Results tagged ‘ Harrisburg Senators ’
While the Major League club continues to fight its uphill climb toward the fifth and final postseason spot in the National League, the Washington Nationals Minor League system has combined to compile quite a year. Four of the six stateside affiliates clinched postseason spots, with one already taking home its league title.
After cruising through the regular season, the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals swept through the postseason to claim the GCL Championship on Sunday.
The GCL Nats, who set a Minor League Baseball record for the best domestic regular-season winning percentage (49-9, .845), defeated the GCL Pirates in a one-game semifinal on Friday, 6-1, to reach the best-of-three championship. On Saturday, they snatched a 10-3, come-from-behind win over the GCL Red Sox at the Washington Nationals Training Complex in Viera, then followed that with a 7-2 win, in Game 2 on the road in Fort Myers to earn the title.
The pitching staff, which led the league in ERA, WHIP and shutouts this season, compiled a 1.67 ERA through the playoffs, led by righty Wander Suero and southpaw Hector Silvestre. Suero tossed five solid innings in the clincher, allowing just one run on one hit with seven strikeouts, while Silvestre shut down the Pirates in the semifinal with six shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit and struck out seven.
Offensively, the GCL Nats showed pop in all three playoff games, but impressively used an eight-run outburst in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the Championship Series to erase a 3-0 GCL Red Sox lead. Randy Encarnacion collected five hits, four runs scored and five RBI throughout the three-game postseason run, while Drew Ward added four hits, three runs and four RBI.
The Nationals have three other playoff-bound affiliates remaining, with the Low-A Hagerstown Suns, High-A Potomac Nationals and Double-A Harrisburg Senators and each headed for the postseason.
South Atlantic League First Half Northern Division Champion Hagerstown (80-57) will take on the West Virginia Power (Pirates) in a best-of-three series, where the Suns will have the home-field advantage for the final two games. The series opens Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., while the Augusta GreenJackets (Giants) and Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets) battle for the Southern Division title.
Two Hagerstown representatives earned SAL All-Star honors in second baseman Tony Renda and Manager Tripp Keister. Renda leads the league in games played (134), at-bats (517), doubles (43) and runs scored (99). Keister is in his first season with the Suns after helming the GCL Nationals last year. Both were also named as midseason All-Stars.
Potomac (84-55) claimed both first- and second-half Carolina League Northern Division titles and will face the Lynchburg Hillcats (Braves) in a best-of-three set starting Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. at Pfitzner Stadium. By virtue of winning both halves, the P-Nats will enjoy home-field advantage for all three games of the series, should a third game be necessary. The winner will take on either the Salem Red Sox or Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Rangers) in the best-of-five Mills Cup Championship Series.
Potomac righty reliever Robert Benincasa and outfielders Michael Taylor and Billy Burns were chosen as year-end Carolina League All-Stars. The trio ties the P-Nats with the Carolina Mudcats (Indians) for most representatives on the roster. Benincasa has registered 25 saves in 26 chances between Hagerstown and Potomac this season, logging a 3.54 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 28.0 innings since his promotion in June. Taylor leads the league in doubles (39) and extra-base hits (55) and has also fired 20 outfield assists this season. Burns, who was recently promoted to Harrisburg, led the Carolina league in batting average (.312) and steals (54) in 91 games.
Burns and Harrisburg (77-65) will face the Erie SeaWolves (Tigers) in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs, as the Senators wrapped up their Western Division title with a 1-0 shutout Monday. They will play in a best-of-five set starting Wednesday, and the winner will advance to the Eastern League Championship series for another best-of-five showdown with either the Binghamton Mets or Trenton Thunder (Yankees).
The Senators feature a dynamic starting rotation, headlined by righthanders Nathan Karns and A.J. Cole, and rising lefty Robbie Ray. Karns, who made his Major League debut in May, went 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 132.2 innings this year for Harrisburg. Cole, acquired from Oakland prior to the season, had a terrific finish in Double-A after starting the season in Potomac. He went 4-2 in seven starts for the Senators, compiling a 2.18 ERA and 0.904 WHIP in 45.1 innings of work. The 21-year-old Ray capped off a breakthrough campaign with an 11-5 record across two levels, striking out a system-high 160 batters in 142 innings.
To catch all the Nationals Minor League postseason action streaming online, click here for gameday audio listings.
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.
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.
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.
Stop us if this sounds familiar.
