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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.

 

May 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Welcome back Matt Purke. Photo AP/Nati Harnik

With the draft and the big early June roster shakeup and the College World Series going on (I’m apparently the only guy in Nats-land who cares about it), I’m a little late with this monthly quick glance at the Minor League starters.  Here’s April 2013′s version.

For each level, I’ll put out the Rotation members, their “letter grades” per start and then throw in a quick table to show their seasonal stats for context.  As with last month, the top group of Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as we can figure it, then I’ve got a line for guys who got spot starts or (especially in the lower levels) guys who did long relief or “second start” stints.


AAA Rotation

  • Maya: A,D+,A–>promoted/dfa/back, D-/inc->injury
  • Tatusko: B+,A,C-
  • Ohlendorf: A,C-,D,D-,A,A
  • Torra:  D,D-
  • Rosenbaum: D,A,F,B+,B-,F
  • Roark: A
  • Mandel: B-,D+,A
  • Perry: F,B,F,F -> D/L
  • Young: B,C-,F-,C-,D-/inc -> D/L

Discussion: Syracuse YTD Stats are here for reference

May saw some interesting movement in the underperforming Syracuse rotation.  MLFA signing and supposed MLB rotation insurance policy #1  Chris Young continued to struggle before hitting the D/L.  Similarly, Ryan Perry put in a number of ugly appearances and also landed on the D/L.  This created an opeing for two new guys in the rotation, handled somewhat ably by Ryan Tatusko and somewhat less ably by MLFA Matt Torra.  Ross Ohlendorf righted the ship a bit and put himself in line for an earned callup on the strength of several good outings, only to have the weather in Washington conspire against him.  Yunesky Maya got a long-deserved DFA and outright, and now sits in limbo having not pitched since his aborted 5/31 start.  Lastly Danny Rosenbaum continues to have the best stat line of any starter in Syracuse, but (as often discussed here) he seems destined for life as a 6-year free agent plying his trade elsewhere in this Mike Rizzo-run organization that values power arms over finesse artists.


AA Rotation

  • Gilliam: D,A+
  • Treinen: A,F,D,B+,C-,B+
  • Demny: D+,A+,A-,D,A,B
  • Clay: C-,F,D,A-,A-
  • Jordan B,A+,D/inc->up and back,A
  • Swynenberg C+,C+
  • Holland: B+
  • Rauh: A
  • Holder: released (why?)
  • Broderick: C-,C+->D/L
  • Broadway: A->promoted
  • Karns: A-,B+,F,C+,C+->promoted

Discussion: Harrisburg YTD Stats are here for reference

The Harrisburg rotation continues to house a number of sub 4.00 ERA hurlers and we’re starting to see some movement among the ranks.  First and foremost Nathan Karns “earned” a callup to the big club probably mostly by his placement on the 40-man roster at the time, but also b/c of his excellent K/9 ratio.   Brian Broderick‘s D/L stint (will he return at this point or go straight from the D/L->release?) has opened the door for a couple new names.  Taylor Jordan continues his great comeback from his 2011 Tommy John surgery.  Paul Demny‘s string of excellent starts earned him a brief Syracuse call-up.   Robert Gilliam struggled in his AA debut but righted the ship and (as of this writing) has decent enough AA numbers that he seems to be capable of sticking on.  One odd personnel move was the abrupt release of Trevor Holder, who didn’t have bad numbers on the season and was immediately picked up by San Diego.  I wonder if there’s something to this story.


High-A Rotation

  • Ray: B-,A,A/Inc,A,C-,B+/inc
  • Solis: C+/inc,A/inc (pitch count limited)
  • Cole: A,B+,D-,D,B-
  • Hill: A,A-/inc,B+,F,F
  • Schwartz: B-,A+,B+,A+,C-
  • Fischer: C+,D+
  • Bates A,B+
  • Holt: A
  • Herron: D+,B+ -> Promoted
  • Jordan:  A+->promoted
  • Gillam:  B,F->promoted
  • Dupra: D,B- -> demoted
  • Grace: A

