Welcome to our final Minor League Monday of the season, which we postponed to Wednesday to accommodate the final games of the minor league season. We used this space to provide weekly update on the goings-on in the parts of the Washington Nationals organization beyond South Capitol Street a little differently than in the past. Sometimes, we wrote about an individual player. Other times, we looked at the system more broadly. As always, we’ll assess how to improve this space next year and are open to suggestions.
Without further ado, our final Minor League Monday (or Wednesday) is a look at how the organization’s affiliates and notable players fared this season.
CLASS AAA SYRACUSE CHIEFS
It was a rough year for the Chiefs — in part because their roster was constantly in flux because the major league club required constant reinforcements as injuries piled up. Syracuse finished with the worst record in the 14-team International League, 32 games out of first place in the North Division.
The Chiefs ranked last in the 14-team league with a 5.03 ERA, nearly one-quarter of a run higher than the next-worst club’s mark. They were 13th in WHIP (1.49) and strikeouts (1017) while allowing the fourth-most home runs.
Erick Fedde, Washington’s top pitching prospect, began the season as a starter with Class AA Harrisburg before he was moved the bullpen and promoted to Syracuse, where was converted back to starter. The 24-year-old had a 4.76 ERA in 12 games (six starts) while bouncing back and forth to make three starts in the majors. He was shut down for the remainder of the campaign Monday.
Right-handed relievers Wander Suero and Austin Adams were two of the few bright spots on the pitching staff. Suero compiled a 1.70 ERA in 42 1/3 innings across 36 games after starting the year with Class AA Harrisburg. Adams posted a 2.14 ERA in 59 innings out of the bullpen. Adams was called up when rosters expanded Friday for his second stint in the majors. Suero, however, isn’t on Washington’s 40-man roster, and is unlikely to reach the majors this season.
A.J. Cole posted a 5.88 ERA in 18 starts, though he still was called up on occasion to fill vacancies in the major league starting rotation. Meanwhile, Austin Voth, who was invited to big league camp for spring training, had a 6.38 ERA in 66 1/3 innings over 13 starts.
Neftali Soto split his season almost evenly between Class AA Harrisburg and Syracuse. The 28-year-old batted .329 with a .925 OPS in 67 games with Harrisburg before he was promoted and became the Chiefs’ most productive hitter. Soto hit .293 with an .860 OPS and 14 home runs in 68 games. He slugged three home runs in a game and two in two others while starting games at first base, third base, left field, and right field.
Outfielder Andrew Stevenson, who made his major league debut in late July, also began the year in Harrisburg — Washington’s No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com, torched the Eastern League, batting .350 with an .866 OPS in 20 games — before arriving in Syracuse to bat .252 with a .618 OPS in 79 games. Brandon Snyder spent the entire season with Syracuse, batting .263 with an .846 OPS and a team-high 23 home runs in 121 games. Clint Robinson, who was Washington’s backup first baseman the past two seasons, also stayed in Class AAA all season. He batted .242 with a .740 OPS and 18 home runs in 132 games, the majority as the DH.
CLASS AA HARRISBURG SENATORS
The Senators also finished in last place, 14 games behind the Western Division winners. But Victor Robles’s encouraging progression is paramount.
Robles, Washington’s top-ranked prospect, who at 20 years old was more than four years younger than the average position player in the Eastern League, batted .324 with an .883 OPS, three home runs and 11 steals in 14 attempts in 37 games. The center fielder, Washington’s lone representative at the Futures game, began the season with Class A Potomac, posting a .289 batting average, .872 OPS, seven home runs, seven triples, and 16 steals before being promoted.
The performance earned him a year-end Carolina League all-star team nod. Robles will play in the Arizona Fall League before playing under former Nationals Manager Manny Acta on the Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League.
Catcher Raudy Read (No. 14 prospect) perhaps solidified himself as the Nationals’ catcher of the future by batting .265 with a .767 OPS and 17 home runs in 108 games. Cuban outfielder Yadiel Hernandez, who was named the Eastern League’s final player of the week, finished his first season in the U.S. with a .292 batting average, .819 OPS and 12 home runs in 120 games. Hernandez, who turns 30 in October, signed with the Nationals last offseason.
Jose Marmolejos, Washington’s minor league player of the year the last two years, began the season on the 60-day disabled list before batting .288 with 14 home runs and an .819 OPS in 107 games in his first experience at the level. Third baseman Drew Ward, 22, played well in the Arizona Fall League last November but hit just .235 with a .681 OPS and 10 home runs in 121 games.
CLASS A POTOMAC NATIONALS
Daniel Johnson burst onto the scene this season with a torrid start for Class A Hagerstown, which earned him a promotion in late July. Johnson, Washington’s No. 10 prospect, replaced Robles as the team’s center fielder and nearly equaled Robles’s production. The 2016 fifth-round pick batted .294 with an .805 OPS and five home runs and 10 steals in 42 games. Between Potomac and Hagerstown, Johnson batted .298 with an .861 OPS, 22 home runs, 72 RBI, and 22 steals in 130 games this season.
