Minor League Baseball’s Opening Day is today, and the Nationals four full-season affiliates—the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, Double-A Harrisburg Senators, High-A Potomac Nationals, and Low–A Hagerstown Suns—all open the seasons with solid rosters. While injuries, promotions, and scuffles relating to development are trademarks of a minor league season, these four teams look promising on paper.
To evaluate each club, I have ranked them in the following categories: lineup, defense, rotation, and bullpen. In addition, I will also say who I think is the best team in the Nationals’ system.
The Lineup: Senators
Matt Skole, who played just two games for the Senators before a collision at first base brought his season to an abrupt end, will be essential to their success. If healthy, he will carry the lineup with his power (32 home runs and a .920 OPS in 850 career plate appearances), while Michael Taylor and Drew Vettleson each have an intriguing combination of power and speed.
The outfield alone seals the Chiefs’ case, as Eury Perez and Steven Souza, Jr. anchor the corners with Brian Goodwin in center. Souza has an ideal arm for a right fielder, while Goodwin’s is good enough to hold down his position, Perez’s speed and improving instincts would make him a centerfielder on most teams. The infield has some steady gloves as well, including Zach Walters and Jeff Kobernus, both of whom are capable of handling multiple positions.
Runner-up: Potomac Nationals
Starting Rotation: Suns
Lucas Giolito and Jake Johansen highlight a starting five that features four of Baseball America’s Top-30 Nationals Prospects, with Austin Voth and Nick Pivetta rounding out that group. While Giolito could emerge as baseball’s best pitching prospect with a full season of health, Johansen garners attention with his hard fastball. Voth and Pivetta offer pinpoint command that should allow them to overmatch Low-A hitters. Not to be forgotten is the staff’s lone left-hander Hector Silvestre, a 21-year-old who had a 40:8 K: BB ratio in 49.1 innings, who pitched with the GCL Nationals last year.
Bullpen: Potomac Nationals
After posting an 11.3 K/9 in 51 innings between Hagerstown and Potomac last year, Robert Benincasa returns to anchor the bullpen. In the event that Benincasa reaches Harrisburg early on, look for Gilberto Mendez to ably fill the void. In all likelihood, the right hander won’t repeat his 0.91 ERA from Hagerstown last year, but his 2.53 FIP and a 10 K/9 rate suggests that he could be in line for another good season.
Overall Team: Senators
Simply put, the Senators have the right mix of big-name prospects, solid role players, and seasoned veterans to compete in the Eastern League. A.J. Cole leads a rotation that includes Felipe Rivero, Matt Purke, Rob Gilliam, and Blake Schwartz, who has a 1.8 BB/9 rate in 201 and 1/3 career innings. If Skole is healthy and Taylor produces as expected, a balanced lineup will provide plenty of run support. At the very least, look for the Senators to finish well above .500, with a playoff appearance likely.
- Sammy Solis is once again starting the year on the DL, as a lingering back issue keeps him in Florida. This is another setback for a talented lefthander, who has thrown just 155 and 1/3 innings since being drafted in 2010.
- On Tuesday, I asked Suns manager Patrick Anderson about how the team plans to handle Rafael Bautista, a 21-year-old centerfielder making his full-season debut. Anderson praised his defensive abilities, but said Bautista will start in the bottom part of the order to develop his raw offensive skills. Bautista batted .322/.400/.391 in 235 plate appearances in the GCL last year and tied for the league lead in stolen bases with 26.
(Photo: Auburn Citizen)