Results tagged ‘ Auburn Doubledays ’

Not A Minor Accomplishment

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The Washington Nationals farm system hasn’t so much met expectations in 2013 as it’s surpassed every one.

Ranked the No. 13 farm system overall in the preseason by Baseball America, the Nationals have surged to the third-best organizational record at 403-322 (.558) overall, trailing only Houston (.572) and San Francisco (.564). Three of Washington’s seven affiliates are playoff-bound, with a fourth in a close division race.

None of this is entirely unexpected either. Under the guidance of President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo, the Nats have gone from the Minor League cellar six years ago to a brief stint at No. 1 in last year’s Baseball America preseason rankings. Not to mention that this farm system has cultivated such talent as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. In fact, 11 players on Washington’s active roster have come through its Minor League system.

Lucas Giolito, Washington's top pick in 2012, was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn.

Lucas Giolito, Washington’s top pick in 2012, was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn.

Perhaps most remarkable has been the Gulf Coast League Nationals, which have notched the most impressive mark in all of professional baseball. Since the season began on June 21, the Rookie-level entry has gone 48-9 (.842), better than even the tremendous run by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who posted a 47-12 (.797) record in the same span. The GCL Nationals lead their division by 24.0 games, have 13 more wins than the next best team in the league, and clinched their playoff spot long ago.

Obviously, such a run requires more than just luck. The GCL Nationals are tops in the league in most meaningful statistical categories. Their 2.49 team ERA and .279 team batting average pace the field, while their 5.52 runs per game is more than six-tenths of a run better than the next closest total. They boast the league’s leader and runner-up in ERA among qualifiers, 21-year-old righty Wander Suero (8-1, 1.65) and 20-year-old southpaw Hector Silvestre (7-0, 1.82). Righty Lucas Giolito, the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect, drafted 16th overall out of high school in 2012, has returned from Tommy John surgery and was recently promoted to Short-Season Auburn in the New York-Penn League after notching a 2.78 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 22.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

Like the GCL Nats, the High-A Potomac Nationals have put up ridiculous numbers in the Carolina League. Potomac is 81-51 overall, having already locked up a playoff spot by winning the Northern Division’s first-half championship with a 42-27 record. They’re currently 7.5 games up on Lynchburg in the second half, and will earn home-field advantage in all three Carolina League Division Series contests if they secure the second half title as well.

Walters has shown great pop for a middle infielder, sitting on the brink of a 30-home run season.

Zach Walters has shown great pop for a middle infielder, sitting on the brink of a 30-home run season.

Cutter Dykstra has helped pace Potomac on its most recent tear. During the P-Nats recent 10-game winning streak (August 10-20), the infielder racked up a .316/.447/.421 line. He also reached base in a league-best 29 games, putting together an 18-game hitting streak in the process. Meanwhile, right-hander Blake Schwartz is 11-4 with a 2.56 ERA and leads the league with a 1.03 WHIP.

The Low-A Hagerstown Suns (77-53) are also headed to the postseason, while the Double-A Harrisburg Senators (72-63) are a half-game up in their Eastern League division, where the top two teams reach the playoffs. The Suns are pacing the South Atlantic League with 5.03 runs per game, benefitting from a fairly balanced lineup. They’ve also recently added 2013 draft pick Jake Johansen, who was 1-1 with a 1.06 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 rate with Auburn. The Senators, meanwhile, boast a pitching staff that leads the league with a 3.46 ERA. Nationals third-rated prospect A.J. Cole — who earned the save in the 2013 Futures Game — is sitting at 3-2 with a 2.58 ERA since being promoted in late July.

Though the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs have posted just a 65-72 record, they have their bright spots as well in prospects like Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters. Kobernus served a brief stint in the big leagues and earned International League Player of the Week honors for the week of August 12-18. He leads the team and is second among Nationals farmhands with a .324 batting average. Walters, meanwhile, has slugged 29 home runs, 10 more than the next closest total in the organization. The infielder has posted a .531 slugging percentage on the season, especially impressive from the shortstop position.

Top Prospecting

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Top Nationals prospect Anthony Rendon showed impressive gap-to-gap power last spring in Viera, but hit just six home runs over 133 at-bats in an injury-plagued 2012.. Since his arrival in camp this year, though, the ball has been jumping off Rendon’s bat more, as was evidenced by a home run he hit in batting practice prior to Sunday’s contest at Space Coast Stadium– a moonshot that that ricocheted off the base of the scoreboard, a solid 40-50 feet up the berm behind the left field wall. Just a few hours later, he showcased that power again, off a legitimate Major League reliever in Miami’s Ryan Webb.