Catcher Taylor Gushue, 23, belted a team-high 18 home runs and slugged .437 in 91 games for Potomac, earning a Carolina League year-end all-star team spot. Third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez (No. 12 prospect) batted .288 in 58 games before he sustaining an injury in early June that kept him out of action until August. He then joined Washington’s Gulf Coast League affiliate and remains with the team, which will play for the league championship Wednesday.
After compiling a 0.93 ERA in five games for Hagerstown, right-hander Jorge Pantoja pitched to a 2.06 ERA in 48 innings across 28 relief appearances for Potomac. Combined, he finished with a 1.87 ERA in 33 games, tallying 40 strikeouts to 12 walks in 57 2/3 innings between the two levels. Mariano Rivera III had a 4.00 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 31 relief appearances, while right-hander Kyle Schepel had a 2.57 ERA in 24 games with Potomac before he was promoted to Harrisburg.
CLASS A HAGERSTOWN SUNS
Outfielder Juan Soto (No. 2 prospect) and shortstop Carter Kieboom (No. 4) both began their seasons raking for the Suns before injuries derailed their campaigns.
The 18-year-old Soto signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 and has displayed a hitting ability rare for his age. He was batting .360 with a .950 OPS in 23 games before suffering a major ankle injury on May 2 that sidelined him for two months. He then reported to the Gulf Coast League and appeared in six games before sustaining a hamate bone fracture. He underwent surgery and was sidelined until Aug. 29, when he returned to the Gulf Coast League. He played in four games, racking up five hits in the fourth, but tweaked his hamstring and was shut down.
Kieboom, who turned 20 on Sunday, hurt his hamstring 10 days after Soto sustained his ankle injury. He was batting .333 with .984 OPS and six home runs in 29 games at the time, and didn’t play again until July 28. He then reported to the Gulf Coast League and short-season Auburn before finishing his season with 19 games for Hagerstown.
Center fielder Blake Perkins (No. 11 prospect) batted .255 with a .732 OPS, eight home runs, and 31 steals in 39 tries in 129 games. Left-hander McKenzie Mills had a 3.01 ERA in 18 starts before he was traded to the Phillies for Howie Kendrick, while fellow left-hander Tyler Watson had a 4.35 ERA before he was later traded to the Twins for Brandon Kintzler.
As for those who were kept, right-handed starter Sterling Sharp impressed with a 3.69 ERA in 18 games for Hagerstown before he was sent to Potomac. Right-hander Brigham Hill, Washington’s 2017 fifth-round pick and No. 20 prospect, pitched to a 6.07 ERA in six starts for Hagerstown after starting his professional career with Auburn.
SHORT-SEASON AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
The Nationals used nine of their first 10 draft picks on pitchers, and all but one pitched for Auburn. First-rounder and No. 5 prospect Seth Romero made a start in the Gulf Coast league before joining Auburn to post a 5.40 ERA in 20 innings across six starts, striking out 32 batters against six walks. The left-hander made presumably his final start Tuesday, allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings. He surrendered four hits and tallied 10 strikeouts to three walks.
Right-hander Wil Crowe, Washington’s sixth-ranked prospect and second-round pick this year, had a 2.55 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 17 2/3 innings in six starts. Third-rounder and No. 16 prospect Nick Rauqet’s 51 1/3 innings and 11 starts led the team. The left-hander compiled a 2.45 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, striking out 22 against seven walks. Right-hander Jackson Tetreault (No. 17 prospect), Washington’s seventh-round pick, recorded a 2.58 ERA in 11 outings (six starts). Right-hander Kyle Johnston (No. 22 prospect) had a 3.10 ERA in 40 2/3 innings across 13 games (six starts).
GULF COAST LEAGUE NATIONALS
While Aubun was heavy with pitching prospects, Washington’s Gulf Coast affiliate, had the organization’s two young intriguing position player investments.
Let’s start with Yasel Antuna, the Nationals’ No. 8 prospect. The switch-hitting Antuna, lauded for his five-tool potential, signed for a franchise-record $3.9 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2016. In his first stint stateside, the 17-year-old hit .301 with a .781 OPS in 48 games. He started 20 at shortstop and 15 at third base, and made 26 errors.
Fellow Dominican native Luis Garcia, Washington’s No. 9 prospect, signed for $1.3 million in 2016. He started 16 games at shortstop and 25 at second base, batting .302 with a .717 OPS and making just four errors in 49 games.
The team began the league’s best-of-three championship series Monday with a win over the Yankees’ affiliate before losing Tuesday. The teams will for the league title on Wednesday.
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