minors.  Amazing.  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, unless a numbers dearth pushes him by attrition to the AAA bullpen.
  • Danny Rosenbaum had a whirlwind spring, getting rule-5 drafted by Colorado and then subsequently returned in late March, just in time to pack his bags for upstate New York and take his spot in the back end of the Syracuse Rotation.  Rosenbaum led the 2013 rotation in starts and innings, going 7-11 with a 3.87 ERA.  He did not earn a September call-up, nor was he selected in 2013′s Rule-5 draft.  Unfortunately, Rosenbaum seems to have found his ceiling and may need a change of scenery to see if he can move forward.  Outlook for next season: one more season as Syracuse’s innings eating lefty, then a minor league free agent at the end of 2014.
  • Ryan Tatusko gave Syracuse a full season of swing-man production, starting in the pen and then ending in the rotation.  Final season stats: 5-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 28 appearances (18 starts).  Nothing special here: I just wish I knew what happened to the guy who was a lights-out starter for Texas’ AA franchise when we acquired him in 2010.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent, likely pitching in another organization.
  • Caleb Clay gave both AA and AAA 13 starts a-piece, finishing the year in Syracuse with excellent numbers (5-2, 2.49 ERA in 13 starts in AAA).   He turned out to be an excellent minor league FA signing for the organization; too bad they couldn’t keep him for 2014.  I was somewhat disappointed to see  him signing elsewhere, thinking that he could be a sneaky good pitcher for the Nats someday.  Outlook for next season: signed with San Francisco as a minor league free agent for 2014, where he stands a halfway decent chance of contributing at the MLB level, considering how bad Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum were in 2013.
  • Jeff Mandel continued to serve as the rubber arm swing man for Syracuse, a role that he’s essentially played for the Nats AAA affiliate in one way or another since 2010.  This year he got 10 starts and 100+ innings and continued to show unfortunately that his peak is as an organizational/innings eating arm.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent; he could sign on again with Washington as he did last off-season but he has to think that his path to the majors is easier with another team.
  • Chris Young was signed to a combo deal last off-season to give the team some starter insurance.  Instead he started hurt, pitched horribly in 7 starts, then went back on the D/L for essentially the rest of the season.   He gave up 50 hits in 32 AAA innings and was smoked for a 7.88 ERA.  Outlook for next season: the Nats must have seen something they liked during his rehab assignments, because they’ve already signed him to a minor league contract for 2014.  AAA rotation, hopefully healthy this time.
  • Brad Meyers was rule-5 drafted by the Yankees in 2012, got hurt for them, and was eventually returned in time for the 2013 season, but spent the entire year on the D/L.  He’s got enough time to be a MLFA but isn’t on BA’s list so I presume he’s still in the organization.  Outlook for next season: competing for a rotation spot in AAA; likely to be released if he doesn’t make the team.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Matt Torra had 5 starts in June/July then got released.
    • Taylor Hill got a couple of spot starts in August and was sent back to AA; see Harrisburg’s writeup for more on him.
    • Christian Garcia got a couple of “starts” doing re-hab assignments; see the reliever section.
    • Tyler Robinson had a spot start and an extended outing; see the reliever section.
    • Paul Demny got a spot start call-up and was sent back down; see Harrisburg’s writeup for more.

