Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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Tyler Clippard was born in 1985 in Lexington, Kentucky. He played for Palm Harbor University High school, but unlike most future professional athletes he was not an instant star. Clippard did not make his varsity debut until his Junior year. He was eventually drafted out of high school in the ninth round of the 2003 draft by the New York Yankees.

Use Clippard

Greg Fiume – Getty Images

Unique in our additions to Chiefs in the Show, Tyler Clippard reached the big leagues prior to appearing in Syracuse. After progressing for three years in the Yankees organization, the right-hander journeyed to New York for a spot start in May of 2007. The youngster’s first major-league appearance came against the rival Mets and was a sparkling performance. Clippard went six innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out six, en-route to a 6-2 Yankee win.  His sharp outing led the New York media to brand the pitcher with the moniker: “The Yankee Clippard”. However, his time with the Yankees was short lived. He was sent back to Triple-A in mid-June and was dealt to Washington following the season.

Following the trade, he was moved into a relief role. Clippard began the 2009 season in Syracuse and was nearly un-hittable.  In 24 games, the right-hander had a 0.92 ERA with 42 strikeouts over 39 innings. He received a promotion on and pitched 41 effective games for the Nationals, sporting a 2.69 ERA in 60.1 frames. Clippard pitched the next five seasons for Washington. He was a horse in the bullpen, pitching 70-plus innings each year.

His best season as a professional came as an all-star 2011. In 72 games over 88.1 innings, Clippard allowed just 18 earned runs accompanied by 104 strikeouts and a 0.84 WHIP. The stellar season led to the Kentucky native’s promotion to the closer role following the season. Clippard recorded 32 saves in for the Nationals in 2012.

In the next two years combined, Clippard threw 141.1 innings, sporting a sub-three ERA both years with 155 strikeouts, while being named as an all-star for the second time in 2014. That year, he went unscored upon in three ALDS appearances, while allowing just one hit. After the season, Clippard’s successful stint in Washington came to a close. The Kentucky native moved to Oakland, following a trade with the Athletics.

Since 2015, this former Chief has played for three teams, the Athletics, the Mets and the Diamondbacks. The 31-year-old continues to be effective in relief, with only 37 earned runs in 90-plus innings of work. And after 10 major-league seasons the two-time All-Star has solidified himself as one of baseball’s preeminent relievers.

Minor League Monday: Spencer Kieboom

Is there a cure for a case of the Sunday Scaries that rolls right into the Monday Blues? Scientists have yet to find a definitive remedy, but us here at NBT Bank Stadium think we may be onto something with our Minor League Monday Blog. This weekly piece will go into detail about a current Washington prospect and the outlook on their career moving forward, and is sure to settle down any symptoms of the Weekday Worries. So without further ado, let’s restore some weekend glory and dive into this week’s prospect, catcher Spencer Kieboom.

 

Spencer Kieboom

Position: C Age: 25 DOB: 3/16/1991 B: R T: R Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 210 lbs

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Mark Crammer

Spencer Kieboom is currently in his fifth professional season after being drafted by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft. Prior to this season, MLB.com ranked Kieboom as the 21st rated prospect in the Washington system. The catcher was selected out of Clemson University following his junior season, his second year as the Tigers full-time catcher. He did find some playing time late in his freshman year in 2010, starting 13 games with 11 of them coming in tournament play. This included the College World Series, where Clemson fell in the semi-finals to the eventual champion South Carolina Gamecocks.

 

When Washington took Kieboom, it was for his defensive prowess behind the plate. This reputation has followed him from the collegiate level to the professional leagues, where Kieboom displays his defensive calling card with ease. Scouts like the technical side of the right-hander due to his quick feet and release when throwing to second on a steal play in addition to his large frame which can block pitches in the dirt with ease. On the other side of things, many have long praised Kieboom for his leadership tendencies which play into his ability to work naturally with any and all pitchers. This chemistry is intricately important when rising through the minor-league levels thanks to the wide array of pitchers any given catcher will see. Kieboom has had the chance to form a great battery with several other Nats prospects, including Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, both starters who earned their Major League debuts just recently. Also, while the pitcher plays a role in protecting against base stealers, any hurler can feel much more at ease with Kieboom behind the dish. The catcher has thrown out runners at a career 36% rate, a great number for any level of play.

 

While saying that Kieboom’s defense is his best tool, it is not to throw shade on his offensive play. He has done well at the plate in his time in the Washington system, with a slash line of .269/.346/.388 over his young career. His solid hitting and big body does not necessarily translate to power (14 career home runs) but does well for him when employing a solid-contact mentality, particularly when trying to drive balls up the middle. This could translate to a nice end of the lineup type hitter at the Major League level. Scouts have not been enamored with Kieboom at the plate, but are in consensus he could hit enough to earn that spot. Many believe his swing can get too long at the plate and that his ability to hit secondary pitches needs to be improved. However, when Kieboom barrels up a baseball, he can drive it a long way.

kboom1.jpg

Joy R. Absalon/MiLB.com

One worry about this prospect comes with his injury history. In 2013, Kieboom missed all but four games in the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Then in late July of 2015, he suffered a concussion which put him out of the game until the Arizona Fall League. While these injuries could damage a prospect long term, Kieboom took a very mature approach to his ailments and used them to get even better. After his Tommy John surgery, Kieboom focused his time in rehab on his offensive game. He worked on his swing by practicing one-handed, and found a more comfortable stance in the box. Kieboom worked very hard on improving his ability even at a time when he wasn’t able to play the game. He also applied this approach in the time following his concussion diagnosis. Since he couldn’t physically exercise after being concussed, Kieboom turned to a healthier diet in order to not gain weight. When he was able to, he began to work in cardio and other activities to go along with the diet. After an offseason of on this schedule, Kieboom entered Spring Training 20 pounds lighter. The weight loss improved his agility and endurance behind the plate, something very important when his position asks him to squat down for hours on end, day after day.

