Welcome back to District Sports Page’s weekly Minor League Update. Throughout the regular season we will continue to post up-to-date stats and brief scouting reports on the hottest and coldest prospects in the Nationals’ minor league system. We also will track the progress of top-rated players, and give injury and suspension updates.
With April coming to a close, the Nationals’ organization is looking pretty strong from top to bottom. The big club is off to a decent 13-12 start. But more importantly, they’re looking strong and equipped to perform at a high level for the duration of the season. Their key players are all healthy, and their crop of young stars continues to move forward at a healthy pace.
Bryce Harper not only appears to have avoided (knock on wood) a slumping sophomore season, but he looks to be putting it all together even earlier than anyone could have hoped. The same goes for their young rotation, which is firing on all cylinders. And while Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos are sitting on the DL with minor injuries, the Nats used their system to overcome their temporary absence quite effectively. Luckily though, both players are on their way back anyway.
Down on the farm, the team’s top prospects are fairing just as well. Anthony Rendon built on his scorching stint in big league camp this spring by hitting his way in to the majors after Zimmerman went on the shelf. For a twenty-three-year-old that was ripped out of the Eastern League and immediately thrown in to the fire, he has performed admirably–making plays with both the bat and the glove. Though still in double-A, Brian Goodwin, the system’s number-two bat, leads the Harrisburg Senators in multiple stat categories including runs scored and stolen bases.
Though they haven’t received the attention of the aforementioned two blue-chip stars, the Nationals’ battery of pitching prospects actually put together an even better month. Nate Karns is the reigning Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after tossing a thirteen-strike-out shut-out, and Syracuse Chiefs southpaw Danny Rosenbaum has the lowest ERA among International League starting pitchers. In the Carolina League, Robbie Ray leads all lefties with a 1.55 ERA and his 34 strikeouts ranks second on the circuit.
Without further ado, here are the system’s hottest and coldest performers heading in to May:
Last 10 Games: .459/.474/.838
It has been a long time since the (former) Nationals GM Jim Bowden selected Marrero with the 15th overall pick of the ’06 Draft. That summer, Bowden really pushed Marrero’s talent, convincing the Nationals baseball world that he was the guy that was going to follow Ryan Zimmerman as a major foundation block for the franchise. He handed Marrero a hefty $1.625 million bonus to pass on his scholarship to play ball at Miami, and tabbed him as a top-1o prospect and the type of polished player that would move quickly up the latter. Mind you, this is the draft that produced Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum.
It’s been a long and winding road for Marrero since then, but the truth is, Bowden might not have been wrong after all. Now in his eighth minor-league season, Marrero appears to finally be putting his tremendous raw tools–that garnered pre-draft comparisons to Alex Rodriguez–to work come game time.
Marrero is out-hitting virtually everyone in the Nationals system and in International League. After going 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts on April 17th against the Buffalo Bisons, Marrero has apparently turned in to The Incredible Hulk. He has rapped at least two hits in seven of his last nine games, culminating with a 3-for-4 performance on Sunday against Jamie Martin and the Durham Bulls. And, he has hit four home runs and driven in a monster 11 RBI, incredibly while striking out only one time in his last 37 at bats.
After going 2-for-16 to open 2013, Marrero has absolutely torched opposing pitchers. He now leads all Nationals farmhands with 20 RBI and a .676 slugging percentage, and his six hom runs ties him with teammate Zach Walters for the organization lead. His homer total also puts him in second place in the International League, and he’s third in OPS.
Marrero has been on the right side of a District Sports Page Minor League Update for two consecutive weeks, and appears to have turned a corner in his development. Of course, the Nats have seen glimpses like this before–but always immediately before an injury or a sharp down-turn in production. Building on a strong 2010 in the Eastern League when he earned All-Star honors, Marrero hit .300/.375/.449 in triple-A and even earned regular at bats with the Nats at the end of the season. But right when it appeared he could earn a 25-man roster spot to open 2012, he promptly went down with a torn hamstring.
Even if Marrero’s numbers fall back to earth, at the very least it’s good to see him healthy and off to a good start. He still won’t even be twenty-five until July, so if he stays on the field and uses his April as a foundation for sustained success, there’ll be a Major League job for him out there somewhere. The Nationals don’t have a lot of space in the MLB, but his type of skill set is always in-demand. He has premium raw power from the right-side, and he’s adept at working the count and getting on base. His arm is still a cannon, though at first base it doesn’t get much use.
