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Federal Reserve: Hitter and Pitcher of the Year

Throughout the year, the Federal Reserve handed out monthly award winners to highlight some of the best performances in the minors this year. Now, the time has come to handout the final prizes of the season, the Hitter and Pitcher of the Year Awards.

The races in both fields were competitive. In the end, however, two already lauded prospects took the awards, with the hitter tearing through his league en route to Washington and the pitcher living up to, if not exceeding, the lofty expectations that surrounded him.

Hitter of the Year: Steven Souza Jr., Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs

Souza could never play another inning in a Nationals uniform and will still be remembered for his game-ending catch that preserved Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on Sunday. Considering his production in the minors, however, the outfielder could be a key piece to the team’s future.

Logging 407 plate appearances across 96 games for the Chiefs, Souza batted an International-League-leading .354/.427/.577 with 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, and a 180 wRC+. He also displayed considerable speed, swiping 28 bases in 35 attempts. Souza’s production helped lead the Chiefs to their first playoff appearance since 1998, while earning him league MVP and organizational Player of the Year honors. When including his two brief rehab stints with Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, Souza batted .345/.427/.577 in 100 minor league games.

With all three of their regular outfielders likely to return, the Nationals have a tough choice to make with Souza. Having already dominated Triple-A, another stint at that level is unnecessary. Considering that Scott Hairston’s deal is set to expire, the Nationals could use Souza off their bench, where his combination of power, speed, and defense could make him a productive reserve.

Runner-up: Michael Taylor, Double-A Harrisburg Senators and Chiefs

Pitcher of the Year: Lucas Giolito, Low-A Hagerstown Suns

Giolito entered this season as one of the game’s most hyped prospects, with the only major concern being how his health would hold up in his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Those fears were quickly muted, as the righthander dominated the South Atlantic League (SAL).

Making 20 starts, Giolito went 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and a 110:28 K:BB ratio in 98 innings pitched. While he was consistent throughout the season, his performance made a considerable spike with his dominant July. During that month, Giolito went 4-0 with a 1.19 ERA and a 33:5 K:BB ratio in 28 and 1/3 innings, including a start on the 25th against Kannapolis (White Sox) in which he allowed 1 hit while striking out 9.

As part of their protocol with pitchers recovering from Tommy John, the Nationals shut Giolito down in August. His numbers with the Suns netted him several honors, including the SAL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Prospect awards, organizational Pitcher of the Year, and a selection to the MLB All-Star Futures Game.

Giolito is more than living up to his billing as one of the game’s top pitching prospects. At just 20-years-old, he figures to open next season with the Potomac Nationals.

Runner-up: Austin Voth, Suns, Nationals, and Senators.

Minors Notes:

  • On Tuesday, Matt Eddy of Baseball America ranked the power and speed combinations among minor league players this season. Michael Taylor topped the list, with Steven Souza Jr. coming in fifth and infielder Wilmer Difo ranking eighth.
  • A reminder that next week will mark the conclusion of the Federal Reserve’s weekly updates. However, occasional posts, including Arizona Fall League coverage, will be provided until February, when the weekly content resumes.
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Federal Reserve: 2014’s Top Performing Minor Leaguers

Next week the Federal Reserve will hand out its final awards of the season, the Pitcher and Player of the Year. Before doing that, however, it seems appropriate to honor the best players at each position in the Nationals’ Farm System.

The criteria is simple. With the roster construction based off of Baseball America’s Postseason All-Stars, minus the use of a DH, there are eight position players, five starting pitchers, and a closer. Ineligible from this list are players who appeared exclusively with short season teams, as the roster is composed of players from the Auburn Doubledays, Hagerstown Suns, Potomac Nationals, Harrisburg Senators, and Syracuse Chiefs.