 

While his working and training even after being injured improved his game, many were impressed with Kieboom and his commitment to his profession. Over his time in the minors he has built not only his on-field skill, but also his character off the field. This is an intangible than cannot be taught, and is only employed by players with a mature approach to the game. It is not a tool that will be graded on the 20-80 scale, but one that is viewed and measured by coaches and scouts and can play a role into working his way to the majors.
With Kieboom, the Nationals have a mature, team first defensive-minded catcher who could round out a lineup card offensively. He is the type of player that coaches and teammates alike root for to make it to the bigs, though his skillset lags a little behind. That is not to say Kieboom can’t reach the majors, more to say that if he does it would be in more of a backup, not everyday role. The good news for Kieboom is that with his approach to the game, this is likely a role he would accept at the time and work that much harder in order to make his case to see consistent playing time. He has had lots of success, a two time Mid-Season All-Star, and now has the hardest push ahead of him, from Double-A to the Majors. He will certainly get a chance, with Triple-A likely for next season and a debut not far off from that. It will be up to him to improve his offense and show he deserves a starting role. Spencer Kieboom does not have some of the allure of a blue-chip prospect, but he will certainly get his chance at the top level within the next few years.

Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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It’s William Edward Hickson that said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” In this week’s Chiefs in the Show we recall a former Chief who, at first, didn’t succeed. Then didn’t succeed again. Then didn’t succeed a few more times. But who always tried again.

Sandy Leon was born in 1989 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. He was signed by the Nationals organization as a switch-hitting 18-year-old in 2007.  It took Leon five years to advance to Triple-A Syracuse. In those years, he played with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals, Single-A Hagerstown Suns, Short-Season A Vermont Lake Monsters, and the Class-A Potomac Nationals. From 2007 through 2011, Leon never once hit higher than .251 and never tallied more than 43 RBIs in a season.

Sandy Leon

(Jim Commentucci – The Post-Standard)

He hit over .300 for the first time with the Chiefs in 2012. Playing in Syracuse for the tail end of the year, Leon compiled a .346 average, while tallying seven extra-base hits in 19 games. However, the successful slash line did not result in a promotion to Washington. Leon wound up back in Double-A Harrisburg for the majority of his 2013 campaign.

Leon finally found his way to the majors with the Nationals in 2014, but hit just .156 in 20 games. He spent most of the year in Syracuse and continued to struggle at the plate, hitting just .229 in 170 at-bats.

At the conclusion of the season, Leon was traded from Washington to Boston in exchange for cash considerations.

With the Red Sox in 2015, the catcher hit a meager .184 in 114 at-bats. As a result, Boston chose to designate Leon for assignment. He cleared waivers and finished the year with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Entering the 2016 season, Leon was a career .187 major-league hitter, with just three extra-base hits. Despite the poor offensive output, Leon was given a chance with the Red Sox, after injuries to both Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart. And the catcher instantly turned things around, going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in his first game. The explosive offensive performances continued.

Since the promotion, Leon has inexplicably turned into one of the best hitters in all of baseball. In 21 games with Boston, the catcher is hitting a prolific .452 with nine doubles and 13 RBIs.

A factor Leon attributes to his newfound success is his consistent eye level at the plate. Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez helped the catcher accomplish this, saying, “We did a couple drills just to keep him tall. He used to crouch and his first move was to come up. So we just kept him tall, and he was going direct to the ball. And he’s staying through the ball.”

The adjustment has Leon enjoying the strongest stretch of his career.  One of his best performances came last Saturday against the rival Yankees. The former Chief went 2-for-4 with a three-run home run and a career-high four RBIs at Yankee Stadium. When asked about his offensive outburst, Leon remained humble, saying, “It feels good, but it’s only like 60 at-bats. I know it’s a lot of hits in 60 at-bats, but like I say, I’m trying to keep it simple and help the team.”

After struggling for years, across all levels, this former Chief is enjoying career bests in the show. A decrease is eventually expected to some extent, but for the time being, Leon looks to continue his all-star caliber play in 2016.

Minor League Monday: Taylor Hearn

It’s Monday in Syracuse which means another edition of the weekly Minor League Monday series is here in full force. So far we’ve seen plenty of talent that the Nationals have stockpiled in their farm system, and today’s prospect is no different. His physical makeup immediately sets himself apart from other competition, and he has the baseball tools to increase that disparity as his career progresses. However, in the case of this product, all skills and tools can only be viewed at as raw ability, as the left-handed pitcher is currently throwing in just his second professional season.

Taylor Hearn

Position: LHP Age: 21 DOB: 9/30/1994 B: L T: L Height: 6’5” Weight: 210 lbs.

hearn
MLB.com

Taylor Hearn is a young southpaw with tremendous upside. Prior to the 2016 season, MLB.com ranked the young pitcher as the Washington’s 25th best prospect in the system, just a year after signing with the club. The Nationals selected Hearn in the fifth round, 164th overall, in the 2015 draft. It was the fourth consecutive year Hearn had hear his name called in the draft. He had previously been selected by the Pirates in 2012, the Reds the following year and then again by the Twins in 2014. Lucky for the Nats, Hearn declared himself not mature enough for professional baseball until after his 2015 season with Oklahoma Baptist University.