Discussion: Potomac YTD Stats are here for reference

Welcome back Sammy Solis; he’s slowly getting re-initiated to the rotation and spent his last May starts on strict pitch count limits.   After a disastrous 2012 Robbie Ray continues his excellent campaign and may be making a statement for the next promotion (as of this writing: 81Ks in 62 innings as one of the younger guys in high-A?  wow).  A.J. Cole continues to be frustratingly hit or miss; one night he’ll strike out 11 in 6, another night he gives up 5 runs in 5.  Speaking of inconsistent; Taylor Hill‘s last two May starts were awful, then his first two June starts were stellar.  All in all though, Potomac’s rotation has been a bright point for the farm system and has produced a number of promotions before the all star break.


Low-A Rotation

  • Anderson: A,A-,F,A,C-,B+
  • Encarnation: A,A-,C-,D-,B->bullpen for Purke?
  • Lee: B+,F
  • Pineyro: A-,C+,C-,A,C
  • Purke: A
  • Henke: | C
  • Rauh: D,B+->up/down
  • RPena: C-,A for effort,C,F,C-
  • Fischer: A,A–>promoted
  • Turnbull: D+,F,D-,C- ->demoted

Discussion: Hagerstown YTD Stats are here for reference

I’ll be honest; right now its hard to tell what the “rotation” is in Hagerstown.   The arrival of Matthew Purke seemingly had to bump someone, but its hard to tell who.  Purke’s showing some great swing-and-miss stuff in his first pro starts in half-of-forever; if this guy can turn back into the prospect he once was, the Nats will be ecstatic.  DSL grads Pedro Encarnacion and Ivan Pineyro continue to put up good numbers for the Low-A Suns.  As does Dixon Anderson, who is seemingly due for a promotion at this point.

Monthly Check-in with Minor League Pitching Staffs

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Robbie Ray is having a nice bounce-back 2013 so far. Photo: Natsnewsnetwork.blogspot.com

In 2011, I managed to do “Rotational Review” posts for both the MLB team and the minor league system for the whole summer.   That turned out to be a pretty hefty time commitment, and an endeavor that I couldn’t keep up with.  I managed to do all 33 MLB rotation reviews but gave up on the minor league systems around the all-star break. For the entirety of 2012 I never once published much of an in-season look at any of the minor league teams.  But I want to stay aware of the minor league pitchers; its basically the reason I started this blog.  I wanted to be up on the rising talent, always on the lookout for the next home grown pitching talent.

In 2013, I’ve modified my approach.  With the help of daily doses of Luke Erickson‘s NationalsProspects.com daily looks, I’m taking the time to give a quick “grade” to each Starter’s outing by looking at the stat-line and the peripherals, in order to gauge how guys are looking.  Instead of the previous “good-bad-soso” analysis, I’ve adopted somewhat of a letter grade system, from A+ to F.  It isn’t a hard and fast grading system, but generally speaking we start with a run-of-the-mill quality start being graded a C (lets face it, 3 earned runs in 6 innings for a 4.50 ERA is average) and then go from there.  6 shutout innings gets somewhere between an A+ and an A- depending on # of hits/walks/Ks, while a complete meltdown (e.g. 7 runs in 3 innings) earns an F.  You get the idea.

So, without further ado, here’s the April 2013 look at the starters by team, with grades for outings and some commentary.  We’ll do an expanded view of the MLB rotation in the next post.  The grades are through 4/30′s outings; the stats may be slightly off since I wrote the bulk of this prior to this morning.

AAA Rotation

  • Ohlendorf: A,B,D+,D,C-
  • Young: F,D
  • Maya: C,D,D,F,D-
  • Perry: D-,B+,C-,B
  • Rosenbaum: A-,A,C+,A
  • Roark: A,D,F->demoted to bullpen,A
  • Tatusko: D,A-

Discussion: Syracuse YTD Stats are here for reference

(A quick note explaining the notation; the top 5 pitchers are the current rotation, and guys who have been starters before promotions or demotions, or who have spot starts are noted below the current rotational members.  The rotation is listed in current appearance order).

