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It was a tough debut for the Nationals in Hagerstown

Posted by admin | Baseball Game Reports

The Suns started the season with high expectations primarily driven by the presence of some of the top hitting prospects in the organization. Chris Marrero, Justin Maxwell, Stephen King, and Mike Daniel all started off their season with Hagerstown but a lack of consistent pitching and terrible defense put the Suns in an early hole they never seemed to recover from. And to compound the struggles, Hagerstown lost the core of their offense in one fell swoop when Marrero, Maxwell, Daniel, and Brett McMillan were all promoted to Potomac on the same day (June 4th) forcing manager Tommy Herr to have to make do with a patchwork lineup.

STATISTICS

Hitting

Team AB R H HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS SB
Hagerstown 4541 636 1156 117 455 1068 255 332 398 730 100
Sally Lg Avg 4658 687 1225 106 462 1006 263 336 399 735 145

Pitching

Team IP ERA WHIP BA OPS BAbip K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9
Hagerstown 1176 4.76 1.50 281 775 326 7.0 3.4 2.0 0.8
Sally Lg Avg 1204 4.34 1.40 263 735 312 7.5 3.4 2.2 0.8

The overall statistics above provide a pretty good summary of the season for Hagerstown, but there is one additional bit of information that is very telling

Team E DER
Hagerstown 263 0.614
Sally Lg Avg 197 0.637

DER = Defense Efficiency Ratio, the percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams’ fielders, not including home runs. The exact formula we use is (BFP-H-K-BB-HBP-Errors)/(BFP-HR-K-BB-HBP).

Hagerstown had roughly a league average offense but sub-par pitching and defense led to a long season and a final record of 55-81 for the Suns.

Along with the expected contributions from Marrero, Maxwell, Daniel and McMillan, the Suns saw above average performances from 3B Leonard Davis, CF Francisco Plasencia, and 2B Marcos Cabral, allowing the Suns to stay in many games their defense or pitching tried to put out of reach. Hagerstown saw no starting pitcher provide anything better than an average contribution forcing alot of work from their relievers who put up solid enough numbers. The big problem was the defense where the 263 errors led to a league-leading 144 unearned runs.

Team Hit Pit
Hagerstown 22.8 22.3
Sally Lg Avg 21.8 22.0

The Suns put out a roughly average team age-wise but there were still a few too many players 23 years and older on the roster as the organization continues to recover from the damage done under MLB’s stewardship. In my opinion, a team in Low-A should primarily start mid-round college players in their second year in the organization (roughly 21-22 years old), and high schoolers beginning their second (best case scenario) or third year in the organization (ideally 19-20 years old). Next year should be a litmus test. The 2006 draft contained a number of high ceiling high school players who appear likely to comprise the bulk of the Suns roster in 2008. Players such as Stephen King, Stephen Englund, Colton Willems, and Glenn Gibson are strong candidates for roster spots and guys like Michael Burgess, Jake Smolinski, or Steven Souza might be challenged with a placement in the Sally League.

Regular Lineup

HIT Player Other
CA Jhonathan Solano, 21
1B Robby Jacobsen, 22 Brett McMillan, 23
2B Marcos Cabral, 23
3B Leonard Davis, 23
SS Michael Martinez, 24
LF Chris Marrero, 18 Sheldon Fulse, 25
CF Justin Maxwell, 23 Francisco Plasencia, 23
RF Mike Daniel, 22 Joe Napoli, 24
DH Francisco Guzman, 23
BENCH
CA Patrick Nichols, 22
CA John Poppert, 25
CA Erick San Pedro, 23
UTIL Jonathan Castro, 23
3B Trevor Lawhorn, 24
SS Stephen King, 19
OF Lindon Bond, 22
PIT (based on # GS)
SP Yunior Novoa*, 22
SP Jhonny Nunez, 21
SP Erik Arnesen, 23
SP Don Levinski, 24
SP Jeff Mandel, 22
SP Zach Baldwin*, 24
SP Cory VanAllen*, 22
RP Aaron Jackson, 21
RP Chris Lugo, 20
RP Coby Mavroulis*, 24
RP Yader Peralta, 21
RP Joseph Welsh, 22
RP Greg Bunn, 24
CL Josh Wilkie, 22

‘*’ = lefthanded pitcher

It was a tale of two halves as McMillan, Marrero, Maxwell and Daniel were all replaced in the starting lineup mid-season leading to the split in the regular starting lineup. Jhonathan Solano, Davis, Cabral, Michael Martinez, Joe Napoli, and Francisco Guzman were regulars for most of the season in Hagerstown, some for good (Davis, Cabral, Solano) while some appeared to be more organizational (Guzman, Napoli, Martinez). The rotation featured a couple of starters the Nationals consider “prospects” but the majority of the arms for the Suns fall into the organizational category.