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

  • Erik Davis was Syracuse’s closer in name for a bulk of the season, earning 15 saves while posting a 3.10 ERA in 52+ innings.  He was a Sept 2012 pre-rule5 40-man addition and spent a week in the MLB pen in June before getting recalled for September.  Out of his 10 MLB appearances he gave up zero runs in 9 of them and showed excellent middle-reliever stuff (12/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings).  Outlook for next season: I don’t think he can crack the 7-man MLB bullpen so he’ll be in Syracuse again, but there’s a reason he got added to the 40-man and I think he features as MLB bullpen insurance throughout the year.
  • Michael Broadway was a MLFA signing who gave the organization excellent back-of-the-bullpen production the whole year, starting with Harrisburg and ending with Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: he has already signed a MLFA deal with Toronto for 2014, somewhat of a disappointment.  Like Clay, I would have liked to have kept this guy around if possible.
  • Michael Crotta was another organizational-filling MLFA signing in 2013 who, like Broadway, toiled well and ate innings in Syracuse.   Outlook for next season: MLFA again, likely signing elsewhere.
  • Tyler Robertson was a June 2013 waiver claim off of Minnesota, grabbed to help address the team’s lack of left-handed relievers.  Robertson pitched decently for Syracuse but was passed on the Loogy depth chart by several others.  He was outrighted in November ahead of the Rule-5 draft.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen, though if i’m not mistaken he’s got enough service time to be a MLFA.  I wonder if his outright and acceptance of assignment to Syracuse was effectively the Nats signing him to a 2014 ML contract?  This is a frequent question and I’m not enough of an expert on baseball transactions to know the answer.
  • Xavier Cedeno was an April 2013 waiver claim off of Houston (of all teams), who spent most of the season in Syracuse (save for a quick June call-up).  In September, he pitched pretty effectively, giving up just one run in 9 outings and 11+ innings for the big team.  He clearly hasn’t shown the team enough to be counted on as the go-to loogy, considering the Nats off-season trade for Jeremy Blevens and their talk of using the likes of Ross Detwiler and/or Sammy Solis as lefty reliever help in 2014.  And I know that many here think Cedeno is making the MLB roster; I just don’t see it right now.    Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Mark Lowe was a mid-season MLFA pickup after getting released by the Angels.  He opted out of his contract at the end of the minor league season when he wasn’t getting added to the 40-man or called-up.   Outlook for next season: MLFA
  • Cole Kimball just never made it back from shoulder surgery and was outrighted in July.  He had an 8.06 ERA this year in 25 2/3 innings.   Outlook for next season: MLFA, likely out of baseball unfortunately.  Shoulder surgeries are just a killer.
  • Fernando Abad was a MLFA signing last off-season who pitched great for Syracuse and earned a call-up in May.   He toiled in the pen decently most of the year for the big-club but wasn’t considered valuable enough to keep.  The team DFA’d him ahead of this year’s rule-5 draft and then worked out a trade with our favorite GM Billy Beane.  Outlook for next season: in Oakland’s organization.
  • Christian Garcia got just 8 1/3 AAA innings this year (and 13 1/3 total in the minors on all rehab assignments) after getting hurt in spring training as the team tried to stretch him out as a starter.  I think the team now sees the error of its ways with Garcia, a fragile guy who has survived multiple surgeries to this point.  His stuff is so good, he’s a shoe-in for a MLB job if he’s healthy, but who can count on him to be healthy at this point?   Outlook for next season: if healthy, he’s competing for a 6th/7th inning role in the MLB bullpen.   He’s got plenty of options left though, so its likely he starts in the AAA bullpen given the crowded nature of the MLB pen right now.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA 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 free agent in another organization.
    • Jeremy Accardo: signed in February, released in June after a 5.56 ERA in 22+ innings.  He did not resign anywhere and may be done.
    • Bobby Bramhall was signed in November, and released 3 weeks into the season after posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 innings to make room for Cedeno & Young on the roster.   He was picked up by Philadelphia and ended the season demoted to their AA team.
    • J.C. Romero opted out of his contract after 2 months despite 15 decent apperances; it was clear the Nats weren’t calling him up and were favoring other loogy candidate acquisitions.  He was picked up by Cleveland, threw two innings and apparently went on the D/L.
    • Pat McCoy failed to make the jump from AA to AAA and was demoted back after 7 ineffective appearances; see the Harrisburg write-up for more.
    • Brian Dupra was called up for one game oddly; he spent most of the season in low- and high-A.  See Potomac’s write-up for more.

Summary

Despite the nature of AAA these days as being a “spare parts” storage team, Syracuse produced a couple of very pleasant surprises for this team.  Ohlendorf went from being a throw-away MLFA signing to a productive MLB long man.  Roark was one step from the dreaded “org guy/MLFA” category, and when given a chance pitched fantastically at the MLB level.  Plus, the development of loogy depth in the form of Robertson and Cedeno will serve the organization well.

 

What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3″ starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3″ starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.

 

Great performances from Nats minor league teams in 2013…

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Most people have heard about the historic Nats Gulf Coast Rookie league team’s performance this year, but the Nats farm teams were great up and down the system in 2013.   Here’s a recap of each level’s season, in case you havn’t already gotten the summary from Dave Huzzard or Luke Erickson:

  • AAA Syracuse: Last place, International League North.  Season record: 66-78.  Contrary to the title of this article, our AAA team was pretty bad this year.  Culprets?  A middle-of-the road offense and a relatively weak pitching staff (they were easily last in the league in strikeouts, lower ranked in other major pitching categories).
  • High-A Potomac: 1st half AND 2nd half champions, Carolina League North.   Season Record: 84-55.  Winning both halfs earned them full home field advantage in the first round of the divisional playoffs, which they used to beat Lynchburg easily enough.  However in the Carolina league final the Nats lost both games at home before getting swept by Salem in the league championship series (Salem is Boston’s high-A affiliate).
  • Low-A Hagerstown: 1st half champs of the South Atlantic League Northern.  Season Record: 80-57.  They dispatched the 2nd half champs from West Virginia in the divisional series to face Savannah in the Sally League championship.  After splitting the first two games at home, Hagerstown traveled to Savannah and lost two straight to drop the championship (Savannah is the New  York Mets’ low-A affiliate).

  • Short-A Auburn: Last place, NY-Penn Pinckney.  26-49.  Culprets include a team .230 batting average and near league bottom OPS combined with the worst team ERA and worst team WHIP in the league.  Bad hitting and the worse pitching equates with last place.

  • Rookie GCL Nats: 1st place, GCL League East with an amazing 49-9 record.  That according to press releases by the team is the highest W/L percentage in (domestic) minor league basebal history.  Wow.  They then swept the GCL Red Sox to win the GCL championship.
  • Dominican Summer League Nats: 4th Place, Boca Chica South.  Season Record: 38-31.

So that’s four playoff teams out of six US affiliates (I often ignore the DSL, fairly or otherwise, since it has such a low percentage of players even making it to the US leagues, let alone advancing into relevance).

What  makes these performances even more amazing, especially for Potomac, is that they persevered on despite losing significant numbers of pitchers through out the season to promotion.  Quick glances:

  • Harrisburg lost 3 starters (Clay, Jordan, Hill) and two relievers (Broadway and Krol) to promotions.
  • Potomac lost an entire rotation of starters (Jordan, Gilliam, Hill, Ray and Cole) in addition to four other relivers (Herron, Grace, Frias and Mirowski).
  • Hagerstown graduated at least 5 starters (Schwartz, Dupra, Rauh, Purke and Mooneyham), traded another starter (Pineyro) and matriculated a couple of relievers along the way (Benincasa and Henke).