Catcher: Spencer Kieboom, Suns
PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
361 .309 .352 .500 9 61 5.8% 18.6 2 2

First Base: John Wooten, Suns, Doubledays*, and Nationals

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
422 .293 .335 .474 12 72 5.5% 15.4 5 5

Second Base: Tony Renda, Nationals

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
472 .307 .381 .377 0 75 9.1% 12.5% 19 5

Third Base: Drew Ward, Suns

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
478 .269 .341 .413 10 72 8.8% 25.3% 2 2

Shortstop: Wilmer Difo, Suns

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
610 .315 .360 .470 14 90 6.1% 10.7% 49 9

Outfield:

Destin Hood, Senators, Doubledays*, and Chiefs

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
420 .298 .348 .460 11 42 6.4% 21.5% 10 3

Michael Taylor, Senators and Chiefs

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
493 .304 .390 .526 23 61 11.6% 29.2% 37 9

Steven Souza Jr., Chiefs, Suns*, and Doubledays*

PAs AVG OBP SLG HR RBI BB% K% SB CS
419 .345 .427 .577 18 77 12.4% 19.1% 28 7

That group includes two MVP winners in Difo and Steven Souza, who claimed the South Atlantic (SAL) and International League honors respectively. Souza is also one of two players to debut in the majors this year, with the other being Michael Taylor.

Starting Pitchers
A.J. Cole, Senators and Chiefs
Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
13 3 3.16 134 111 32 7.5 2.1

Taylor Hill, Chiefs

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
11 7 2.81 144 86 25 5.4 1.6

Lucas Giolito, Suns

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
10 2 2.20 98 110 28 10.1 2.6

Reynaldo Lopez, Doubledays and Suns

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
7 3 1.08 83.1 70 62 7.6 2.8

Austin Voth, Suns, Nationals, and Senators

Wins Losses ERA IP Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
7 7 2.77 126.2 133 38 9.4 2.7

Closer

Jake Walsh, Suns and Nationals

Games IP Saves Ks BBs K/9 BB/9
37 52 12 54 14 9.3 2.4

*Denotes time spent with team on rehab assignment.

Cole and Giolito lived up to their billing as two of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects, with Giolito winning the SAL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Prospect awards. Voth, Hill, and Lopez all had breakout sasons, as Lopez’s was highlighted by a 38 and 1/3 consecutive scoreless-innings streak between Auburn and Hagerstown.

In the bullpen is Walsh, a 34th-round selection in 2013 who broke out with a solid season. After earning an All-Star selection with a 1.45 ERA and a 7.8 K/9 in 31 innings at Hagerstown, the lefthander was equally impressive in Potomac, where he posted a 1.71 ERA and an 11.6 K/9 in 21 frames.

Minors Notes:

  • The Nationals announced today that Steven Souza Jr was named Minor League Player of the Year, while Lucas Giolito was named the Pitcher of the Year. In addition, the organization honored Wilmer Difo with the second-annual Bob Boone Award.
  • Ben Badler of Baseball America named Jakson Reetz the 14th-best prospect of the Gulf Coast League (BA subscribers can access scouting reports here). Reetz’s successful stint in the short-season circuit was profiled in last week’s Federal Reserve. 
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Federal Reserve: Wrapping Up The Minor League Season

On the surface, the Washington Nationals’ 2014 draft class did not warrant much attention during the second half of the minor league season. First-round selection Erick Fedde’s Tommy John surgery is keeping him off the mound until at least next summer, while second-round lefthander Andrew Suarez and ninth-round first baseman Austin Blyer opted to return college instead of signing with the team.

While the anticipation of Fedde’s return will be the biggest story about this class heading into next season, the third-through-fifth round selections just finished a solid half-season. Foremost among that group is third-round catcher Jakson Reetz. In 155 plate appearances across 43 games with the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Nationals, the 19-year-old batted .274/.429/.368 with one home run and 15 RBIs. Reetz’s OBP owes much to his patience, as he posted a 16.8 BB% compared to a 19.4 K%.

It will be interesting to see how the Nationals handle Reetz next season. On one hand his age, combined with catcher Raudy Reed’s solid season in Short Season-A Auburn likely earning him a promotion to Low-A Hagerstown, allows the club to be more cautious and place Reetz in Auburn. However, he may follow a similar path to that of Drew Ward, who spent 2013 in the GCL and bypassed Auburn to play all of 2014 in Hagerstown. Look for more information on his potential assignment to emerge over the next few months, but Reetz will undoubtedly be one of the organization’s most intriguing prospects next year.