A promising young pitcher, in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery in 2011, is raising eyebrows and rising quickly through the organization. Following the same path as Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, and more recently Nathan Karns, another powerful right-hander is looking to claim the title of “next.” His name is Taylor Jordan, and if you don’t know who is already, you will soon.
Jordan began the 2013 campaign at High-A Potomac, where he cruised for six starts, amassing a 2-1 record and a 1.24 ERA (5 ER/36.1 IP). He also showed impressive peripheral numbers, striking out 29 while walking just six over that span.
That earned him a promotion to Double-A, long considered the truest test for a rising prospect. Through his first seven starts at his new level, Jordan has passed with flying colors.
“The competition is better,” says Jordan of the Double-A level. “The hitters have a much better approach. If you miss a pitch, it seems like they all have a chance to capitalize.”
And while it may indeed seem that way to Jordan, few if any actually have done so against him. Despite getting shelved by a rain delay just one inning into one of his outings, Jordan breezed to four wins in his first six outings before compiling a masterpiece in his most recent start, a five-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts. He is now 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA (3 ER/41.0 IP) and has struck out 39 against just six walks. He’s holding opposing batters to a .181 average and has yet to allow a home run, his WHIP an eye-popping 0.78.
The lack of power numbers against Jordan is no coincidence. Ranked the Nationals 13th-best prospect coming into the year by Baseball America, his repertoire begins with a heavy, sinking fastball in the low to mid-90s, very similar to that of Ross Detwiler’s.
“Ever since I was 11 years old, or younger, my coach told me that I was a little sinkerballer,” recalls Jordan. “I didn’t really understand that, didn’t know what it meant at that time. I always had one, whether or not I knew what it meant.”
His natural movement had translated into great success so far. Combined with a change-up that sinks and fades away from lefties and a slider with hard, late break away from righties, the rest of Jordan’s repertoire more closely mimics Zimmermann’s, one which all of baseball has seen just how effective it can be this season.
Following in the footsteps of those who have undergone the same surgery, the same long road to recovery, has helped Jordan see the light at the end of the tunnel, making his current success that much sweeter.
“It’s nice to see that hard work has paid off,” he says of Strasburg and Zimmermann’s returns to the big leagues. “It’s a good thing to see other people who’ve had surgeries do well as well. It gives me hope that I’ll get there as well.”
If Jordan continues to succeed at the level he has to this point in the season, it won’t be too long before he gets that opportunity.
“Cynicism is a poor substitute for critical thought and constructive action.”
Those were the words of Federal Reserve Chairman and Nationals Season Plan Holder Ben Bernanke last weekend, as he delivered the commencement address at Princeton University. And while he used them as guidance to a group of 20-somethings entering the real world for the first time, they are words that any Washington baseball fan could easily feel were spoken about their hometown nine as the team returns home here in early June.
At 27-28, the Nationals are not off to the start they, or many else, had hoped for. Injuries have hampered both the offense and the starting rotation through the opening third of the season. And yet, in spite of all that one could point to that has gone wrong, the team is still hovering around .500, in second place in the division. After a much-needed day off Monday, the team will get a big boost in the arm Tuesday with the return of their emotional leader, Jayson Werth.
Washington has not had Werth in the lineup since May 2, but he has been rehabbing his strained hamstring with the Potomac Nationals this past week. After a 9-for-16 stint over five games, including a two-homer performance on Sunday, Werth is a welcome piece back to the middle of a Nationals lineup still looking for consistent offensive production. He will bat second Tuesday night as Washington opens a six-game homestand against the Mets and Twins, bridging the gap between leadoff man Denard Span and the heart of the lineup.
They also made a number of other moves, choosing the proactive route as they face a crucial juncture this season. In addition to bringing back Anthony Rendon, who had been promoted to Triple-A earlier this week, they also selected the contract of left-handed pitcher Ian Krol from Double-A Harrisburg.
While you probably know plenty about Rendon and his bat, Krol may be a new name to you. He was literally the proverbial “player to be named later” from the trade that also landed Minor League arms A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen and sent Michael Morse to Seattle this offseason. In 21 relief appearances with Harrisburg, the 22-year-old allowed just 14 hits and two earned runs in 26.0 innings pitched, striking out 29 while walking just seven. He provides a promising young left-handed arm out of the bullpen that the team has been in search of all season long.
So, you can take the view that the Nationals are a game under .500 in early June, or the one that sees them taking thoughtful, constructive action to make themselves better, just as their emotional backbone returns.
