After a 16-hour trip by car broken up into two days by nasty storms in Virginia which left a reported two million people without power, we (the Newman family) arrived in Seneca Falls, NY with a couple of hours to spare before I headed to my first New York-Penn League game in Auburn, a small town about 25 minutes away. Having never been to a “Penn League” game previously, I was curious to see the level of competition considering it’s the most advanced short season level before moving into full-season baseball. Additionally, three of the four teams I was planning to see — Auburn (Nationals), Hudson Valley (Rays), Lowell (Red Sox), Williamsport (Phillies) — have affiliates in the South Atlantic League making a second look in 2013 likely for many of the players involved.
And while the quality of play is noticeably less than full-season leagues I’ve experienced, it has been great to familiarize myself with a new league and spend a few games at the Auburn Doubledays home park, as the atmosphere has really reinvigorated me for the second half. Between the solid crowds, fantastic baseball weather, polite people who actually try to avoid my shots and ushers who ask if I mind being moved when I don’t have an actual ticket, I’m ready to rent a place in the area and just call upstate New York home for the months of June and July next season.
Back to what actually happened between the lines: I’m forced to reiterate just how disappointing the quality of pitching has been overall. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but to put it into perspective: two games and three teams have yielded one pitcher who touched 93 MPH. In a single Double-A game in Chattanooga, I’ve witnessed the Lookouts (Dodgers) send four or five pitchers who can touch mid-90s. Additionally, command of those upper-80s fastballs has been below-average to poor, leading to a number of four-pitch walks, which is absolutely maddening when prospect looks are limited.
Another observation from watching Auburn multiple times is that the Washington Nationals must be prepared to pay first-round pick Lucas Giolito whatever it will take for him to sign (within draft pool limitations of course). Beginning with second-round pick Tony Renda, an undersized second baseman with limited upside, most of organization’s top-10 picks are in Auburn and it’s easy to see they saved a few bucks at the top of the draft. In Discussing Renda, it’s safe to say he’ll be referred to as “a good little prospect” by scouts for the next few years since the description fits both literally and figuratively. A plus runner, Renda has the present skills and instincts of at least an above-average second baseman defensively. He also has a short, compact stroke with quick hands which should produce plenty of line drives. However, his power potential and upside are limited and a more relaxed load pre-swing would help him drive the baseball more often, instead of little pokes back through the box.
Beyond Renda, centerfielder Wander Ramos is a sleeper I can see garnering some interest as a PTBNL or fourth player in a deadline deal should the Nationals go fishing for a big name. For Auburn, he’s the only player on the roster with the present size of a big leaguer and real projection, even though he’s a bit long in the tooth for the league. For a player with considerable size and strength, he hits from a very low crouch with his hands resting off his ear. Ramos also has a tendency to hit off of his front foot, negating his power quite a bit. Teach him to be taller and stronger in the batter’s box and work on letting the ball travel deep in the zone and Ramos could become something.
A couple of interesting side notes:
Third-round pick and relatively frequent topic of Eno Sarris’ Stanford baseball related posts, Brett Mooneyham, is on the active roster, but has not made his professional debut yet. Hopefully it will happen while I’m in attendance, but I’ll only be at Auburn two-to-three more times this trip.
Additionally, Bryan Harper, brother of the Nationals phenom, threw against Williamsport with little success, as he allowed four hits and three earned runs in just 1/3 of an inning. To celebrate the Fourth, he did pitch 1 2/3 scoreless, but 15 hits and five free passes allowed in 6 1/3 innings pitched makes it difficult to see him advancing out of short -eason leagues and into a productive minor leaguer.
With this piece approaching 800 words already, look for notes on both the Williamsport and Lowell ball clubs soon as each had a four-pack of players worth discussing.