In addition to Reetz, the Nationals saw solid performances from a pair of righthanders; fourth-rounder Robbie Dickey and fifth-rounder Drew Van Orden. Appearing with three different teams, the highest of which was Hagerstown, Dickey went a combined 1-4 with a 4.15 ERA with a 23:11 K:BB ratio in 34.2 innings pitched. Most of that time came in Auburn, where Dickey posted a 2.25 ERA and a 2.74 FIP in 20 innings over five starts.

Van Orden, meanwhile, recovered from a slow start at Auburn to post solid numbers. In 41 innings over 10 games, eight of which were starts, he sported a 4.39 ERA and a 4.32 FIP with a 35:11 K:BB ratio. Van Orden was especially dominant in the month of August, posting a 2.25 ERA during that span while striking out 22 batters in 23 and 2/3 innings.

With that performance, Van Orden figures to join Dickey in Hagerstown’s rotation next season. From the onset of 2015, the development of both pitchers should figure heavily into how the 2014 draft class is evaluated.

Minors Notes:

  • The Suns came up just short of the South Atlantic League (SAL) Championship, as they lost the decisive game to the Asheville Tourists (Colorado Rockies) by a final of 4-1 last Saturday. While they did not win the title, the 2014 squad’s 87 regular-season wins is the second highest in Suns’ franchise history.
  • Matt Eddy of Baseball America ranked the 10 Minor League Baseball full-season MVPs based on their potential as prospects. Steven Souza Jr. who claimed the Triple-A International League’s prize, ranks fifth, while SAL MVP Wilmer Difo comes in seventh.
  • Starting in October, the Federal Reserve will cut back on its content and provide sporadic updates until Spring Training 2015. In the meantime, stay tuned, as some of the best minor league coverage has been saved for last, including next week’s Postseason All-Star Team.
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Federal Reserve: Potomac Nationals Clinch Championship

With a 5-1 win Wednesday night over the visiting Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Rangers), the High-A Potomac Nationals clinched the Carolina League’s Mills Cup Championship Series.

Highlighting the victory for Potomac was another strong postseason performance from John Wooten, who went 2-for-4. Over the series’ four games, he went 8-for-15 with three home runs, including two in the Nationals’ game three victory on Tuesday. With those numbers, Wooten was named the Mills Cup Championship Series MVP.

Wooten’s postseason showing was a fitting follow up to his regular season performance. In 422 plate appearances, 301 of which came with Low-A Hagerstown before his promotion to Potomac in July, Wooten batted .293/.335/.474 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs while spending time at several positions, including both infield and outfield corners

On the pitching side, Hector Silvestre clinched the series with an outstanding start. Hurling six innings, the left-hander allowed one run on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts. That start follows a strong playoff start by Silvestre on Sept. 3, when he limited the Lynchburg Hillcats (Braves) to one run on five hits over seven innings with three walks and five strikeouts.

During the regular season, the Potomac Nationals’ 78-58 record was the best in the league’s Northern Division and second best throughout the league behind the Pelicans, who finished 82-56. Two of their best prospects, catcher Pedro Severino and second baseman Tony Renda, are slated to playing in the Arizona Fall League’s upcoming season. Renda, who won the league’s batting title with a .307 clip, was also joined on the Carolina League’s postseason All-Star Team by teammates Shawn Pleffner, Stephen Perez and Oscar Tejada, as well as his manager, Tripp Keister.

With Potomac sealing the title, another Washington Nationals’ affiliate is trying to win its league championship. On Thursday night, the Hagerstown Suns will play for a 2-1 advantage in their best-of-five series against the Asheville Tourists (Rockies). In order to gain that lead, the Suns will need starter Reynaldo Lopez to continue the dominance he has shown over the last two months.

Lopez, the Federal Reserve’s Pitcher of the Month for August, followed his successful regular season with a strong performance in game two of the Northern Division Championship Series. Facing the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Marlins), the righthander threw six shutout innings on two hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts.

In addition to a solid outing from Lopez, the Suns are hoping that Wilmer Difo and Drew Ward will continue to hit as well as they have. Ward is a combined 4-for-8 over the Championship Series’ first two games, including two doubles in a Game Two victory. Difo, meanwhile, belted two home runs that victorious game two, including the game-winning solo shot in the top of the 10th inning.

Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium will host the series’ final three games, with a potential do-or-die Game Five slated for Saturday night at 7:05.

Minors Notes:

  • On Tuesday, the Nationals announced a Player Development Contract (PDC) extension with Potomac that runs through the 2016 season. That announcement ensures that all four of the non-Nationals’ owned clubs will remain affiliates, as Hagerstown and Short Season-A Auburn recently extended through 2016, while Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse agreed to deals prior to the season that will last through 2018.
  • The third Nationals’ affiliate to make the postseason, Syracuse, was eliminated last Friday in a loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox. While a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox was a disappointing end for the season, it was still a special year for the Chiefs, as it marked their first playoff appearance since 1998.
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Federal Reserve: Pitcher and Hitter of the Month Awards

The Minor League Baseball season has come to a close. While three Washington Nationals’ affiliates, the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, High-A Potomac Nationals, and Low-A Hagerstown Suns, have made the postseason, most of the organization’s prospects have finished their seasons.

To recap August, the minor’s final full month, the Federal Reserve is once again giving out its Pitcher and Hitter of the Month Awards. This month features a clean sweep for the Suns, who could not have made the playoffs without the contributions of these two players.

Hitter of the Month: Wilmer Difo, Suns

One of the most consistent players in the farm system this season, Difo elevated his game in the month of August. In 125 plate appearances over 28 games, the switch-hitter batted .369/.432/.586 with 5 home runs and 18 RBIs. Along with his power, Difo helped the Suns with his speed, as he stole 14 bases in 16 attempts.

As noted here a few weeks ago, Difo’s breakout has been one of the more surprising stories in the minors this season. After posting an accumulative .217/.296/.348 at four levels last year, the infielder emerged as a key cog because of his power, speed, and defensive versatility. He finished the season with an overall line of .315/.360/.470 with 14 home runs, 90 RBIs, a league-leading 176 hits, and a 131 wRC+ in 610 plate appearances.

With those numbers, Difo was recognized as the South Atlantic League’s MVP and was named to the Postseason All-Star Team.

Honorable Mentions: Jakson Reetz (GCL Nationals), Tony Renda (Potomac), Pedro Severino (Potomac), Jimmy Yezzo (Hagerstown).

Pitcher of the Month: Reynaldo Lopez, Suns

If anyone has a stronger case than Difo for being the most improved player this year, it is Lopez. Stepping up for the Suns, who lost Lucas Giolito because of an innings limit, in August, the righthander went 3-0 with a 0.27 ERA and a 25:6 K:BB ratio in 33 and 2/3 innings pitched over 6 starts. During that stretch, Lopez allowed just 13 hits.

Lopez’s success was discussed here two ago, when he was in the midst of a 37 and 2/3 scoreless innings streak. Although that streak snapped in a start against Hickory (Rangers) on August 24, he still allowed just 1 run the entire month.

Spending a good portion of this season with Short Season-A Auburn before joining the Suns, Lopez combined his fastball, which can touch 100 mph, with a rapidly improved curveball and progressing changeup to post stellar numbers. Between the two clubs, he went 7-3 with a 1.08 ERA and a 70:26 K:BB ratio in 83 and a 1/3 innings. He will start for the Suns on Friday when they face Greensboro (Marlins) in game two of their current postseason series.

Honorable Mentions: Ian Dickson (Potomac),Rafael Martin (Syracuse), Matthew Spann (Potomac), Drew Van Ordern (Short Season-A Auburn).

Minors Notes:

  • Despite a highlight reel catch from Michael Taylor (video) in the bottom of the third, the Chiefs suffered a 2-1, 10-inning loss against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Wednesday. Game two of this best-of-five series will begin tonight at 7:05.
  • Hector Silvestre limited the Lynchburg Hillcats (Braves) to 1 run over 7 innings, earning a win in the Nationals’ 4-2 victory last night. The two teams will meet at Potomac’s Richard G. Pfitzner Stadium tonight at 7:05 for game two.
  • Trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Suns rallied past the Greensboro on a walk-off single by Rafael Bautista in their 3-2 win on Wednesday. Following an off day, the Suns will try to clinch the best-of-three series when Lopez takes the mound on Friday.
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Federal Reserve: AFL Roster Announcements

On Tuesday, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) announced its rosters for the coming season, with the Mesa Solar Sox featuring seven prospects from the Washington Nationals: catchers Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino, second baseman Tony Renda, starting pitcher Felipe Rivero, and relievers Matt Grace, Neil Holland and Derek Self.

