A week into the minor league season, the Low-A Hagerstown Suns are the only team in the Nationals’ farm system with a winning record. Beginning last Thursday against the Rome Braves, the Suns have won five of seven, showing the makings of a balanced team that is highlighted by a strong starting staff.
Nick Pivetta went 2-0 over as many starts during the week, allowing one run in 10 innings pitched (0.90 ERA) with a 10:2 K:BB ratio. Austin Voth leads the team with 13 strikeouts, and has allowed 4 earned runs in 9 and 2/3 innings over two starts. The two pitchers were ranked by Baseball America prior to the season as Top-30 prospects in the Nationals’ system, with Voth placing 15th and Pivetta 22nd.
Lucas Giolito pitched this stretch, but had a rough go of it in his first start. Facing Rome on Saturday, the righthander allowed 4 runs (3 earned) in 3 innings pitched, and walked 2 batters while striking out 3. While his command was shaky, Giolito’s fast ball easily hit the mid-90’s. From watching the game in person, I see no reason for concern about his numbers going forward, as his repertoire should allow him to work through his competition, even if he struggles early on.
As a unit, Suns pitchers have a 2.90 ERA, good for third in the South Atlantic League (SAL) as of the conclusion of Wednesday’s game and a 56:19 K:BB in 59 innings. While that is a big reason for their success, the offense has also been crucial. Isaac Ballou is a catalyst out of the lead-off spot, as he is 10-for-23 (.435) with a 1.196 OPS through his first six games. Defensively, he has shown the range and instincts typical of a centerfielder while playing left. A 15th-round selection out of Marshall University in last year’s draft, Ballou could play his way into prospect consideration this year.
With Ballou in left, Rafael Bautista has ably handled centerfield, going 11-for-20 (.550) at the plate. He features a solid line drive stroke, ideal speed for a centerfielder, and solid defensive instincts that should improve with time. Though he has batted 9th in all of his games, look for Bautista to move up in the order as the season goes on, as his skill set could demand that the Nationals develop him as a lead-off hitter.
What does the Suns start mean in one week, a very small sample size? Time will tell, but one thing to remember is the SAL’s playoff spots are determined in half-season intervals. With 70 games at a time deciding a team’s postseason fate, one good week could set the Suns apart as the first half comes to a close. And with the instability that shapes minor league rosters, the Suns’ best chance for success might very well stand with this talented core.
- In Triple-A, Zach Walters is off to a strong start for the Syracuse Chiefs. Through six games, the switch-hitting infielder is 7-for-21 (.333) with a .824 OPS. Five of Walters’ six games have come at his natural position of shortstop, with the other coming at third base.
- With a strong start over the New Britain Rock Cats (Twins), A.J. Cole delivered the Double-A Harrisburg Senators their first win of the season. In 5 innings, the right hander allowed 2 runs (1 earned) on 6 hits, though he did not strikeout a batter.
- Second baseman Tony Renda appears to be adjusting well to High-A competition with the Potomac Nationals, going 8-for-24 (.333) in his first six games. The former 2nd rounder was ranked the 13th-best prospect in the Nationals system after hitting a league-leading 43 doubles with Hagerstown last year.