Last 10 Games: 2 GS, 12.2 IP, 1.42 ERA, 0.868 WHIP, 7 Hits, 18 K
On the surface, P-Nats hurler Nate Karns’ season line–a 1-1 record and a 3.80 ERA– doesn’t do justice to his phenomenal pitching. After starting the season on a sour note, allowing seven runs to cross the plate in 3.2 innings on April 8th, he’s been untouchable for the past three weeks.
After shutting-out the Altoona Curve through five innings on April 13th, Karns spun a gem in his next start. This time facing the Curve at home in Potomac, Karns fired a complete-game two-hitter, and whiffed a career-high 13 batters over seven frames. He was nearly perfect after allowing back-to-back doubles in the first inning, retiring 19/20 of the remaining batters he faced and 13 of them on K’s. His performance not only earned him his first victory of the young season, but he was also named Eastern League Pitcher of the Week.
Karns continued to mow down opposing hitters this week while facing-off against the heavy-hitting Bowie Bay Sox, equipped with the strongest lineup in the Eastern League. On Saturday, he struck out five batters over 5.2 innings, yielded five hits and only one earned run. He now has a microscopic 1.05 ERA over his past three starts, and he’s racked up a nasty 26 strikeouts (vs. 5 walks) over 17.2 innings. He also hasn’t allowed a single home run in that span.
In his first taste of the Eastern League, Karns has been dominant. His 12.2 K/9 ranks him third on the circuit, and he’s allowing less than 7 hits per 9 innings. As if his electric stuff weren’t enough already, his 2.97 FIP and 3.63 K/BB ratio suggests he’s for real. His remarkable ability of keeping the ball in the park and controlling left-handed hitters further supports his case.
A labrum-surgery survivor, Karns has looked better and better since returning to the mound in June, 2011. After establishing himself as a legitimate top prospect last season, the Nationals have loosened the fetters this season and he’s responded well. In his last two starts, his fastball has sat firmly in the 93-96 MPH range, never dipping below 92, and he’s changed speeds like a crafty, ten-season vet. He’s thrown his breaking ball for strikes at multiple velocities between 78-88 mph, and it’s flashing some serious downer movement.
Stay tuned for a District Sports Page scouting report on Karns, to be posted on Monday, May 6th..
Last 10 Games: 2 GS, 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 0.951 WHIP, 14 K
Though he never had to make a comeback from a torn labrum, Karns’ teammate Blake Treinen is also writing an unlikely zero-to-hero career story. After struggling to stick on the JV team at Baker College, Treinen playing organized ball for three years before re-trying his hand at pitching. This time though, he was on the practice field, and under the tutelage of former Marlins prospect Don Czyz. During the lay-off, he grew and got himself in to peak physical shape, and also re-tooled his pitching mechanics. The end result was a big pay-off: a mid-90’s heater, a spot on the South Dakota State baseball team in 2011–and the rest is history.
A throw-in from last winter’s Michael Morse trade, Treinen is shaping-up to be a pretty nice pick-up for the Nats. His fastball has been everything it was billed to be in scouting reports, sitting in the mid 90’s with heavy running movement. On his Sunday afternoon start against the Baysox, opposite Orioles’ headlining prospect Kevin Gausman, his heater peaked at a hissing 98 mph, and rarely fell below 94. More than just a thrower, he’s also showing a nice disappearing slider in the high 80’s, and his ability to command both pitches in the lower-third of the zone is leading to plenty of swing-throughs and ground-outs.
Treinen had to deal with the fast infields, small parks and dry air of the California League last year in his first full-season in pro ball. Paired with his inexperience against professional hitters, the harsh climate led to a mediocre 4.23 ERA. In reality, he was a much more effective pitcher than that number indicates–as he struck out 92 batters in 103 innings and walked only 23. So, even though the Nationals promoted him to double-A to open 2013, the older competition shouldn’t scare him too much. The EL’s bigger parks and more forgiving climate level the playing field a bit.
However, Treinen’s first two starts suggested he actually wasn’t ready for the promotion after all. Facing the Bay Sox at home on April 5th, he got absolutely hammered. He allowed eight runs on nine hits over 2.1 innings, inflating his ERA to a sparkling 30.86 mark. He managed to lower that figure to 16.25 in his next start, yet still got shelled, giving up five runs and three round-trippers in five arduous innings. Fortunately for Treinen, and unfortunately for those of us hoping to see Jose Lima re-incarnated (God rest his soul), he’s pulled a complete one-eighty, and has pitched like an ace since then.