 

What Washington saw in Hearn was an overpowering lefty who threw a mid-90s fastball that could sometimes push upwards of 99 miles an hour. Hearn’s height also lends him to be able to throw at a downhill angle, compounding his speed and making it that much harder for hitters. A deceptive slider and improving changeup round out his arsenal. Something the Nationals knew on draft day as well was that they could begin Hearn’s career as a starter, and if needed use him in relief down the road. Not only would this give the Nats a shutdown pitcher for the later innings, but it could also fast-track Hearn to the Bigs with the parent club.

 

Coming out of Oklahoma Baptist University in 2015, Hearn had just concluded a perfect season. He amassed a 9-0 record to pair with a 3.50 ERA while striking out 71 batters in 64 innings of work. It’s easy to see what Washington scouts saw, tempting them to draft the southpaw. In his first professional season that began in the summer of 2015, Hearn struggled some to find his stride. After two games in the Gulf Coast league, where Hearn threw five innings and didn’t allow a run, he was moved to Low-A Auburn of the New York Penn League. In ten starts, Hearn compiled a 1-5 record with an ERA just under 4.00. While the relative lack of success showed in the box scores, Hearn remained unphased after his first pro season. He focused constantly on video of himself while also throwing every day in the offseason. His raw tools were there, they just needed a little more time to develop. This came the following year in 2016. Hearn is currently in the midst of a solid second season, where he is really displaying his potential talent. His ERA, now with Single-A Hagerstown, is at 3.46, though that is inflated due to a game where Hearn allowed five earned runs. He has only allowed an earned run two other times in 13 innings. Strikeout numbers are up as well, with 18, while the southpaw has only doled out four walks. The ability for Hearn is shining through as he is delivering on the skills noticed when he was drafted.

 

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Taylor Hearn/Twitter

These skills include both his physical makeup and his pitching ability. Hearn is a combination of height and weight tough to come by, standing at 6’5’’ while filling out at 210 pounds. The build of Hearn, tall and lanky, and his left-handed pitching, have drawn comparisons to the famed Randy Johnson. This is not to say that Hearn will be the next Big Unit, though that would be great, more of a comparison of body types and potential, completely maxed out, ceilings. Hearn has a great genetic makeup for a pitcher, and can really use that to his advantage. Not only can he capitalize on that downwards throwing motion as mentioned, but his length alone can make a pitch come out faster, and closer to the plate, than his teammates. For a closer look, watch this bullpen session of Hearn. Pay special attention to his length when he is fully extended and just about to release his pitch. Can’t teach size. This build alone would mean nothing, however, without pitching skill to match with it. Lucky for the Nationals, that skill is very evident with Hearn.

 

Hearn’s bread and butter pitch is his fastball. Sitting mid-90s, it can overpower any batter, especially in the lower levels of professional leagues. What’s more is the speed isn’t the only huge asset to the pitch. There is late break, and plenty of it, on Hearn’s heater, which earns him lots of swings and misses and also broken bats. With that, a hard to hit pitch can become nearly unhittable. Then comes the slider. Deceptive in its own right, it becomes a great out-pitch when combined in succession with the fastball. Hearn throws his slider like he does any pitch, hard and with speed, making it dip out of the way of opposing bats. Top potential could be earned for Hearn if he develops his changeup more and more. It currently sits well behind his fastball and slider, though if it did develop into another strong option, Hearns three-pitch arsenal would be hard to match, not to mention hit. Another necessary development for Hearn comes with his control. While it certainly hasn’t plagued the young lefty, only 26 walks in 71.1 professional innings, scouts see this as a hurdle still facing Hearn as he continues to climb the ladder. With refinement on his control, there could be a very successful career in professional baseball waiting ahead for Hearn.

 
This career will likely remain in the minors for a few years to come. Hearn is still just competing at the Single-A level and despite his success does have a ways to go in front of him. However, that is not to say Hearn will not eventually make his MLB debut. At the rate he is going, and with the talent he naturally possesses, an educated guess would see him in a Nationals uniform likely in the 2019 season, or perhaps the later stages of 2018. While this is a little ways down the road, it is not a-typical for the minor league path to take that long. Many, many players, if they make the major leagues at all, toil in the minors for much longer than four to five seasons. Hearn is certainly on the right track with his abilities, and could possibly be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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Adam Lind was born in 1983 in Anderson, Indiana and quickly became a star at Highland High School. After passing on the Twins in the 2002 draft, Lind signed with the Blue Jays after being selected in the 3rd round in 2004. Lind had a sharp first season in the organization, hitting .312 with seven home runs in 70 games with the Auburn Doubledays.

Lind 2

(Mike Greenlar – The Post Standard)

Despite the performance, Lind was just ranked as Toronto’s 17th best prospect by Baseball America following the season. However, that sentiment shifted after another phenomenal year in 2005. With the Dunedin Blue Jays, Lind hit .313 with 12 home runs and 84 RBIs. The performance was the catalyst to Lind’s top prospect ranking prior to 2007.

The outfielder/first baseman played with the Chiefs on-and-off from 2006 to 2008, while moving back-and-forth to the big leagues. In those three seasons, Lind continued his hot-hitting, with a .394 average in 2006, .299 average in 2007 and .328 average in 2008.

The Indiana native played with the Blue Jays full time in 2009 and had his best season as a professional. Lind was one of the most explosive players in all of baseball, hitting .305 with 35 home runs. Additionally, he led the team in doubles (46) and RBIs (114). He followed with back-to-back solid years in 2010 and 2011, hitting 49 home runs with 159 RBIs combined.

