Last week, six Class AA Harrisburg players were named to the Eastern League all-star game, including two players of note. Shortstop Josh Johnson was among the honorees but has since been promoted to Class AAA Syracuse. Right-handed starter Taylor Jordan was selected for his fantastic season but is now with the Nationals . But the progress of two players, also all-stars, have been interesting developments.
Aaron Barrett, Harrisburg’s closer, has drawn rave reviews from his coaches and some Nationals officials. The 25-year-old, a 2010 ninth round pick from the University of Mississippi, has racked up 15 saves and posted a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings. Barrett throws a fastball between 90 and 95 miles per hour but couples it with a devastating 84 to 86 mph slider, the best in the system according to Baseball America.
“I call it hard breaking ball,” Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart said. “It doesn’t have that traditional spin. It doesn’t have a traditional 12-to-6 curveball type spin. But it comes out of his slot the same as his fastball and it makes it difficult for hitters to distinguish it for the most part to make that adjustment. It’s got such hard bite. It’s 84 to 86 miles an hour. It’s a very hard, sharp breaking ball.”
That combination of pitches has allowed Barrett to post high strikeout rates, 12.2 K/9; in other words, 44 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. He has walked only 10 batters in that span, too. His continued development has risen him to prospect leve.
“His biggest thing is his mentality,” said Class A Potomac pitching coach Chris Michalak, who had Barrett late last season. “A bulldog coming after ya. And he’s got a really good slider. You just don’t see it. It looks like a fastball and it’s out of the zone. It’s tough for hitters to pick up. It’s not your big slurve that you can recognize. It’s coming out hard and disappearing.”
Joining Barrett as an all-star is teammate Brian Goodwin, the Nationals’ top outfield prospect and 34th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Goodwin’s development is one to watch as, in a few years, the Nationals expect him to reach the majors in a few years, their center fielder of the future.
“He’s improved tremendously,” Harrisburg Manager Matt LeCroy said. “His outfield play, hit hitting is getting better each time he goes out and plays, he’s cut down on his strikeouts. He had a lot of strikeouts early and got himself in a better position at the plate and he’s running the bases a lot better. He’s learning. He hasn’t played that much baseball and to be in Double-A right now it’s a challenge.”
Goodwin, only 22, is performing better at Harrisburg after a brief adjustment following his jump from Class A Hagerstown, skipping Potomac. Last season at Harrisburg, the left-handed hitter posted a .223/.306/.373 triple slash line. Through 79 games this season, it has jumped to .256/.354/.395 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases in 26 tries. He has drawn 40 walks already this season; last season combined he drew 61 across both minor league levels.
“I think he was just chasing,” LeCroy said. “He was in a bad position. His body, he never got in position to see the baseball. He was taking a lot but then he was chasing a lot. He was real aggressive. But now he’s starting to see the ball. He’s using the whole field. His hands are amazing. When he puts it all together, he’s going to be a pretty special player.”
The playing has been most beneficial. He had only played 58 games at Hagerstown before jumping to Harrisburg.
“It’s going pretty good,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting a lot of reps. I’m playing some good competition for me to figure out my game. Getting at-bats and playing over and over I think has helped a lot just to help me figure out myself and what I do best. And how I can take my game to the next level.”
Among the other Harrisburg all-stars were right-handed starter Paul Demny and outfielder Steven Souza Jr.
>>> Infielder Zach Walters, who is primarily a shortstop, was named an International League all-star on Wednesday. Walters, 23, acquired in the 2011 Jason Marquis trade, has worked on developing his power stroke and is a player Nationals Manager Davey Johnson and team officials have been high on. He is hitting .246/.275/.508 with a career-high 18 home runs in 77 games. If he continues at this pace, he could be a strong candidate for a September call-up.
>>> Blake Treinen, one of the three players acquired in the Michael Morse trade this offseason, hit 98 miles per hour on his fastball in a start last week. The right-hander’s fastball generally sat between 93 and 96 mph. In 16 games, 15 of them starts, he has a 3.61 ERA over 92 1/3 innings. His control (2.60 K/BB ratio) is a point of improvement but he has strikeout stuff.
>>> Two other names to keep any eye on: Taylor Hill and Richie Mirowski. Hill, 24, a 2011 sixth round pick out of Vanderbilt, posted a 2.99 ERA over 84 1/3 innings as a right-handed starter and was recently promoted to Harrisburg. Hill, known for his pinpoint control, has allowed only two runs in two starts for Harrisburg. Mirowski, 24, a 2011 45th round pick out of Oklahoma Baptist University, has a 1.62 ERA in 39 innings at Class A Potomac and a 4.50 K/BB ratio. He throws a standout split change-up.
>>> Ryan Perry, who went from relieving to starting last season and began this season at Syracuse, is back at Harrisburg and back to relieving. Menhart said he and Perry are working to lower the right-hander’s arm angle, as it was too high, and hope to utilize more of the whip of his long arm.
>>> In other minor league news, the Nationals announced Wednesday the signing of veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach to a minor league deal. The 33-year-old will report to Class AAA Syracuse to bolster catching depth there as Wilson Ramos is expected to return to the majors this week. Shoppach was recently designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners and hit .196/.293/.346 in 35 games with them this season.