Minor League Notebook

There's some good news and some bad news as the minor league season draws to a close. We've got a look at who is doing what in the Nationals farm system.

Columbus: Tyler Clippard hasn't helped his chances of getting a September audition in his last two starts. In those games, he's lasted a total of nine innings and has allowed 14 earned runs to push his ERA from 4.04 to 4.70 at Columbus. Clippard's issue is consistency. Just prior to his bad outings, he put together two strong starts in a row allowing just one earned run in 13 innings (0.69 ERA). And just before that, he gave up six earned runs in nine innings over two starts. If the trend holds, he's set for two solid starts.

Zech Zinicola (3-3, 7.11 at Columbus) has had much of the same consistency issues that Clippard has experienced. He has shown signs of brilliance only to slip out of control again. On Wednesday, Clippard and Zinicola were pounded for ten earned runs over six innings of work in Columbus' loss at Toledo.

On the upside has been Levale Speigner, who is fighting for another shot with the big league club. Speigner hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 28.2 innings dating back to July 12th when he gave up one run in 1.1 innings of work. Over that span, Speigner has struck out 20 hitters and walked just four and has stranded all 7 of the runners that he's inherited. Thanks to some hard work on his location, Speigner is keeping the ball down in the zone and has been a ground ball machine out of the bullpen.

Offensively, Leonard Davis is doing all he can to increase his slim chances of a September call-up, launching five home runs and driving in 21 runs this month, but his average since August 1 is still only at .259 and his on-base percentage is at just .289 for the month. The Nationals have worked with him to improve his plate discipline, but haven't had much success. Although .259 isn't a great month, it's much better than his first month in Triple-A when he hit just .187 after moving up from Harrisburg. Davis put up strong offensive numbers at both Potomac and Harrisburg this season, but the plate discipline could hold him back a little.

Harrisburg: The Senators will need a huge collapse by Akron to make the playoffs. Akron would need to lose all six of their remaining games while Harrisburgh sweeps all five of theirs. Harrisburg has seen both their offense and pitching struggle in August (.236 average and 4.78 ERA), which has helped to kill their post-season chances.

Kyle Gunderson has been a nice addition to the Potomac bullpen and could be a pretty good find for a 48th round pick.
Potomac: The P-Nats have been the pride of the organization this season having won the first-half title and putting themselves in line to take half number two as well. Kyle Gunderson has been a nice addition to the Nats bullpen. Since moving up from Hagerstown, Gunderson has a 1.74 ERA in five relief appearances with Potomac. An impressive thing about the 23 year old right-handers is that lefties are hitting just .149 (15-for-101) against him this season in his time at Hagerstown and Potomac.

Outfielder Dee Brown has quietly had a good season at Potomac, hitting .292 with 8 home runs. His defense - just one error all season - has been stellar. It took Brown some time to get on track this season and he came into June with just a .229 batting average, but has hit .320 over the last three months. Again, plate discipline is a bit of an issue with Brown, but he's shown that he can be a disciplined hitter when he's locked in. His hottest month was July when he hit .351 and had a respectable 14-to-20 walks to strike out ratio to give himself an astounding .467 on-base percentage last month. The problem now is just remembering a little of what he did so he can increase his walk total down the road.

Hagerstown: Even though the Suns are out of the playoff hunt, their series in Lakewood could determine the BlueClaws destiny. Wednesday night's loss by Lakewood moved them to four games behind West Virginia with both teams having five games to play. The Suns and 'Claws play two games in Lakewood before Hagerstown comes home to host Lake County in the final series of the season.

Catcher Sean Rooney is the only Suns player to have anything left at the plate. While Hagerstown is hitting just .222 as a team this month, Rooney is hitting .281 this month, which is actually well off his season average of .316. Obviously, it's tough to play out the string in meaningless games late in August, but Rooney has hung in there.

The pitching hasn't exactly been stellar either, but Osvaldo Rodriguez, who joined the Suns after pitching for the DSL Nationals earlier in the summer has looked good in two starts. The 24 year old right-hander was 12-0, 1.01 in 13 DSL starts and has gone 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA in two starts with Hagerstown. He lost his first game he started even though he allowed just one earned run over six innings, but Hagerstown got shutout. In his last start, he went five shutout innings and struck out seven hitters. In 11 innings, he's struck out 14 hitters. He's old for the South Atlantic League, but could possibly make up for lost time if he starts strong in 2009.

Vermont: The good news here comes from the 2008 Draft. Marcus Jones and Danny Espinosa are both playing well and both could be ready for moves up in 2009. Jones has played in four games and is hitting .333 (5-for-15) while posting a very sturdy .474 on-base percentage thanks to a 3-to-3 walk to strikeout ratio. Espinosa is blasting the New York - Penn League with a .480 (12-for-25) average and has walked an amazing 11 times showing off the plate discipline that attracted the Nationals to him in last June's Draft. When you crunch the numbers, Vermont's shortstop has a .649 on-base percentage.

Gulf Coast League: There's another shortstop making noise in the organization; Esmailyn Gonzalez. Gonzalez - a switch-hitter - is a month away from his 19th birthday and is hitting .350 in the GCL with a hefty .458 average against left-handers. He's also hitting .294 with runners on and two outs and .391 with runners in scoring position.

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