So far, the AAA rotation (which i like to call the “desperately seeking to find an injury backup starter” group) has been mostly a mess this year.  Former Major league starters Ross Ohlendorf and Chris Young sport ERAs of 5.46 and 9.00 respectively.  Yunesky Maya has been even worse; a 7.45 ERA and a 1.62 whip.  Ryan Perry rebounded after a rough debut outing.  Tanner Roark was holding Young’s rotation spot and was either excellent or awful; even with two grade-A outings he’s sporting an 8.44 ERA in 21 1/3 innings.  Only Danny Rosenbaum has shown himself worthy of a potential call up; after trying out for the Colorado rotation all spring on a Rule-5 invitation, he was returned and has really thrown well in Syracuse.  (side note on Rosenbaum; is he now officially “Daniel?”  Sort of how we went from Tom Milone to Tommy?  I’ll have to update all my tags in the blog system).

In the Bullpen, Erik Davis, Fernando Abad and JC Romero each sport sub 1.00 ERAs in relief; the rest of the bullpen ranges from mediocre to awful.  As noted in a prior post comment, there’s not a lot of relief backup were one of our MLB arms to go down.  Davis is showing why the team protected him last November though.

AA Rotation

  • Broderick: C-,C+,B-,F,B-
  • Treinen: F,D,A,C,B+
  • Demny: A-,D,C,C-,F
  • Clay: D,A,A,C,B+
  • Karns: F,A,A,B+
  • Holder: C

DiscussionHarrisburg YTD Stats are here for reference

As with Syracuse, there’s a lot of up-and-down so far in Harrisburg.  Brian Broderick, who should be in AAA frankly, is barely holding on in AA.  He’s yet to have anywhere close to a dominant outing.  Blake Treinen (throw-in from the Michael Morse trade) started really slow and has clawed his way back to respectability.  Paul Demny has been up and down too.  Caleb Clay (a MLFA signing who spent 6 years in the Boston organization) has been surprisingly sucessful as an Eastern League starter; he was relatively UNsuccessful the last two years playing for Boston’s AA affiliate in the same league as a middle reliever.  We’ll see if he can keep this up.  Lastly Nathan Karns, who in my mind is the “next best Nats starter prospect” to keep an eye on (with apologies to Rosenbaum, AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito) himself rebounded from an awful 2013 debut to put in 3 dominant starts.  He now sits with a 3.80 ERA and 29 ks in 21 innings through 5 starts with nearly a 4/1 K/BB ratio.

Trevor Holder got a spot start and has been otherwise decent.  Ian Krol (the PTBNL in the Morse trade) has been lights out; one run allowed in 13+ innings so far.  Michael Broadway, who we picked up as a MLFA just a few days before the season started, has also been good in short sample sizes.   Aaron Barrett has 4 saves and 15 ks to just 3 walks in his 11 innings this month.  Most of the rest of the Harrisburg bullpen are showing great K/9 rates right now with good numbers thus far.

High-A Rotation

  • Ray: A-,B,B-,A,A
  • Jordan: A,B,B+,B-,B-
  • Cole: D,B,D,D,C+
  • Schwartz: A,A
  • Hill: C+,A-,A+,C,C-
  • Turnbull: D-,D,F->demoted

Discussion: Potomac YTD Stats are here for reference

Potomac is led by a series of guys who are all on good rolls.  Robbie Ray, Taylor Jordan and Taylor Hill each are sporting sub 2.00 ERAs at the end of the month.  Hill’s outings are a combination of excellent and mediocre; his stat line looks better than his Start grade line.  Kylin Turnbull turned out not to be ready for High-A, but his promoted replacement Blake Schwartz certainly looked like he was ready in his first start (6ip, 3hits, zero runs) and followed up that outing with another dominant outing on 4/30.   Only A.J. Cole has really struggled out of this group, a disappointing start so far for the re-captured prospect.   Is High-A going to turn out to be his tripping point?  The California league is tough on hitters, but the Carolina league isn’t; what is going on with Cole?

In the bullpen, Tyler Herron has an amazing 20 Ks in 10 1/3 innings, while Richie Mirowski has given up just 4 hits in his 10+ innings of work for the month.