While more players could be added in the coming weeks, the Nationals are taking an interesting approach to their selections for this year. Rather than representing the best group of farmhands, these seven players can be categorized as either trying to gain prospect status, making up for lost time or solidifying their roles as prospects.

Most observers would probably agree that High-A Potomac teammates Renda and Severino are the top prospects among the group. A second-round selection in 2012, Renda is having another steady season, batting .301/.372/.374 in 101 games. Though he lacks a standout skill, he has a career .368 OBP and is a solid defender.

Severino, meanwhile, was widely lauded for his defense coming into the season, but a disastrous first half left questions about his ability to develop as a hitter. He has erased some of those doubts with a stellar second half, and has showcased his arm strength by throwing out 37% of would-be base stealers. If Severino could improve his patience, his developing power and advanced aptitude behind the plate could make the 20-year-old one of Washington’s best prospects.

Grace and Holland were both members of the 2010 draft class and are serving bullpen roles at Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg respectively. Self, who was selected in 2012, has recovered from an inconsistent 2013 to post a 2.80 ERA and an 8.1 K/9 in 64 and 1/3 innings between Potomac and Harrisburg.

Self, a hard-throwing right-hander, is an interesting contrast to Grace and Holland. Grace could reach the majors as a left-handed relief option if he improves his command, while Holland’s success has come through deception as a submariner rather than first-rate stuff. All three relievers will try to emulate the example set by Aaron Barrett, who in 2012 burst onto the prospect radar after a solid AFL stint.

As for Rivero and Kieboom, both have dealt with injuries in the recent past. In his first full season since Tommy John surgery, Kieboom has been good offensively and defensively at Low-A Hagerstown. A productive AFL stint could go a long way towards boosting Kieboom’s stock, as at 23 he should play against older competition.

Rivero was one of the two prospects acquired along with Jose Lobaton in the Nationals’ February trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. After struggling in the early goings with Harrisburg, the left-hander hit the DL with an arm injury that sidelined him until late July. Already on the 40-man roster, Rivero has shown the potential to be a mid-rotation starter at various points, but needs to remain healthy and regain the command he showed earlier in his career.

Along with prospects from the Nationals, the Solar Sox will include players from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland A’s, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Their season begins on Oct. 7, when they take on the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Minors Notes:

  • The seven players discussed in this post will not be the only Nationals’ representatives in the AFL this year. Hagerstown manager Patrick Anderson will serve as a coach for the Solar Sox, who are also receiving Potomac trainer T.D. Swinford.
  • The International League announced on Tuesday that Steven Souza Jr. was named the circuit’s MVP and Rookie of the Year. In 91 games for the Syracuse Chiefs, Souza posted a league-leading .354/.435/.601 triple-slash line while belting 18 home runs.
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Federal Reserve: Prospect Report for Reynaldo Lopez

This season, the Low-A Hagerstown Suns have had more hard-throwing young pitchers than what minor league teams feature in the span of a few years. Headlined by Lucas Giolito, their Opening Day rotation included 2013 top pick Jake Johansen and Austin Voth, that draft class’s fifth rounder, along with Nick Pivetta and Hector Silvestre.

With Pivetta and Giolito the lone original hurlers remaining in the rotation (Johansen has since moved to the bullpen), it would seem reasonable to expect a drop in high-upside arms. However, their rotation now includes one of the best breakout stories in the Washington Nationals’ farm system, righthander Reynaldo Lopez.

In a start on Tuesday, Lopez defeated Greensboro (Marlins) with 6-shutout innings on 2 hits, a walk, and 4 strikeouts. That outing extended his current scoreless-innings streak to 37 and 1/3, a stretch that dates back to mid-July, when he was in the Short Season-Auburn Doubledays’ rotation. When counting just earned runs, that span extends to 48 and 1/3 innings, with his last coming in the second inning of a start against Mahoning Valley (Indians) on July 3.