Washington Nationals (28-27) vs. Atlanta Braves (32-22)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.90) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (4-4, 5.37)
The Nationals snagged the series opener for their third consecutive win over the Braves at Turner Field with a 3-2 victory Friday night. Tonight, they’ll send Gio Gonzalez to the mound, who notched a 2.48 ERA over his five May starts. The Braves will counter with Tim Hudson, who is 0-3 with an 8.69 ERA (19 ER/19.2 IP) over his last four outings.
1. Span CF
2. Lombardozzi LF
3. Zimmerman 3B
4. LaRoche 1B
5. Desmond SS
6. Bernadina RF
7. Espinosa 2B
8. Suzuki C
9. Gonzalez LHP
Craig Stammen picked up the win last night with a career-high 4.0 perfect relief innings, in which he fanned three and retired all 12 batters faced. No reliever in Nationals (‘05-present) history has ever faced as many batters in an appearance without allowing a baserunner. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last reliever in Nationals/Expos franchise history to pitch 4.0 or more innings without allowing a baserunner was Sun-Woo Kim (13 batters in 4.1 IP) on May 10, 2004 vs. Kansas City. The longest such relief appearance in franchise history was posted by Jackie Brown (18 batters in 6.0 IP) on May 21, 1977 vs. San Diego.
The Nationals went 15-13 in May, which was no small feat considering they played 18 of their 28 games on the road. Dating to September 2011, the Nationals have played winning baseball in eight of the last nine months. Adam LaRoche led the way for the Nationals in nearly every offensive category, including average (.330), on-base percentage (.416), slugging percentage (.608), walks (15), hits (32), home runs (seven) and RBI (19).
GETTING THE CALL
The Nationals recalled right-handed pitcher Erik Davis from Triple-A Syracuse, who has pitched in 167 games over six Minor League seasons, but is wearing a Major League uniform for the first time. After going 8-3 with a 2.71 ERA and 74 strikeouts against 20 walks in 73.0 innings between Double-A Harrisburg and Syracuse last season, Davis was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. He went 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA (8 ER/24.0 IP) and 27 strikeouts with the Chiefs prior to his call-up.
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 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.
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:
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
We’ve brought you Down on the Farm reports of several of the top prospects in the Nationals system this fall after their participation in the Arizona Fall League. And while most fans already were familiar with names like Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin, far less are likely to be acquainted with the likes of 24 year-old Aaron Barrett. The Evansville, IN native also played in the AFL this year, but the fact that he ended up there was anything but preordained.
Barrett began his career with back-to-back seasons in the Short-season New York Penn League, where he posted impressive strikeout totals (57) but unnerving walk totals (44) in 47.2 total innings. He showed flashes of the talent that led him to be drafted four separate times by four different teams – the Dodgers in the 44th round out of high school, the Twins in the 20th round out of Wabash Valley Junior College, the Rangers in the 27th round as a University of Mississippi junior, and finally the Nationals in the ninth round following his 2010 senior season. He was the second Bulldog to be taken in the draft that year (behind fifth-overall pick Drew Pomeranz), and continued a solid trend of talented players emerging from the SEC school, joining Lance Lynn (’08) and Zack Cozart (’07). But it took until this year for Barrett to begin to fully realize his potential on the mound.
The 6’4” right-hander opened his third professional campaign at Low-A Hagerstown pitching out of the back of the bullpen, where he quickly established himself as the Suns closer. Barrett converted 16 of 18 save opportunities, striking out an eyebrow-raising 52 batters in just 34.2 innings pitched while notching a 2.60 ERA. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was walking just 11 over that span. The hurler’s impressive performance earned him a late-season promotion to High-A Potomac. Barrett took the move in stride, actually improving upon his already excellent season.
With the P-Nats, Barrett fanned 21 hitters while walking just three in 17.0 innings over 11 relief appearances. He yielded just a pair of earned runs, bringing his ERA for the season down to a paltry 2.09. His improved peripherals led to an overall 5.21 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an 0.93 WHIP. That earned him a trip to join some of the top prospects in the game in the AFL, where he posted a respectable 3.27 ERA with 10 strikeouts against just two walks in 11.0 innings for the Salt River Rafters. More importantly, he showed no signs of being overmatched by the high level of competition, twice fanning both former first-rounder Grant Green and former number one overall pick Tim Beckham.
Showcasing mostly a two-pitch repertoire, Barrett flashes a fastball that sits in the low 90s and a slider as his out pitch. Despite his short time at Potomac in 2012, he has a chance to crack to Double-A Harrisbug roster by Opening Day, and certainly figures to advance there at some point in 2013, so long as he continues to exhibit the improved control that led him to success this season.