Low-A Rotation

  • Anderson: B+,B+,A,B,A
  • Turnbull: A
  • Pineyro: D,D,Inc,C-,A+
  • RPena: B,F,D,A-,B+
  • Encarnation: B+,C-,C-
  • Schwartz: B+,A,B-,A+->promoted
  • Mooneyham: B-,A,A->dl
  • Dupra: B,A,B-,D->promoted
  • Rauh: C,C,B-,D-
  • Fischer: A+
  • Hudgins: A,A-

DiscussionHagerstown YTD Stats are here for reference

Hagerstown has a “rotation,” and then they have something akin to a “tandem” pitching plan in place, where the 2nd guy in goes nearly as long as the starter.  Hence the larger number of guys who are given grades on their “starts,” when in reality guys in the lower group don’t have any starts.  If a guy goes 3-4 innings in a game, they generally have a grade here.

Dixon Anderson is leading the way with 5 excellent outings and a 2.25 era/0.87 whip.  Brett Mooneyham had three good starts as well before hitting the D/L.  Schwartz proved too dominant in his 4 outings (21 Ks in 14 innnings) and was promoted; Dupra’s line earned him a promotion as well.  Pedro Encarnation is finally putting it together outside of short-season.  Turnbull looked very dominant in his low-A return as expected.   David Fischer and Wil Hudgins longer outings may have been good, but their other outings have drug down their stat lines.  DSL grad Pineyro is somewhat holding his own in full-season ball, with up and down nights that hopefully will even out.  Lastly Ronald Pena is living up to his “sleeper” potential; the 16th round 2012 draft pick has picked up right where he left off in full-season ball.

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predictions

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

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


MLB Nov 2012 Prediction

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

MLB April 2013 Actual

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

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


AAA Nov 2012 Prediction

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

AAA Apr 2013 Actual

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

AAA Discussion

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

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

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


AA Nov 2012 Prediction

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

AA Apr 2013 Actual

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

AA Discussion

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

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


High-A Nov 2012 Prediction

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

High-A Apr 2013 Actual

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

High-A Discussion

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

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


Low-A Nov 2012 Prediction

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

Low-A Apr 2013 Actual

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

Low-A Discussion

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

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

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

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

Written by Todd Boss

April 11th, 2013 at 8:41 am

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

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Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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

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

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

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

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

Stronger Candidates to protect

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

Weaker candidates to protect

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

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

What is the “ceiling” of the various Nats pitching prospects?

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Will Matt Purke fulfil his former Ace-starter promise? Photo AP/Nati Harnik

Its nearly impossible to project high-end pitching prospects, the further they are from the minors.  Think of someone like Colten Willems, our #1 draft pick in 2006 who retired before ever getting out of high-A.  Or perhaps Josh Smoker, a supplemental 1st rounder in 2007 who struggled with injury and is now a situational lefty in the high-A bullpen, four-plus years into his pro career.

But, it is fun to think about the upper-end, best case scenario and what it would mean for this team.  I’m sure that this post will garner a ton of disagreement; feel free to make your case in the comments pro or against what i’ve posted.  I know that some people are already drinking the kool-aid on September call-ups Peacock and Milone, but I’m not (read below for more).  I’ve included all our current starters and most of the upper-end draftees over the past few years.

(post-publishing note: a commenter asked what I “meant” by a #1 or a #5 starter.  Here’s text pulled from the comments as to how i’m defining each of these level of starters:)

  • #1 starter is one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, mentioned in Cy Young conversations.  Verlander, Lincecum, Halladay.
  • #2 starter: a slight step down from your elite, but still a reliable starter.  The “robin” to the ace’s “batman.”  I’m thinking Matt Cain, Chad Billingsly, Cole Hamels, Clay Buchholz as examples.  Not the best guy on their rotation but a great #2 guy.
  • #3: 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’m thinking someone like a Jonathan Sanchez, Derek Holland, Edwin Jackson, someone like that.
  • #4: is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, a mlb veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond.  John Lannan is a great example of a #4 starter.  Freddie Garcia, John Lackey, Jon Garland, Jason Marquis are other examples.
  • #5: 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.  On our team, Livan Hernandez, Tom Gorzelanny, Craig Stammen in past years.

