The Syracuse Chiefs ended their 2012 season Monday afternoon with a loss to the Rochester Red Wings, dropping their record to 70-74 on the year. The Nats' top affiliate finished fifth in the six team International League North Division. Ben Meyers (@citizenmeyers on Twitter) covered the Chiefs for the The Auburn Citizen this year and provided reports for us from Alliance Bank Stadium throughout the year. We chatted about the Chiefs Sunday night before they finished the 2012 schedule to quickly wrap up the season and discuss what he saw while covering the team:
Federal Baseball (FBb): Let’s get this one out of the way because I’m obsessed with Yunesky Maya making it to the majors again and most people would probably prefer he didn’t. Last folks in D.C. saw of Maya he was a pitcher who nibbled, lacked velocity and seemed like he wasn’t going to make it at the major league level, but Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo admitted he may have rushed him and he spent the season at Triple-A this year, but he’s signed through 2013. What did you see from him this season and do you see him being able to pitch at the major league level? (ed. note - Maya (before he pitched Monday) - (11-9), 27 GS, 159.2 IP, 3.72 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 38 BB, 2.14 BB/9, 87 Ks, 4.90 K/9.)
Ben Meyers: Maya will be the closing day starting pitcher for the Chiefs on Monday and if he goes at least five innings then he will lead the team in innings pitched this summer, so, if Rizzo wanted him to get experience he certainly did this season. Maya is never going to be a power arm and he will always have to work the black and speeds which can be done, but it is tough. The most recent examples of what he is capable of came against Rochester on July 27 (perfect into the seventh) and Buffalo on Aug. 2 (two hits into the eighth). There is potential, but he does give up a lot of base hits (will finish with about 150). He has given up 19 homers this season as well because if he gets the ball up he doesn’t have the fastball to blow batters away. I think he could stick in the big leagues at the back end of a rotation for a few seasons (he is 31 as you know), but just not with Washington’s current rotation.
FBb: You got to see some of the 40 games and 173 PAs Eury Perez played at Triple-A Syracuse. He put up an impressive .333/.373/.390 line, but how was he defensively? How well does he use his speed offensively/defensively? He’s 22 now, do you see him making an impact at the major league level?
Ben Meyers: From the looks of it, Perez is pretty good at catching ceremonial first pitches so he will at least contribute to the Nats there. When I watch Eury play he reminds me of a Juan Pierre kind of guy. Halley's Comet will show up each time he hits a homer, but he is going to slap the ball around a lot (62 total bases on his 53 hits in Syracuse). He worked on bunting here. If he can add that as a threat and walk some more (only eight in Syracuse) he is the leadoff man of the future. Give him some time to read and learn pick-off moves though. That is one thing that cost him a step every so often here. If he picks up the little things he is a potential 60+ steal a season guy.
Defensively, Perez had always played the infield when he was growing up in the Dominican Republic and he admitted that he is learning to read balls off the bat in the outfield still. The saying is that you can’t teach height or speed. Perez doesn’t have a lot of the former, but the latter makes up for some mistakes that he will make in reads off the bat. Honestly, and selfishly, I’d like to see him get another season in Triple-A next summer, but this fall he is a great pickup for pinch running duties down the stretch.
FBb: Corey Brown, as of today, has a .284/.363/.513 line with 22 doubles, nine triples and 23 HRs, but he’s still not talked about often as part of the Nats’ future OF (in part because it’s crowded of course), but is it the Ks? Does he struggle defensively? What’s your take on him after watching him all year?
Ben Meyers: Corey Brown’s situation is a lot like Yunesky Maya’s as both are in the back of the line. Brown has big league talent, but the problem is who do you take out to give him reps (Harper isn’t coming out, Morse is an established big league bat, The Shark is the defender, Moore is going to get more time, the body attached to Jason Werth’s Beard is good at baseball)?
Financially, and practically, there is nowhere for him to go.
However, Corey Brown was basically the Chiefs MVP this season. He had an on-base streak of over 30, he set a team record with five-straight games with a home run, he led the International League in hits and runs scored at points this year, and over a few different streaks this season he was easily the hottest hitter in the league. Plus, he is a nice and humble guy.
