Wilmer Difo named South Atlantic League MVP; Lucas Giolito named Most Outstanding Pitcher & Top Prospect
by Amanda Comak
Two more Washington Nationals prospects earned end-of-year accolades on Thursday with the South Atlantic League announcing Single-A Hagerstown infielder Wilmer Difo as the league’s Most Valuable Player and right-hander Lucas Giolito the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. Additionally, Suns center fielder Rafael Bautista was named to the SAL post-season All-Star team and Single-A Potomac manager Tripp Keister was named the Carolina League Manager of the Year.
Difo, a mid-season SAL Northern Division All-Star and post-season All-Star second baseman, currently leads or is tied for the league lead in hits (174) and total bases (257). Hitting .321 this season, good for sixth in the league among qualifiers, Difo has worked to a .366 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage for the Suns.
The 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is among the SAL leaders in RBI (88, third), stolen bases (49, second), runs scored (90, tied for second), extra-base hits (50, fourth) and most plate appearances per strikeout (9.55, fifth).
Giolito, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 11 prospect in all of baseball at mid-season, went 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA for the Suns in 20 games this season. Over 98.0 innings he allowed 28 runs (24 earned) on 70 hits, including seven homers. Giolito, the Nationals’ first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, walked 28 and struck out 110.
The 20 year old was named the SAL Pitcher of the Week on two occasions this season and represented the Nationals at the Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game, along with outfielder Michael A. Taylor, in Minneapolis in July.
Bautista, like Difo, was named to the mid-season Northern Division All-Star team as well. The 21-year-old currently leads the league in stolen bases (66), and is tied with Difo for second in runs scored. Bautista is hitting .283 this year with a .337 on-base percentage and .373 slugging percentage. His 66 stolen bases are a Suns single-season record since the team has been a member of the South Atlantic League.
Keister managed Potomac to the first- and second-half Northern Division titles, clinching the second-half crown on Wednesday night. With a 75-55 record this season, Potomac will host Game 1 of the Northern Division Championship Series on Sept. 3 at Pfitzner Stadium.
by Kyle Brostowitz
The Arizona Fall League announced its rosters for the 2014 season on Tuesday and seven Washington Nationals farmhands, along with one manager and one trainer, will represent the organization as members of the Mesa Solar Sox during the 2014 season. The AFL, known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects, will begin its season, Tuesday, Oct. 7.
Grace, 25, began the year at Double-A Harrisburg before getting promoted to Triple-A Syracuse in mid-June. In 47 combined appearances out of the bullpen, Grace went 5-1 with a 1.22 ERA (10 ER/74.0 IP) while striking out 60 batters and holding opponents to a .211 batting average. He experienced a remarkable run in which he allowed just one earned run over 39.1 IP (0.23 ERA), spanning 24 appearances for the Senators and the Chiefs. A ground-ball machine, Grace posted a ground-ball rate of 69 percent this season. For context, the Major League average is usually around 44-45 percent.
“He’s had a terrific year at two levels,” said Nationals Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Player Development Doug Harris. “The opportunity to go to the Arizona Fall League for him is a chance to work on and develop the breaking ball.”
Neil Holland – RHP – 2010 First-Year Player Draft (11th round, Louisville)
Holland, an Eastern League mid-season All-Star, went a combined 7-4 with a 3.27 ERA (26 ER/71.2 IP) in 44 games/one start between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He was promoted from Harrisburg to Syracuse on July 7 and returned to Harrisburg 10 days later. Over his last nine appearances, the 26 year old has pitched to a 0.59 ERA (one ER/15.1 IP) while allowing 10 hits and striking out 15 batters along the way.
“Neil got a taste of Triple-A this year and got a chance to play at two different levels,” Harris said. “He’s a sidearm guy and we’re working with him on repeating his delivery, and repeating all three pitches from the same slot. The Arizona Fall League is a great venue for him to do that, against better hitters.”