With the wind blowing out to left in the fifth inning – following a rain delay of over an hour – Rendon hit an opposite-field shot out to right-center field, plating Steve Lombardozzi to give Washington a 2-1 lead. It was the only run-scoring hit of the day for either team, as both Marlins tallies came via RBI-groundouts in the top of the third and ninth in a 2-2, 10-inning draw.

Rendon's two-run blast accounted for all of Washington's scoring Sunday.

Rendon’s two-run blast accounted for all of Washington’s scoring Sunday.

Rendon was the only member of the Nationals starting lineup not to be pulled during the delay, as both he and manager Davey Johnson wanted the young prospect to have another opportunity at the plate.

“I told him I wanted him to have one more at-bat and he said ‘I want one more at-bat,’” explained the skipper. “He certainly made it count.”

Johnson went on to stress that Rendon is all-but Major League ready, needing just repetitions and an opening on the roster to play in Washington.

Injuries have sidetracked what appeared to be an express lane path to the Major Leagues for Rendon. The Rice University product broke his ankle in just the second game of the season last year, costing him the first half of his year. After rehab, he became the most well-traveled man in the system, making stops with the GCL Nationals, Short-Season Auburn, High-A Potomac, and Double-A Harrisburg, finally culminating his campaign with an impressive stint in the Arizona Fall League.

Davey Johnson says all Rendon needs is repetitions and a chance to play.

Davey Johnson says all Rendon needs is repetitions and a chance to play.

Entering the season as the top-rated prospect in the system according to Baseball America, MLB.com and every other major outlet assigned to such rankings, the pieces are finally coming together for the 22-year-old considered by many to have the top bat in the 2011 Draft.

“I’ve had the same approach for a while now, I guess it’s just clicking,” said Rendon of his health and his improved power, especially to the opposite field. “That’s a good thing.”

Yes, yes it is.

The Nationals travel back to Port St. Lucie to take on the Mets for the second time in three days tonight at 6:10 p.m., and will once again be televised live on MLB Network. Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to make his first start of the year for the Nats, who are searching for their first Grapefruit League victory.

Here are Washington’s spring results to date:

Record: 0-1-1

Results:

2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3

2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2

From The Desk of Mark Lerner: Meetings Complete

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Hello everyone. I am back in D.C. after a successful stay in Nashville for MLB’s annual Winter Meetings.

Obviously, our biggest strike came with the signing of right-hander Dan Haren. When word of the signing began to leak out on Monday, there was a palpable buzz resonating from Nashville. Everywhere I turned at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center (and trust me, there are a lot of twists and turns due to its EXPANSIVE layout), there was someone from the media or from another club complimenting the signing. Most commented on the ideal length and quality of our rotation.

Haren fits and he really wanted to be here. He was born just outside of Los Angeles and played the vast majority of his career on the West Coast. He had other offers, but in the end, he saw an opportunity to win with us here in D.C. That really closed the deal.

Mike Rizzo and company strategize in the Nationals team suite at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Mike Rizzo and company strategize in the Nationals team suite at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

There is a belief that Stephen, Gio, Jordan and Ross will really learn something about pitching from watching Haren. He is a three-time All-Star and pitched in two postseasons. And at the same time, Haren might just benefit from the jolt that comes with keeping up with our four young guns.

- I had the opportunity to have breakfast with Bo Porter while in Nashville. Both personally and organizationally, we are so proud of Bo. He is obviously very excited about the opportunity with the Astros. He knows that they have some work to do and the switch to the AL will present its own unique challenges. But the Astros picked the right man, in my opinion. And he’s a hometown manager to boot.

- I very much enjoyed our annual Affiliates Reception on Tuesday night. Most don’t know this, but Minor League Baseball’s 150-plus affiliates actually account for the vast majority of the 3,000 that annually attend the Winter Meetings. I enjoyed chatting with our extended family from Syracuse, Harrisburg, Potomac, Hagerstown and Auburn. The Nationals are very thankful for their warmth, kindness and professionalism in welcoming players as they migrate through our system.

