With the minor league season for all of the Washington Nationals affiliates ending yesterday, we end our minor league Q+A series by taking a look at the short-season Auburn Doubledays, who play in the New York-Penn League. The short-season teams are mainly made up of players who were drafted by the organization in that season. This year, the Doubledays finished 36-38 and missed the playoffs, but Gary Cathcart’s squad won seven of their last ten games to end the year, including an extra-inning walk-off win against Batavia yesterday.
When you look at Auburn’s offense, they ended the season with the best average in the New-York Penn League (.267) and they were second in the league in runs scored (357). They had two players with more than 30 RBI’s this season. One was right fielder Rhett Wiseman, who was the Nats’ third round pick in this year’s draft out of Vanderbilt. Wiseman hit .248 with five home runs and 35 RBI’s in 54 games.
The other player that had 30+ RBI’s was infielder Kelvin Gutierrez. Gutierrez was the team’s lone representative at the league’s All-Star Game last month. The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic hit. 305 with one home run, 30 RBI’s, and had a .358 on-base percentage.
Of course, center fielder Victor Robles stole the show as well as the 18-year-old center fielder hit .352 in 61 games with four home runs, 27 RBI’s, stole 24 bases, and had a .445 on-base percentage. With the great season Robles had, he is now ranked as the seventh best prospect in the Nats system, according to MLB Pipeline.
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On the mound, the Doubledays had the highest ERA of any team in the league (4.21) and they had the second fewest strikeouts (502). Erick Fedde started the season with the team and went 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA in eight starts before being promoted to Hagerstown. While Fedde is gone, the Nats had a lot of their draft picks such as Taylor Hearn and Grant Borne make their debuts this season. Of course, there was some buzz around Mariano Rivera Jr., who was picked in the fourth round this year. Rivera Jr. was used as both a starter and reliever this season, but finished the season out of the bullpen.
To get more insight on some of the players on the Doubledays this year, I spoke with David Lauterbach, who did the play-by-play calls for all of Auburn’s games this season on their radio network. We at District at Deck thank David for taking the time to answer all of our questions. Here is our Q+A:
R: Outfielder Victor Robles got called up to Auburn on July 19 and has been the talk of the Nats’ farm system at 18 years old. What has stood out to you about his season in the New York-Penn League?
David: When I first heard that Victor Robles was being called up from the GCL, I asked around for information and stories about his style of play. The one name that continued to come in terms of how he played on the field was Yasiel Puig in that Robles is extremely energetic and goes all out on almost every play. The two are very different personality wise from what I’ve read about Puig, but Robles is a clubhouse favorite and gets along with everybody on the team and on top of that, the fans love him. There’s no way you can’t enjoy watching him or talking to him. He’s a tremendous guy and acts much older than his age. Some people have told me he acts like a veteran in the league, not like an 18-year-old kid.
As for what has stood out, he’s only 18 and he’s probably one of the best players in the league. When I spoke with Ben Badler at Baseball America, I asked him to compare Robles in the past draft class. The one name Badler compared him to the most was Daz Cameron, who a lot of people thought would be a top ten pick, but he ultimately fell to 37th overall because of his signing bonus request. Badler told me he thinks Robles might be better and probably would’ve been a first round pick if he was draft eligible.
He goes out on every play, he makes plays in the outfield some scouts told me they don’t see big leaguers make, and he absolutely rakes. Unfortunately he’ll fall a couple plate appearances shy of qualifying for the batting title, but if he did he would currently have the second highest average in the league at .343 in 38 games. Every day he continues to amaze me and the fans and makes me eager to see him in the big leagues so we can use some of the new statistics on statcast on him. His swing is clean and very quick, his first step in the outfield is almost always in the right direction moments after the ball is hit, and he’s so much fun to watch. Nationals fans should be excited.
D: The past two seasons I worked for a team in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the Falmouth Commodores, and actually saw Rhett Wiseman play for two summers and Andrew Stevenson for one. I could easily see both making the big leagues at some point.
Wiseman has a good clean swing with power and plays a good right field. Wiseman spends a ton of time on hitting and has worked a lot with the hitting coach in Auburn Amaury Garcia to improve that swing. What I like about Wiseman too is he’s very interested in absorbing as much information as possible. He was always curious about the opposing pitchers and their tendencies and he loves to learn about the top prospects on other teams. Wiseman also had a team high 15 game hit streak this season August 15th to August 30th: 15 games, .356 (21-59), 1 HR, 17 RBIs, and 8 multi-hit games.
Andrew Stevenson has made one error in the last calendar year, let that sink in. He has incredible range in the outfield and in his words he “loves to make diving catches.” Stevenson has an incredible amount of speed and when he and Robles were both in the outfield together for a couple games, I don’t think I’ve ever been more comfortable knowing a ball wouldn’t drop between them. Stevenson ended his time in Auburn on a 13-game hit streak and he raked overall too. If Stevenson can add a little power, he only has one homer in his career and it was in Hagerstown, I think he will be just fine.
R: Erick Fedde was with the Doubledays this season, but who has stood out to you in the Doubledays’ rotation?
D: I’m going to expand this to just pitchers in general. In terms of names to watch out for, all of these guys were taken in the 2015 draft by the Nationals: Taylor Hearn (5th round pick), Matthew Crownover (6th round pick), Koda Glover (8th round pick), Andrew Lee (11th round pick) and Tommy Peterson (12th round pick).