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.
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.
Before we get too deep into our next Down on the Farm report, let’s explain the significance of the recent roster designation of a couple players. Both Erik Davis as well as Nathan Karns, who we profiled last week, were added to the Nationals 40-man Roster, guaranteeing them an invitation to Major League Spring Training in February. In the meantime, though, the moves had a more immediate purpose: they protected the two players from potentially being snagged away by another club in the Rule 5 Draft, an annual ritual which took place Thursday morning in Nashville.
For those not well versed in this process, allow us to explain how the process works, and why it can be a very big decision. The Rule 5 Draft stands in contrast to the Rule 4 Draft, which takes place in June and is more commonly referred to as the First-Year Player Draft. It is a process in which any Minor League player who was 18 years or younger when drafted who has accumulated four years of service time (or 19 and up at time of selection with three years service) becomes eligible to be taken by other teams. However, that team must keep said player in the Major Leagues for the entire season to follow, or else the player is returned to his original team. Due to that requirement, in the last 60 years, a range of just three to 24 players has been taken per year.
So why does all of this matter? Well, both Davis and Karns are Rule 5 eligible, so the Nationals added them to the 40-man Roster in order to protect them. That means they are safely in the farm system for another year, and each could be called up to the Major Leagues at any time without making a 40-man roster move. For Karns, who topped out at High-A last year, that possibility may seem more remote for the 2013 season. But for the 26 year-old Davis, who put up impressive numbers at Double-A in 2012, it could mean much more.
We spoke recently with Harrisburg Senators Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Terry Byrom, who shed some light on the skill set Davis brings to the diamond. A former starter who throws downhill with a great off-speed pitch and a solid curveball, he has drawn some comparison to current Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard. But Byrom had another member of the Washington bullpen in mind.
“I would say at this point that he and Christian Garcia are very similar,” he explained. “Garcia probably has better stuff, but I’m not sure I would say it’s a lot better. Erik’s stuff is good enough to play in the big leagues, absolutely, no doubt about it. He could make that roster out of Spring Training.”
Those are likely reassuring words for Davis, who saw Garcia’s ascent first-hand, both as a teammate and a roommate at various stops in the minors. And with Washington still sorting out its final bullpen spots for 2013, Byrom’s projection is not such a stretch. Given the organization’s track record of converting starters into quality relief arms once they reach higher levels of the Minor Leagues (see: Clippard, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke), there is no reason to believe Davis couldn’t follow the same path.
“I think that’s something that the Nationals have been incredibly successful at,” said Byrom, who has seen many of those pitchers make their way through Harrisburg. Especially the Minor League (instructors), they do a really good job of migrating guys from starting roles.”
Once a promising starting prospect in the Padres organization, Davis won 16 games for Low-A Fort Wayne back in 2008, and owns a career Minor League record of 45-24. The former 13th-round selection out of Stanford was acquired prior to the 2011 campaign for infielder Alberto Gonzalez, and ran into his first trouble as a starter, going just 5-12 between two levels of Washington’s farm system.
After that disappointing 2011 season, Davis moved to the ‘pen and rebounded with a very strong 2012 campaign. In 40 relief appearances with Double-A Harrisburg, Davis went 7-3 with five saves and a 2.52 ERA (18 ER/64.1 IP), striking out 69 while walking just 18 and stranding 20 of 25 inherited runners. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse for a short stint in August, but might have put up his most impressive showing in the Dominican Republic this fall. Pitching for Los Gigantes del Cibao, Davis went 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA, holding opponents to a .149 batting average while fanning 19 in 19.0 innings pitched. Davis credited a greater comfort in his second season with the Nationals as a reason for his improved numbers.
“When you go into a new system, obviously it’s a good thing because they traded for you, so that means they want you,” he explained. “But it’s tough not to put extra pressure on yourself to go out and do more than you’re capable of.”
Given a second chance to make a first impression, Davis has made the most of it. And despite a longer road than he may have initially expected, pitching in the Major Leagues is as close a reality as it has ever been before.
“I have the same goal with the Nationals that I did with the Padres,” he said. “I still haven’t really accomplished that goal of getting there and staying there.”
Byrom believes Davis’ continued improvement is certainly possible given his talent, and explained that if the pitcher can maintain his big league work ethic in 2013, it could very well lead to big league results.
“If he chooses to put the time and effort into it, I think that Erik Davis is going to be a guy that pitches for a long time in the bullpen in the Major Leagues.”
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.
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.
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.