More noteworthy than his current streak, however, is that Lopez has been fairly anonymous despite featuring a fastball that consistently hits 94-98 mph and can touch 100. There are a few factors that explain why he was so unknown until now: He received very little coverage during the International Free Agent signing period of 2012, when the Nationals added him for a reported price tag of $17, 000. After pitching part of that season in the Dominican Summer League, he made a spot start with Hagerstown in 2013 before joining Auburn, where he made just one start before suffering a season-ending arm injury.

Despite recovering from the injury, his path was supposed to be identical to last year. Lopez was summonsed to Hagerstown in late May to aid the Suns when they were a few arms short, but was destined for Auburn. In 36 innings over 7 starts with the Doubledays, he posted a league-leading 0.75 ERA with a 7.8 K/9. Last week on my other site, Jeremy Houghtaling, who covers the Doubledays for the Auburn Citizen, attributed Lopez’s improvement to better speed variance between his fastball and his off-speed repertoire, which includes a changeup and a curveball. Including that earlier spot start, Lopez is 3-1 in 7 starts with a 1.47 ERA, 2.63 FIP, and a 30:8 K:BB ratio in 36 and 2/3 frames with the Suns.

Unlike a lot of pitchers of his age and experience level, Lopez consistently keeps his fastball down in the zone, allowing him to generate groundouts on the nights when his off-speed pitches fail to produce strikeouts. When his curveball is on, however, he uses it as an effective outpitch to generate swings and misses, leading to strikeouts in relatively short at-bats.

All of these factors make Lopez an exciting prospect. Going forward, he will need to hone his curveball and make major strides with his changeup. It is also imperative to see how he performs over a longer stretch, as he has thrown just 88 and 2/3 innings in his career, 72 and 2/3 of which are from this season.

Lopez has been crucial to the Suns in their current playoff chase, while improving his stock as a prospect. He will be just 21-years-old at the beginning of the 2015 season, which could very well mark his first stint at High-A Potomac.

Minors Note:

  • Back by an 11-run offensive attack, A.J. Cole improved to 6-0 at the Triple-A level in the Syracuse Chiefs’ victory over Scranton/Wilkes Barre (Yankees) on Wednesday. In 6 innings, the righthander allowed 2 runs on 4 hits with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. Since his promotion from Double-A Harrisburg, Cole has a 3.26 ERA with a 42:14 K:BB ratio in 58 innings.

 

 

 

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Taylor Eclipses Goodwin On Nationals’ Depth Chart

On July 20, 2012, a transaction that redefined the Washington Nationals’ prospect hierarchy took place. Having overmatched his Low-A competition with the Hagerstown Suns, centerfielder Brian Goodwin skipped High-A Potomac and made the leap to Double-A Harrisburg. Suddenly trailing Goodwin on the depth chart was Potomac’s talented, yet raw and enigmatic centerfielder, Michael Taylor.

With a .324/.438/.542 triple-slash line, a 16.2 BB% compared to a 14.7 K%, and 9 home runs at Hagerstown, Goodwin combined a strong plate approach with solid defense in centerfield. As Taylor posted with a .648 OPS at Potomac and Eury Perez, who moved up to Triple-A Syracuse that same day, struggled to get on-base enough to put his speed to use, Goodwin gained a significant advantage in the race to become the Nationals’ long-term centerfield option. Even the move to acquire Denard Span in the offseason did not seem to change the future plan: One of those three prospects, most likely Goodwin or Taylor, would one day patrol centerfield in Washington.

Goodwin and Taylor started 2013 back at Harrisburg and Potomac respectively. Goodwin had an up and down year; he was named an All-Star but posted a 26.9 K%.  Taylor, meanwhile, suddenly developed the power that many observers were waiting for. Despite that, he still had a raw plate approach and faced playing at a lower level in 2014. Combine that with Goodwin’s solid stint in the Arizona Fall League, and it seemed that while the competition had become more interesting, it had not turned on its heels.

This season, however, Taylor has stormed ahead. As he broke out at Harrisburg, Goodwin struggled with Syracuse before hitting the DL. Prior to being placed on the DL on July 3 (the injury remains undisclosed), Goodwin batted .219/.342/.328 with just 4 homers and a 28.9 K% in 81 games. That was despite the fact that he had a .320 batting average on balls in play, in line with his career figure of .323.