On Sunday, Treinen tossed 6.2 innings of shut-out baseball against the Baysox–the same team that lit him up a few weeks earlier. He struck out six batters, allowed six total base-runners and kept all but three of the balls put in play against him on the ground. This impressive performance is actually become the norm for Treinen. Before Sunday, he allowed just two runs over 14 innings in his previous two starts. And with this most recent gem, he has now totalled a 0.87 ERA since April 10th, striking out eighteen batters and walking only three in that span.
Only a few years removed from being out of the game completely, Treinen’s inconsistencies early this season are understandable. But which pitcher is he? Is he the batting practice pitching machine that gives up eight runs in two innings against a double-A lineup? Or, is he the flamethrower with a 96 mph running heater that out-duels big-money arms like Kevin Gausman? It’s too early to tell, but one thing is for sure, Treinen’s stuff is for real.
Last 10 Games: 1 GS, 10 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.400 WHIP, 3 H, 12 K
A former DII All-American and NCAA DII Central Region Pitcher of the Year, Schwartz came to the Nationals via the 17th round of last June’s draft. Though he was ranked as one of the top draft-eligible NAIA pitchers after a strong season at Oklahoma City and an even stronger showing in the Northwoods League, he wasn’t considered a big-name signing for the Nats. At first, he appeared to be just another late-round filler pick, ticketed for a modest career in the low minors. However, that assessment appears to be way-off now.
Schwartz has wasted no time making a name for himself, and he’s pitching like a legitimate MLB prospect so far this season. After posting a rock-solid 3.05 ERA and 41 K’s though 7 starts with Hagerstown last summer, the right-hander has absolutely dominated opposing lineups this spring. Working primarily off of a precisely-placed 90-93 mph four-seamer, and a big, deep curveball, Schwartz has shut-down opposing hitters in both relief and as a starter. After striking out 21 and holding the opposition to a meager 2 runs and five hits in 14.1 innings with the Suns, Schwartz earned a promotion to the P-Nats on 4/22. He’s made one start at Potomac, and so far it’s been even more nastiness. Facing a Carolina Mudcats lineup equipped with top prospects Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin an Jake Lowery on the 24th, he tossed six innings of shut-out ball while fanning five batters, and he allowed only three hits.
Schwartz’ dominance places him atop the entire Nats system in ERA (0.54), wins (3), WHIP (0.54), and opponent’s batting average (.116), and he’s also fourth with 26 strikeouts.
There’s no arguing with his performance, and though it would be jumping the gun to tab him a legitimate top prospect, it’s fair to say the the Nationals got a really good deal when they snatched Schwartz with a late-round pick. He is pitching with superb feel and confidence, throwing 46 of his 63 pitches for strikes in his last start, and his fastball command has been top-notch. He’s sat in the low 90’s with his four-seamer throughout the season, moving it around the zone surprising ease, and he’s started using a cutter to jam left-handed hitters. His fastball command sets him apart from from the majority of A-ball hurlers, but he’s not just a one-speed guy either. He has a knack keeping opposing hitters off-balance. His 12-6 curveball has heavy, deep break and he’s finding a lot of success using it as his put-away pitch. But along with his changeup, he’s also solid at spotting it for strikes early in the count.
Last 10 Games: .214/.298/.274
There aren’t enough good things to say about Destin Hood. On the field, he’s one of the best athletes in the minor leagues, and off of it, he’s a humble, hardworking guy. So it’s especially tough to watch him struggle for consecutive seasons. After posting strong numbers in the low minors for the first four years of his minor league career, he stumbled badly after his promotion to double-A last spring. While the organization gave him a pass because of his young age–Hood only turned twenty-three at the beginning of the month–his ability to bounce back in 2013 is obviously important for his development. It’s not a quite a make-or-break season, as the organization recognized he was a long-term project when they initially drafted him in ’08, but things will certainly be a whole lot easier if he can get it together as soon as possible.
After hitting a lifeless .242/.303/.339 in Harrisburg last year, Hood is repeating both the level and the sub-par level of performance. When he was on this list last week, he was hitting just .220/.313/.305–which is actually worse than last season’s line–and his batting average was the lowest of his team’s everyday players. Since then, Hood has continued to slump with little evidence of recovery. He has five hits in his last twenty-five at bats–with a double accounting for his lone extra-base hit–and he’s struck-out an ugly ten times in that span. He still hasn’t hit his first home run of the season, and now has left the park just once in his last 71 games–a power outage dating all the way back to before last July’s All-Star break.