I know this only focuses on arms on these minor league teams, and that isn’t necessarily fair to the offense, but Potomac especially was amazing in chugging along while losing its best starter month after month to promotion.

Ask Boswell 8/19/13 edition

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Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

Arod, the greek tragedy figure. Photo John Munson/The Star-Ledger via nj.com

With somewhat of a lack of topics to write about lately, I turned to find a relatively deep Ask Boswell discussion on the Washington Post website 8/19/13.  Tom Boswell takes baseball questions, I provide my own answers.

As always, I’ll write answers here before reading his, and edit questions for clarity.  All stats quoted are as of 8/19/13.

Q: Leave it to the Red Sox to make A-Rod into a sympathetic figure!

A: Agree.  I wouldn’t normally have tuned into the expected 4.5 hour 8pm Sunday night game between Boston and New York, but just happened to see the first Alex Rodriguez at bat last night.  My immediate thought: Ryan Dempster‘s actions were pretty gutless and he should have been immediately ejected.   You throw at a guy once and miss?  You’ve made your point.  You had your chance to make a statement and missed.  But then throw two more balls inside then blatantly drill the guy on 3-0?  Sorry; that’s just bush league.  The umpires badly mismanaged that situation; Dempster should have been immediately ejected.  Joe Girardi had a very legitimate point at the time, and continued with very intelligent observations afterwards (where, paraphrased, he said that Dempster was a union rep, should have known better, and if he had a problem with the process of his own players’ union the time and place was elsewhere, not on a nationally televised game).

So, yeah, Alex Rodriguez did earn sympathy there.  How poetic was his home-run later in the game?  Were it me, I would have milked it for everything it was worth, making it a poster child for every egregious home-run celebration.  Bat flip, slow trot, kisses to the stands, fist pumps and multiple pointing to the sky.  But that’s just me.

Boswell doesn’t really say much about the question other than stating the obvious about the athlete and the situation.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to show up the Braves by actually beating them once in a while, rather than throwing at them?

A: Not the point.  As I posted in this space over the weekend, there’s a code in the game that the Nats, for some unknown reason, were not keeping to.  Kudos to Stephen Strasburg for finally standing up for his own.  It has nothing to do with wins or losses on the field, it has to do with protecting yours.  Boswell says the Justin Upton plunking was done perfectly, but then questions the ejection for what a lot of people thought were just very wild pitches to Andrelton Simmons.

Q: Why did the Nats not keep Oliver Perez?

A: Who said it was just the Nats decision?  Oliver Perez piched as a starter for our AA team in 2011 and then signed another minor league deal with Seattle for 2012.  Only then he converted to a reliever and has had success since.  We don’t really know what happened; maybe the Nats offered to keep him but wouldn’t promise a AAA spot or a spring training invite.  Maybe Perez saw our rotation for 2012 and thought Seattle would give him a better shot at a MLB job.  Honestly I don’t remember a single word at the time indicating that either side wanted a 2012 deal.  Perez was good but not great in AA for us in 2011 (3-5, 3.09 ERA. 1.3 whip in 15 starts), far less than a guy who was once a very effective MLB starter.  Maybe we just though he was washed up.  Boswell questions whether a guy with a 4.25 ERA is even worth discussing.  Fair point

Q: Who would the Nationals “third-string” catcher be? If, for instance, Suzuki got injured and Ramos pinch-hit. -Who would be the preferred position player to pitch if they ran out of pitchers? 

A: Great question.  3rd string catcher?  I have no idea, maybe Steve Lombardozzi.  I do remember the team saying that despite Bryce Harper‘s youth position being predominantly catcher that he was not an option.  Pitcher?  Boy, another who knows.   I can’t remember a single positional player who has taken the mound for the Nats since they moved here.  The best guess would be a utility guy, either Lombardozzi or Scott Hairston.  Boswell guesses the same names I do.

Q: Do you think the Nats will make a serious effort to keep him next year? (I’m already writing off 2013) I’m sure he wants to play every day, but given Ramos’ physical issues that isn’t out of the question.

A: Kurt Suzuki is gone.  His $8.5M option for next year is way, way too much for what he has become; a once-a-week catcher.  Even given Wilson Ramos‘ fragility, you just can’t waste money at the backup catcher position.  Look for a 2014 spring training fight between Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano for the #2 catcher spot, and look for the team to add a lot of depth in the minor league ranks in the off-season.  Boswell notes the horrific catcher ERA of Suzuki compared to Ramos, and predicts a minor FA signing this coming off-season.

Q: Is there a more insincere human being in sports than A-Rod? Has he always been like this?

A: The above answer was my weekly quota of Alex Rodriguez discussion.  I will say this though; how do you really KNOW that A-rod is an “insincere human being?”  Do you know him personally?  Or are you just following the media narrative?  Boswell makes a good point; the damage he’s done to the game outweighs any sympathy you could have for him.

Q: You’ve said in the past the Nats would return to their career averages…eventually. Are the Nats reverting to their mean, or is this the new mean?

A: If 2012 was the high, maybe 2013 is the low.  Lets hope for somewhere in the middle for 2014.  Hell, i’ll settle for league average.  I did a quick little runs-scored analysis at the end of June that showed where the Nats record would have been if they had a league-average offense (tied for 1st place) or their 2012 offense (best record in majors).  You could quibble with the math, but I think we all know what has let down the team this year.  Boswell summarizes many of the same points I made … and then has some great stats isolating the bench’s collapse this year.

