Syracuse Chiefs (66-78, 11th in International League)
Best Hitter: SS Zach Walters (.253 BA, 29 HR, 77 RBI, 69 R)
Best Pitcher: RHP Tanner Roark (9-3, 3.15 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 105.2 IP)
Biggest Surprise: RHP Caleb Clay (5-2, 2.49 ERA, 51 SO, 83.0 IP)
Zach Walters could double as the biggest surprise out of the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate this season, as his 29 homers were more than he hit combined in his previous three years as a minor leaguer. He was far and away the Chiefs’ best power hitter and earned himself a September call-up along the way. He’s only 23 years old, so there’s some potential left for him to tap into. But with 134 strikeouts and only 20 walks, plus a hideous 38 defensive errors in 134 games, he’s far from a finished product. For comparison’s sake, those 38 errors are equal to the next three highest totals recorded by Syracuse players this season.
Tanner Roark is another familiar name among Nats fans after he was called up in early August. The 26-year-old has been a nice surprise already at the major league level and will get an opportunity to start this weekend. Through 33 games this season at Syracuse – including 11 starts – Roark flashed versatility as a reliever and starting pitcher. He doesn’t strike a ton of guys out, but has solid command and he can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s. Davey Johnson recently said he likes how Roark “goes about his business” and the rookie is certainly in the mix for a rotation spot next season for the Nats.
Signed in the offseason as a free agent, Caleb Clay put together his best season as a minor league pitcher, which is notable considering he’s been in the minors since 2007. Clay split time at Harrisburg and Syracuse, but was even more effective in Triple-A. Clay’s 2.49 ERA with the Chiefs stands out, as does his 14 walks in 83 innings. Clay was a former first round pick and still has the talent, perhaps his resurgence could put him on the doorstep of call-up next year. At 25 he’s still yet to make his MLB debut.
Harrisburg Senators (77-65, 2nd in Eastern League)
Best Hitter: OF Steven Souza, Jr. (.300 BA, 15 HR, 44 RBI, 20 SB)
Best Pitcher: RHP Taylor Jordan (7-0, 0.83 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 54.0 IP)
Biggest Surprise: RHP Matt Swynenberg (4-0, 3.16 ERA, 58 SO, 74.0 IP)
Steven Souza’s season was truncated due to injury, so the numbers you see above were in only 77 games. Souza was still able to put up impressive stats and showed his .297 average in 2012 was no fluke. Before last season Souza never hit above .240 in a minor league season and that was always the knock on his MLB prospects. Now as a .300 hitter the power numbers look even more enticing and should certainly put him in Syracuse next year. He has the best combination of power and speed of any player in the Nats’ system.
Nathan Karns could have easily been the Senators’ pitcher of the year, and he has a good shot to earn the nod from the Nationals when they release their picks later this month. But the stretch Jordan had in Double-A was exceptional and helped him earn a call-up to Washington in June. Jordan held a 0.83 ERA through nine games, and took the win in seven of them. After having Tommy John surgery in 2011, Jordan returned a dominant minor league pitcher in his first full season back, and fared well at the MLB level as well. Through nine games with the Nats he posted a 3.66 ERA and is a frontrunner for the fifth rotation spot in spring training at this point.
Matt Swynenberg has been in the Nats’ system since 2009 after joining the organization as a 28th round pick. This year, however, he took a major leap at Harrisburg and established himself as an elite relief pitcher at the Double-A level. He appeared in the fourth most games of any Senators’ pitcher and held a 3.16 ERA through 74 total innings. One number that stands out in analyzing exactly how he’s improved is his groundball rate. This year his GO/AO was 1.74 compared to 1.52 the season before.
Potomac Nationals (84-55, 1st in Carolina League)
Best Hitter: CF Michael Taylor (.263 BA, 87 RBI, 79 R, 51 SB)
Best Pitcher: RHP Blake Schwartz (11-4, 2.65 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 132.2 IP)
Biggest Surprise: RHP Taylor Hill (6-2, 2.99 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 84.1 IP)
Michael Taylor, 23, still leaves much to be desired with his batting average and ability to get on base, but he was a major reason for the P-Nats first place finish in the Carolina League. He led Potomac in games played (133), doubles (41) and RBI, pacing them as a middle of the order bat for much of the season. Taylor is big at 6’4” and flashed elite speed this year with 51 stolen bases. He’s always been a threat on the base paths, but this season he stole more bags than he did in his previous three professional seasons combined. With his power numbers also up from 2012, Taylor is showing a solid career progression that makes you wonder what his ceiling will eventually be.
Potomac enjoyed great pitching all year from a wide group of contributors, but Blake Schwartz gets the nod with a 2.65 ERA and by far the most amount of innings pitched for the P-Nats. Schwartz, 23, cut his ERA down by nearly a full run this season and was promoted from Hagerstown after just four games. In Potomac he made 23 starts and walked just 26 batters. The 2012 17th round pick should get a shot at Double-A next year.
Taylor Hill spent most of his time in Potomac, but also made stops in Harrisburg and Syracuse in his 2013 season. For the P-Nats he was one of their most reliable starters with a 2.99 ERA through 84 1/3 innings. He doesn’t strike out a ton of batters, but keeps his walks low and pitches deep into games. Hill had a 4.91 ERA in the minors last season, cutting that down to 2.95 this year. He improved significantly and should be back in Syracuse for the beginning of 2014.
Hagerstown Suns (80-57, 3rd in South Atlantic League)
Best Hitter: 2B Tony Renda (.294 BA, 99 R, 51 RBI, 68/65 BB/SO)
Best Pitcher: LHP Brett Mooneyham (10-3, 1.94 ERA, 79 SO, 93.0 IP)
Biggest Surprise: OF Brandon Miller (.243 BA, 18 HR, 72 RBI, 62 R)
A 2012 second round pick, Tony Renda came out of the gate on fire in his first full professional season. The speedy infielder (30 stolen bases) showed the ability to hit for contact and practice patience at the plate with a .380 OPS. Renda never hit below .332 in college at Cal-Berkeley, so that average and OPS could continue to rise. If it does, he could be a solid option for the Nats at second base and at the top of their order in 2015.
Brett Mooneyham is another standout from the Nationals’ 2012 draft class. Picked in the third round, Mooneyham was sensational with a 1.94 ERA through 17 starts this year with the Suns. Mooneyham is very effective pitching to contact with a .161 opponent’s batting average and just 79 strikeouts in 93 innings pitched. He struggled in three outings with Potomac after getting promoted late in the season, but the 6-foot-5 Mooneyham is certainly a name to watch next year as he progresses through the Nats system.
Brandon Miller remains a work in progress with his batting average, but showed excellent power in his first year as a pro. He was also a 2012 pick, taken in the fourth round, and led the Suns in home runs and RBI with 103 games played. He hit .270 at Samford so there isn’t the expectation he’ll hit .300 someday, but the power he has already shown should make him a prospect worth keeping an eye on over the next year or so.