Results tagged ‘ Potomac Nationals ’

MiLB Postseason Preview

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

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.

Rafael Bautista hit .322 and tied for the GCL lead with 26 stolen bases. (Cliff Welch/MiLB)

Rafael Bautista hit .322 and tied for the GCL lead with 26 stolen bases. (Cliff Welch/MiLB)

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.

The Harrisburg Senators will begin postseason play on Wednesday. (Will Bentzel)

The Harrisburg Senators will begin postseason play on Wednesday. (Will Bentzel)

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.

Not A Minor Accomplishment

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

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.

What to Watch for: 6.17.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Washington Nationals (34-34) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (33-37)

RHP Dan Haren (4-8, 5.70) vs. LHP John Lannan (0-1, 6.14) 

The Nationals make their first of three trips to Philadelphia this season as they open a three-game set against former teammate John Lannan at Citizens Bank Park. Dan Haren toes the rubber for Washington, as the club looks to push back over the .500 mark for the season.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Kobernus CF

2. Rendon 2B

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. Werth RF

5. Desmond SS

6. Marrero 1B

7. Suzuki C

8. Lombardozzi LF

9. Haren RHP

STREAKING SHORTSTOP

Ian Desmond has reached base safely in 18 straight contests, pocketing a .364 batting average (24-for-66) and .417 on-base percentage with five walks, four doubles, three homers, eight runs scored and 13 RBI over that span. Desmond has recorded hits in 16 of the aforementioned 18 games, including a career-best 15-game hit streak. Defensively, Desmond has played a career-high 49 consecutive errorless games (200 total chances) since last committing a miscue on April 21 at New York (NL), marking the longest current streak of its kind among big league shortstops.

MINOR (LEAGUE) VICTORIES

The Hagerstown Suns yesterday secured a postseason berth with a 38-29 (.567) first-half record in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division. Manager Tripp Keister’s Suns have won their last three contests and are 5-1 in their last six games. Last week, Brian Daubach’s Potomac Nationals (42-27, .609) grabbed a postseason spot when they were crowned the Carolina League’s First Half Northern Division Champs.

PHINDING PHOOTING IN PHILLY

Washington is 18-12 (.600) against the Phillies under Davey Johnson, including a 4-1 mark in one-run contests. Before going 10-8 against the Phillies in 2011, the Nationals/Expos had won only two season series from Philadelphia the previous 14 years.

Down on the Farm: Taylor Jordan

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

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.

Jordan has only gotten better since his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. (Paul Chaplin/PennLive.com)

Jordan has only gotten better since his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. (Paul Chaplin/PennLive.com)

“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.

What to Watch for: 6.4.13

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

New York Mets (22-32) vs. Washington Nationals (28-29)

RHP Jeremy Hefner (1-5, 4.74) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-3, 2.37) 

After coming off a series loss in Atlanta, the Nationals look to turn things around at home with their most consistent starter on the mound. Jordan Zimmermann has paced the Nats pitching staff with a solid start this season and has not lost at home in his last 17 Nationals Park outings, dating back to May 17, 2012 vs. Pittsburgh. Jayson Werth returns to the lineup after over a month on the Disabled List with a hamstring injury and is joined by call-ups Anthony Rendon and Ian Krol. In nine games with High-A Potomac, Werth went 9-for-16 with two walks, a double and two home runs.

NATIONALS LINEUP:

1. Span CF

2. Werth RF

3. Zimmerman 3B

4. LaRoche 1B

5. Desmond SS

6. Bernadina LF

7. Lombardozzi 2B

8. Suzuki C

9. Zimmermann RHP

FIRST BLOOD

The Nationals are 21-5 when scoring first in ‘13 and their corresponding .808 winning percentage ranks second among National League entries behind only the Braves (24-3, .889).

‘TWAS A MERRY MAY

Despite barely sleeping in their own beds (18 of 28 road contests in May) and being burdened by an overpopulated Disabled List, the Nationals somehow went 15-13 in May. The Nationals winning May was especially impressive considering the weighted winning percentage of the their nine opponents on the month was .517 (using records at close of play on May 31). Dating to September of 2011, the Nationals have played winning baseball in eight of their last nine months.

GOOD WOOD, SLICK LEATHER

Ian Desmond has hit safely in seven straight games, notching a .308 clip (8-for-26) with a walk, two doubles, a homer, three runs scored and 2 RBI over that stretch. Defensively, Desmond has played 38 consecutive errorless games (153 total chances) since last committing an error on April 21 at New York.

Follow The Leader

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

“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.

The Nationals welcome the sweet-swinging Anthony Rendon back to the lineup.

The Nationals welcome the sweet-swinging Anthony Rendon back to the lineup.

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.

An unknown to many Nationals fans, Krol brings a promising left-handed arm to the 'pen.

An unknown to many Nationals fans, Krol brings a promising left-handed arm to the ‘pen.

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.

Zimmerman Completes Quick Rehab Assignment

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

While Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond and the Nationals were busy shutting down the Atlanta Braves Tuesday night, one of their fellow teammates took a big step forward as well.

Batting third and wearing No. 33 for the High-A Potomac Nationals, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman saw an assortment of fastballs, sliders and change-ups from Carolina Mudcats starter Joseph Colon in three at bats.

