The Eastern League Roundtripper: 9/22

Photo courtesy Binghamton Mets

Photo courtesy Binghamton Mets

• Congratulations to the Binghamton Mets who claimed their first Eastern League championship since 1994 with a three-game sweep of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Eastern League Year-End Awards
MVP: Steven Moya, Erie
Pitcher of the Year: Henry Owens, Portland
Rookie of the Year: Michael Taylor, Harrisburg
Manager of the Year: Billy McMillon, Portland

Eastern League All-Star Team
Catcher – Elias Diaz, Altoona
First Baseman – Christian Walker, Bowie
Second Baseman – Devon Travis, Erie
Shortstop – Matt Duffy, Richmond
Third Baseman – Niuman Romero, Bowie
Outfield: Dariel Alvarez, Bowie
Outfield: Steven Moya, Erie
Outfield: Michael Taylor, Harrisburg
Utility: Brian Burgamy, Binghamton
Designated Hitter: Reynaldo Rodriguez, New Britain
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher: Adrian Sampson, Altoona
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher: Henry Owens, Portland
Relief Pitcher: Oliver Drake, Bowie

• The New Britain Rock Cats ended twenty years of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins as they signed a new two-year PDC with the Colorado Rockies. The Double-A team reached the Texas League Championship series this past year and has made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. The move changes the makeup of the Eastern League for the first time since 2003.

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Caleb Clay deserved better from the Angels

clay
On August 9th, the Red Sox and the Angels battled for 19 frames and the Anaheim bullpen was forced to work 12.2 innings.

Needing reinforcements, the Angels called up former Harrisburg Senator Caleb Clay in time for their Sunday game against Boston. This wasn’t a “normal” transaction either as Clay had to also be added to their 40-man roster.

But the Angels never called Clay’s number during the game. Starting pitcher Hector Santiago tossed six shutout innings and the contest was scoreless into the eighth inning. Maybe Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia was reluctant to use Clay in such a high leverage situation. But the Red Sox plated three runs in the eighth and held a 3-1 lead over the Angels into the final frame. Instead of summoning Clay, Scioscia went to newly acquired reliever Vinnie Pestano to mop up the final three outs in the top half of the inning.

That would be the closest Clay came to making his Major League debut. The next day was an off-day for the Angels and the right-hander was ticketed back to Salt Lake City.

Baseball is a business and the Angels didn’t owe Clay anything.

But I thought they might make things right when the rosters expanded at the beginning of September. The Angels did call up four pitchers when the Pacific Coast League ended, but none were Clay.

Admittedly, Clay’s solid season (3.78 ERA, 1.18 WHIP before the call-up) went in the crapper after the disappointing turn of events. He closed his year with four straight losses posting a 7.99 ERA and allowing six home runs. But it would have been a nice gesture by a team that is generally regarded as a first-class organization.

Look at the Red Sox and how they handled another former Senator, Carlos Rivero.

On August 25th, Boston called up Rivero after Xander Bogaerts was forced to the disabled list the day before. Just like Clay, it was the first time Rivero got the call to the majors. The third-baseman made his debut four days later when he was inserted as a pinch-hitter. Rivero didn’t see further action again until 11 days later when he subbed into the game and collected his first Major League hit. By that time Bogaerts had returned and another two position players had been promoted to the Red Sox. But yet, they still had room on the roster for Rivero.

Look at the Texas Rangers. They recently called up shortstop Guilder Rodriguez who has toiled in the minor leagues for 1,095 games and 13 seasons. But in 2014, Rodriguez played only nine games at AAA and posted a rather anemic slashline of .269/.347/.298 for Double-A Frisco. And yet, the Rangers found a place on the expanded roster for Rodriguez because he’s been a great teammate and positive influence for many of their young players.

Yes, the Red Sox and Rangers are out of the playoff race. But the Angels were clearly going to make the playoffs (since they were the first team to clinch a spot this past Monday night). It would have been nice if they could have found a spot for Clay this September.

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Free Agents & Contract Statuses

free-agents-hero
We checked in with Nationals’ director of player development, Mark Scialabba, to find out the contract status of most of the Senators for the 2015 season.

Here’s the list of the impending Nationals’ minor league free agents that have come through Harrisburg during the last couple of years:

Mitch Canham
Paul Demny
Cutter Dykstra *** signed a one-year deal with Nationals for 2015
Paolo Espino
Tyler Herron
Destin Hood
Jeff Howell
Brian Jeroloman
Josh Johnson
Zach Kroenke
Quincy Latimore
Jose Lozada
Scott McGregor
Omar Poveda
Sam Runion
Adrian Sanchez
James Simmons
Oscar Tejada

These players are free to re-sign with the Nationals (like Jeroloman did last season), ink a deal elsewhere (like Caleb Clay), or go the unaffiliated route (like Brian Broderick).

