Down on the Farm: Arizona Fall League
Though the regular season has come and gone and the postseason has entered its second week, eight members of the Washington Nationals organization will have the opportunity to continue their development this year in one of baseball’s most talent-rich environments.
Pitchers Robert Benincasa, Richie Mirowski, Matt Purke and Sammy Solis will be joined by catcher Adrian Nieto, infielder Matt Skole and outfielders Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza in the Arizona Fall League, a self-described “finishing school” for top prospects. The Nationals players will compete for the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of Minor League stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers organizations.
Over the course of the six-week schedule, the Solar Sox will battle five other teams located throughout the greater Phoenix area – each featuring prospects drawn from five clubs – showcasing their talents in front of scouts, front office executives and fans of the game.
The Solar Sox open their season today at 3:30 p.m. ET when they take on the Glendale Desert Dogs. Center fielder Brian Goodwin has been penciled into the No. 2 spot in the batting order this afternoon for Mesa, while Matt Skole will hit eighth and serve as the designated hitter. Former Nationals farmhand David Freitas, now with Oakland, will do the catching for the Solar Sox, which will be opposed on the mound by Minnesota prospect Alex Meyer – the former first-round pick for whom the Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span this past offseason.
The season’s midway point will be marked by the Rising Stars Game on Saturday, November 2, and will conclude with the Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday, November 16. Both November showcase games will be broadcast live on MLB Network.
Here is more a comprehensive look at the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League:
ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP
Age: 23 (9.5.90) | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 180 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right
Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State University
Robert Benincasa has solidified his place as a dependable bullpen arm in the Nationals organization, saving 27 games between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac during the 2013 season. The 23-year-old right-hander showed a strong command of the strike zone, totaling 64 strikeouts against just 14 walks in 51.0 innings pitched across both levels.
The Florida State University product was also a closer at the college level, saving 16 games and compiling a 1.32 ERA as a junior with the Seminoles, earning first team All-ACC as well as first team All-American honors from Baseball America.
BRIAN GOODWIN | OF
Age: 22 (11.2.90) | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 195 | Bats: Left | Throws: Right
Selected in the first round (34th overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Miami Dade CC
Brian Goodwin, rated the 65th-best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is an energetic young outfielder who just completed his first full season with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. He collected 40 extra-base hits (19 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs) on the year, adding 19 steals on the base paths.
“(Brian) is a rangy center fielder who gets good jumps,” said Nationals Director of Minor League Operations Mark Scialabba during the 2013 season. “He has the potential to play center field in the Major Leagues, and is a very athletic, dynamic baseball player who can show you flashes of all five tools.”
RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP
Age: 24 (4.30.89) | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 190 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right
Selected in the 45th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Oklahoma Baptist University
Like Benincasa, Richie Mirowski is a talented right-hander who tallied eye-popping numbers out of the bullpen during the 2013 campaign. The 24-year-old breezed through High-A Potomac en route to Double-A Harrisburg, going a combined 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA, seven saves, and 88 strikeouts against just 15 walks in 68.2 innings of work. His 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings and 0.90 WHIP both ranked among the best in the organization.
Mirowski has emerged as a late-round steal from the Nationals talent-rich 2011 Draft. Selected in the 45th round out of Oklahoma Baptist University, the Nationals converted Mirowski from a college starter to his current relief role.
ADRIAN NIETO | C
Age: 23 (11.12.89) | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 200 | Bats: Switch | Throws: Right
Selected in the fifth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of American Heritage (FL) HS
Cuban-born catching prospect Adrian Nieto enjoyed the finest season of his professional career in 2013, contributing in the batter’s box and behind the plate for the Potomac Nationals. The 23-year-old switch-hitter slashed .285/.373/.449 in 452 plate appearances, with a career-high 11 home runs and 53 RBI. He also threw out an astounding 42 baserunners, giving him a total of 100 caught stealings since 2010.
Nieto, whose family defected from Cuba when he was a child, teamed up with future Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to win a Florida state championship in high school. The 2008 fifth-round pick participated for Team Spain in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
MATT PURKE | LHP
Age: 23 (7.17.90) | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 205 | Bats: Left | Throws: Left
Selected in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Christian University
Talented left-hander Matt Purke will try to build on a successful – and healthy – 2013 campaign when he takes the hill for the Solar Sox this fall. Purke completed 90 innings between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac this season, hinting at the dominance that made him a consensus All-American during his freshman season at TCU in 2010.
Purke started six games for the Suns, striking out 41 and walking just seven in 29 innings, before earning a promotion to the P-Nats. He finished the year with a flourish in Woodbridge, going 5-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over his final seven starts of the regular season.
MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B
Age: 24 (6.30.89) | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220 | Bats: Left | Throws: Right
Selected in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech
Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole will have an opportunity to further his development in the Arizona Fall League, after suffering an injury to his non-throwing arm in the second game of the year and missing the entire 2013 season.
Skole, a physical specimen at 6-4, 220 pounds, is expected to play third base for Mesa after serving as a first baseman this spring. The Georgia Tech product hit an impressive .291/.426/.559 with 27 home runs and 104 runs batted in a season ago, earning an invitation to big league camp.
SAMMY SOLIS | LHP
Age: 25 (8.10.88) | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 230 | Bats: Right | Throws: Left
Selected in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of San Diego
Solis, the Nationals second selection in the 2010 Draft (Bryce Harper being the first), will continue his road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his 2012 campaign. The big left-hander completed 59.2 innings in 2013, going 2-1 with a 3.43 earned run average across 14 games for the Gulf Coast League Nationals and the Potomac Nationals.
The Avondale, Arizona native and University of San Diego star will pitch in the Fall League for the third time in his young career, after throwing 23.2 innings in the circuit in 2010 and 26.0 more in 2011.
STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF
Age: 24 (4.24.89) | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 220 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right
Selected in the 3rd round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Cascade (WA) HS
Souza has come into his own during the past two seasons, hitting 38 home runs and stealing 34 bases in 174 games between Class-A Hagerstown, High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. In 77 games with the Senators in 2013, Souza compiled a .300/.396/.557 slash line, earning All-Star Game and Home Run Derby appearances at the Double-A level.
“(Steven) is a big, strong, physical presence with big-time raw power to all fields – and he can fly,” Scialabba said about the 24-year-old slugger. “He’s someone who has the potential to hit in the middle of the lineup and be a run producer.”