RHP Joe Ross (Jeff Nycz)

Federal Reserve: Top Prospects 6-10

With a new year upon us, the Federal Reserve lists the top 10 prospects in the Washington Nationals’ farm system.

Before delving into the list, there are a few things to note. Along with stats, I heavily considered personal observations and those of trusted sources. Estimated times of arrival (ETA) reflects the player’s projected debut in the majors. Some are admittedly conservative, but factors such as injuries and trades can accelerate or decelerate time tables. Continue reading…

533c1dc2621fa.image

Federal Reserve: Renda selected for Fall Stars Game roster

The Arizona Fall League (AFL) announced its roster for the East and West divisions for the annual Fall Stars Game, with second baseman Tony Renda selected as the lone Nationals farmhand.

On the surface Renda, one of seven Nationals’ prospects playing for the Mesa Solar Sox, is an odd selection because of his sluggish numbers. Entering Monday afternoon’s game, he was batting .205/.234/.295 in 47 plate appearances over a team-high 12 games. Holding back Renda’s numbers was a 0-for-16 start through five games; since then, he has hit a much more respectable 9-for-28 (.321). Continue reading…

Michael+Taylor+Pittsburgh+Pirates+v+Washington+jggtiyLkB3il

Federal Reserve: Regular Season Send Off

After this post, the Federal Reserve will cease weekly updates until pitchers and catchers report in February. To this point, every nuance of the Washington Nationals farm system has been recapped in some form, most notably our Minor League All-Star Team and the Players of the Year.

For those who follow the minors, now is the time of the year to scrutinize Arizona Fall League performances, start thinking about prospect lists, and look over potential strengths that could help the Nationals at the major league level in 2015. As a way of filling those needs, I am happy to say that the decision has been made to keep the Federal Reserve going by posting sporadic updates between now and February. Here is a quick overview of some of the content you can expect to see here in the coming months:

  • Arizona Fall League coverage, including the Fall Stars Game and recaps of individual performances.
  • Trade coverage. If a prospect goes in or out of the Nationals’ farm system, look for a report on that player’s potential.
  • Nationals Top-10 Prospect List, which will likely come online sometime after December’s Winter Meeting.
  • Any potential Rule-5 Draft selections or losses will be covered as well, with several notable prospects, including A.J. Cole and Brian Goodwin, entering their first year of Rule-5 eligibility.

In the meantime, look for updates from me on Twitter (@ZSpedden or @Sunsfanclub) as well as over at the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club Blog. Over the next few months, I will work with everyone here at The Nats Blog to determine the best steps for our minor league coverage next year. I owe gratitude to my colleagues for allowing this section of The Nats Blog to develop as it has since March, and for their willingness to keep the Federal Reserve going throughout the season.

Thank you to the readers for a great minor league season, and I look forward to keeping you updated as we wait for the 2015 season to begin.

Minors Notes:

  • Michael Taylor ranked as the best defensive centerfielder at the Double-A level in 2014, according to Matt Eddy and his set of fielding metrics at Baseball America. Taylor, who made his major league debut in August, has drawn positive reports for his performance in centerfield, and will likely play the position regularly next year for Triple-A Syracuse.
Steven+Souza+Jr+San+Francisco+Giants+v+Washington+IRlGsU8igy2l

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.
Souza

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. 
hi-res-a64f5593c3517223382199862ecb96da_crop_north

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.
champspic_kmd06ry0_81nt7ebr

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.
51e4b6fdea590.preview-620

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.
lGTQzgoJ

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.
reynaldo_lopez

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.