Q: Given Haren’s performance since returning from the DL, does Rizzo make him a qualifying offer for 2014?

A: Good question.  I just don’t see how you can give Dan Haren a qualifying offer.  The Q.O.  amount is going to increase; lets assume its $14M/year.  Would you give a guy with this stat line $14M?  7-11, 4.79 ERA?  Probably not (those are his season numbers).  His last 8 games (since coming off D/L?)  3-2, 2.25 ERA.   Yeah, that’s worthy of a Q.O.   Maybe the team avoids having to make a decision and flips him to someone needing a starter for September, since he passed through waivers.  That’d be advantageous to Haren too, meaning his signing next off-season won’t have compensation associated with it.  In any case, I think the performance of Taylor Jordan has clearly made Haren expendible, giving as good as or better performance for 1/26th the cost.  Use that $13M towards some hitting.  Boswell says no.

Q: When does Drew Storen replace Soriano as the Nats closer?  (After another blown save).

A: When Soriano’s contract is over.  You bought him, you’ve gotta use him.  Rafael Soriano‘s m.o. was always “good when he’s the closer, sullen underperformer when not.”  He was a poor signing when they got him, and continues to be wasted money.  But hey, its not my money.  Boswell agrees.

Q: When Magic Johnson’s group purchased the Dodgers, he was going to fire Mattingly, whom you said would be a very good manager. Does he still want to fire Donnie, now that the Dodgers have gone 42-8, the best MLB win stread in 100 years? Would you like to see him managing the Nats?

A: Well of course Don Mattingly isn’t going to be fired; he’s now neck and neck with Clint Hurdle for manager of the year.  I don’t have a good sense for what kind of manager he is; after Davey Johnson‘s laissez-faire attitude I know what kind of manager I do want; I want someone with some emotion.  Girardi proved a lot to me last night; lighting into an umpire who failed to control the game.  That’s the kind of emotion I want in my skipper.  Boswell gives some good managerial candidates.

Q: Who are the young pitchers the Nats thing are coming soon?

A: From AAA on downwards, here’s a few starters to keep an eye on: Nathan Karns, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray, Taylor Hill, Sammy Solis, Matthew PurkeBlake Schwartz, Jake Johansen, Austin Voth and Lucas Gilioto.   Almost every guy on this list has performed well and/or earned a promotion in 2013.   Boswell points some of these guys out and then mentions that we need to produce some hitting too.

Q: Should I be worried that the Nats are going to become the new Caps, a talented team who just lacks the discipline to get it done when it matters?

A: No, because at its heart this is still the same basic team of guys who nearly won 100 games last year.  They need a new voice in the skipper’s office, one who reverses the course of Johnson and who properly motivates them.  Boswell says not to judge a team because of 3/4′s of one disappointing season.

Q: Zim’s surgically-repaired shoulder clearly affected his throwing this year — whether physically or mentally. However, his power numbers at the plate are down too, and we haven’t seen his usual late summer hot streak. Do you think his shoulder affected his hitting? If so, what’s the prognosis for next year for Zim’s hitting?

A: If his shoulder really is/was as bad as everyone seems to think, then yeah you can derive all sorts of bad performance indicators from it.  Next year?  Who knows; he should be healthy.  Of course, he was promised to be healthy by spring training of THIS year.  It takes me back to what I now perceive as disinformation from the team about the whole shoulder issue from the onset.  Either way, I think he’s playing 3B for this team in 2014 no matter what (well, unless the team somehow unloads Adam LaRoche).  Boswell shows some good stats showing Zimmerman’s consistency over the years, then goes on to rave about Jayson Werth.

Q: Will baseball be ruined by the addition of instant replay or have the times changed?

A: I think times have changed.  But from all accounts, the implementation will be typical of everything MLB does; half-done, ham-handed, inefficient and not going nearly as far as its counterparts.  Boswell isn’t a fan.

Q: With two years under his belt, he has a 3.00 ERA and a pretty good 27-19 record. He doesn’t hit 100 mph anymore. He hasn’t proven so far to be anything better than mediocre in the clutch. Not a bad track record, of course, but not anywhere near great. He’s 25 years old now. Is it time to adjust expectations?

A: Is this a baiting question?   Quotes ERA and W/L record as the sole ways to evaluate a pitcher (especially a pitcher who hasn’t yet pitched a full season).  What proof is there that he’s “mediocre in the clutch?”  He’s still the highest or 2nd highest average fastball of any starter in the league despite dialing it down, he’s still a league leader in K/9.  His ERA+ is still significantly above average both for this year and for his career.  What more do you want from the guy?  Ask any baseball pundit to give you a list of his top 5 starters in the league and he’s still on it.   Boswell gives some great historical stats, putting Strasburg in pretty elite company thus far.

Q: Why has Bryce Harper not made the 20 year old leap we expected him to? Did the collision with the wall in LA derail his entire season?

A: A fair point; everyone saw his splits pre and post-LA wall.  His lefty splits are abhorrent.  But he hasn’t been the second coming of Mike Trout.  Maybe we just need to appreciate him for what he is right now.  Boswell mirrors what I said.

 

Lincecum’s pending Free Agency; what’s he worth?