It would be easy to blame Hood’s lack of power on the Eastern League’s park size and his young age, but it appears it would also inaccurate. The fact of the matter is, Hood’s line-drive rate has bottomed-out at an unbelievably-bad 6.5% and his ISO now sits at .060. On the bright side, he’s proven to be a summer-performer throughout his career, and his OPS is generally at it’s lowest in April and at it’s best in July.
Alabama’s 2008 5A Player of the Year and a former four-star football recruit by Rivals.com, Hood still has all of the potential in the world. But like most blue-chip athletes, he needs time to slow things down and polish his game. Double-A might’ve been too heavy of a jump for him, but now that he’s there for a second season, it’s in his best interest to stick it out and fix his game. His raw power still rates an easy plus, and he takes a smooth, fluid cut; the kind of swing that seems like it just can’t miss. He’s also blessed with plenty of speed–as he’s capable of burning 6.6 60-yard-dash times–and his background as a wide receiver on the gridiron has seemingly helped him develop in to a solid defensive outfielder.
Last 10 Games: .194/.373/.194
Oh how quickly things change in this cruel-yet-wonderful game. Barely a week ago, Martinson was looking like a break-out candidate. He started off the season on a tear, belting four homers and posting a hefty .778 slugging percentage through his first nine games. For his work, he was awarded the first Carolina League Player of the Week award of 2013, and he responded by then mashing even more. After adding a grand slam and eight more hits between April 15th and the 21st, he was named Carolina League Player of the Week for the second consecutive week.
This week, Martinson has managed to match his scorching hot streak with an ice-cold one. He has just five hits over his last 31 at bats, good for a .194 batting average since he hit that grand slam against the Salem Red Sox on the 18th. His power has completely vanished as well, as he has zero extra-base hits and only one RBI during his cold spell.
This kind of volatility is nothing too alarming for Martinson. The 24-year-old shortstop is very streaky, as he employs an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. Considering his cannon arm and light feet allow him to profile well at shortstop, there’s nothing wrong with some swing-and-miss to his game–especially because he backs it up with power. A plus defensive shortstop that hits .240 with 20 homeruns is a pretty darn good player. Throughout his three-year career in the low minors, Martinson has posted a windy 27.3% whiff rate, but also has a .180 ISO. This year, even with his recent struggles, he’s still slugging a fat .518, and has exhibited the kind of juice to continue to hit with power at higher levels.
Last 10 Games: .176/.282/.265
A former teammate of Anthony Rendon’s at Rice University, Rick Hague doesn’t have the same kind of fire power as the Nationals’ top prospect but he’s no slouch with the stick either. With the Owls, Hague was an All-Conference USA selection and he hit a sparkling .335 with a .544 slugging percentage during his three-year college career. As a member of Team USA in 2008, he also won the Best Hitter Award in the World Baseball Challenge.
After the Nationals selected him in the third round of the 2010 draft, Hague needed little time to adjust to the pro’s. Actually, he ran out of the gate, totaling a .327/.386/.522 in the South Atlantic League in 2010. An injured rotator cuff sustained in April 2011 quickly wiped-out his progress however, and he didn’t end up playing another regular season game until May, 2012.
When Hague returned to the diamond, it took him a while to get his stroke back. He hit just .219/.296/260 that May with the P-Nats, and followed with a so-so .253/.313/.414 in June. However, he started to find his groove at the end of June, and really picked it up in July–posting an ‘804 OPS and mashing 13 extra-base hits. While he ended up posting a modest .681 OPS overall in 2012, he did make some clear progress as the year went on, and finished on a strong note by hitting .287/.335/.422 after the All-Star break.
Hague’s shoulder surgery set him back some. Now, he’s entering his mid 20’s and is only now getting regular at-bats in double-A–so it’s important for him to put together a strong 2013 campaign and push his way to Syracuse if he wants to maintain his prospect status. Four weeks in to 2013 however, things aren’t looking too promising.
