Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bisenius' surprise opportunity

For professional ballplayers, the independent leagues are a last resort, a Hail Mary attempt to keep their career alive and perhaps score a second chance with a major-league organization. More often than not, it signals the end of a career.

Joe Bisenius didn't know what to expect this spring when, out of a job after six seasons in the Phillies' system, he swallowed his pride and went home to Sioux City, Iowa, to try out with the Explorers of the independent American Association. Turns out the right-hander needed only four days of workouts to convince the Nationals to sign him to a minor-league contract.

"It ended up working out," he said.

That's an understatement. Bisenius tonight will find himself sitting in the Nationals' bullpen, ready and available to be used in a big-league game after getting a surprise September promotion. The 28-year-old had his contract purchased from Class AAA Syracuse after a brief-yet-impressive showing there.

A 12th-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2004, Bisenius is a flamethrower who made two relief appearances for Philadelphia early in 2007 but stagnated in the minors the next two years. He left the organization after last season, tried out with the Explorers, got noticed by the Nats and wound up pitching at Class A Potomac by mid-May.

Bisenius impressed at each level of the Nationals organization, posting a 1.23 ERA in six appearances at Potomac, then a 3-0 record and 4.40 ERA in 14 games at Harrisburg, then a 2.70 ERA in 14 appearances at Syracuse. Plenty of people within the organization weren't really aware of his progress, but the right people in the front office were well aware of it.

"I worked with all the different coaches, and everything just kind of came together," he said.

And when Bisenius struck out 12 over his final 8 1/3 innings at Syracuse, pitching Greg Booker made the recommendation to the big club that this guy deserved a promotion. The Nationals also felt like it was worth adding him to the 40-man roster and not risk losing him after the season.

"When a guy that has kind of arm, when you get reports of a guy pitching in the high 90s, you can't just let him walk away in the winter," Jim Riggleman said. "He would be a six-year free agent and could go sign somewhere else. We've kind of had him in our system for a while this year and made some progress with him. So you'd like to look at him in September and make the decision about him over the winter. If we didn't bring him here, we probably would not have been on his list of candidates to sign with this winter."

Not bad for a guy who showed up in Sioux City this spring hoping to catch a break in the independent leagues. Turns out Bisenius caught a big break, though he never doubted it would come.

"I mean, yeah, I was looking to get back to the big leagues," he said. "If you're in the minor leagues and don't think you can get back to the big leagues, you probably shouldn't be there. So yeah, I definitely envisioned getting back."


rogieshan said...

Riggleman: "If we didn't bring him here, we probably would not have been on his list of candidates to sign with this winter."

One has to figure Bergmann, Mandel, Wilkie and Chuck James' days in the organization are numbered.

Ken said...

What's with the total lack of respect for Josh Wilkie? All Wilkie has done, is put up some very impressive number the last three seasons as he worked his way up from Potomac to Syracuse.

Not only does Wilkie deserve a chance to show his stuff in the last month of the season, but purchasing his contract should be a no brainer.

For one, he's 2 years younger than Bisenius, and has a much better minor league record over the past 5 years, in two of which he was "healthy". while Bisenius wasn't.

I wish you or one of the others who follow the Nats would ask Rizzo a not so hard question as to why Wilkie isn't being called up,l or even being considered.

Please, Mark, ask the quest.

bdrube said...

@Kenz aFan - Wilkie is a nice story being undrafted and a local kid, but the days of affirmative action callups like Mike Hinckley are over. How many guys on the big league roster do we have that can throw high 90s? Not nearly enough.

Ken said...

@bdrube - So a pitcher doing an outstanding job as he works his way up through the system isn't enough? So now all pitchers to be called up must also pitch in the mid to high 90s?

Puh'lease, more than half the pitchers in the majors cant pitch over 92 MPH.

Anonymous said...

Wilkie's also only given up 2 HR all season.

souldrummer said...

I'm a Wilkie fan and I really wanted to see him get called up. Mark's article points out the real reason why they aren't going to promote him, though. The Nats have a bunch of tough decisions to make in the offseason regarding the 40-man roster. Sometime between the end of the season and the beginning of the Winter Meetings, there will be room for much discussion of the 40-man roster and the implications of some of the moves we choose to make. For now, I think that it's important to understand a couple of things:
1) Our 40-man is going to get crowded in a hurry with the back end pitching depth and fringy prospects.
2) They are playing a guessing game with some of the prospects to think about who other organizations would be interested in for the Rule 5 draft or as minor league free agents.

Bisenius has high velocity stuff that other teams like. Wilkie throws low velocity junk that other scouts tend to shy away from. Bisenius throws with velocity and a higher K/9 than Wilkie, two things that play better in the big leagues.

As Mark quotes, "When a guy that has kind of arm, when you get reports of a guy pitching in the high 90s, you can't just let him walk away in the winter," Jim Riggleman said. "He would be a six-year free agent and could go sign somewhere else."

So he's going to occupy a 40-man spot and he's going to get a chance to pitch some down the stretch possibly even in some medium leverage innings. He was warming up at some point during tonight's game.

If Wilkie is put on the 40-man, it's because they think that some other team would pick him up in the Rule 5 draft. He's done a lot to convince folks he can pitch in AAA, but he has to be flat out dominant with his junk to convince another MLB team to pick him in the Rule 5 draft and keep him on their MLB roster. If he's not drafted rule 5, I believe he remains under team control and then they might as well keep him plying his trade in Syracuse.

I was kind of bummed when Bisenius got picked over Wilkie, but Mark really broke it down for me here. I wasn't aware of the 40-man considerations.

Now if anyone can explain to me why Kevin Mench is in DC, I would appreciate it. I guess we're just that shallow.

Here's one of those times when you realize just how much we'll miss Brian at Natsfarm's Big Board. ;-(

Big Cat said...

While Wilkie has good stats in AAA, that almighty radar gun is probably keeping him back. Also, one must remember that daily reports go to the Nats from Syracuse evaluating guys like Wilkies progress. My guess is that the reports on him are that he is a good AAA pitcher but doesn't have the stuff to consistently get major league hitters out. There are dozens of such minor league players kicking around just dieing for a chance to show what they got in "the show" Wilkie will probably have to change organizations to get a chance. Pittsburg could certainly use him

Sunderland said...

souldrummer - thanks for breaking that down so I even I could understand it.

Souldrummer said...

Thanks for the feedback! I never know when I go long whether I'm just rambling or making a genuine contribution.
@Big Cat
Good point. I was particularly saddened that Wilkie, pitching in a high leverage situation for Syracuse on the last day they were in the playoff hunt, gave up five or six runs to take the loss that eliminated Syracuse from the playoffs.

Berndaddy said...

I wish we could get Brian Oliver to defend Wilkie...oh well...

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