Top 10 Hagerstown Suns Prospects

  1. Chris Marrero LF
  2. Justin Maxwell CF
  3. Mike Daniel OF
  4. Jhonny Nunez RHSP
  5. Yunior Novoa LHSP
  6. Leonard Davis 3B
  7. Marcos Cabral 2B
  8. Josh Wilkie RHRP
  9. Yader Peralta RHRP
  10. Zach Baldwin LHSP

Marrero was a no-brainer here. Given his age, his performance in Hagerstown was even more impressive. His bat is going to be what carries him through the minors and so far, he has shown the ability to hit with power to all fields. He still needs to work on pitch identification and closing up some of the spots pitchers learned to work him as the season wore on. He is not nor likely ever will be fleet of foot but he possesses just enough speed to handle a corner OF spot. His arm is average. He still needs work in the outfield defensively but appears to be on track towards a serviceable OF. It has been reported that he was working at 1B in the Instructional League so it will be interesting to see if the Nationals will continue the OF experiment with him in 2008. He is almost a lead-pipe lock to begin 2008 in Harrisburg though they might start him out for a month or so in Potomac given how he wore down in late 2007.

Scouts have always been high on Maxwell’s potential but injuries have delayed his development. In 2007, Maxwell began to deliver on much of that promise. He can legitimately play CF though his arm is not as strong as one would hope to find in a CF. At the plate, however, he looks to be above average. His has power to all fields, can run and began to develop consistency in pitch identification as the season wore on. His combined performance in Hagerstown and Potomac earned him Nationals Minor League Player of the Year honors as well as a September promotion to the majors. While it might be tempting to install him in CF in the new ballpark to start 2008, it would make more sense to let him begin the season in Harrisburg where he can continue his development against pitchers considered to be the top prospects of their respective organization.

As I previously mentioned, the presence of Marrero and Maxwell led to Daniel falling between the cracks. From what I’ve seen of Daniel, he’s one worth watching. While his ceiling might not be as a major league starter, Daniel has the potential to develop into an above average #4 OF. He can play all three OF positions with above average defense, has shown the ability to hit for average (some scouts believe he could add more power as he matures), and probably his greatest asset is his quickness. Not only is Daniel fast from a 60 time, he is also an incredibly adept baserunner. He has the ability to ID pitches and takes the extra base as good as anyone in the organization. I would expect (hope) the Nationals install him as a starting OF in Harrisburg in 2008. Whether it be left, center or right, Daniel could be a valuable piece for the Nats going forward.

Nunez was acquired from the Dodgers in exchange for Marlon Anderson in 2006. His best two pitches are a low-90s fastball and a slider. His problem is consistency. He needs to be able to repeate his delivery in order to maintain a level of control necessary for a major league pitcher. His 2007 should be classified as domewhat of a disappointment given the expectations entering 2007. Of all of the people I spoke with in spring training, the name mentioned most often was Nunez as “one to watch.” He is still only 21-years old but he’ll need to take the next step quickly in 2008, likely as a member of the starting rotation in Potomac.

Novoa was a mixed bag in 2007. He showed some of the abilities that made him one to watch coming out of the DSL/GCL in 2006. He struck out over seven batters per nine innings but walked nearly three and allowed 129 hits in just 117 innings of work. He looks like he maxes out as a back of the rotation starting pitcher but given he’s lefthanded might get extra leeway. He’ll join Nunez in Potomac’s rotation in 2008.

Davis was an up and coming prospect in 2005 (300/348/489 in Vermont) but had a forgettable 2006 (225/284/377 in Savannah). He rebounded very well in 2007 hitting 290/344/534 in a repeat of the Sally League. It was enough to earn him a promotion to Potomac where he finished hitting 262/267/452 in 23 games for the P-Nats. Davis still seems to struggle with the strike zone but has developed enough power to overccome some of those shortcomings. He primarily played 3B in 2007 but has also logged time at 2B and in the corner OF. Flexibility is what is going to earn Davis’ his promotions from here forward. If he can maintain his hitting, perhaps cut down some on the Ks, and show that he can handle multiple positions, Davis has the chance to move beyond the profile of an organizational player. I’d expect him to start 2008 back with Potomac as their starting 3B.

If you were to ask me who is the player I received the most questions about in 2007, it would be Cabral. he put up a quiet 289/374/402 season in Hagerstown as the everyday 2B. Nationals Director of Player Development described him as follows, “He has a nice approach, puts the ball in play, uses the whole field, will draw some walks and shows some occasional pop. Defensively he has played the majority of games at 2nd base but can fill in at 3rd and SS. He has turned himself into a solid ballplayer.” He is another 2008 P-Nat.

Back in April, I took my best guess at who the closer was going to be in Hagerstown. Josh Wilkie was the name that jumped off of the page at me. I had heard good things about his change-up, which has been ranked as the best in the farm system. Wilkie did not disappoint with a solid 2007 as the Suns primary closer. He was 3-6 with 11 saves over 47 appearances. He is not a long-term closer option as he best profiles as a RH set-up guy. He will likely be the first option as closer in Potomac in 2008.

Peralta was acquired in late 2005 from the Boston Red Sox for a weekend of Mike Stanton. Peralta was a solid option for Tommy Herr out of the Suns pen and is likely to remain a similar option for Potomac in 2008.

Baldwin is a personal favorite of mine. The big lefthander split his time between the starting rotation and the bulllpen but seemed to do whatever was asked of him. He does not have the stuff to be a top level starting pitcher and his most likely home as he works his way up the system is as a relief pitcher. He’s a soft-tosser with a fastball that touches the high-80s. He describes his out pitch as his slider but can also throw a curve, change and split-finger. His problemin 2007 was consistency. He would put together a string of 3 or 4 solid to above average outings but then get knocked around in his next couple starts. Baldwin should be part of the P-Nats pitching staff in 2008 and likely retain his role as whatever the manger needs that week, a starter or reliever.

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