Hague managed to collect at least one hit in eleven of his first 13 games this season, but unfortunately, his success was marginal. He has hit with modest power, and has only one multi-hit game through 21 contests. And, he’s heading in the wrong direction. Over his last ten games, Hague has just six hits (zero home runs) in 34 at bats and he’s slugging a feeble .303. Making matters worse, his fielding is as shaky as ever, and he’s all but confirmed that he’ll need to move to the third base or the outfield once he makes it to a higher level. He’s already made four errors in 78 chances at second base, and 1 in 11 chances at shortstop.
When he’s right, Hague is one of the best pure hitters in the Nationals’ system, He takes a short, compact swing, shows a second-nature feel for the barrel and he uses the whole field. He also works the count like a veteran big-leaguer, and has the approach and batting eye to post high on-base percentages. However, he has a lot of improvements he needs to make before he can set his sights on a Major-League job. His fielding is sub-par, and his swing appears to have softened since injuring his shoulder. So for now, Hague needs to focus on staying healthy, getting his swing back and getting out of double-A in one piece.
Other Notable Performances
Eury Perez: Returning to Syracuse from the 7-day DL last Tuesday, Perez continued his hot streak where left off before injuring his wrist. Facing Virgil Vasquez and the Rochester Red Wings, the speedster smacked four hits in seven at bats, including an RBI double. He then encored his four-hit performance by raking six more hits over his next four games (6/18) before finally going hitless on Sunday. Overall, Perez has an impressive .333 batting average through his last ten games and is hitting a flashy .344/.355/.410 on the season, with four stolen bases in five tries.
Chris Young: The Nationals inked Young to an incentive-laden contract on April 4th, after he impressed them with his performance in big league camp this spring. Because he had opted out of his initial short-term contract on March 26th though, he already hadn’t thrown off of a mound for ten days at that point, so the club immediately sent him to extended spring training in Viera after signing him. A survivor of multiple shoulder surgeries over the years, he spent a couple of more weeks there rebuilding his arm strength before making his season debut in Syracuse last Tuesday.
Young didn’t exactly start his season off on the right foot. Facing Rochester’s lineup of journeymen, he gave up 6 runs and three homers over 4.1 innings, and allowed 12 total base-runners. He threw just 52 of his 94 pitches for strikes, and his usually slow fastball was even slower, hovering around 82 mph for most of the night.
Danny Rosenbaum: After getting Rule 5’d and returned this winter along with Syracuse teammate Jeff Kobernus, Danny Rosenbaum has opened eyes with a spectacular April while pitching for the Syracuse Chiefs. He has been an unheralded prospect ever since he was drafted out of Xavier in ’09, but now that he’s shutting-down triple-A lineups he’s hard to overlook. Following his spotless, seven-inning shut-out performance on Saturday night against Wil Myers and the Durham Bulls, Rosenbaum’s ERA now sits at 1.14 through 23.2 innings–the best mark among triple-A southpaws. And while his five total strikeouts are a little bit on the lean side, he has more than made up for it with a sky-high 3.21 ground-out/air-out ratio, and only one home run allowed. Considering the Nationals are short on quality left-handed relievers right now, the fact that he’s allowed only 6 of 27 left-handed hitters to reach base all season makes him a prime spring call-up candidate.
J.C. Romero: Romero’s largely successful LOOGY career (what a job huh?) appeared to be coming to a close after he bounced between four teams over the past 2 years and posted poor numbers 2012. However, after he pitched well with team Puerto Rico in the WBC this winter and showed vastly improved velocity, the suddenly lefty-poor Nationals decided to give him a minor league contract. Romero was assigned to Syracuse to open 2013, and so far, he’s been pitching very effectively. Through 9.2 innings of short relief he’s whiffed 14 batters and held lefties to a .167 batting average and only 1 extra-base hit–a double to Brian Dinkelman.
Michael Taylor: Like fellow Nationals top outfield prospect Destin Hood, Michael Taylor has sky-high potential but is coming off of a disappointing 2012 campaign. After batting a lowly .242/.318/.362 last season, Taylor is right back in Potomac this April and is hoping to take a step forward. At first, things weren’t looking a whole lot different for the long-‘n-lean center fielder. On April 12th, when the P-Nats were opening their third series of the young season, all Taylor had to show for his work at the plate was three singles and a triple in 29 at bats–a .137 batting average. Since then, he’s improved steadily however, belting 2 home runs and six extra-base hits over his last ten games, and going 15-for-53 since that low point on the twelfth. Blessed with race-car wheels, he’s also putting his speed to better use in games lately as he successfully stolen six consecutive bases over the past week and a half, giving him eight total in eleven attempts.