Looking purely at these facts, it is easy to give up on Goodwin. Taylor has broken out, Steven Souza Jr. has emerged as another outfield option, and all major league outfielders look to be in place for 2015. However, the Nationals should not act in haste.

Goodwin, who will turn 24 in November, is still relatively young for the Triple-A level, where he will likely return for next year. A closer look at his numbers also shows that his patience is still there, as he had a 15.2 BB% before the injury. In addition, he still has a solid .253/.362/.409 career line with 28 and 43 steals, evidence of the power and speed combination that made him a supplemental first round pick in 2011.

The Nationals will have to make a decision soon. Goodwin will be eligible for this December’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning that another organization may draft him if he is not placed on the 40-man roster. To give away an athletic player to whom you paid a $3 million bonus just three years ago is not a good idea, regardless of how poorly he performed the year before.

It is clear that Goodwin and the Nationals are at a crossroads. Maybe he does not fit into their plans, but it does not mean that he should be easily discarded.

Minors Notes:

  • The Auburn Doubledays announced on Monday that first baseman Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and reliever Mario Sanchez were selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star Game. The Short Season-A circuit’s contest will take place on August 19 at MCU Park in Brooklyn.
  • Austin Voth was placed on Harrisburg’s DL on Tuesday. In 3 starts at Harrisburg, the righthander had a 3.53 ERA and a 18:5 K:BB ratio. There is no official word on why he was placed on the DL, though it is possible that he is merely being shutdown after 122 innings at three levels this season.
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Souza and Giolito Are Our Minor League Players of the Month

The month of July was filled with highlights in the Washington Nationals’ farm system. Before Zach Walters was dealt to Cleveland, Austin Voth made the leap to Double-A, and Michael Taylor and Lucas Giolito appeared in the MLB All-Star Futures Game.

In this post, the Federal Reserve recaps July with the Hitter and Pitcher of the Month Awards. The hitter of July compiled yet another dominant month en route to the big leagues, while one talented hurler had one of the best stretches of his career.

Hitter of the Month: Steven Souza Jr., Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs

The winner of June’s prize, Souza was just as, if not more, impressive in July. Logging 111 plate appearances over 26 games, the outfielder batted .362/.423/.670 with 6 home runs, 23 RBIs, and 8 stolen bases in 10 attempts. He also made a highlight catch in the Triple-A All-Star Game at Durham, NC on the 16th:

The Nationals recalled Souza on Sunday to replace the injured Nate McClouth. He departed the International League as its triple-slash line leader at .354/.435/.601, which was complimented by 18 home runs, 70 RBIs, a 183 wRC+, and 24 steals in 31 attempts.

While Souza received minimal playing time in his first two stints in the majors this season, the Nationals should give him more opportunities now. His combination of power and speed makes a worthy substitute for any of the Nationals outfielders in the event of a day off, and he has proven he can master Triple-A.

With Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and possibly Denard Span all in place for 2015, Souza will have to fight for at-bats. If Washington cannot offer any opportunities, another organization may come calling for his services.

Honorable Mentions: Anderson Franco (DSL), Spencer Kieboom (Low-A Hagerstown), Raudy Read (Short Season-A Auburn), Jakson Reetz (GCL), Zach Walters (Syracuse).

Pitcher of the Month: Lucas Giolito, Low-A Hagerstown Suns

Giolito’s high upside has been apparent all season, but the young righthander took his performance to another level in July. Making 5 starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings pitched with a 33:5 K:BB ratio while allowing just 18 hits. In a start against Kannapolis (White Sox) on the 25th, he allowed one hit (an infield single in the first) while striking out 7 with no walks.

That month, combined with a solid effort against West Virginia (Pirates) on Tuesday, brings Giolito’s overall record to 8-2 in 18 starts. In addition, he has a 2.35 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and a 99:26 K:BB in 88 innings. While a temporary shutdown in mid-May has pushed him under the South Atlantic League’s threshold for the ERA title, Giolito still leads the Suns in strikeouts and has posted a solid 6.2 H/9 rate.