Nationals Starter prospect Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations)

#1: Strasburg
#2: Zimmermann, Cole
#3: Purke
#4: Lannan, Ray
#5: Detwiler, Turnbull, Solis
4-A starter: Milone, Meyers, Rosenbaum
MLB bullpen: Meyer, Peacock, Stammen
Minors starter: Maya, Martis, McGeary, Jordan, Grace
Minors bullpen: Holder, Smoker

Discussion.

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg, in my mind, is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.  When he’s healthy.  In 2010 he posted MLB-best k/9 rates and would have clearly led the league in some sabremetric measures of pitching in his debut season had he qualified.  But health is the big question mark; is he going to become the next Justin Verlander or the next Mark Prior?  Only time will tell.

#2 Starters: Jordan Zimmermann has achieved Robin to Strasburg’s Batman in this rotation, and seems set to be a pretty good rotational guy for the next few years.  AJ Cole pitched well in his first full season, is a big kid who was touching 96 in HS.  He could be a big arm who slides into the rotation as a dominant arm.  Some think his ceiling is even higher than a #2 starter.

#3 Starters: Matt Purke was a 1-1 talent (1st round, 1st overall draft pick) before suffering shoulder bursitis, and the Nats took a gamble on him.  But its a great gamble; he has Ace material, throwing mid 90s from the left hand side with completely dominating stuff.  He was rated BA’s #14 prospect coming out of high school and had a $4M signing bonus deal turned down by MLB.  He allowed the Nats medical staff to do a dye-injection MRI and were satisfied with the results.  His deal could be remembered as a steal of the 2011 draft if he pans out.  However recent scouting reports have listed his stuff as “ordinary,” so a #3 starter seems like a good middle ground for now.  If his arm is really ok, he’ll start to show it next spring (hopefully at high-A) and he’ll rocket up the prospect lists soon enough.

#4 Starters: Perhaps one could argue that John Lannan is a #3 starter but I don’t believe so; I think he’s a solid, underrated #4 starter on a decent rotation.  If you compare Lannan to the #4 starters on a number of teams, he compares favorably, and you’d clearly take Lannan if given the choice.  The problem is; he’s just not flashy.  We’ll never get appropriate trade value for him because his W/L numbers are mediocre and his K/9 rate isn’t that impressive.  I’d guess that he sticks in our rotation until he reaches free agency, at which point its likely that some of our developing power arms will be ready to take over.   Robbie Ray had a fantastic debut season and may even be better than a #4 ceiling; certainly he put up as good of numbers as his 2010 draft classmate AJ Cole, but his stuff doesn’t project as highly.

Here’s where a number of arguments are probably to be had, starting at the #5 ceiling.

#5 Starters: Ross Detwiler really has yet to fully show his full capabilities, but lefties that throw mid 90s don’t grow on trees.  2012 is a make or break year for him with this organization, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him moved in the off-season so that the team doesn’t have to deal with his option status when constructing the rotation next spring.  I put him with slightly better stuff than the 4-A guys below.  I’m still not sold on him as a MLB starter, but saw a lot out of him this season that shows improvement over where he was in the organization in 2010.   2011 draftee Kylin Turnbull was overshadowed by the high-end talents drafted ahead of him, but he’s lefty, throws well and is projectionable.  Thanks to Sean Hogan‘s excellent draft research, some scouting reports are here.  Right now it sounds to me like Turnbull has a bit more power than someone like Milone and perhaps can get more missed bats.  For now i’m listing him as a #5 starter ceiling; if he was a righty he’d probably be in the MLB bullpen category.  Lastly Sammy Solis projects thus far as somewhere between a a #3 range starter, a mid rotation guy who has 3 plus pitches and can be a lefty work horse out of the rotation and a back-of-the bullpen guy with mediocre stuff but good constitution.  He may not have the best stuff, but being lefty and being a solid, Mark Buehrle build could mean he’s a slightly better version of John Lannan for this team.  We’ll see how he does in AA in 2012.