************************************************************

Here’s a list of familiar Nationals’ players who are still under contract for the 2015 season and beyond. (Year in parentheses denotes the year their contract runs through)

Colin Bates (2016)
Robert Benincasa (2018)
A.J. Cole (2016)
Brian Dupra (2017)
Rob Gilliam (2015)
Brian Goodwin (2017)
Matt Grace (2016)
Ricky Hague (2016)
Bryan Harper (2017)
Neil Holland (2016)
Kevin Keyes (2016)
Pat Lehman (2015)
Cole Leonida (2016)
Rafael Martin (2016)
Danny Rosenbaum (2015)
Jason Martinson (2016)
Richie Mirowski (2017)
Randolph Oduber (2016)
Caleb Ramsey (2017)
Blake Schwartz (2018)
Derek Self (2018)
John Simms (2019)
Matt Skole (2017)
Drew Vettleson (2016)
Austin Voth (2019)

Keep in mind that just because a player is under contract for additional seasons does not guarantee their return to the Nationals. They could still get released, traded or choose to retire.

If there’s anyone I haven’t listed that you want to know about, drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer you.

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Are the Rock Cats looking for a new parent club?

As the minor league season winds down, now is the time of year that many Major League teams assess their affiliates and decide whether to continue the partnership by signing a Player Development Contract or not. The PDC is the agreement that creates an affiliation between the Major League team and the minor league franchise for a period of usually two to four years.

So, what does this mean for the 12 teams of the Eastern League?

Eleven clubs will remain encumbered to their big league counterpart through at least the 2016 season.

2016: Akron (CLE), Erie (DET), New Hampshire (TOR), Richmond (SFG)
2018: Altoona (PIT), Binghamton (NYM), Bowie (BAL), Harrisburg (WAS), Portland (BOS)
2022: Trenton (NYY)
Not Applicable: Reading (team owned by the Philadelphia Phillies)

That leaves one team, the New Britain Rock Cats, in limbo heading into the 2015 season.

new-britain-rock-cats-twins-renew-pdc

This past Saturday night, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press revealed that the Minnesota Twins were formally opting out of their PDC agreement with the team after a 20-year relationship. Although, it might have just been a procedural move at this point as Minnesota may still end up back with New Britain for another two-year deal.

“We had to do something (by Thursday’s deadline) and we did,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Saturday. “We ended up severing. I’m not going to deny. Yeah, we severed, but that doesn’t mean anything. I wouldn’t read too much into that.”

Today is the start of a two-week timeframe when Major League teams can begin negotiations with affiliates that essentially became free agents after their PDC deals expired after this season.

Other than New Britain, there are only four other teams at the Double-A level that are currently without a parent club.

The Tulsa Drillers are the lone team in the Texas League looking for a new major league team. Tulsa had been affiliated with the Rockies and now, by all accounts, appear set to become the Dodgers’ AA farm team.

That would leave three Southern League teams available: Chattanooga, Mobile, and Biloxi. If the Twins prefer one of these locations that would leave either the Rockies, Diamondbacks, or Brewers possibly landing in New Britain which would add yet another National League team to the EL. It would also change the affiliate makeup of the league for the first time since 2003.

9/17 UPDATE: New Britain made it official by announcing their new partnership with the Colorado Rockies. Reportedly, they will keep the Rock Cats name for 2015 and change when they move to Hartford for the 2016 season.

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Ranking the Senators’ MVP – Part IV: The Top 10

As part of our recap of the Senators’ season, an annual tradition around these parts is to list all of the players and where they would rank as the team’s MVP for 2014 by what they contributed to the team’s successes and failures.

If you agree or disagree with any ranking feel free to leave a comment and try and sway my way of thinking.

10. Neil Holland
Over the last two seasons, Holland has become a familiar face on City Island as the sidewinder has made 81 appearances with the Senators. Although this year I’m not sure Holland liked it very much at Metro Bank Park as his ERA was almost three runs better (4.73 vs. 1.82) on the road than at home.

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

9. Jason Martinson
Martinson produced his best season with the glove and arm as the shortstop committed a career-low 15 errors. His defense has become MLB-level, it’s now a matter of his bat catching up. He either needs to hit 40 points higher or double his power numbers to get consideration from the Nationals or any other major league club.