Felipe Rivero – LHP – Acquired from Tampa Bay along with C Jose Lobaton and OF Drew Vettleson in exchange for RHP Nathan Karns.
Rivero was limited during the 2014 regular season due to injury, but returned to the mound in late July. In his last two starts for Double-A Harrisburg, the hard-throwing lefty has tossed 11.0 scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and striking out 11. Rivero, 23, was originally singed by the Rays out of San Felipe, Venezuela, on July 8, 2008.
“We’re just trying to continue to build his innings,” Harris said of Rivero’s AFL assignment. “Continue to build his volume. Since he’s come back he’s pitched arguably as well as we’ve seen him, and our hope is just to continue that process.”
Derek Self – RHP – 2012 First-Year Player Draft (9th round, Louisville)
Self earned Carolina League mid-season All-Star honors after going 3-0 with three saves and a 1.69 ERA (5 ER/26.2 IP) with 30 strikeouts and just five walks in 17 appearances out of Potomac’s bullpen. He was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg in early-June and tossed 37.2 innings of relief for the Senators.
“Derek had a strong year at Potomac and got a chance to touch Double-A, where he continued to learn at a higher level,” Harris said. “The Arizona Fall League is an opportunity for him to face a more diverse offensive player. The AFL is a hitter’s league and we want to continue to expose him to a better offensive player.”
Spencer Kieboom – C – 2012 First-Year Player Draft (5th round, Clemson)
After his 2013 season was cut short due to injury, Kieboom hit .311 with 27 doubles, four triples, seven home runs, 58 RBI and 47 runs scored in just 83 games for Single-A Hagerstown in 2014. Keiboom, 23, was a South Atlantic League mid-season All-Star selection and will help anchor an all-Washington catching corps for the Mesa Solar Sox
“After missing the 2013 season following Tommy John surgery, Spencer had a terrific year in Hagerstown,” Harris said. “The AFL will give him a chance to play with some older players and continue to advance his development.”
Pedro Severino – C – Signed as a non-drafted free agent, December 13, 2010
Severino will join Kieboom behind the plate for the Solar Sox. Known mainly for his above-average defensive abilities, Severino hit .248 with 15 doubles, one triple, eight homers, 31 RBI and 39 runs scored in 89 games for Potomac. This season marked his first season in the Carolina League after earning All-Star honors with Hagerstown (South Atlantic League) in 2013.
“Severino really turned his season around offensively,” Harris said. “Going to the AFL gives him a chance to continue that progression. He’ll get to see a little different pitching and continue to develop offensively.”
Tony Renda – INF – 2012 First-Year Player Draft (2nd round, University of California-Berkeley)
Renda, 23, led the Potomac Nationals and ranked among Carolina League hitters in batting average (3rd, 300) and runs scored (4th, 72). He also clubbed 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI and had 17 stolen bases in 100 games for Single-A Potomac. Known as a slick-fielding middle-infielder, Renda committed just eight errors in almost exclusive action at second base. In 2013, as a member of the Hagerstown Suns, Renda received the inaugural Washington Nationals “Bob Boone Award,” given to farmhand who best exhibits professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, determination, and work ethic required to play the game the “Nationals Way.”
“Tony has put himself in position to face the next challenge,” Harris said. “We feel like this is a good step in his preparation for that. He’s had a terrific year.”
Patrick Anderson – Coach – Manager, Hagerstown Suns
In his second year in the Nationals’ chain, Anderson has guided the Suns to a 84-50 record and a potential playoff berth in the South Atlantic League playoffs. Anderson led the 2013 Gulf Coast League Nationals to a 49-9 (.845) record and a GCL Championship in his first season as a member of the organization.
T.D. Swinford — Athletic Trainer, Potomac Nationals
Swinford just completed his fourth season in the Nationals’ organization, but his first with the P-Nats. Swinford spent the 2013 season in Hagerstown, and served as the Athletic Trainer in Auburn for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.