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What would you pay Lincecum in 2014?  Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

What would you pay Lincecum in 2014? Photo via SD Dirk flickr via wikipedia

An interesting question was posed in an ESPN chat a while ago that I made a note on to come back to.

Should the Giants offer Tim Lincecum a qualifying offer, or just cut him loose without any compensation ties this coming off season?  And a better question: if you were a GM looking for pitching this coming off-season, what would you offer him?

First some stats.  Lincecum is in the last year of a 2yr/$40.5M deal signed to avoid his last two years of arbitration.  This is on the heels of a 2yr/$23M deal that took out his first two years of arbitration.  He’s already north of $60M in career earnings before hitting his first pure free agent contract.  But he’s at a cross-roads.

Take a look at the progression of his career stat-wise: 2 straight Cy Youngs before even hitting his first year of arbitration (which, if you remember, was a Super-2 year because the Giants apparently cannot read a calendar; this little snafu cost them probably $20M in salary).  He went from an ERA+ of 171 in 2010 to last year’s bottoming out season, where he posted a 68 ERA+, a 5.18 ERA and was pulled from the rotation in favor of Barry Zito (an insult to end all insults) in the playoffs.

Garrett Hooe at FederalBaseball just posted a great analysis as well, including insight into Lincecum’s breakdown of mechanics, his velocity loss and other things.  His analysis is great; no need to replicate it here.

In 2013 he’s regained some of his performance but not enough; he’s still pitching like a 5th/6th starter.  His month-by-month splits give no help: he was decent to good in April, awful in May, decent to good in June, mediocre in July and so far has been lights out in August.  The offensively-challenged Nats just tagged him for 6 runs in 6 innings en route to his 12th loss of the season.

Overall, his velocity is down, he has weird mechanics, and he’s clearly deviating from those weird mechanics as of late.  What GM out there is willing to give him a shot, given those two parameters?  Probably more than a few frankly, given his pedigree, but at what cost?

The answer to the second question (what is his value on the FA market) drives the answer to the first question (whether to offer him a QO).   I went looking for some comparisons from last year’s FA market to try to estimate what his market may be this coming off season and found the following data points of interest:

  • Freddie Garcia pitched to an 80 ERA+ (matching Lincecum’s in 2013) but had a 5.18 ERA in New York.  He’s also older (35 versus 29).  He signed a combo minor/major league deal that pays him $1.3M this year.
  • Dan Haren had an 89 ERA+, as 12-13 record with a 4.33 ERA last year and signed a one-year, $13M deal with the Nats.    But he was a near Cy Young winner just two years prior and was hurt most of 2012 (that was what we kept telling ourselves when we all talked ourselves into this signing anyway).
  • Jorge de la Rosa, coming off a lost season to injury but a great 2011, signed a 1 year $11M deal.
  • Joe Saunders pitched to a 101 ERA+ between two teams, is slightly older and is almost the definition of a MLB average pitcher (career ERA+: exactly 100.  career ERA: 4.20).  He signed a 1yr $6.5M deal with Seattle.
  • Speaking of MLB average guys; Gavin Floyd also owns a career ERA+ of 100, and had exactly that for the White Sox in 2012.  His contract?  1yr, $9.5M.
  • Jason Marquis was awful last year; 8-11 with a 5.22 ERA and a 72 ERA+.  He got a 1year $3M deal to come back to San Diego and regain value.  Fun fact: Marquis is a career 94 ERA+ pitcher, has a career ERA over 4.50, has a CAREER bWAR of 5.5 (that’s about half of what Mike Trout had in bWAR just last season) and yet has more than $50 million in career earnings.  Wow.  I’m in the wrong business.
  • Joe Blanton was pretty awful for two teams in 2012, going 10-15 with a 4.71 ERA, yet somehow earned a 2yr/$15M contract extension from the Angels.  Blanton, by the way, is 2-13 this year.  I’m not sure how exactly Blanton got anything more than a couple million dollars, to say nothing of a 2 year contract.  I question the sanity of the Angels management.

Ok.  So using these examples from last year’s FA market … uh, I have no idea what Lincucum is worth.  I’d say he’s better than Blanton, so that mean’s he’s better than $7.5M/year.   But that was such an awful contract that I don’t see how you can use it as a benchmark. Meanwhile, if Gavin Floyd’s consistency year over year is  worth $9.5M, then how do you value the possible jeckyl and hyde that you’re going to get from Lincecum?

If I was a GM, looking at his body of work and his last two seasons, I probably would end up somewhere between Floyd’s $9.5M and de la Rosa’s $11M on a one-year deal.  As they say, there are no bad one-year deals, and if it goes south its just money.  1year, $10M on a career-saving flier taken by some NL team out there willing to roll the dice and spend some cash.

Probably not the Nationals though, not after the Haren experience and considering what Taylor Jordan has given the team in a 5th starter role this year.  You’d have to think Mike Rizzo heads into the off-season with his 3 big guns under contract, his 4th guy Ross Detwiler on the mend, with Jordan penciled into the 5th starter and with the likes of Nathan Karns, Taylor Hill, and Caleb Clay providing the first line of reinforcements in AAA.

So I predict the Giants will not offer him a qualifying offer, thus cutting ties with one of their most iconic players in the last 25 years.  It will be a sad time in San Francisco head-shops everywhere.

