On the verge of the 2012 All-Star break, the Washington Nationals have weathered injuries and, until last week, inconsistent hitting to claim the National League’s best record.
Their lofty standing is a testament to the depth and strength of their farm system, which Mike Rizzo and his crack team of scouts have rebuilt from the ruins of years of neglect by Major League Baseball and five season’s of Jim Bowden’s mismanagement. Players such as Stephen Lombardozzi, Jhonatan Solano, and Tyler Moore have capably stepped in to fill gaps left by injured Nationals veterans.
With minor leagues that play full seasons well into the second half of their schedules, let’s take a look at how the Nats’ affiliates are faring, especially their key players and top prospects. At the end, we’ll take a brief look at the just beginning short season leagues, such as the New York-Penn and the Dominican Summer leagues to examine some of Washington’ recent draft picks and international players.
AAA Level – Syracuse Chiefs (International League, 44-42, 5th place, 7.5 games behind Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, [Phillies affiliate]).
The Chiefs have rebounded nicely from their 2-13 start, actually playing better once Bryce Harper joined the Nationals. Their hitting has improved as the season progresses, bolstered by strong starting pitching. The bullpen is the team’s weak link. Inconsistent and ineffective, they have surrendered many late game leads, turning victories to defeats.
Corey Brown – 84 games, 328 AB’s, 19 HR’s, .296 avg. /.382 on-base pct./.943 OPS
Xavier Paul – 59 G, 211 AB, 8 HR, .318/.379/.896 (Paul recently opted out of his contract and signed with the Reds)
Jim Negrych (2B) – 54 G, 169 AB, .284/.363/.806
Erik Komatsu – 31 G, 104 AB, 3 HR, .269/.355/.750 since returned from St. Louis, after a brief stay in Minnesota, under the Rule 5 draft.
Key Pitchers: The starting pitching is worth watching closely as, barring a deadline trade for another arm, someone from this group will have to take Stephen Strasburg‘s place in the starting rotation in early to mid-September.
John Lannan – 17 Games, 6-8 record, 102 innings pitched, 4.60 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
Yunesky Maya – 18 G, 6-7, 108 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.15 WHIP
Zach Duke – 17 G, 10-3, 103 IP, 3.68 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
Atahualpa Severino – 31 G, 3-0, 35 IP, 3.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
AA – Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League, 48-41, tied for 1st place with the Akron Aeros [Indians affiliate]).
The AA level houses most organization’s top prospects and the Nationals are no exception. The Senators have boasted young, exciting players, but injuries, inconsistency, and a weak starting rotation have left them stuck in neutral for most of the season. They do boast some intriguing players who could command playing time in Washington in the next 1-3 years. Some of their most promising position players, though, have struggled at the plate, as the numbers below demonstrate.
Jeff Kobernus – 64 G, 281 AB, 34 SB, .285/.326/.664
Destin Hood – 52 G, 202 AB, 2 HR, .223/.312/.609
Chris Rahl – 79 G, 281 AB, 10 HR, .299/.347/.823
Eury Perez – 74 G, 320 AB, 26 SB, .294/.322/.663
Zach Walters – 20 G, 77 AB, 4 HR, .338/.378/1.001
Key Pitchers: After a blistering start, Rosenbaum has struggled, leading to questions about his health and status as a top prospect.
Daniel Rosenbaum – 18 G, 7-6, 114 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
Christian Garcia – 18 G, 1-0, 7 saves, 20 IP, 1.35 ERA, 0.95
High A – Potomac Nationals (Carolina League; First Half: 31-39, 2nd place, 10-9, tied for first place in Second Half with Lynchburg Hillcats (Pirates affiliate))
Potomac looked like the eventual landing place for prospects such as Matt Purke and Anthony Rendon to pair with Robbie Ray, but injuries to the first two prevented that. Moreover, Ray has been ineffective, especially at the beginning of games. Potomac has also struggled to hit as only one of a slew of fine hitting prospects, Jason Martinson has been promoted from Hagerstown.
Low A – Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League, First Half: 42-27, 2nd place, 12-6, 2nd place Second Half, 1 GB Hickory Crawdads (Texas Rangers affiliate))
Right now, Hagerstown houses the Nationals most promising hitting and pitching prospects. As to the team itself, they are a minor league version of the 1970′s Pittsburgh Pirates “Lumber Company” clubs — fantastic hitting, mediocre pitching, atrocious fielding. If you like high scoring baseball, where every ball in play is a potential adventure, Hagerstown’s historic Municipal Stadium, where Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays once played, is the place to be.
Brian Goodwin – 50 G, 183 AB, 6 HR, 14 SB, .317/.439/.941
Matt Skole – 83 G, 282 AB, 79 W, 94 K, 21 HR, 73 RBI, .280/.434/.937 (Skole leads the Sally League in home runs, walks, and RBI but also has the second most strikeouts)
Brett Newsome – 69 G, 219 AB, 9 HR, .279/.348/.823
Alex Meyer – 17 G, 6-4, 84 IP, 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 98 strikeouts, 2nd highest in Sally League
(Meyer wowed everyone at the MLB Future’s Game, retiring two batters on 6 pitches, and hitting 99 MPH on one fastball. He is a potentially dominant arm to join the Nationals in 2014.)
Matt Purke – 3 G, 0-2, 15 IP, 5.87 ERA, 1.76 WHIP
(Purke has battled arm injuries this season, spending two months at extended spring training. It is looking like a lost season for this top Nationals prospect).
Aaron Barrett – 28 G, 3-2, 14 saves, 32 IP, 2.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP
Other Washington affiliates are just beginning their seasons. The best team to follow is the Auburn Doubledays, who play in the short-season New York-Penn League. The Doubledays’ 14-7 record leads the Pinckney Division.
Recent top draft choices Tony Renda, Spencer Kieboom, Stephen Perez and Jordan Poole play in Auburn. All have struggled so far in adjusting to professional baseball. Poole has shown a power stroke, with two homers in just four games.
In the Domincan Republic, the Nats’ team has a 15-17 record in the summer league (DSL). Most of these guys are 18 or younger. None are anywhere close to playing in the major leagues. Because of their issues with the Carlos Alvarez signing fiasco a few years ago, the Nats are still rebuilding their operations in the Dominican Republic and have few, if any promising prospects
In past seasons, one of these clubs, usually Potomac, has made the playoffs, giving Nationals fans’ a brief diversion from their struggling major league team. If current trends continue, it may be the Nationals themselves that command fans attention in September and October. If they do, expect one of the players listed above, most likely at Harrisburg or Syracuse right now, to share a rare moment or two of the pennant race spotlight. Top candidates are: Corey Brown, John Lannan, Zach Duke, Mark Teahan, and Eury Perez (as a pinch runner and defensive replacement only).