Looking Ahead to Syracuse's 2012 Rotation

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We’ve spent a great deal of time discussing the Nationals’ plans for their 2012 starting rotation. We haven’t really looked much at the organization’s minor league affiliates and who’ll be starting games there. Fortunately for us, Todd at Nationals Arms Race recently took a look at that very question with regards to the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. To put it bluntly, his conclusions aren’t exactly encouraging.

Todd’s analysis was fairly thorough – examining all possible options, including players who pitched at both Double-A and Triple-A during the 2011 season. As we quickly learn, the bulk of these potential options are either no longer with the Nationals organization or were merely in the minor leagues on rehab assignments. Pitchers who have joined the organization as minor league free agents, through the Rule 5 Draft, or through trades this winter were also considered, though most of those have been of the relief pitcher variety.

I won’t delve too much into Todd’s analysis – as you should give it a read for yourself – but where does this all leave us?  Ultimately it would look, at the moment at least, that the Syracuse rotation for 2012 may comprise of Craig Stammen, Yunesky Maya, Mike Ballard, Matthew Buschmann, and Erik Arnesen.

Now, I’m guessing there are some who are asking – who are these guys? – right about now. It’s ok, I admittedly had to do some research here myself. But what better excuse to learn more about some of these guys.

Stammen and Maya are the two options that most Nationals fans likely know – and the only two of the five players currently on the 40-man roster. Stammen has thrown 244.0 innings for the Nationals across parts of the past three seasons. He’s 9-12 with a 4.94 ERA in 61 appearances (38 starts) over that span. He’s never impressed as a starter and seems destined for the bullpen if he’s ever able to stay in the Majors. Maya has been downright disappointing after signing with the Nationals as a free agent after defecting from Cuba. He is 1-4 with a 5.52 ERA in 58.2 innings (15 games, 10 starts). Neither likely has much of a significant future with the Nationals – further illustrating the lack of MLB-ready pitching depth after the Gio Gonzalez trade.

Ballard was signed as a minor league free agent on December 27th. He’s spent the past three seasons bouncing between Baltimore’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates – going 51-43 with a 4.50 ERA in 155 games (130 starts). He’s left-handed but may never be more than organizational filler.

Buschmann was taken in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, from the San Diego Padres. Todd’s description of the right-hander is actually quite good, so I’ll repeat it here:

He was reasonably successful in 2011 in the AA Texas League before getting pounded in 20 appearances (15 starts) in AAA. By virtue of his Rule 5 drafting, he’s pretty much guaranteed to be on the AAA roster in some capacity. He is a starter; will he be one of Syracuse’s starters?

As for Arnesen, the right-hander went a combined 8-6 with a 2.57 ERA in 2011. He pitched 143.2 innings in 29 appearances (19 starts) between Double-A and Triple-A. On paper he would appear to be a decent possibility for the Chiefs’ rotation, for now we’ll pencil him into the 5th spot.

One of the more obvious choices for Syracuse’s rotation would have been Brad Meyers. The right-hander had a solid season between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, calling for many (including Todd, for what it’s worth) suggestions that he be added to the team’s 40-man roster before the November deadline. Washington chose not to protect him, and Meyers was subsequently selected by the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft. While it seems highly unlikely that Meyers sticks with the Yankees at the start of the season – let alone for all of 2012 – we can’t assume what his role will be until he is actually returned.

Todd suggests that he could replace Arnesen in Syracuse’s rotation, citing the latter’s abilities as a “utility pitcher” – filling needs throughout the organization due to injury, etc. I’d guess Ballard could be in a similar position. Both players have spent the past 3+ seasons bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A with inconsistent results.

The offseason is far from over and a lot could take place between now and mid-February when players begin reporting to Spring Training. There are numerous free agent options available, particularly minor league free agents, who could potentially be brought in to both fill out the rosters and add depth to the organization. It seems likely that nearly every team will still look to sign a number of minor league free agents to fill out their rosters and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle. The Nationals will add some players. But until we see what they produce on the field, there’s no way of knowing what we’ll be getting from most of them. For now, the organization is lacking in depth in the upper minors – a concern that hopefully won’t play too much of a factor early on in the 2012 season.

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Tags: Brad Meyers Craig Stammen Erik Arnesen Matthew Buschmann Mike Ballard Syracuse Chiefs Washington Nationals Yunesky Maya

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