8. Colin Bates
The Tar Heel survived a shaky April and adjusted to Double-A in his first taste of the higher level enough to earn an All-Star appearance. In the past, Bates has thrived at consistently being around the strike zone as he has walked only 63 batters in 306.2 professional innings. There is a worry though that his reluctance to walk guys produces too many pitches getting too much of the plate as evident by opponent’s batting average of .324 OBA and a 2.07 WHIP when he’s behind in the count.

7. Tyler Herron
Herron was good in the first half of the season, but the hard-throwing right-hander was lights out after the All-Star break. The former first round draft pick for the Cardinals improved his command and cut down on hits and walks to post a 0.98 WHIP in the second half. Herron also didn’t give up a home run after allowing four before July 11.

6. Cutter Dykstra
Despite missing time around the All-Star break and at the end of the season, Dykstra still played in 100+ games for the fourth time in his minor league career. He was a sparkplug on offense as he posted a typical Dykstra slashline of .274/.349/.391 with 18 doubles, 49 RBIs, 46 runs, and ten stolen bases. Defensively his arm and range limit him to playing second base moving forward even though he’s logged 181 games at other infield positions.

Photo courtesy Mark Pynes / PennLive

Photo courtesy Mark Pynes / PennLive

5. Kevin Keyes
After Keyes has been stuck in Potomac the last two seasons, a hot start got him promoted to Harrisburg on April 25. Although he’s never going to hit for a high average, Keyes adjusted to Double-A pitching quickly and posted his career-high in home runs (24), RBIs (81), and runs (64). His worst month of the season was easily August (.578 OPS), but up until then he was a main cog in the heart of the Senators’ batting order.

4. Paolo Espino
Espino was anything and everything the Senators needed him to be. Early in the season when he bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation, the former Indians’ farmhand was serviceable. But he really got his feet under him once he was trotted out there every fifth day as evident by his 3.33 ERA since June 21. Espino allowed three runs or less in 12 of his 16 starts.

3. Matt Skole
All season, we kept hearing from Brian Daubach and Doug Harris how difficult it was to miss an entire season. And despite promising signs from Skole in May and June, ultimately they were right as the Georgia Tech product was unable to put together the kind of power numbers he’s been used to in his career. After a disastrous April, Skole pulled his batting average up to a high-water mark of .259 at the All-Star break. Unfortunately, he finished the year on a downturn posting a .201/.335/.354 slashline after that.

2. Quincy Latimore
Latimore probably never thought he’d play in 108 games in the Eastern League in 2014. But after getting signed out of the Atlantic League in mid-April, injuries, promotions, and his stellar play made him a stalwart in the Senators’ lineup. Latimore recorded double-digit totals in doubles, home runs, and stolen bases on the way to the best overall season of his career.

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Frantz / PennLive

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Frantz / PennLive

1. Michael Taylor
No matter how you measure it, 2014 was a pretty rotten season for the Senators. Taylor, however, made coming to the yard every day worth it. If I was walking around the park, I made sure I could see his at-bats because there was always the sense that he would do something amazing. Taylor finally pulled all of his tools together to post a breakout campaign and one of the best seasons ever by a Senator.

 

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Ranking the Senators’ MVP – Part III: 25 to 11

As part of our recap of the Senators’ season, an annual tradition around these parts is to list all of the players and where they would rank as the team’s MVP for 2014 by what they contributed to the team’s successes and failures.

If you agree or disagree with any ranking feel free to leave a comment and try and sway my way of thinking.

25. John Simms
In his first full professional season, Simms’ last four starts sullied a solid campaign on the mound. What season sounds better for his time with the Senators…2-2 with a 3.43 ERA or 2-6 with a 5.03 ERA? It would be easy to look at his final numbers and think he struggled, but that wasn’t the case. He just hit a wall that even his love of coffee couldn’t help push him through.

24. Scott McGregor
It can’t get much worse than McGregor was in his first three appearances with the Senators: a 38.63 ERA, a 6.00 WHIP, and a .615 OBA. But after coming off the disabled list and working with pitching coach Chris Michalak on a few things, McGregor flashed a mid-90s fastball that he commanded. In five starts, the righty posted a 2.33 ERA with a 0.81 WHIP as held opponents to a .204 average.

23. Destin Hood
I had given up on Hood last season after his second straight disappointing season at Double-A. But something clicked for the former second-round pick from Alabama this past off-season and he successfully carried that over into spring training and beyond. 2014 was easily his best season and he began it with 19 sizzling games in Harrisburg before a well-deserved promotion.

