With Bryce Harper and the Harrisburg Senators in the Commonwealth this weekend, I made the trip down to Richmond’s Diamond to check the boys out. Watching the Senators drop a pair on Sunday, I was struck by how the team exemplified both the challenges the Nationals face and the amazing growth of this team in the past few seasons. As we have discussed at length, when MLB dumped the Expos in DC, the farm system was tragically decimated and mismanaged. The Nats have had to rebuild basically from scratch, and a quick glance at the Harrisburg roster shows that the process is still ongoing. Still, the more you consider who plays for the Nationals AA-affialite, you realize that since the Lerner family bought the team, it has made great strides.
Harrisburg has an extremely old roster for AA baseball. The Senators average age is 25.86, and not including 18-year-old Bryce Harper it would be 26.14. To put things in perspective, the Royals, Indians, Rays, and Astros all have Major League rosters that have average ages under 28. The non-Harper number is just .26 less than the Royals average team age of 26.4. Yes, the Royals are a young MLB team, but the Senators are scary-old for AA.
What makes the Senators average age so high is that 15 of the 28 players on the current roster (including DL) were born in 1984 or earlier. Again, to put things in perspective, the Indians (who have lead the AL Central most of the season), have just 13 of such players on their roster. Of course, there is also guys out there like Garrett Mock who are forced down with injuries and it is not atypical to have a few late-20s or earlier-30s guys on your AA roster to help stabilize and balance a very young lineup. These “organizational” guys are important to keep around, but you only want three or four of them. A 27-year-old still working his way up through AA has very little chance of making an impact in the Bigs. There are a few Josh Hamilton-type exceptions, but a roster full of Rick Short-type players is not exactly a lush farm system.
There are a couple of guys on the Senators who could help the Nats at some point. Derek Norris, a 22-year-old backstop, has legitimate potential and 24-year-old first basemen Tyler Moore (a 16th-round pick in 2008) has some good pop, with 23 homers this season. Overall, though, Harrisburg’s roster is not exactly a “who’s-who” of future Nats.
It is not just the lack of future impact players that makes the situation in Harrisburg so troubling. By having such few potential big leaguers at that level, the Nationals have hardly any ability to make moves in the trade market. While everyone in the DC media keeps touting a potential B.J. Upton (or any other CF) deal, one look at the Harrisburg shows why this may not be possible. On that roster, Norris and Moore are the only remotely-viable trade pieces, and a package of those two would not earn you much on the trade market these days. There may be some players out there that would fit well in DC (Hunter Pence, Hunter Pence, Hunter Pence), but the Nationals farm system handcuffs them so severely that a trade is not likely.
Of course, it is not all doom and gloom down in Harrisburg. Looking at the roster in a different light makes you understand how far this franchise has come in a few years time. Starting the second game on Sunday night was Shairon Martis. Martis, a 24-year-old righthander is having a good year in AA and is age-and-talent-appropriate for that level. Nats fans will of course remember that Martis made 19 starts for the Major League Nats in 2008 and 2009. Other familiar names (Luis Atilano and Garrett Mock) are on the Harrisburg disabled list.
Martis pitched decently in Richmond this weekend, but struggled with the Nats in those 19 starts, going 6-6 with a 5.33. Although if you think about, considering that he was probably two or three levels higher than he deserved to be, those numbers were not terrible. The Curacao-native was forced into Big League action because the Nationals were so terrible under-talented and under-staffed they needed warm bodies to trot out every five days. Martis was not the only single-A pitcher that the Nats trotted in those two seasons. Minor league talent like Matt Chico (8), Jason Bergmann (22), Collin Balester (22), Mike O’Connor (21), Craig Stammen (19), and J.D. Martin (15) made far too many starts for the Nats during that time period. It is no surprise that the team produced back-to-back 100 loss seasons.
Today’s Nats pitching staff is far from legendary, but at least the team can roll out a legitimate Major Leaguer every game. Plus, they have a stable of guys down at AA and AAA who have MLB-experience and can start in a pinch. The team still has some work to do with the rotation to become legitimate contenders, but the win-loss record shows that the Nationals management has put some solid work in over the past few seasons.
For more on Harper’s play, check the “Small Notes” below.
News and notes from Nationals Park:
- Chien-Ming Wang has completed his rehab and is slated to start for the Nationals Friday.
- Jason Marquis gives his thoughts on the trade rumors.
- Stephen Lombardozzi’s development has put Ian Desmond’s job in peril, but he appears safe for now.
Small notes from around the Bigs Harrisburg: Sunday was not Bryce Harper’s best day. After signing autographs for about thirty minutes during Saturday’s rainout, Harper sat in the first game of Sunday’s double bill (he was stranded in the on-deck circle to end the game). He started the second game, and started slowly. In the field (playing left, his third new position this year), he overran one ball and misplayed a soft liner. The liner was a classic “the toughest ball is one hit right at you,” but Harper looked bad. Rather than running back and coming in on it, he loafed back a couple steps, gave a half-hearted lunge at the ball, and watched it skip to the fence for an RBI double. At the plate, he struck out in his second at-bat on three breaking balls with swings that would make Jayson Werth blush. He did swat an opposite field double in his third at-bat, but struck out looking to end the game. Worst of all, Mrs. Examiner was NOT impressed. Harper’s average is at .228 right now, but that is alright. At AA, he is facing “explosive” (or MLB-quality) breaking stuff for the first time, plus he skipped high-A ball to get there. The Nats are less concerned with his stats right now, and more focused on how he adjusts to adversity. He handled it once in Hagerstown, and it would be a huge boost to see him successfully deal with it again in Harrisburg.
As a bonus, Harper’s two Ks earned the fans two free Tacos from Mexico Restaurant, so I’ve got that going for me.
As always, check out my homepage for all of my thoughts on the Nationals. Please share your thoughts, complaints and comments below. For daily updates, you can subscribe to these articles (free at the top of the page) or follow me on Twitter (@Neuman85). Enjoy today’s entertainment below!
Song of the Day: Local Natives – “Who Knows, Who Cares”
Nats Video of the Day: Keeping it Harper-themed, here is the super-prospect chatting with Peter Gammons.