As I wrote recently on the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club Blog, his dominance is in part because of improved command of his curveball. He is prone to home runs when he leaves the pitch up in the zone, so he will need to refine it he as works through the higher levels. However, it is clear that Giolito has never been better, and is pitching as good as advertised right now.

Honorable Mentions: A.J. Cole (Syracuse), Reynaldo Lopez (Auburn and Hagerstown), Austin Voth (Potomac and Harrisburg), Hector Silvestre (Hagerstown and Potomac).

Minors Notes:

  • Michael Taylor is 3-for-5 (.600) in his first two games at Syracuse, including a game-winning double against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees) on Monday. The centerfielder was promoted from Harrisburg to take Souza’s place.
  • The Potomac Nationals will host the Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox) and Carlos Rodon, the third-overall selection in this year’s draft, today at 12:05. It will be Rodon’s first start at the High-A level.
Zach-Walters-David-Manning-USA-TODAY-Sports

Asdrubal Cabrera, Zach Walters, and the Minor League Impact

In need of an infielder, the Washington Nationals agreed to a deadline trade that sent Triple-A Syracuse utility player Zach Walters to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera and cash considerations.

Cabrera is essentially a rental player; his contract expires after this year and his acquisition was necessitated by Ryan Zimmerman’s injury and Danny Espinosa’s lack of production. While he is having a mediocre season, Cabrera is still an upgrade over Espinosa, or as our own Joe Drugan noted, a solid platoon option.

With those factors in mind, it would have been hard for the Nationals to justify moving a vital part of their future. While Walters has been solid as a minor leaguer, it has become increasingly clear over the last two years that he was not a part of the Nationals’ long-term plans. In 261 plate appearances with the Chiefs this season, the 24-year-old batted .300/.358/.608 with 15 home runs, while spending time in leftfield and at every infield position except first base.

While his numbers in 2014 were the best of his career, Walters’ track record does not suggest that they are sustainable. His career-long lack of patience (.327 career OBP) is exemplified with his 7.7% walk rate, which is accompanied by a 23.8% strikeout rate. During his two brief call ups over the past two seasons with the Nationals, Walters batted a combined .234/.308/.489 in 52 plate appearances.

In Walters, the Indians are acquiring a super-utility-type prospect that will provide power from both sides of the plate. It is possible that his power could make him an everyday player, but he must get on-base more and settle into a regular position. Considering that Indians’ farmhand Francisco Lindor is one of the game’s top shortstop prospects, while Lonnie Chisenhall’s breakout season entrenches him as the team’s third baseman, Walters’ best chance to be an everyday player in Cleveland is probably as a corner outfielder.

By giving up Walters, the Nationals did two crucial things for their future. The first was clearing a log jam of solid, but not standout infield prospects. Along with Jeff Kobernus, the Nationals still have players such as Tony Renda and Wilmer Difo in the lower levels of the minors. The deal also frees the Nationals up to make other moves during the waiver deadline. Should another need arise, several blocked prospects, including Syracuse outfielder Steven Souza Jr. are still available.

All things considered, the Nationals traded a blocked prospect to fill a glaring hole at the major league level. While Cabrera probably will not produce enough to make this a steal, it is doubtful that general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals will seriously regret it in the future.

Minors Notes:

  • Lucas Giolito improved to 7-2 by leading the Hagerstown Suns to a 1-0 victory on Thursday against the hosting Charleston RiverDogs (Yankees). In 6-scoreless innings, the righthander allowed 2 hits with a walk and 6 strikeouts. This outing closed a month in which Giolito posted a 33:5 K:BB in 28.1 innings pitched.
  • Eury Perez fell a triple short of the cycle in a 3-for-4 performance during the Chiefs’ loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Following rehab stints with the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Nationals and High-A Potomac, the outfielder returned to the Chiefs on July 19 from a fractured left toe. Perez is batting .269/.327/.358 in 35 games for Syracuse, including a .359/.381/.538 triple-slash line over his last 10 games.
  • Jakson Reetz went 1-for-2 with 2 walks for the GCL Nationals in their 13-10 victory over the Mets on Thursday. Through his first 23 professional games, the third-round selection is batting .276/.449/.362.