Photo courtesy Sean Simmers / PennLive

Photo courtesy Sean Simmers / PennLive

22. Felipe Rivero
Rivero’s season looked lost in his sixth start when he walked off the mound in Reading holding his elbow. Thankfully for the southpaw, Tommy John surgery was not needed and he was able to rehab the injury to return to Harrisburg by mid-August. In those last four starts, he showed the potential the Nationals saw in him when they insisted he be a part of the Jose Lobaton-Nathan Karns trade.

21. Robert Benincasa
Benincasa was inconsistent as the Senators’ closer the second half of the season. Ten walks allowed and five hit by pitches in 29 innings will tend to do that to a reliever. The former Florida State hurler did show progress as the season wore on though. In August and September, Benincasa held opponents to a .139 batting average.

20. Derek Self
The Louisville product was lights out in the first half with the P-Nats before earning a promotion to the ‘Burg. Self did his best work with runners on base as he held opponents to a .164/.216/.276 slash line. Compare that to .310/.364/.465 with the bases empty and you realize how much Self beared down when he ran into trouble.

19. Brian Dupra
Dupra picked up his only wins in his first and last game with the Senators. In between, he made an additional 22 appearances over four months without picking up a victory. Looking into detail at the Notre Dame graduate’s outings and it backs up the 5.60 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. That being said, I always felt he threw better than his numbers. Maybe I’m just delusional.

18. Adrian Sanchez
Sanchez committed six of his 11 errors with the Senators during August and September. It might be easy to forget that prior to that he had gone 25 straight games at the hot corner without an error. Defensively, he is clearly much more comfortable at third base than anywhere else. However, he hits like a light-hitting middle infielder.

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

17. Paul Demny
Short of his spot start on the final day of the season, Demny finally made the full-time conversion to reliever. And for Demny, who has been forthcoming with his mental issues in the past, it appeared to make a positive difference in his approach and intensity. He still had a few outings where he melted down, but overall he was a solid guy in the bullpen who might finally be living up to his billing.

16. Matt Grace
The southpaw was lights out for the Senators in 22 games before earning a promotion to Syracuse. In fact, he was so good in 2014 that he probably threw his name into the ring as a possible Nationals’ minor league pitcher of the year. More importantly, he is now under strong consideration as a possible LOOGY with the Nats as lefties hit only .144 and slugged .173 off of him.

15. Ricky Hague
From the files of the weird and wacky: last season, Hague hit only .214 at Metro Bank Park and .273 everywhere else; this year, Hague hit .253 at home and only .205 on the road. Signaled by his nine late season appearances in the outfield, the Nationals’ organization seems intent on making Hague a utility player that can play anywhere.

14. A.J. Cole
Cole was the lone bright spot in the starting rotation to begin the season as he compiled a 6-3 record in 14 starts for the Senators. An alarming trend for the Oviedo, FL native was a decreased strikeout rate in Harrisburg and Syracuse that was two Ks per nine innings less than last season. He never seemed to have that punchout pitch in his repertoire this season. That in turn correlated to a more balls put into play, which meant more hits and blew his WHIP up to 1.34.

13. Caleb Ramsey
Ramsey is a grinder that rarely gives away at-bats. However, if he’s going to be little more than a singles hitter (one home run would justify that thinking) he needs to be able to hit better than he did in 2014. Ramsey floundered to a .245 average in 127 games where 97 of his 116 hits were of the one-base variety.

12. Drew Vettleson
A broken bone in has hand derailed Vettleson’s season after just nine games. By the time he returned near the end of June, he seemed anxious to make up for lost time. He showed a lot less plate discipline than he had in previous years (only 11 walks) and a higher propensity to swing and miss (K/AB rate of 30%). That being said, he has a short stroke that he should be able to get back on track in 2015 while fully healthy.

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

11. Brian Jeroloman
It would be easy to look at Jeroloman’s offensive statistics and discount his contributions to this team. But that would be a mistake. Jeroloman’s influence on the pitching staff and rest of the roster might have been immeasurable. He has a long and bright future ahead of him as a coach whenever he decides his playing career is done.

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Ranking the Senators’ MVP – Part II: 40 to 26

As part of our recap of the Senators’ season, an annual tradition around these parts is to list all of the players and where they would rank as the team’s MVP for 2014 by what they contributed to the team’s successes and failures.

If you agree or disagree with any ranking feel free to leave a comment and try and sway my way of thinking.

40. Richie Mirowski
The reliever that surprised a lot of people with his stellar numbers in 2013 returned to Harrisburg to start the season. Unfortunately, Mirowski was not the same pitcher and was eventually placed on the disabled list which probably explains his struggles. The Oklahoma Baptist product returned to Potomac for a month and a half compiling a 2.31 ERA in 23.1 innings.