Zimmerman needed just one rehab start to get back up to speed. (Gerardo Lopez/tabdeportes.com)

Zimmerman needed just one rehab start to get back up to speed. (Gerardo Lopez/tabdeportes.com)

Zimmerman told the media contingent in the Potomac clubhouse that it was good to face live pitching again and that, “everything went great. (It was) good to get back out there. Everything felt fine.”

Playing in front of a supportive crowd of 3,032, Zimmerman grounded out to short in his first at-bat, testing the tight hamstring that landed him on the 15-day disabled list by running hard through the bag. He flied out to deep right-center in the fourth inning, then reached safely on a Carolina Mudcats fielding error in the sixth.

Defensively, the former Gold Glove Award winner made three successful fielding plays in six innings, including an excellent play on a sacrifice bunt attempt. He charged hard to catch the ball in the air and whipped a sidearm throw to first to nearly double off the base runner.

“My arm feels great and my hammy (hamstring) feels great,” Zimmerman said. “Now it’s just time to get back up there and get going.”

Zimmerman said he would work out on Thursday, likely at Nationals Park, before flying to Pittsburgh to join his teammates as they take on the Pirates over the weekend. Despite being held out for the required 15 days, he told reporters he started working out after just five days of rest and never had any residual hamstring issues.

Top Prospecting

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

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

Down on the Farm: Rob Wort

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

Following Baseball America’s ranking of the Top 10 Nationals prospects earlier this week, we turn our attention to a prospect whose journey has largely escaped the spotlight to this point. Rob Wort, the Nationals 30th-round draft pick in 2009, burst onto the scene this past season with the highest strikeout rate in all of Minor League Baseball.

Featuring a power fastball/slider combo, the lean, 6-2, right-handed reliever wrapped up his second full season at High-A Potomac with eye-popping numbers. In 56.2 innings, Wort notched 95 strikeouts against just 19 walks, earning 13 saves for the P-Nats and a spot on the Carolina League All-Star Team.

Wort's solid campaign landed him on the Carolina League All-Star Team.

Wort’s solid campaign landed him on the Carolina League All-Star Team.

Wort’s performance was even more impressive in comparison with his peers. Among the more than 2,300 Minor League pitchers to complete at least 40.0 innings in 2012, Wort ranked first in both strikeouts per nine innings (15.1) and strikeout percentage (41.3). The only two professional pitchers with more dominant strikeout numbers than Wort were Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel and Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, both of whom had historically great seasons in the Major Leagues.

Chris Michalak, Potomac’s pitching coach and a former Major Leaguer himself, has overseen Wort’s development at two Minor League stops. Before his 2012 breakout season, Wort was at his best in 2010 at Low-A Hagerstown – with Michalak coaching him there as well – where he went 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. After Wort suffered through a lackluster 2011 campaign, the newly promoted Michalak guided a change in approach for the 23-year-old hurler.

“The biggest thing (prior to 2012) was that Rob was able to get by with his fastball and a little different arm angle,” Michalak said. “This year we worked on two things: using his backside and legs to leverage the ball and get later movement on his pitches, and developing his slider. His slider became a legitimate out pitch down and away to right-handed hitters.”

Opposing righties stood little chance against Wort this past season, batting a meager .174/.243/.265 and striking out an astonishing 69 times in 144 plate appearances. Lefties fared only marginally better, hitting at a .247/.349/.392 clip with 26 punchouts in 86 trips to the plate. This was a huge improvement for Wort, after lefties batted .354/.475/.625 and struck out just eight times in 64 plate appearances against him in 2011.

Wort notched the highest K rate in the Minor Leagues in 2012.

Wort notched the highest K rate in the Minor Leagues in 2012.

Michalak explained the specific changes that led to Wort’s dramatic improvement against batters from the left side of the plate.

“We wanted to give him more weapons against left-handed hitters,” Michalak said. “Rob tried out a new two-seam fastball and a change-up, which added a couple of wrinkles to what he was doing before. Those became effective pitches for him.”

Should Wort continue his development and eventually earn his way onto the Nationals roster, he would join Toronto left-hander Mark Buehrle as the second Major League player to attend both Francis Howell North High School (St. Charles, Mo.) and Jefferson College (Hillsboro, Mo.). Buehrle was also a late round pick, going to the Chicago White Sox in the 38th round in 1998. Michalak, who was a 12th-round selection out of college and fought his way to the big leagues for the first time at age 27, thinks his pupil has a good shot.

“This year really opened up (Rob’s) eyes a little bit, gave him confidence he could get there,” Michalak said.  “If he continues to make adjustments throughout each season, throughout his career, and he’s not afraid to take those adjustments into the game, I don’t see why he doesn’t have a chance.”

Down on the Farm: Aaron Barrett

Follow @Nationals on Twitter | Like the Nationals on Facebook

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's 2012 campaign began in Hagerstown and ended in the Arizona Fall League. (Richard Dougan/Hagerstown Suns)

Barrett’s 2012 campaign began in Hagerstown and ended in the Arizona Fall League. (Richard Dougan/Hagerstown Suns)

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 561 other followers