Lind’s All-Star caliber performances came in spite of a habitually bad back. Oddly enough, to remedy the uncooperative ailment, Lind turned to yoga. Prior to the 2013 season Lind hired his own personal yoga instructor, saying later, “It was especially good in the second half of the off-season when she had gotten to understand my body a little better and was able to figure out ways to get to the spots that have bothered me the most last summer.”  The ancient Indian practice has allowed for Lind’s career to span 13 professional seasons.

In 2016, Lind has played a pivotal role for the playoff contending Mariners. He’s tallied 13 home runs and 70 RBIs through the midway point, as Seattle trails his former team, Toronto, by five games for the final Wild Card spot.  The long-time pro also played a stopper role for the Mariners earlier this year with a walkoff home run to end a six-game losing streak.

This former Chief turned his time in the salt city into a long, sturdy career in the big leagues. He will look to continue his good play out of the All-Star break, as he attempts to top 30 home runs for the second time in his career.

Minor League Monday 7/11/16

While another Monday brings us another work week, it also signals the return of our weekly Minor League Monday post here on the Inside the Chiefs Blog. Now unless you get to celebrate this week with a few days off thanks to the Triple-A All-Star game like us, use this read up on Andrew Stevenson to start your week off right. Stevenson is the feature of this production, a speedy defensive-minded player who currently patrols the outfield for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals Double-A Affiliate.

Andrew Stevenson

Position: OF Age: 22 DOB: 6/1/1994 Bats: L Throws: L Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 185 lbs.

stevenson

Bill Kamenjar/InsideNoVa.com

 

Andrew Stevenson was a steal in the 2015 MLB Draft. The Nationals were able to pick up the LSU product in the second round, 58th overall, with the organization’s first selection (Washington lost its top pick of the Draft in the process of signing Max Scherzer in the offseason). Entering the draft, scouts were very high on Stevenson, labeling the three-year collegiate player as possibly the best defensive player out there. The Nationals knew what they were getting in him, a great defensive talent with a definite upside at the plate. Stevenson climbs the ranks thanks to his prowess in the outfield, but with work could become a top of the lineup hitter. His talent led him through a tough freshman year at LSU, paving the way for his success at the collegiate level and beyond.

 

As a Tiger, Stevenson had a rough go of it in his freshman campaign, hitting just .193 while striking out with more frequency (25 times) than collecting hits (23). However, thanks to his electric play in center, he started every game, helping LSU to the 2013 College World Series in that manner. Switches flipped prior to the 2014 season, and Stevenson really turned it around offensively, batting .335 his sophomore season, a team high, before hitting at a .348 clip in his junior year, which also ended in the College World Series. His efforts earned him a spot on the 2015 All-SEC First Team, an accolade to accompany his two SEC All-Defensive Team honors (2014 and 2015). The awards pale in comparison to his actual play on the diamond, which included many highlight reel catches over that span. It was at LSU where Stevenson demonstrated that he possessed Major League abilities in terms of speed and defensive ability. Those tools were enough to get him drafted in the second round, with the notion that other assets would develop over time in the Minors.

 

Stevenson made three stops in his first professional season following his exit at LSU. After a two game stint with the Gulf Coast Nationals, Stevenson stopped by Auburn for 18 games, where a .361 batting average quickly moved him to Hagerstown. He finished out the season with the Suns, batting .285 with 16 stolen bases to give him a slash line of .308/.363/.309 after his first professional season. To start 2016, Stevenson was promoted to the Potomac Nationals, Washingtons’ High-A affiliate. This came after MLB.com ranked him as the Nats eighth best prospect in the system, a high debut for a young player. Stevenson carried over his success here, knocking 83 hits in 273 at-bats while driving in 18 and stealing 27 bases. These numbers led to a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, but not before Stevenson earned Mid-Season All-Star accolades for his work with the Suns, his first professional All-Star appearance. Adjustment to Harrisburg has been a slight issue for Stevenson so far, however. Through 16 games he holds a .183 batting average with just 11 hits with all of them coming as singles. This is nothing to worry about in the long run, as the stretch classifies as his first real professional slump, and can be expected in the transition phase to a higher level.

 

Let’s take a closer look at what the scouts say about Stevenson, in particular to his MLB.com ranking. Eighth in the organization, scouts tab his fielding ability as his top tool, rating it a 65 on the 20-80 scale. His speed, rated a 60, compounds this success in the outfield, while his arm strength has room for improvement in the Minors (rated a 35). At the plate, scouts know Stevenson can hit, ranking that tool at a 50, though not for power, where he receives just a 30 grading.

stevenson1

John Oubre/Advocate Staff

A herky-jerky swing would aptly describe Stevenson’s mechanics at the dish. Weight moves all over, first forward then back, in his preparation for a pitch. This translates to base hits, though not over the fence power. And for the role Stevenson could play, that’s not a bad thing at all. As mentioned, many people project Stevenson to be a defensive-first center fielder who has the ceiling to hit at the top of a lineup. Based on what we’ve seen, this is entirely possible. He can hit, and once on base is always a threat to steal and put himself in scoring position, just what you want to see at the top of a lineup. The ability to see if Stevenson could earn that spot remains to be seen, but from what he has displayed at the collegiate level and now early in his professional career, it is entirely likely he may be atop a Major League lineup in the future.