Now for quick points on each…
- Taylor Hearn: Hearn is a 6-6 lefty SP who has been described to me as someone who could be molded into a tremendous pitcher. The lefty looks up to David Price and has a solid slider of his own. Hearn can also hit the low to mid 90s with his fastball. He is definitely someone to watch out for who can dominate opposing hitters and has a great work ethic.
- Matthew Crownover: Crownover was the 2015 ACC Pitcher of the Year at Clemson this year. The lefty recorded the longest scoreless streak this year for the Doubledays from August 16th to September 2nd: 16.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, and 10 K’s. Crownover doesn’t throw hard and his fastball sits in the high 80s and low 90s. He can hit spots easily and over that scoreless stretch also record 9 1-2-3 innings in a 10 inning span that included a start where he threw five perfect innings.
- Koda Glover: If he continues to improve, I think Glover could be the first one of this group in the big leagues. The righty’s fastball sits in the mid to high 90s and his breaking ball can be devastating. Glover easily overpowers hitters and I think he could be a great bullpen arm.
- Andrew Lee: When Lee was drafted, he told me he asked the coaches in Auburn if he could hit too (he hit 9 homers at Tennessee this year as a first baseman and pitcher). Lee could be a huge steal in the 11th round. He didn’t give up an earned run in his first 22.1 innings as a professional pitcher and has only given up an earned run in 2 of his 16 appearances. Lee only pitched out of the bullpen when he was in Auburn, but has made a couple starts in Hagerstown. He has a ton of potential and makes it look so easy.
- Tommy Peterson: Peterson was the closer at USF this past year when the Nationals drafted him. Just like Glover, he could probably be one of the first guys to make it to the big leagues. His fastball sits in the low to mid 90s and he generates a lot of swings and misses.
R: In your opinion, is Mariano Rivera III more of a starter or reliever going forward? Has there been a lot of buzz considering his father is the greatest closer of all-time?
D: I asked Mariano what his plan was and he said he really enjoys being in the bullpen (you can hear the full interview here https://soundcloud.com/davidlauterbach/mariano-rivera-iii-end-of-season-interview). He’s done a lot better out of the bullpen lately, so maybe he’ll stick there but I really don’t know and he isn’t sure either. I think with his mix of pitches and speed (he can hit the low to mid-90s with his fastball), I can see him being a good reliever down the road.
As for his father, there has been a ton. His dad came for his first start and the fans loved it. He gets a standing ovation every time he comes into the game whether it’s on the road or at home. The New York Daily News did an article on him, the local papers have written about him, MiLB has written about him, and he was even on the front page of MLB.com for another article Major League Baseball did on him.
R: Surprises/disappointments on this year’s team?
This is a tough one because a lot of these guys came from college and haven’t played with wood bats a lot. I’ll focus on surprises instead of disappointments and since I already talked about pitchers, I’ll look at hitters here:
- Max Schrock hit very well in college, but I was a little surprised to see how consistent he hit overall. He absolutely raked in August: 22 games, hits in 19 of 22, .352 average, 17 R, 1 HR, and 6 RBI’s. Schrock signed for a ton of money as a 13th round pick, but I think he has a great shot at making it to the big leagues. He has a great approach and is very versatile in the field (30 games at 2B, 1 at 3B, and 10 at SS) even though he only played second in college.
- Kelvin Gutierrez led the team with a .305 batting average and was the only all-star on the team. He was also someone who ended up playing multiple positions (46 games at 3B and 12 at SS when Anderson Franco joined the team). Gutierrez has a great swing and when he hits, he hits consistently with easy.
- Ian Sagdal was drafted in the 16th round and is another great fielder who can play all over (48 games total, 17 at 1B, 24 at SS, and 7 at DH). Sagdal struggled a little bit at the plate in the second half of the season, but then hit well in the last week or so of the season.
- Jorge Tillero started the year in Hagerstown and then struggled the first two months in Auburn before ending on a hot streak. By month: June – 5 games and a .211 average, July – 11 games and a .182 average, August – 18 games and a .270 average, and September – 4 games and a .438 average. Tillero had a .198 average on August 23rd game, but ended the season with a .260 average. Over his last 12 games, Tillero had a hit in 10 of 12 while hitting 1 HR and notching 7 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
R: If someone was checking out a game at Falcon Park for the first time, what is the one thing they should do or see?
D: One of my friends recently came to a game and said “when I think of minor league baseball stadiums, I imagine Falcon Park.” It’s a nice little stadium in a residential area. It’s not very big (only 2,800 seats), but it’s cozy. The one thing you will notice when you come to the stadium, is the groundskeeper Brian Rhodes does a tremendous job of taking care of the entire facility and playing surface. Teams routinely come in and say Falcon Park has the best playing surface in the league.
R: When did you start calling games for Auburn and what is your favorite part about the New York-Penn League?
D: This is my first season in August after two years in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the nation’s top collegiate summer wood bat league. My favorite part is probably getting to go to the unique stadiums in the league. Vermont and Williamsport are the oldest and second oldest professional baseball stadiums respectively in use (yes they’re older than Fenway and Wrigley, the two oldest MLB stadiums). State College and West Virginia are also located in college towns (Penn State and West Virginia University respectively) and the stadiums are shared with those schools. On top of that, there are teams in Brooklyn and Lowell (right outside of Boston), so it’s not like some of the other leagues where you’re always in the middle of nowhere. Instead, some of the cities are pretty big.