WHAT A FARM SYSTEM SHOULD LOOK LIKE
[September 18th] -- Well, well. The Nationals were actually able to win two out of three against the Milwaukee Brewers this weekend. And that's a really good thing, because the Brewers are the better team. Hey, don't get me wrong; I know that the Nationals have lost only two more games than the Brewers this season. That's not what I'm talking about. The Brewers are a better team because they have done a good job in the past few years of drafting and developing young players. Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks are just two examples of what they've been able to accomplish. Note: more coverage on Sunday's game can be found at the end of this story.
And then there's the Washington Nationals.
I got to wondering how different the Nationals' top farm team in New Orleans might look when compared to the Tucson Sidewinders, the Arizona Diamondbacks top club. The Diamondbacks are considered to have one of the top farm systems in the major leagues, top heavy with players at the 'AAA' and 'AA' level who are almost ready to make an impact with the big club. So I did some side-by-side comparing of the two teams' 'AAA' franchise to see if there was anything drastically different in the makeup of the two teams.
Oh, yeah. There's a difference all right.
The Sidewinders finished the just completed PCL season with a record of 91-53, a whopping 38 games over .500. The Zephyrs came in at 72-71, a marked improvement over 2005. New Orleans roster is full of players who have been released by other organizations as well as former major leaguers who just weren't good enough to remain there. The average Zephyr pitcher is 28 years old and has more than eight years of minor league experience, having pitched an average of over 900 innings during their minor league careers. The Sidewinders' pitchers are younger, less experienced and far more talented. Tucson's pitching staff averages just 25 years of age, less than four years of professional experience and have thrown less than 400 innings in their minor league careers.
That's what a 'AAA' pitching staff should look like.
There isn't a single pitcher on the Zephyrs' roster who could be considered in any way a "prospect." Andrew Good, Steve Watkins, Nelson Figeuroa and Kevin Gryboski have all failed elsewhere. A few of the pitchers have been with the Nationals/Expos their entire careers, but some have spent as many as six years without ever seeing a major league stadium, and probably never will. The Sidewinders, on the other hand, boast seven pitchers 25 or younger (the Zephyrs don't have a single pitcher under 26). Four Sidewinders have less than four years of minor league experience -- again, the Zephyrs don't have anyone who has moved up through the system that quickly. The entire Zepyrs' staff, then, is made up of of players who have no real chance of playing in the major leagues.
Don't feel too bad, though. Harrisburg ended the season with several pitchers who will have a great chance of playing with the Nationals one day. There are a few more at Potomac. The best news of all is that Mike Rizzo, the guy who created that marvelous Diamondback farm system, is the guy in charge of doing the same for the Nationals. It's going to take time. It'll probably be the second half of 2008 before some of those young arms make it to Washington.
When you have a chance, take a look at the Diamondbacks' farm system. That's what we have to look forward to. Things are lean now, but in a couple of years, a new stadium and a solid farm system will make watching baseball in D.C. a whole lot of fun.
Nationals 6 - Brewers 1: I need to keep a closer eye on what happens to teams outside of the Nationals' division. The last time I looked, the Brewers were just a game or two under .500 and were certainly a "feel good" story for 2006 -- even if you're not a Brewer fan. Now, Milwaukee is just two games better than the Nats, and that, my friend, isn't very good.
Ryan Zimmerman went 0-4 and is once again swing late on the ball, making his outs on the right side of the infield. He also struck out twice, looking bad both times. Zimmerman is hitting that wall that many players do during their first full year as a professional. He's tired -- at times, he looks almost asleep at the plate -- and the 162 game season is wearing him down. Unless he can starting hitting again, I'm afraid his chances of winning the rookie-of-the-year award are going to diminish -- there are just too many good first year players this year to allow for a 10 point drop in batting average.
Chris Schroeder was amazing on Sunday. Two innings pitched. Six batters faced. Six strikeouts earned. The Nationals are certainly going to have an abundance of quality relief pitchers next year. A day after the bullpen pitched shutout ball for five innings, they turned the trick one more time on Sunday. Schroeder, Saul Rivera, Jon Rauch and Ryan Wagner combined to allow no hits and two strikeouts. Wagner seemed like a throw-in in the Austin Kearns / Felipe Lopez trade, and he probably was. He was the Reds' number one draft pick in 2003, and was playing in the major leagues that same year, and man, was he good, going 2-0, 1.69. In 2004 and 2005, however, his numbers got worse, and he spent 2006 in the minors before being traded to Washington. The Reds began to tinker with his delivery in 2004, raising his side-arm delivery to a more three-quarter approach. Nationals' pitching coach Randy St. Claire told Wagner to revert to his side-arm delivery and *presto* he's beginning to dominate batters again. My guess is that Wagner will easily replace Billy Bray in the team's bullpen. I wonder of the Reds' management is mad about that too.
Mike O'Connor pitched well for the second start in a row, alloing just three hits and one run in four innings -- he was pulled due to a high pitch count -- and now has to have leap-frogged over Billy Traver and Jason Bergman in the rotation (at leat for the rest of the season). He'll be pitching in Washington next season -- that's for sure -- though I'm not sure if it'll be as a starter or reliver.
Though wins don't mean much this time of year, they're still fun to watch.
As for the minor league pitching staff it's not 100% the Nats fault. (I'd go with 85%) The collapse this year of Hinkley, Ballester and Everts was shocking.
True, Hinkley-Ballestar-Everts had a pretty bad combined 2006 season, but I still believe that two of them will succeed at the 'AAA' level, and one of them will make it to the major leagues. That said, they have been supplanted by the pitchers Bowden traded for this summer as the "arms to watch." I personally love Shairon Martis, the pitcher who came to the Nats in the Mike Stanton deal. He pitched well before coming East, he pitched well after coming East. They guy is for real.
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