 

The skills that will, and have, push Stevenson’s progression forward lies in his defensive abilities. He can fly with his speed, and this combined with excellent route taking makes him a centerfielder with the capability to cover huge stretches of the outfield en route to catching a fly ball. If you don’t believe that even after watching the first video hyperlinked, I’ll throw in some more proof here and here. It’s worth noting that the grab in the first video came in a 3-3 ballgame in the top of the 12th inning, just to add a little more impact to the play. While the second video doesn’t do a great job in capturing the athleticism required to make that catch, you can see how Stevenson couldn’t have taken a wrong step in catching that ball. It was hit on a line, requiring a full extension dive to catch it just above the grass. Had Stevenson taken one step in the wrong direction while first tracking the ball, it would have fallen down ahead of him. Note that these videos are all from his days at LSU (the SEC will always be more glorified than minor-league baseball). He was working here with mostly raw ability, talent that had yet to be honed by professional level coaches. The LSU coaching staff certainly influenced him, but the training Stevenson now is receiving on an everyday bases certainly outshines collegiate play.
The book on Andrew Stevenson is certainly an open one with much left to be written, but the first few chapters yield heavy promise. Stevenson holds rare defensive talent, and has the ability to bring up his offensive talent as well. Syracuse will likely see this player within the 2017 season at some point before he is able to make a jump to the majors following that. From a Tiger to a Sun to a Senator, Andrew Stevenson is quickly progressing his way up the baseball ladder. He is a player of many talents and one with a high ceiling, and much more importantly of course, is this week’s Minor League Monday prospect of the week.

Chiefs in the Show

 

Big bats in baseball are difficult to find, especially with the increased prevalence of power pitchers. Home run numbers have dropped across the board, even at the traditional power positions. In this week’s edition of Chiefs in the Show, we look at one former Chief who’s developed into an All-Star power threat in an increasingly powerless sport.

Ian Desmond was born in 1985 in Sarasota, Florida and attended Sarasota High School. Desmond separated himself as an athlete early on, his high school baseball coach saying, “He’s mature, and a very, very hard worker. Those kinds of traits make him someone that’s probably very inviting for an organization.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18438-2005Mar8.html?nav=rss_sports/leaguesandsports/mlb/washington)

Ian Desmond                              (Jim Commentucci | The Post-Standard)

He was selected out of high school in the third round of the 2004 draft by the Montreal Expos and his fielding ability quickly garnered attraction from the organization’s front office. General Manager Jim Bowden said after spring training in 2005, “I wouldn’t be afraid to bring him to the big leagues to play defense.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18438-2005Mar8.html?nav=rss_sports/leaguesandsports/mlb/washington)

Despite the verbal accolades, Desmond’s rise through the organization was arduous. The shortstop hadn’t yet developed into a power threat and it took five years before he received a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse.  In 2009 with the Chiefs, known primarily as a singles-doubles hitter and an excellent defensive shortstop, Desmond hit .354 with with 12 doubles in 55 games.  The stint led to the shortstop’s promotion to Washington for the latter portion of the season.

The promotion was more than just a professional advancement for Desmond. The move to Washington made his lifelong dream a reality. He commented on his 23rd birthday in 2009, “From my 12th birthday until this birthday, every single time I’ve wished that I get to the big leagues.’I never made another wish. Not once.” (baseball.playerprofiles.com) Desmond’s wish was granted and he became the Nationals everyday shortstop for the next six years.

With Washington, Desmond developed into a top-level power threat at the shortstop position. He hit 15 or more home runs in five out of six years, while knocking 20 or more long-balls three times. One of the team’s most reliable producers, Desmond patrolled the middle infield in a period that saw the Nationals progress from N.L. East bottom dwellers to World Series contenders.

Desmond was not re-signed by Washington following the 2015 season and instead joined the Texas Rangers. The move transitioned the Sarasota native to new positions, playing a mix of both left and center field. With Texas, Desmond is enjoying one of his most successful seasons as a professional. At the midway point, he’s batting .321 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs. The scalding start led to him being named as an A.L. All-Star along with teammate Cole Hamels. His contribution has the Rangers holding the best record in the American league, at 53-32.

Ian Desmond’s journey in the big leagues now features him as one of the best players in all of baseball. From Syracuse to the big leagues, he’ll again play a major role come October. This former Chief continues to be a major difference maker in the Show.

 

Minor League Monday 7/4/16

While burgers and Budweiser are on the slate for many today, baseball doesn’t take the Fourth of July off, and neither does Minor League Monday. We are back for the third edition of this weekly posting which examines and evaluates prospects across the Washington farm system. So far we’ve touched upon two high end prospects, Lucas Giolito and Victor Robles, but today we are dipping a little further down into the talent pool, where we find a speedster currently stationed in Double-A Harrisburg.

 

Rafael Bautista

Position: OF Age: 23 DOB: 3/8/93 Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6’2’’ Weight: 165 lb.

bautista

Cliff Welch, MiLB

 

Rafael Bautista is certainly not the blue chip prospect that Giolito or Robles is, but the outfielder possesses enough talent to become a proficient major league player. Bautista, since starting his professional career in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League, has already been twice named an Organizational All-Star, twice selected as a Post-Season All-Star and once tabbed a Mid-Season All-Star. This accolades all came during his 2013 and 2014 campaigns, the best years of his young career. Bautista has a very high ceiling and some raw abilities that show the impact he could have with a major league team somewhere down the road.