- Unofficially, most in baseball view the Winter Meetings as the offseason’s midpoint. So, take note … Spring Training is coming quick.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!! (CLICK FOR VIDEO)

Down On The Farm: Nathan Karns

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If you follow the Nationals Minor League system at all, the name Nathan Karns probably sounds familiar. Often the subject of our in-park Down on the Farm reports during the 2012 season, the tall right-hander worked his way from the bullpen to the starting rotation, then impressed enough to earn a mid-season promotion to a higher level, where he continued to succeed. When the dust had settled on his campaign, he was awarded the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for his efforts.

Karns was promoted mid-season and continued to shine at High-A Potomac. (Gary Dize/MiLB.com)

Karns was promoted mid-season and continued to shine at High-A Potomac. (Gary Dize/MiLB.com)

As a result, Karns was one of two players (along with fellow hurler Erik Davis) that the Nationals added to the 40-man roster last week. We will get into more detail about the particulars of that designation next week in advance of the Rule V Draft, but suffice it to say that the organization has liked the early returns from Karns thus far in his professional career.

At 6’5”, 230 pounds, Karns has the big, projectable pitching body type that makes scouts drool. Originally drafted in 2009, Karns fell to the 12th round and got hurt before ever pitching as a professional, requiring labrum surgery in his throwing shoulder that cost him his entire 2010 season. As a result, he did not begin his journey into the professional ranks until 2011 at age 23, where he put up some silly numbers in Rookie Ball (two hits, six walks and 26 strikeouts in 18.2 scoreless innings pitched) and continued to find success despite some wildness following a promotion to Short-Season Auburn.

Karns visited Nationals Park to receive his Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

Karns visited Nationals Park in September to receive his Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.

The Texas Tech product, who turned 25 earlier this week, expanded upon the success he found at the lower levels of the system in 2011, enough to earn Baseball America’s designation as the number 15 prospect in the Carolina League this season. This year, Karns amassed an 11-4 record and a 2.17 ERA (28 ER/116.0 IP) over 24 appearances (18 starts) between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. While many numbers pop off the stat sheet – anything from his 1.01 WHIP to his 148 strikeouts in just 116 innings – perhaps the most impressive one has been the Texan’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. In 171.1 total innings as a professional, Karns has allowed just three home runs, or less than one for every 57 innings of work. Even Gio Gonzalez, who was the best qualifying starter in the Majors at limiting the longball, allowed nine in 199.1 innings, a rate more than two-and-a-half times as great as Karns.

The good news is that even areas of potential weakness improved this season for Karns. There were concerns about his control in college, where he averaged about 6.0 walks per nine innings over his last two years in Lubbock. The right-hander improved slightly in his first season as a pro (5.4 BB/9.0 IP), then lowered his walk rate to 3.6 – a 33 percent drop – this season. Factor in higher strikeout totals, and Karns made a significant jump from a modest 1.79 to a commendable 3.15 K/BB rate.

Karns’ strength lies in his best two pitches, a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 96, complemented by a swing-and-miss, plus breaking ball which he will showcase at his next likely stop, Double-A Harrisburg. He will need to continue to develop his off-speed pitch there to give himself three plus pitches, the full arsenal to progress to the highest level of the game in a starting role.

Names and Numbers

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With 40 rounds and over 1,000 picks, the MLB First-Year Player Draft can be confusing to follow. That was even more the case for the Nationals this season considering first-round pick Lucas Giolito joins current starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, and second-round selection Tony Renda shares nearly the same name with 2011 first-rounder Anthony Rendon. If that wasn’t enough, third-rounder Brett Mooneyham was selected fresh out of Stanford University, while Brandon Miller, the player the Nats selected next, set numerous records in his time as a power hitter for… wait for it… Samford University.

To help clear it all up here is a more detailed look at those who signed from the Nationals top 10 selections.

Tony Renda: 2B, University of California, Berkeley

Renda, the Nationals second-round selection, was a junior playing second base for the University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears. Where he truly excels, however, is at the plate.

“In our opinion, Tony has the quickest bat in the draft,” Nationals Director of Scouting Kris Kline said of Renda immediately after the organization selected him.

Brandon Miller, the Nationals fourth-round pick. (Caroline Summers/Samford University)

This season, Renda had a .342 batting average, five home runs, and 27 RBI. As a sophomore in 2011, he was named Pac-10 player of the year, and was selected as one of 50 players on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award Watch list as the nation’s top amateur baseball player. Look out for Renda’s performance with the Short-Season Auburn Doubledays, as he takes his first step on the long ladder of professional baseball.

