Luke Erickson: Looking at the Hagerstown Suns at the half

For most baseball fans, the All-Star Game is considered the halfway point of the season. In the minors, that’s this week for two of the four full-season affiliates - the Hagerstown Suns (low Single-A) and the Potomac Nationals (high Single-A). This week, we’ll take a look at how the Suns have done and who might be moving up, then next week we’ll examine the P-Nats.

While winning is not the goal of the minors - development is - it’s still something to shoot for and root for. For most of the first half, the Suns were the only, um, bright spot in the daily recaps for my website ... until they weren’t. A five-game losing streak dropped them from first place by a game and a half to elimination in the space of just three days last week.

Now, some folks will be quick to point out the injuries to Carter Kieboom and Juan Soto could be to blame, but even without them, Hagerstown’s offense has been the class of the Sally League.

The pitching, however, has not. It’s been at or near the bottom for quite some time now. Like the big league Nationals, the firemen have been bringing gasoline instead of water to put out the fires, with several relievers sporting ERAs above 5.00 and a couple with WHIPs close to 2.00.

Still, there have been two starting pitchers that the fans in Potomac (*ahem*) would like to see before next summer - 21-year-old McKenzie Mills and 20-year-old Tyler Watson.

Mills is a 2014 high school pick who’s having a breakout season (7-2, 2.66/3.55/0.92) after spending the past three summers in short-season ball, while Watson is a 2015 high school pick who’s now a two-time All-Star (this year for the Sally League and last year in the New York-Penn League).

So far, however, the Nationals have only moved up older relievers and signed free agents to backfill openings on the P-Nats pitching staff and levels above. This indicates to me that we may not see Watson or McKenzie as soon as we’d like.

It’s a similar situation for position players. I believe last week’s signing of veteran outfielder Darian Sandford is a clue that Victor Robles is staying put for the time being.

Thus, as long as Robles is in Potomac, it would appear that Hagerstown’s young outfielders must wait until he’s deemed ready for Double-A. We’ve already seen one outfielder sent back down (Telmito Agustin), another inserted into the P-Nats lineup (Jack Sundberg) and a veteran moved back and forth from the disabled list (Dale Carey) instead.

Nevertheless, there are two candidates for a move from Washington County, Maryland to Prince William County, Virginia: Blake Perkins and Daniel Johnson.

Perkins, a 2015 HS pick, has been a top 20 prospect per Baseball America for the past two years, but the promise has far exceeded the production until this year (.741 OPS vs. .592 in ‘16 and .548 in ‘15). There is also the intrigue of his having adopted switch-hitting, which brings to mind former Nats prospect Billy Burns, though Perkins has considerably more size and more power.

Johnson, a fifth-round collegiate pick, went unranked in the 2017 Baseball America handbook, which is not a surprise after an unimpressive .265/.312/.347 line for short-season Single-A Auburn in his first pro season. Though he hit 12 home runs in 57 games for New Mexico State as a 20-year-old junior last spring, his power surge from one homer in 62 games last summer to 13 in 62 games thus far should still be considered a surprise.

The best guess: Johnson gets the call before Perkins, who may stay put all season long in Hagerstown.

The caveat to all this of course, is that these guys are mostly a sight unseen. Next week, we’ll talk about guys I have seen.

Luke Erickson blogs about the Nationals’ minor league affiliates for NationalsProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter: @nats_prospects. His thoughts on the Nationals’ farm system will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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