 

Before the 2016 season, Bautista was moved up to Double-A, despite a 2015 season that was cut short due to a broken finger suffered in the first week. His best play came between 2013 and 2014. In 2013 he displayed his stuff stateside for the first time with the Gulf Coast Nationals at the Rookie level, where he slashed .322/.400/.391 with a solid contact swing. A mix of this solid offense and stellar defense moved him up to Hagerstown for 2014, when he really came onto the scene. Bautista hit at a .290 clip with 141 hits and an astounding 97 runs scored, far and away his career best. That rate also led the South Atlantic League. At the end of the season he moved into MLB.com’s top 15 rankings for the Nats, premiering prior to the 2015 season at 15th.

 

Onto the next season, where according to the prospect rankings from scouts at MLB.com, Bautista was Washington’s 16th ranked prospect prior to 2016. Based on the 20-80 scouting grades, with 50 being an average MLB player ranking and 65 being at an All-Star level, here is the consensus on Bautista:

 

Hit: 45

Power: 30

Run: 70

Arm: 50

Field: 60

(Via http://m.mlb.com/prospects/2016?list=was)

 

As we can see here, Bautista’s calling card comes with his defense and speed. Combine these attributes, and you have a pretty solid outfielder in the making, which is exactly the route this young man is on. Many see Bautista as a fourth or fifth outfielder on a major league roster, though his big upside contends that he could become a starter. He has great initial reads when prowling the outfield, which paired with his plus plus speed allows him to reach balls that certainly may have dropped in on other players. The ground he can cover on any given play will certainly be an asset when it comes to earning that major league starting role.

Screenshot (2)

Tracy Proffitt, MiLB

 

Bautista’s speed also factors in heavily on the offensive side of the game. He has the ability to steal any base at any time, making him a threat to score even when receiving just a walk. Check out this great jump and steal of third base when he was with Potomac. No throw to third on a stolen base attempt? You don’t see that too too often. Bautista has already stolen 211 bases in his young career, including a South Atlantic League-leading 69 in the 2014 season. In perspective, the second highest number of swiped bags in the league that year was 49 by Hagerstown teammate Wilmer Difo. Already in this season at Double-A Harrisburg, Bautista has stolen 35 bags in 41 attempts. Speed also comes into play in regards to Bautista’s bunting ability, which he can do for a base hit.

 

At the plate, Bautista isn’t an outstanding hitter, but he certainly is no slouch. He puts up stats typical to a center fielder, exempting Mike Trout and a few other outliers. While he doesn’t have outstanding power, though that does appear from time to time, Bautista generates good contact at the plate, which translates into base hits. Of course from there, the threat of a steal is imminent. A positive for Bautista this season is his ability to become more patient and work walks. With his ability to steal, getting on base, however possible, is what he needs to do. Already in 2016, he has reached base 29 times via a free pass in 77 games. This is about to shatter his career high of 33 walks in 2015 when he appeared in 133 games. Through his years thus far, Bautista has a slash line of .289/.353/.360. Clearly not power numbers, but solid averages for a player in Bautista’s role.

 

All in all, Bautista is a talented young prospect worth of the high grade assessed to him by many scouts. The threat of his speed is a legitimate game changer, either in the outfield or on the basepaths, where it will influence games more. That asset, along with his fielding capabilities, are among the best in the minors. The only downspell to his game comes at the plate. While Bautista can certainly handle himself at the dish, his numbers against minor league pitching does open the door for slight concern over whether he can translate his abilities to the major league level. The power is something that will likely never play into his game. Anywhere from 10 or more home runs a year would be a stretch for Bautista to collect, especially if the power remains as is. However, Bautista can apply solid contact to earn base hits, something he has shown consistently thus far. The X factor in becoming a player at the major league level for Bautista is his ability at the plate. At the rate he is going, a backup outfielder role seems in the cards, but there are variables that could sway that outcome in either direction. More strength to add at the plate would certainly make the case for this young prospect to earn a more valuable, everyday spot. The future is bright for Rafael Bautista, but the path to the bigs is not totally clear yet. We will see what this speedy outfielder, this week’s Minor League Monday feature, has in store in seasons moving forward.

 

Chiefs in the Show

Baseball is a sport riddled with ups and downs. A player can swat multiple home runs one week and go hitless the next. A sport in which failure seven times out of ten, can culminate in a Hall of Fame bid. In this week’s edition of Chiefs’ in the Show, we’ll take a look at a former Chief who overcame adversity, while fighting through a bevy of peaks and valleys, en-route to the big leagues.

In high school, Tanner Roark won two state championships, in both 2003 and 2005, at Wilmington High School in Illinois. Roark then attended the University of Illinois at Urabana-Champaign and was later selected by the Texas Rangers in the 25th round of the 2008 draft.

Tanner Roark

Reinhold Matay – USA TODAY Sports

The right-handed starter quickly rose through the Texas organization, compiling a 14-5 record with four affiliates from 2008-2009. This included a perfect 10-0 record and a 2.70 ERA, with 91 strikeouts in 86.2 innings, at Single-A Bakersfield in 2009. The Illinois product was promoted to Double-A Frisco later that year, before being acquired by the Nationals organization via trade midway through 2010.  Roark made 21 starts with Double-A Harrisburg that season, going 9-9 with 92 strikeouts in 117 innings, before being called up in 2012.

To this point in his career, Roark faced little adversity, compiling a win-loss record of 34-19 in his progression to Triple-A Syracuse. The 2012 season began like most others, with a strong performance against Rochester in his debut. But it all unraveled shortly thereafter. Roark suffered his worst season as a professional. He lost a career high 17 games, leading the international league, including losses in his five of his last six starts.