He does strikeout too much, self-admittedly, but with what he does produce when he swings there is always going to be a down side. Unfortunately, the Nationals need middle infield help and a 26-year-old-big-league-ready-surplus outfielder could be a nice piece in a trade in the offseason after the year that Brown has put together (I have heard nothing of this and it is 100 percent speculation on my part).
I hope Brown stays with the Nats. His defense is outstanding. The arm isn’t there like Brett Carroll here in Syracuse, but Brown is the best at reading the bat off the ball of any outfielder that has played in Syracuse this season. He doesn’t have to make a lot of crazy plays because he gets into position quickly off of the swing.
FBb: John Lannan spent the year at Triple-A, his numbers weren’t all that impressive, but he ended on a real high note and performed well when he was up. What was his attitude like in Syracuse? Were his issues early the fault of his defense? Or was he just struggling?
Ben Meyers: John Lannan is a passionate guy. He wears his emotions on his sleeve for sure. There have been some moments where he has been surly here in Syracuse. At the start of the year I think it was all about trying to find himself again. He even said that part of what happened at the end of spring training did affect him. The rotation in Washington isn’t what it was a few years ago and dealing with changes like that was tough for a guy that was The Guy. After a particularly bad stretch (April and May was 4-5 with an ERA over 5.50) it seemed to me that a trade might have been the best thing for both him and the organization. He just needed to start over. But then he went up to start that game against the Braves on July 21 when the Nats were struggling. He was struggling then too with an 0-4 July with an 8.84 ERA. When he got that win everything turned around.
In August, he has been simply great. Whatever happened that July weekend in Washington - the fans, showing the organization he still has it, etc. - that changed the season for Lannan. He is still a surly guy here though, but that's just who he is.
FBb: Based on what you wrote, what we’ve discussed, etc., you seemed really impressed with Christian Garcia - (1-1), 13 SV, 0.57 ERA, 1.83 FIP, 11 BB (3.16 BB/9), 38 Ks (10.91 K/9) - does he have a future in the majors? He seems like another big power arm of the type Rizzo loves, should we expect to see him in D.C. next season?
Ben Meyers: Christian Garcia is a classic case of a starter getting to concentrate his stuff in an inning or two so he can red line it and not have to worry about the long haul. I think there is always a home for a guy that can go 95+ on the fastball regardless of anything else he has at his disposal (and he does have other stuff). The main reason why he has been in the minors has to be to see if his arm can hold up to the stress of coming back from a second Tommy John surgery. If it was me I would have Garcia in the Washington bullpen next year because with those two surgeries there can only be so many pitches left and you might as well get the most out of them at the big league level. If you even throw him in just the seventh then you can shorten the game to six innings most nights with that Washington bullpen. That would be a good way to save Strasburg innings. I hope his arm remains healthy for his sake. He is a humble kid that was pretty excited (nervous) to be headed to the big leagues for the first time.
FBb: Any game, play, player, moment, Bryce Harper-in-Syracuse-memory stand out for you from a year’s worth of Chiefs baseball?
Ben Meyers: I think I am going to try and Billy Joel "We Didn’t Start the Fire" this questions. Here are the moments I will remember: Starting 3-13, recovering to get to 43-38, Bryce Harper’s first and only Triple-A home run, Tyler Moore stealing the spotlight in April, Ryan Perry’s (Bryce Harper’s) call-up, Corey Brown’s five-straight games with a HR, Zach Duke professional pitcher and IL wins leader, Mark Teahen’s son’s Twitter account when Mac was still in womb, starting a game against Scranton-Wilkes Barre with it barely over 40 degrees and finishing it at over 80, Mitch Atkins throwing a 146 pitch complete game in that one against the Yankees, Koyie Hill’s takedown, Five Chiefs in the all-star game, Jim Negrych’s 4th of July Home Run in his hometown of Buffalo during a 5-0 Chiefs' win, getting to be here for SWB Yankee "home games," and this being the "office" for a couple of days a week for five months in my first Triple-A season.
• ed. note: Thanks, Ben. And thanks for providing looks at the Chiefs this year that you couldn't find anywhere else. Much appreciated and great work.