July 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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A.J. Cole is having a good 2013. Photo: AP Stock

A.J. Cole is having a rebound 2013 for sure. Photo: AP Stock

Here’s this month’s Minor League Rotation Review post.  Here’s April 2013May 2013, and June 2013‘s posts for history.

For each level, I’ll put out the rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).  I’ve only listed the third category if something transactionally has happened to the player this particular month.

All stats mentioned (ERAs, Whips, K/9 rates, etc) are as of 8/1/13 and may have slightly changed by the time of this posting.


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Maya: B+,D,D-,A-,B+,A
  • Tatusko: D,A,B,C+,B,B
  • Rosenbaum: B,C-,A,D,D
  • Roark: B+,C+,C-,A-,A
  • Clay: A,A,D+/inc (rain),B,C
  • Mandel: D->back to bullpen
  • Robertson: F

Discussion: Syracuse has had the most stable rotation of the whole system.   Which is ironic because (if I’m interpreting their service time correctly) 4/5ths of this rotation are minor league free agents this coming off season.   Only Danny Rosenbaum is tied to the organization past this year, having already “survived” one rule-5 draft, but I think we can read the tea-leaves in terms of his future with the organization.  The bright side of this turnover will be the rightful promotion and challenging of several AA pitchers right now, to start grooming the true MLB injury replacements that we just did not have in-house this year (with apologies to Chris Young who really did not work out and Ross Ohlendorf, who has but in a non-starting role thus far).

Yunesky Maya has shown signs of life lately, putting up a few good performances in the latter part of the month.  Tanner Roark seems like he could be a useful swing-man on the MLB roster if called into action; he’s performed ably since returning to the rotation.  Caleb Clay continues to impress; how did he not success in Boston’s organization?

In the bullpen, Xavier Cedeno has excelled since his waiver claim from Houston but suffered from bad timing and bad luck; the two loogies called up (Abad and Krol) have both excelled.   Cedeno is likely another 6-year MLFA heading elsewhere this coming off-season.  (Note: Cedeno has just been called up to cover for Ohlendorf’s “dead arm” D/L trip).

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Karns: A,A (inc),A,A,B-,B-
  • Gilliam: A-,A+,D+,B,B,C-
  • Cole: A+,A
  • Ray: B+,A++,D,D,B-
  • Hill: A,B,A-,B,B,D+
  • Herron: D
  • Swynenberg: A-
  • Grace: B
  • Demny: -> D/L, to bullpen, demoted
  • Treinen: D->d/l,C+,B+ -> D/L

Discussion: Harrisburg’s rotation is now down to just one of the 5 guys who opened the year there; Nathan Karns has recovered from his MLB stint and long layoff and is back to dominating; if it weren’t for the full-deck in AAA Karns may have been promoted by now.   Blake Treinen (another original rotation guy) is on his second D/L stint of the month but has kept his numbers respectable.  Robert Gilliam continues his up-and-down season, moving between stellar and sub-par starts (which is reflected in his 4.09 ERA in AA).

The next generation though seems upon us: A.J. ColeRobbie Ray and Taylor Hill are all on the same path this year: succeeded in High-A, pushed to AA and are now succeeding there.  Cole’s first two starts in Harrisburg could not have gone better, and Ray’s numbers are still good despite a couple of rough starts.  Remember; both Ray and Cole were “really young” at the season’s onset for High-A; now they’re among the youngest guys in all of AA and still producing.  This is great news going forward for this farm system, especially considering that another of the opening day Potomac starters (Taylor Jordan) is now effectively pitching in the majors.  I know this is the Harrisburg section, but think about the success of Potomac’s original 5 this year.

 


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Purke: A-,F-,C-,D-,D,B+
  • Demny: D,D/inc (2 innings)
  • Solis: A-,D,A-
  • Schwartz: A,D,C-,B+,C+,B+
  • Rauh C,A,D,B+,A,D/inc (2/3 inning)
  • Fischer: A,B
  • Holt: A
  • Ray: -> promoted
  • Pineyro: A -> traded
  • Cole: D,B+/inc,A- -> promoted
  • Frias: B,F -> bullpen -> released 7/24/13

Discussion: The churn in the Potomac rotation continues.   They’ve not gotten starts from 15 different non-rehab assignment players.   And they keep on chugging, holding an 8 game lead in the division on August 1st after winning the first half.  Potomac’s two significant/important names of course are Matthew Purke and Sammy Solis.   Purke has looked hittable in High-A, his ERA skewed by one really bad outing but still not as dominant as you’d like someone with his pedigree to be.  Meanwhile Solis’ latest “return” seems to be going pretty well; he maintains a 2.65 ERA in Potomac while trying to build up arm strength.   Blake Schwartz is now the longest tenured rotation member and has pitched excellently so far in 2013.  He could be quite a find if he continues to develop (he was a 17th round pick who mostly pitched in Division II in college).

Meanwhile, Paul Demny‘s career faced a significant setback upon his demotion from Harrisburg.  He now sits back in High-A, a level at which he pitched a full season in 2011.  It may be time for Demny to try a conversion to relief, as it seems that he may be stalled as a starter.  He had great K/9 rates as a starter; it seems he may make a very effective reliever.