Brandon Miller: OF, Samford University

The Nationals selected Samford University’s school record-setting alumnus, Brandon Miller, with their fourth-round pick. In the 2008 draft, the Red Sox picked Miller, a high school senior at the time, in the 33rd round. A true power hitter in college, Miller led the nation with 23 home runs this season, and was 15th with 65 RBI.

Miller “has middle of the lineup power,” said Nationals Area Supervisor Eric Robinson. “[He] reminds me of our own Tyler Moore.”

Washington took Spencer Kieboom in the fifth round. (Rex Brown/Clemson University)

Spencer Kieboom: C, Clemson

Spencer Kieboom (KEE-boom), a duel citizen of the US and the Netherlands, was the Nationals’ fifth-round selection. He struck out only 17 times in 204 at-bats this season. Kieboom was named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List in both 2011 and 2012, and was an All-ACC Academic Team member in 2011. After signing with the Nationals, Kieboom sent the following thank you message to his fans on Twitter:

“These past three years at Clemson have been some of the best years of my life, Clemson baseball is and always will hold a special place in my life. I wouldn’t have traded these past three years for anything.”

Hayden Jennings, OF, Evangel Christian High School (LA)

While Jennings may not have had the same hype as Bryce Harper did going into the draft, he is another left-handed hitting outfielder who just happens to share the exact same birthday as Harper. Jennings hails from Shreveport, LA and the 19 year-old was set to head to LSU this fall until he signed with the team a week ago. Last Thursday, he was sitting at his kitchen table surrounded by his parents and three sisters, when he officially inked his deal with the Nats. Jennings joins the Nationals after leading Evangel Christian High School (LA) to a state championship during his junior season in 2011. He was named the Shreveport Times All-City Player of the Year and Class 2A Most Outstanding Player as a senior this season.

Derek Self, a senior out of Louisville, went in the ninth round. (University of Louisville)

Derek Self: RHP, University of Louisville

Derek Self was the Nationals ninth-round pick out of the University of Louisville, where he pitched for four years. In his first three seasons with the Cardinals, Self had a 14-3 record in 70 appearances (15 starts). Following his junior season, Self was taken in the 27th round by the Oakland A’s, but opted to head back to school for his senior year, where he led the team with seven saves in 26 appearances out of the bullpen. While he started the 2012 season as the Cardinals set-up man, he eventually took over as the closer. In 2009, Self pitched the final three innings in Louisville’s College World Series Regional win over Middle Tennessee State, where he threw 27 of 29 pitches for strikes.

Craig Manuel: C, Rice University

Craig Manuel comes to the Nationals from Rice University, where he was the second of eight Owls selected in the 2012 Draft. This past season he was on the national watch list for the Johnny Bench Award as the best Division I catcher. In his four years with the Owls, Manuel led his team to four straight Conference USA Championships, four NCAA appearances and was error free in 463 attempts. But it wasn’t just behind the plate that Manuel excelled. He finished his collegiate career with a .291 batting average and 100 RBI in 209 career games.

“I think he’s one of the top catchers in Division I, and he may be one of the best situational hitters in college baseball,” Manuel’s Head Coach at Rice, Wayne Graham said.

Down on the Farm: Matt Skole

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The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft begins next Monday evening, June 4, providing 50 rounds for every club in the game to find fresh talent with which they can stock their farm systems for years to come. The Nationals have had some excellent drafts in recent years (as we detail in this homestand’s Inside Pitch, available at the ballpark beginning Friday!), and their haul from 2011 was especially impressive. Beyond their top four picks – Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matt Purke – they also snagged talents like outfielder Caleb Ramsey (11th round) and Bryce Harper’s older brother, left-handed pitcher Bryan (30th round). But one of their most intriguing picks was fifth-rounder Matt Skole, a power-hitting third baseman out of Georgia Tech.

Skole belted 47 home runs and posted a slugging percentage above .600 over his three-year collegiate career with the Yellow Jackets. After signing last summer, he hit just five home runs, but rapped 23 doubles in 72 games for Short-Season Auburn. The 22 year-old has been able to carry more balls over the wall this year at Low-A Hagerstown, batting .306/.454/.561 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs, 38 runs scored and 50 RBI in his first 51 games played. Those numbers have him on pace for 30 doubles, 30 home runs, and a mind-blowing 135 RBI as the Minor League schedule passes its one-third mark. There are two numbers, though, that stand above the rest in the eyes of Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris.

