Senators of Today..Chiefs of Tomorrow?
As the end of July looms near and the Chiefs are in the
midst of the International League playoff hunt, it seems like a good time to
take a look at some of the players who may join the Chiefs as the playoffs come
September 1st–far away today but really will be
here tomorrow (the older you get, the clearer that becomes), is the day that
Major League rosters expand to 40 players. While this doesn’t mean much today
for the Syracuse roster, it could be significant down the road. Current Chiefs
players on the 40-man roster include: Justin Maxwell (four trips to the bigs
this season), Carlos Maldonado (played in 4 games with the Nats between May and
June), Collin Balester (with Washington as of today), Jesse English, Atahualpa
Severino, and Shairon Martis.
If those players go up come September, that means players
from within the Washington farm system could find themselves moving up to
Syracuse. Josh Wilkie, now a staple of the Chiefs bullpen, didn’t arrive at
Alliance Bank Stadium until July 25th of last season.
To find out about some of the players who might rise, I
spoke with Terry Byrom, the radio broadcaster of the Harrisburg Senators, the
Nationals Double-A affiliate. He’s in his sixth season with the Senators and
has an extensive knowledge of the Nationals of the future.
The first player to talk about was shortstop Danny Espinosa.
He was a third round pick out of Long Beach State University, which has quite a
history of producing major league ready infielders including Evan Longoria and
Last year with Advanced-A Potomac (suddenly that’s the hot
place to be if you want to end up in Syracuse–see Leatherman, D. Whiting, B.)
he hit .264 with 18 HR, 72 RBI, and 29 SB.
“There’s no one area of his game we look at and say,
‘Boy, we need to make huge strides quickly here,’ because he’s polished in all
areas. And you just don’t see middle infielders with his type of arm
strength,” said then Potomac manager Trent Jewett to the Washington Post
This season he’s batting .258 with 14 HR, 41 RBI and 18 SB
“I think right now he’s a very good defensive infielder and
I would say his glove is better than his bat. Having said that, his bat is
awfully good. I think he’s starting to figure out the pitching and for guys
that come up from “A” ball it’s just a series of adjustments that need to be
made,” said Byrom.
Espinosa earned himself a spot on the roster for the Futures
Game earlier this month. As Espinosa does advance through the system though,
his position could change, Byrom says.
The Nationals already have 2009 Chief Ian Desmond as their
starting shortstop, but that doesn’t worry Espinosa who played some second base
during spring training.
“Whether I play second or short, I’d just rather be up
there. I don’t really care. I’d like to play short, but if the team thinks I’m
going to play second base better and I can help with second base more than
short, that’s the decision and I’ll roll with that and I’m fine. I’m totally
happy with that. I just want to make it up there,” Espinosa told Adam Kilgore
of the Washington Post last month.
The Chiefs have used four different shortstops this year
with Pedro Lopez (41 games) playing the most of anyone in that spot.
Another player who may be a Chief not before long is first
baseman Chris Marrero. A first round pick out of high school in Miami in 2006,
he could be a big part of the Washington future. Marrero’s advancement may
depend on whether or not Adam Dunn is still a National after the July 31st
Marrero spent parts of 2007, 2008 and 2009 with Advanced-A
Potomac before making the jump to Double-A last season and playing in 23 games
with the Senators for whom he hit .267.
Now with almost a full season of Double-A baseball under his
belt, Marrero is hitting .297 with 13 HR and 58 RBI along with 19 doubles.
Plus, he’s hot now–in June he hit .359, and in July he’s hitting .333.
Byrom says it was about Marrero adjusting to a higher level
after nearly three seasons in Woodbridge, VA.
“I think the Nationals felt that he needed to show some
consistency at the plate and ever since May 1st he’s been
incredible. He’s second in the Eastern League in hits, he’s much better at
first base and he just looks more comfortable there than he did last year. He
has worked really hard on his defense. He has gone from a power hitter who is
serviceable at first base, to one who can end up being a pretty good defensive
first baseman. Most of his errors have actually come on throws, but he’s gotten
a lot better at picking balls out of the dirt. I’d say the biggest thing he’s
improved on is receiving poor throws from the infield. He’s young and will only get better.”
Ever since Josh Whitesell (40 starts at first and at the
time a team leading 34 RBI) left for Japan, the Chiefs have rotated between
Chris Duncan (on the DL), Jason Botts, Chase Lambin, and even Bill Rhinehart at
first base. A combination of two power bats in Botts and Marrero could be
lethal for a late season run at the playoffs.
The last player we looked at was pitcher Tom Milone, who
leads Harrisburg in wins this season with a 7-5 record and a 3.08 ERA. A Rule 5 draft pick out of USC in 2008, he pitched
opposite former Nationals draftee Aaron Crow in the summer of 2007 in the Cape
Cod Baseball League and was named the Pitcher of the Year. (Crow is now with
the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, the Double-A affiliate of the Royals.)
Milone draws some comparisons to John Lannan but has made his mark in the minors due to his control of his pitches. Through
the 2009 season, he had struck out 155 batters and walked just 45. In addition,
he’s moved quickly through the system spending just six games with Vermont in
2008 and the rest of that season in Hagerstown. Last year he was 12-5 with a
2.91 ERA at Potomac.
“Tom is a lefthander that will throw into the low 90’s and
so he’s not a guy that just kicks around and uses off-speed stuff. He’s also
not afraid to go inside on right-handed hitters. For a lefty that’s pretty
important. This year he has pitched himself onto (the Nationals) radar. He was
on their radar before, but now he is being thought of as a guy that could crack
the rotation in the Majors,” Byrom said.
Syracuse has put together a reliable rotation with Shairon
Martis, Matt Chico, Jeff Mandel, Erik Arnesen and Jason Jones, but two of those
players (Martis and Chico) both have Major League experience. Nobody, including
Collin Balester, knows when the call is going to come.
But when the phone rings at Triple-A, it starts a game of
telephone with stops in Harrisburg, Woodbridge, Hagerstown and Burlington,