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: F,D,A,C-,A,D
  • Encarnation: A+,C,A,D,A-,B+
  • Mooneyham: B+,B-,D,B,A+
  • Dickson: A,F,C+,B+
  • Lee: A,B+,C-,B+,A-,B+
  • RPena: B,B+
  • Harper: | | | B,B+
  • Meza: B
  • Purke: -> promoted
  • Anderson: -> d/l

Discussion: with Dixon Anderson‘s D/L trip, Pedro Encarnacion now becomes the senior statesman of Hagerstown.   Both guys have pretty similar numbers; good ERAs (3.20-3.30) and good whips (1.17-1.19).   Encarnaction continues his slow march up the farm system, having gotten further along than most every DSL graduate in recent  years.   Brett Mooneyham continues to dominate a league that he’s over-qualified for.    Kylin Turnbull continues to get pounded in a league that he should be handling.  Ian Dickson (who we got in trade for Henry Rodriguez) has done decently well since being added to the rotation; outside of one blow-up he’s given up just 4 runs in 20 innings over 5 starts.  Not a bad return so far for a guy we were going to cut anyway (and who the Cubs took about 5 weeks to DFA themselves).


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Johansen: A,A,B+,B+,A
  • Barrientos: D,C+,C- -> D/L,F
  • Orlan: F-,B-,A,A,F
  • DWilliams: B-,F,D,C-
  • Voth: A,C+,B/inc (1ip),A-
  • Ullmann: | | | F,B+
  • Hollins: B,B+
  • Bafidis: D+
  • Medina: A-
  • Selsor: B,D,D -> demoted to bullpen
  • Hudgins: D+,A- -> retired !?
  • Turnbull: C -> promoted

We’re seeing some big ERAs in Auburn so far.  Robert Orlan; 5.19 ERA.  Joel Barrientos: 4.66.  Deion Williams: 9.42.  Ugh.  More interesting to me are the 2013 draftee performances thus far.  2nd rounder Jake Johansen has been good; sub 1.00 ERA, sub 1.00 whip and about a K an inning so far.  He’s been a bit wild (28/14 K/BB ratio but has been consistently stingy when it comes to runs.  5th rounder Austin Voth has been sharp; 17/1 K/BB ratio in 14 innings so far in Short-A.  Lastly Ryan Ullman, a 30th round pick has had up and down starts so far in his 13 short-A innings.

I remain baffled with Will Hudgins abrupt retirement; he had 12 innings of relatively decent relief in 2013 and then tweeted out his retirement.   He hasn’t tweeted since, and when I mentioned it in the daily NationalsProspect.com post I didn’t get anyone who knew anything else.  Hopefully the retirement was not injury or illness related.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • JRodriguez: F,A,A,B,B+
  • Silvestre: C-,A,F,A
  • Giolito: D/inc (only 1/3 inning),B,A-,D/inc (2/3 inings),D
  • Suero: B,B+,A
  • Valdez: A
  • Ott: B,B,C
  • DeRosier: B,B-
  • KRodriguez: B,B+,B+,C+
  • Pivetta: B-,B+,A
  • Spezial: A
  • Webb: A
  • Voth: A -> promoted
  • Ullmann: A,D+ -> promoted

It almost isn’t worth trying to grade out these GCL pitchers; most of the time they’re going 2-3 innings per “start” or per long relief stint.  If you pitch 3 scoreless innings, is that an “A?”   Lucas Giolito now has 6 “starts” but only a total of 12 combined innings thrown.   DSL grads Wander Suero and Jefry Rodriguez have looked promising.  Kelvin Rodriguez has good numbers in his combined mid-relief stints but relatively few strike outs (only 9 in 21 1/3 innings).

 

 

June 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Taylor Jordan is the big name in the Minor League Rotations this month.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan is the big name in the Minor League Rotations this month. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Here’s this month’s Minor League Rotation Review post.  Here’s April 2013 and May 2013‘s post for history.

For each level, I’ll put out the Rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).

All stats were as of 7/1/13 and may be slightly changed now with additional starts.


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Maya: B+,D+,C+
  • Tatusko: C -> hburg spot start and back,B+,D-,D
  • Rosenbaum: B,B+,D,C-,B-,D
  • Roark: A-,A
  • Clay: B,C,A
  • Mandel: D-,A-,D,D-
  • Perry:  demoted
  • Young: still on the D/L; no starts in June
  • Demny: D- -> back down
  • Ohlendorf: B+ -> promoted
  • Torra: D,D-,C+->released

Discussion: The AAA rotation was rather tumultuous to follow in June.  Only Danny Rosenbaum made all of his expected starts.   Yunesky Maya nursed an injury and recognition of the looming ignomious end to his Nats career after his outright off the 40-man.  Ryan Tatusko continues to struggle in a starting role.  Tanner Roark always seems to do well in his spot-starts and may keep his gig in the rotation starting in July with the struggles of fellow swingman Jeff Mandel.   Caleb Clay has done very well since his promotion; he holds a 2.21 ERA in AAA and looks like quite a MLFA find so far.  Paul Demny wasn’t ready for AAA and got hammered in his one spot-start.  The team ran out of patience with Matt Torra and released him with a 5.53 ERA through 5 starts in April and May.  Ryan Perry‘s future in the organization is in question after being demoted to AA and successfully being outrighted off the 40-man roster.  Chris Young remains in organizational limbo, having not pitched in nearly 6 weeks.  Lastly the one success story: Ross Ohlendorf‘s patience has paid off with his promotion and his continued presence in the Nats bullpen.