39. Brett Brach
Brach was one of many pitchers the Nationals signed out of independent ball during the season. The Freehold, NJ native’s high point of the season was six shutout innings he threw in his debut for the Senators. One really bad start and four halfway decent appearances later, Brach was released. I’m not sure who he pissed off for such drastic measures when other inferior guys kept collecting paychecks.

lozada

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

38. Jose Lozada
Lozada played most of this season in Syracuse before returning to Harrisburg for his third season on City Island. The utility player was a bright spot on offense in July, hitting .373 during 16 games. A hamstring injury ended his season early and his future with the organization is up in the air as he becomes a minor league free agent at the conclusion of the World Series.

37. Sam Runion
After beginning the season with the Montgomery Biscuits, Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Rays, Runion hooked on with the Nationals organization and climbed up two levels after initially being assigned to Potomac. While in Harrisburg, the right-handed reliever allowed runs in only two of his nine appearances to earn a promotion.

36. Austin Voth
It’s tough to judge Voth on his performance in a Senators uniform. 2014 marked Voth’s first full minor league season and by the end of the season, the grind obviously got to the right-hander. In Hagerstown and Potomac, Voth put up an impressive 2.10 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 19 starts. But during the last month in Harrisburg, he posted a 6.52 ERA and 1.60 WHIP with probably his worst two starts of the season.

35. Mitch Canham
After hitting his only home run of the season on Opening Day, Canham spent most of the year on the phantom DL and as the de facto bullpen catcher. Canham hit .265 playing every game of the last week of the season to raise his overall batting average a tick above the Mendoza line.

kroenke

Photo courtesy Mark Pynes / PennLive

34. Zach Kroenke
The former Arizona Diamondback southpaw was not good for the Senators this season yet due to a lack of available arms kept his job and kept getting the ball every fifth day. Kroenke made 16 starts and gave up five or more runs in half of them. After a two-start stint in Syracuse in late June, Kroenke returned to Harrisburg and worked past five innings only once down the stretch in ten starts.

33. Bryan Harper
Bryce’s older brother earned a promotion mid-season and for some reason was sent back down to Potomac after a little over a month. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. In 12 games for the Senators, he allowed runs in only four of them and had made four straight clean appearances at the time of his demotion. I’m not saying he was great. In fact, there were times where he just lost the feel for every pitch in his repertoire. But he still battled and I’d rather see him throw and progress at Double-A.

32. Warner Madrigal
The veteran journeyman made six appearances for the Senators sandwiched between stays in Syracuse. In those games, Madrigal provided a legitimate back of the bullpen option for Daubach and he used him to finish games the Senators were leading four times.

31. Zach Jackson
Not a lot of good things can be said about the first two weeks of the 2014 season for the Senators. One of those though was the effectiveness of Jackson during his five appearances. The southpaw sidewinder didn’t allow a run even though the opponents treated the rest of the Sens’ pitching staff like Henry Rowengartner before the broken arm.

30. Cole Leonida
In his first go-round at Double-A, Leonida proved to be a serviceable backstop. The right-handed hitting Georgia Tech product was especially effective against left-handed pitchers batting .280 and slugging .420 off them. Expect Leonida to return to Harrisburg as part of a catching tandem with Pedro Severino.

29. Rafael Martin
The last couple of seasons have seen the former beer leaguer fighting through a number of injuries including a dead arm. Well, if this is what a healthy Rafael Martin brings to the table I want more. Discard his disastrous first appearance with the Senators and the right-hander made 37 other appearances between three levels where opponents hit .152 off him and he posted a miniscule ERA of 0.47.

nicol

Photo courtesy John C. Whitehead / PennLive

28. Sean Nicol
Players come and go. That’s the nature of the business. But I’ll miss Sean Nicol and what he meant to the Harrisburg Senators, captured perfectly here by colleague Geoff Morrow.

27. Justin Bloxom
Kevin Keyes’ promotion and success at Double-A was the writing on the wall for Bloxom’s career with the Nationals organization. Despite putting him at the hot corner 26 times in the last two seasons, Bloxom was nothing more than a 1B-DH as his nine errors in 52 chances at third base should prove. After getting released along with Nicol, he latched on with the Lynchburg Hillcats (A+ affiliate of the Braves) before getting his walking papers near the end of August.

26. James Simmons
The former first-round draft pick for the A’s in 2007 was much more effective for the Senators out of the bullpen than he was as a starter. As a reliever, Simmons posted a 1.99 ERA and held opponents to a .173 batting average over 11 appearances and 22.2 innings. But as a starter when teams were able to see him 2-3 times a game, his ERA ballooned to 6.83 and the opponents batting average skyrocketed to .306.

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