The hardship led to a group-meeting between Roark and Chiefs’ then-Manager Tony Beasley, then-Pitching Coach Greg Booker, and Nationals Assistant General Manager Doug Harris. In the meeting, the trio convinced Roark to simplify his approach. Roark later reflected on the 2012 season, saying, “I was being selfish, I guess. Little things would happen, bloop hits. I would be getting it in my head and saying, ‘Why is he getting on?’ I was trying really hard.” (www.washington.nationals.mlb.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20140501&content_id=73989028&c_id=was)

The renewed approach did not produce instant results. After a scoreless debut in 2013, Roark’s difficulties returned. He lost his next two starts, including a disastrous outing against the Buffalo Bisons. Roark went just three and two-thirds innings, allowing ten runs on 12 hits, in a 27-9 loss. The 27 runs were the most scored in the International League in over 40 years and resulted in Syracuse relegating Roark to the bullpen.

But something clicked for right-hander shortly thereafter. Whether it was the development of his two-seam fastball, or the continuance of a simplified approach, the Illinois product began to shine.  From May 11 through June 29 of 2013, Roark allowed just two earned-runs in 42 innings. Over the stretch, he surrendered only 19 hits, while striking out 33 batters.

The turn-around resulted in Roark’s return to the starting rotation. He won six of eight starts with the Chiefs from June 23rd through August 2nd. The strong stretch amounted to Roark’s call-up to the show. With Washington, he finished the last two months with a 7-1 record as a starter-reliever hybrid. Roark’s success continued into 2014, where he went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA.

Earlier this season Roark had his best performance to date. Against the Twins the former Chief twirled a gem. He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, while striking out 15. The 15 strikeouts were the most Roark’s tallied as a professional. The righty’s explanation for the phenomenal performance was simple, “I was throwing four pitches to lefties and righties,” Roark said. “Keeping them guessing, uncomfortable at the plate.” (http://espn.go.com/mlb/recap?gameId=360423120)

In 2016, Roark’s been one of the most reliable starters in a loaded Nationals rotation. He sports a 7-5 record and a 2.96 ERA, with 89 strikeouts in 100 innings. Roark’s sharp pitching has contributed to the Nationals first-place positioning in the N.L. East.

From success to hardship, and now back to success, Roark has ridden the roller coaster of professional baseball. In 2012, his likelihood of reaching the majors appeared bleak. Fast-forward four years later and Roark has established himself as a reliable, consistent starter at baseball’s highest level. Tanner Roark’s fight through turbulence is a testament to his determination in joining the exclusive list of Chiefs in the Show.

Minor League Monday 6/27/16

We are back again for another Minor League Monday post here on the Inside the Chiefs Blog. Today’s rising star is currently stationed in AA Harrisburg, where he finished last season. Let’s talk to it.

Lucas Giolito

Position: RHP Age: 21 DOB: 7/14/1994 Bats: R Throws: R Height: 6’6’’ Weight: 255 lb.

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Logan Bowles, USA Today Sports

 

It is hard to do a blog on the Washington Nationals farm system without bringing up Lucas Giolito. I was going to attempt to save this post for a little while down the road, but when an organization has the rights on a 6’6’’, 255 pound right-hander who has three above average pitches, it’s hard not to get around to him. Giolito is an ace of the future. The term “the sky’s the limit” has never rang more true than in the case of this 21 year old.

Giolito was taken by the Nationals in the first round of the 2012 draft with the 16th overall pick. Washington was lucky to pick him up so late- the prep star was mocked much higher, but concerns of an elbow injury his senior year scared potential suitors off. Prior to those concerns, it was speculated that the Southern California product may have become the first high school right-hander to be taken number one overall. After he fell, the Nats took the bait, and are now reaping the benefits. It wasn’t without a little worry, however. Giolito did undergo Tommy John surgery shortly after he signed in the summer of 2012, though this came as no surprise to Washington, who weathered the storm and came out with baseball’s top prospect prior to the 2016 season, according to MLB.com. Baseball America has him ranked as the fifth best prospect in the game while Baseball Prospectus slots him at third.

After the Tommy John procedure, Giolito began his first full professional season in 2014. To say it eliminated worries over his elbow would be putting it lightly. The big righty dominated the South Atlantic League, going 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA in 20 starts with the Hagerstown Suns. His efforts reaped a mass of postseason accolades, including being tabbed twice as a pitcher of the week, named to the Low-A Futures team, selected an Organizational All-Star for Washington and given the 2014 South Atlantic League Most Outstanding Pitcher award. Giolito split time between Hagerstown and AA Harrisburg in 2015, going 7-7 overall on the bump with a 3.15 ERA. This season, Giolito is still with Harrisburg, putting up similarly stellar numbers for such a young prospect. He sits at 5-3 thus far with a 3.17 ERA in 14 starts. At the pace he is going, it may not be long before Giolito works his way to Syracuse and the AAA level, a likely pit stop before joining the ranks of the Washington staff in the big leagues.

With such high regard all across the board, it is Giolito’s physical makeup and astounding three-pitch arsenal that have scouts in consensus of his prospect ranking. The Senator pitcher has drawn comparisons to Roy Halladay, thanks to his hulking frame and above average pitches. Giolito’s best pitch is his fastball. Some scouts even have it topping out the 20-80 grading scale, while others have it at “just” a 75. The heater averages around 93 miles an hour, and did coming out of high school, but can also range up to the mid to high 90s when Giolito really reaches back. In addition to the pure speed of his fastball, Giolito also has natural, late break on the pitch, providing yet another challenge for batters. As if a straight as an arrow 95 mile an hour pitch wasn’t enough. Take as close a look as you’ll ever want to facing Giolito with this link, courtesy of PennLive.com. 