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Gilliam: D,A+,D,D,D-
  • Treinen: B+,B,B,A,C-
  • Demny: -> up/back,A-,A+,D,F-
  • Karns: returned/11 day layoff,C,A
  • Hill: A
  • Broderick: still on the D/L: no June Starts
  • Tatusko A (rain driven spot start->back to AAA)
  • Clay: A+,B,A -> promoted
  • Rauh: demoted
  • Jordan: A,A+,A+,A+,A- (pitch limit) -> promoted

Harrisburg’s rotation has now been picked twice by the Nats for a starter to promote; Nathan Karns struggled in 3 spot starts before being returned and looked rusty in his return, while Taylor Jordan‘s 2013 continues to be magical as he holds a sub 3.00 ERA through his two MLB starts (though he’s likely to be returned once all the Nats regular rotation guys return from D/L stints).  As for the rest of the Harrisburg Rotation in June: Rob Gilliam has mostly struggled since his promotion.  Blake Treinen continues to be the staff work-horse, leading the team in starts and innings.  Paul Demny got a spot start in AAA that seemed more due to schedule availability than performance; Demny continues to sport the same mid 4.00 ERA that he’s had essentially for his whole career in the Nats farm system.  Taylor Hill has had a couple of very nice debut starts on the heels of a sterling run of starts in Potomac.


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Ray: A,A,F,D-,C+
  • Cole: B-,A+,A,B-,C+
  • Pineyro: D
  • Schwartz: A,F,D+,C-
  • Rauh F,A
  • Detwiler: C- rehab
  • Solis: C-,C- -> shelved for weeks
  • Sylvestre: D->demoted back to short/A spot start
  • Hill: A+,A,A+,A- -> promoted

Robbie Ray and A.J Cole continue to be the Potomac workhorses, both being high over-slot 2010 high school pitcher draftees and both with highly varying degrees of expectations both from Nats prospect followers and from the organization.  Both guys pitched in a double header that new Delaware resident Keith Law took in and he posted his 6/30/13 blog review of all the starters involved.   The link is insider-only (which everyone should be who wants to read ESPN’s premier content) but Law’s consensus seems to be this: Cole’s taken a step back since his last (2011) opinion and Ray is only projecting as a 5th starter at best.  You’d hope for more out of these two guys, given their draft pedigree and bonus money paid.  Sammy Solis threw 2 early June starts and hasn’t appeared since in a concerning development for the 2010 2nd rounder coming back from TJ surgery.   Ivan Pineyro‘s high-A debut went roughly, but he’ll presumably get a few more chances with few other viable candiates right now.  Despite a couple of up-and-down June starts Blake Schwartz maintains the best season-long numbers of any of Potomac starter right now.  And i’ll make mention of it here; its amazing to think that Taylor Jordan started 2013 as the #2 starter in Potomac and is now making (near) quality starts in the majors.


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Anderson: D,A+,D+,D-
  • Mooneyham: D-/short,A-,B,D,A-
  • Lee: B-,A-,C,F,C+
  • Encarnation: B,F,D (took one for the team),C
  • Purke: A,D,B-,A-,A+
  • Rauh: C
  • Lopez: D+->back down from spot-start
  • RPena:  ->demoted to bullpen?->7 day d/l
  • Hudgins: -> demoted to short/A

Dixon Anderson and Pedro Encarnacion‘s monthly grade lines look poor, but their season-long stats are still decent (ERAs of right around 3.20, WHIPs of right around 1.2, about 2-1 K/BB ratios).   Brett Mooneyham‘s starts are looking dominant as they should be, repeating the level as a college draftee.  Matthew Purke‘s performances were a highlight for Nats farm system fans everywhere; after the month ended he was promoted to Potomac.   As for the rest of the starters, there’s room for concern.  Nick Lee and Ronald Pena both sport 1.50 WHIPs.   Hagerstown has already graduated a number of arms this season and may struggle to re-stock.


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: A,C-
  • Johansen: B+,C
  • Orlan: C+,A,C-
  • DWilliams: B,D,F
  • Barrientos: A-
  • Selsor: | | B-,F,C+
  • Hudgins: | | B-
  • Lopez: | | F- -> demoted

Auburn’s season kicked off June 17th, so we’ve only gotten a brief glimpse of the “Rotation.”  So far, some up and down.  Kyle Turnbull has looked good (as he very well should, having been demoted from full-season ball).  Robert Orlan‘s ERA looks great (1.38) but his walks are too high (9 in 13 innings).  Speaking of walks, Joel Barrientos has 12 walks against 3 strikeouts in his 11 2/3 innings so far; that’s not going to be sustainable.  Deion Williams has been hit hard thus far.  And 2013 2nd round (our first pick) Jake Johansen has three relatively wild outings under his belt; 8 innings, 8 walks, 8 strikeouts.  Of note; Reynaldo Lopez‘s “F-” outing was a 1 1/3, 7 run debacle giving him a nifty 47.25 ERA.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • Suero: A,D
  • JRodriguez: B-,A
  • Silvestre: A,C
  • Valdez: C+
  • Voth: B-
  • DRamos: A

As with Auburn, the GCL season didn’t start until mid June (June 21st to be exact) so the “rotation” is still shaking out.  And frankly, those who get “starts” aren’t exactly pitching “starter” outings.  For example: the IP leader at the time of this writing is Jefry Rodriguez with 10 2/3 thrown over 3 starts.  So the letter grades here are mostly  misleading, given that they’re for 2-3 inning stints.  Nonetheless, Wander SueroRyan Ulliman, and Austin Voth look good in the early goings.