4-A starters: (for those that don’t know what is meant by “4-A or AAAA,” it means someone who is better than a AAA pitcher but not quite good enough to get out major league hitters on a consistent basis).  Tommy Milone had a great September debut and has impeccable control in the minors, but I don’t see him having good enough stuff to consistently get major league hitters out.  Now, I could be wrong and he could have Greg Maddux-esque control, at which point he doesn’t need mid-90s heat.  But from what I saw in his September starts, I don’t think he’s got what it takes to stick in the majors.  Brad Meyers could end up in the same position as Milone; a guy who dominates in the minors but who can’t cut in the majors.  It doesn’t look like he’ll even get a shot at the 2012 rotation with the crowded 40-man roster.  Lastly Denny Rosenbaum seems cut from the same cloth as Milone; a softer-tossing lefty without great K/9 rates in the low minors but who is effective enough at getting guys out.

Bound for the bullpen (but good enough to stick in the majors): 2011 draftee Alex Meyer is going to go one way or the other: he’s either going to be a wild man out of the bullpen or a near #1 starter.  Scouts seem to be pretty split as to which way he’s going to go.  Right now, based on the struggles he had early in his college career, I’m guessing he struggles to maintain his forward momentum and ends up a Cole Kimball-esque hard throwing option out of the pen.  Meanwhile, what to make of Brad Peacock?  I know he just finished off a fantastic minor league season and had two effective September starts (giving up just one run in 12 innings over two starts).  But to me I see a guy with good life and heavy reliance on one pitch (a 4-seam fastball), a good 2nd pitch (change-up) no confidence in his third pitch (loopy curveball) and no fourth pitch.  To me, that says bullpen.  Lastly i’m clumping in Craig Stammen here, who couldn’t really cut it as a full time starter in 2010 and spent the entire 2011 season starting in AAA.  I think he can be an effective guy out of the MLB bullpen if he’s given the shot.  I like Stammen and perhaps this is a bit high of a ceiling for him; i wouldn’t be surprised a bit if he misses out on the 2012 bullpen and slips into minor league free agency frankly.

Minors starter: This list of guys looks like they’re destined to be “organization guys” for this team.  Yuniesky Maya was clearly not the pitcher the team thought he was when he got his 4-year contract; he’s gotten a couple shots at the majors over the past two seasons and has not capitalized.  I think he’s going to be ensconced in the AAA rotation for the near future, unless someone can figure out how to trade him.  He certainly isn’t a better MLB starting option than any of the guys listed above him.  Shairon Martis mostly earned this fate when he successfully passed through waivers and off our 40-man roster.  His worth ethic and conditioning came into question in the organization, and he went from a 22yr old starter in 2009 to a AA starter in 2011.  He had pretty good numbers in AA, but that doesn’t really prove much for a guy who was in a MLB rotation two years prior.  Jack McGeary is finally back from two years of mediocracy and Tommy John surgery, but faces a pretty steep climb back into future rotational pictures.  For now, i’m guessing he struggles to ever make it, topping out as a minor league starter once he hits his free agency period.  For now, i’m also classifying both Taylor Jordan and Matthew Grace as org guys, continuing to rise up as 4th or 5th starters but never really making an impact.

Minors bullpen: Lastly, i’m listing both high-end draft picks of the past few years Trevor Holder and Josh Smoker as topped out as minor league bullpen guys.  Smoker seems like he’s already there, having come back from an arm injury but still only having risen to high-A in his fourth pro season.  He put up good numbers as a loogy/bullpen guy this year, and perhaps his real ceiling is the MLB bullpen, but getting a loogy out of a first round draft pick is still a major disappointment.  Holder was clearly an over-draft in the Strasburg year, getting picked up in the 3rd round when he wasn’t even in some team’s top 10, and has done nothing to earn his draft position.  He posted a 5.77 era in high-A this year, repeating the level and leaving the team clearly in a conundrum as to what to do with him.  I think he is destined for a bullpen role in 2012, perhaps in high-A again, and may be short-lived for the franchise.

Is there someone I’m missing?  Agree, Disagree?  Discuss in the comments section.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potomac Relievers:

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