While the heater is a huge weapon on its own, imagine gearing up for a 95 mile an hour fastball but getting a hard, sharp, 12-6 curve that drops just prior to reaching the plate. This is where Giolito really gets batters. He’ll pair the fastball with that breaking curve, setting up hitters for weak, or no, contact. Like the fastball, Giolito’s curve has that late break that just compounds problems for hitters. It’s sharp bite on the end makes it extremely difficult to hit, especially when expecting a fastball. For many pitchers, this type of curve would be their bread and butter. For Giolito, his curve is his number two pitch, rating at a 70 according to scouts. Both pitches on their own are enough to buckle a batter’s knees, but what sets Giolito apart is his ability to throw them with extreme skill and precision, much of the reason behind his top pitcher status. 

It seems impossible, but Giolito isn’t done there. He has been developing a changeup in recent years, which has really come a long way in the minors. He is throwing it with more frequency and success, and has been using it especially as a tool against left-handed batters to keep them guessing. The change has usually been ranked around a 50 to 55 by scouts, though it is always improving. It has a dipping motion that drops it just before the plate, yielding weak contact when hit. The change has become a swing-and-miss pitch, though Giolito has been gaining ground on throwing it for strikes when he wants as well.

See these pitches in action here with a clip from a 2015 appearance with Harrisburg. In the game, Giolito went seven innings, allowing just one hit while striking out 11. If anything, watch the last pitch of the at-bat. The curve thrown on a 3-2 count not only shows Giolito’s confidence in his control of the pitch, but also displayed just how deceptive that 12-6 curve is. A true thing of beauty. However, while all of these pitches combine for success on the mound, they may not even be Giolito’s most effective weapon.

LG

John Absalon, MiLB.com

 

That lies with his build. At 6’6’’ and 255 pounds, Giolito has one of the best frames for a pitcher. It contributes to not only his power, but in the way he, literally, comes at a batter. His frame best comes into play when referring to the downhill plane in which he throws his pitches. Pitching downhill is a hard to achieve feat that makes pitches much more difficult for batters to hit. When hurlers can get this downhill action on their pitches, the batter now must deal with not only catching up to speed (in Giolito’s case the mid-90s) but also hitting the ball level as the pitch is moving towards the hitter while also moving downwards. In simpler terms, it is much more difficult to hit Giolito because his pitch moves down as it reaches the plate, rather than just coming in straight. While it doesn’t seem like much, the difference here can make or break some prospects, or at the very least make a pitcher much more difficult to drive a pitch off of. The term “hitting it square” is commonplace around baseball. For batters against Giolito, it is much more difficult to do so because of this downward action.

Giolito has one consistent “issue” with his pitching. I write “issue” with that insinuation because to many other prospects, if this was their biggest problem, life would be much easier. The problem comes with his delivery, which Giolito has yet to fully master in terms of consistency. His delivery sometimes is cut short, landing a bit abruptly on his front leg, which makes his control falter slightly. Him and Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak have worked on this together, working to solve the issue before Giolito climbs the ranks further. Here is a slow-mo of Giolito’s full windup, in case you’re a mechanics aficionado. Despite this, Giolito still owns a 3.13 K/BB ratio throughout his young career. 

Giolito is a rare talent; one that doesn’t come with every annual draft. All of his raw abilities and talents translate to fluid success on the mound that can be seen with each passing pitch. While there is the blemish of the Tommy John surgery, all signs point to the fact that Giolito has effectively put any sort of issue with that behind him. Even if some problems do arise in the future, the Nationals organization does have plenty of experience in dealing with that, thanks to the battle tested Stephen Strasburg. It should be only a short time before Giolito makes his way to Syracuse and beyond. He has been more than effective thus far in 2016 at the AA level and seems ready to take the next step. After he does come to the Chiefs, it is likely he will be Washington bound in just a short time after. Lucas Giolito is a true talent that one day has the promise to be a starter on Opening Day for an organization. All the tools, both physical and mental, are in the right place as this prospect continues to show off his baseball skill set. Syracuse has seen superstars before in Bryce Harper and Strasburg, but the time is near to see tomorrow’s superstar at NBT Bank Stadium. That superstar is Lucas Giolito, this week’s Minor League Monday prospect feature.

 

UPDATE (as of 6/27/16 at 3:30 PM)

Giolito has been promoted to Washington, bypassing AAA Syracuse, and is set to start Tuesday’s game against the New York Mets. The Nationals have been in a bit of a tailspin recently, losing seven of their last eight and also losing Strasburg to a back injury. The Nats need Giolito to be effective in his MLB debut, especially against the NL East rival Mets. The two clubs begin a three-game set Monday night, with New York and Miami trailing Washington by just three games in the NL East. Giolito is scheduled to face off opposite Matt Harvey on Tuesday. Harvey has been in a funk of sorts all season, holding just a 4-9 record and 4.64 ERA  amidst season-long speculation that he should be scratched from certain outings. A solid start from Giolito would be clutch for Washington, who is in a very precarious situation with the recent slump and without their ace. While the start will be a milestone in Giolito’s young life, he will have to push aside any emotional feelings to concentrate on this key mid-summer matchup. The Nationals are throwing Giolito into the fire for his debut, so we will really get to see what baseball’s top prospect is made of. The game can be viewed on MASN 2 or MLBNetwork.

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