Matt Skole has impressed so far in his first full season in the Minor Leagues.

The first is that gaudy on-base percentage. Harris, who estimates that he has already seen Skole about 10 times this season amongst his travels throughout the Washington farm system, points out the two components of the powerful lefty’s approach that have led to his success.

“When he did get a pitch to hit, he did a good job centering the baseball,” Harris says. “When they didn’t give him a pitch to hit, he did a good job controlling the strike zone and not chasing.”

That patient eye has paid dividends, as Skole has racked up 49 walks, a full dozen more than the next closest total in the South Atlantic League. That has been especially important, as the Suns have suffered the injury bug almost as bad as the one that has afflicted the Major League club. This has left Skole as one of the lone power threats in the lineup at times, and opponents have often pitched around him.

The second area where the left-handed Skole has made significant strides is in his situational hitting. After batting 120 points higher against righties last year (.323 compared to .203 vs. lefties), he is amazingly hitting better against southpaws, a rarity for those who bat from the left side. Skole’s .291 mark vs. righties is still strong, but his .329 against southpaws is especially impressive.

“He has done some things in his approach, staying in his legs, having more balance,” explains Harris. “He is just in a more consistent position to hit. When left-handers have a mindset of backing up contact, where they are willing to use the entire field rather than just look to pull, that puts them in a better position. He has done that.”

At 6’4”, 230 pounds, Skole came into the system as a big-bodied kid who projected as a power bat, but not necessarily a nimble defender. After assigning him to the hot corner, the Nationals were looking for Skole to take strides to improve his body composition to better allow himself to handle the position.

“A lot of big guys have to do a little extra to control their bodies,” explains Harris.  “He has really done a nice job with his footwork and how he allows the rest of his body to get into position, both fielding a ball and throwing.”

After a rigorous offseason conditioning program, in which Skole worked with his brother Jacob, an outfielder in the Rangers organization, Harris has seen that transformation pay dividends. Both Skole’s willingness to adapt, and the results he has achieved, have left him in a good position moving forward.

“He’s done a lot of things you look for to consider advancement, in particular, controlling the strike zone,” says Harris. “He has certainly put him in a spot that awards consideration down the road.”

Nats sign a two-year deal with the Auburn Doubledays

The Nats announced a two-year Player Development Contract deal with the Auburn Doubledays of the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League.

In the process, the Nats have compacted the geographical footprint of its affiliates. By partnering with Auburn, the Nationals’ NY-P League affiliate is now closer to the Nation’s Capital, and just 35 miles west of Syracuse, the Nationals’ Triple-A International League affiliate.

“We are delighted to add Auburn to the Nationals’ family,” said Kasten. “This agreement again narrows the footprint of our Minor League system, and starting next summer, Auburn and the Doubledays’ fan base will get their first glimpse at the rewards reaped from both our scouting and player development systems.”

The Doubledays currently play in 2,706-seat Falcon Park, which opened 1995 and includes arguably the best home clubhouse in the NY-P League. The team is named after Abner Doubleday, the Civil War general and Auburn, NY native who has often been credited with inventing the game of baseball.

“We are excited to join the Nationals’ family of affiliates,” said Doubledays CEO Tom Ganey.  “We look forward to working with the minor league staff in Washington and once again teaming up with our neighbors in Syracuse to develop the next generation of Major League players.”

The Doubledays–whose run of six consecutive Pinckney Division titles (2002-07) was capped by a NY-P League championship in 2007–recently ended a working relationship with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Johan Santana, Roy Oswalt, Luis Gonzalez, Aaron Hill, Kenny Lofton and Rick Dempsey are among those who enjoyed playing stints in Auburn during their minor-league careers.

The Nationals’ seven affiliates went 384-381 (.502) this season to register their third consecutive winning campaign. Washington’s affiliates went 380-378 (.501) in 2009, and 432-405 (.516) in 2008. Last week, the Single-A Potomac Nationals won their second Carolina League championship in three years. In the last month, the Nationals renewed their affiliations with the Syracuse Chiefs, Harrisburg Senators (Double-A Eastern League) and Potomac.

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