Upon the completion of the minor league season, teams always have one last go-around with many of their prospects in an effort to work on a thing or two before the offseason formally begins. The organization gets an opportunity to evaluate players at another position, gets a chance to teach a pitcher a new pitch, and simply gains a few extra weeks to evaluate some of their younger prospects. Instrux, as the league is affectionately known, typically used to be a good indicator for which players were set to advance a level the following season but, as Luke Erickson of nationalsprospects.com points out, that isn’t necessarily the case any longer.
However, despite the uncertain nature of the organization’s intent – little information is released about Instrux – it’s still worth noting which players are thought highly enough of to send down to Florida, where they’ll participate in additional games spanning from Friday, September 21st through Wednesday, October 10th.
On the pitching front, a pair of 2012 Draftees – Robert Benincasa and Brett Mooneyham – highlight the group. Benincasa, the team’s 7th Round selection out of Florida State, made his professional debut with Auburn after signing. He appeared in 16 games out of the bullpen for the Doubledays, striking out 32 (12.3 K/9) while walking just 3 (1.2 BB/9) over 23.1 innings of work. The right-hander possesses a strong fastball and slider combination, but is could very well be working on his other pitches while in Instrux (likely his changeup and/or splitter). Mooneyham, meanwhile, made 9 starts (10 appearances total) for Auburn, pitching 42.1 innings of work in his first professional season. He went 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA, 29 strikeouts, and 16 walks. The left-hander out of Stanford has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter but has long struggled with consistency in his mechanics.
Left-hander Robbie Ray will be joining them in Florida after a highly disappointing season. Ray, who surprised many in 2011 and earned himself a shred of top prospect list consideration this past winter, was just 4-12 with a 6.56 ERA over 105.2 innings (22 games, 21 starts) for High-A Potomac. What was most concerning for Ray was the total abandonment of his control on the season. His walk rate jumped to 4.2 BB/9 and his WHIP rose to 1.618 – both career worst marks since being taken in the 2010 Draft. Fortunately for Ray he’s still just 20 years of age, so time is on his side.
One other notable name to appear on the Instrux roster is Robert Gilliam, the “other guy” in the trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington in January. Gilliam, 24, is the oldest of the Washington pitchers to be in Instrux, had a disappointing first season in the Nationals organization. He began the year with Double-A Harrisburg before getting demoted to High-A Potomac in July. In 27 combined appearances (19 starts) on the year he posted a 4-9 record and 5.74 ERA over 120.2 innings of work. His WHIP has risen steadily three straight years and has struggled against higher competition. 2013 may be a big year in determining whether he has a future within the organization.
As for the position players, Cutter Dykstra is just one of the names worth noting on the Instrux roster. Dykstra, acquired from Milwaukee after the 2010 season in return for Nyjer Morgan, struggled mightily in his first season within the Nationals organization. However, with a demotion to Class-A Hagerstown in 2012 he bounced back, hitting .291/.366/.408 with 7 HR and 64 RBI over 492 plate appearances on the year. The son of former Major Leaguer Lenny Dykstra saw time across the diamond in 2012, appearing at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field.
Outfielders Destin Hood and Michael Taylor both will appear in games over the coming weeks. Hood’s 2012 season was a lost cause after a promising 2011, thanks largely to injuries that limited him to just 94 games on the year. He hit .245/.301/.344 over 389 plate appearances with Double-A Harrisburg, a level he’ll likely repeat in 2013. Taylor, coming off just his second year as an outfielder, showed promise both offensively and defensively, but is still a project in the works. He hit .242/.318/.362 over 431 plate appearances with Potomac. Both Hood and Taylor were among the organization’s top outfield prospects entering the 2012 season. While Hood’s stock may have slipped, Taylor’s likely has grown.
2012 Draft selections Spencer Kieboom and Tony Renda will get some extra work in before concluding their first professional seasons. Kieboom, a 5th Round pick out of Clemson, was touted as a glove-first catcher with offensive upside but he impressed more at the plate than in the field in 41 games with Auburn. He hit .258/.362/.305 over 155 plate appearances and hit well with runners in scoring position. He permitted 9 passed balls behind the plate but did throw out 43% of opposing base stealers. As for Renda, the second baseman continues to earn comparisons to Dustin Pedroia despite showing little signs that he’ll reach the same prowess from a power standpoint. Renda, the team’s 2nd Round pick from UC Berkeley, hit .264/.341/.298 over 334 plate appearances.
Matt Skole will also head to Instrux, though his appearance on the roster is merely to keep him fresh before he heads West for a stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Washington has a fair collection of players making up their Instrux roster but it’s important to remember that these games are mainly for instructional motives, not to be confused with serious competition. Even still, it’s worth noting that the Nationals have assembled a strong group of talented players throughout their minor league system, including a number of quality additions from this past June’s Amateur Draft.