Jan 292011
 

Remember the last two snowstorms? Well, this week’s came too early to fulfill my private prediction that we’d get another just in time to preempt our third attempt to visit family in New England. So, as you might imagine, posts will slow (though it was a busy week this week wasn’t it?).

My Baseball America book came in the mail on Thursday. After the flurry of Keith Law posts, I chose to put my time into working on the player watchlists, as previously posted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve updated the page for lefthanded starters and published the page for righthanded starters, leaving unfinished the guys that I hope may be included in the Sickels book, which I hope to have in my hands upon my return.

And though his site is now officially gone, NFA Brian still lives on Twitter and I have to pass along two tweets combined into one quote regarding the BA book:

[Ten] of the 30 #Nationals were acquired in the last year — Harper (1), Cole (4), Ramos (5), Solis (6), Maya (11), Hague (14), Ray (15), ElvRamirez (20), Martinson (22), & Tatusko (26)

Add in the 2009 draft picks that are still in the system — Kobernus (21), Rosenbaum (23), Holder (28) — and that’s 13 out of 30 from the Rizzo era. This is not to say we’ll be the next Kansas City (let’s face it: that many high-risk/high-reward picks panning out does require a certain amount of luck), but we’re getting there… maybe not as fast as folks want, but it’s progress.

Jan 272011
 

As posted earlier, Keith Law has released his Top 10 Prospect List for each of the 30 MLB teams as well as his Top 100 prospects overall. Three Nationals made the latter. Most of you will guess that Bryce Harper (#2) and Derek Norris (#33) made the cut, but the surprise? Wilson Ramos (#95) made it over Danny Espinosa.

Without further ado, here’s the Law list:

  1. Bryce Harper, RF
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Wilson Ramos, C
  4. A.J. Cole, RHP
  5. Danny Espinosa, SS
  6. Sammy Solis, LHP
  7. Eury Perez, OF
  8. Robbie Ray, LHP
  9. Chris Marrero, 1B
  10. Destin Hood, OF

The inclusion of Ramos appears to be a function of Law’s belief that the number of legitimate catching prospects is scarce. He cites his throwing arm and bat (for average) as above-average tools but questions how much Ivan Rodriguez will be able to help him in the art of game-calling.

Law believes that Norris’s defensive reputation is undeserved, believing that he can work himself into becoming an average receiver while citing his above-average arm and adequate release (Derek does have a habit of fumbling sometimes). Naturally, he sides with the obvious assessment that Norris’s hitting skills will return 2009 form and his power will continue to develop.

Finally, while there’s not much to say about Bryce Harper that hasn’t already been said, it’s interesting to note that Law believes that CF is not necessarily out of the question, if for no other reason than it eliminates the need for him to learn the angles necessary to play RF. Like most, Law believes his ascent will be timed by how quickly he adjusts to better breaking pitches.

Jan 272011
 

There was another great article that was put up yesterday on ESPN Insider (yes, it’s a paid subscription, but well worth it) written by ProspectInsider.com’s Jason Churchill.

As the pic suggests, it’s about the minor leagues and what it takes to build a good farm system, a.k.a. the talent pipeline. But it also bears repeating that there is no one right way to do this. Tampa Bay (#2 this year per Keith Law), for example, leans heavily on the U.S. for its talent; Texas (#1 last year) has been aggressive with international signings and/or trading for international talent.

As we’ve already seen in the comments from yesterday, there are philosophical debates as to when and how high to draft high schoolers… and there are teams that have had success (Kansas City) and teams that have not (*ahem*).

Among the highlights from Churchill’s article…

Recycling Talent — Which means developing players for both the parent club and trade fodder. It’s common for folks to remark about how it’s tough for a third baseman with Zimmerman at the top. But that also handicaps Washington if he were to get hurt, decline, or demand a trade. Having the next Ryan Zimmerman ready gives the team options that right now it doesn’t have.

Balancing The Draft Against The International Market — This is a bit of a third rail for Nationals fans, but Churchill points out that while the domestic draft is considered safer, some teams have been successful leaning heavily on IFAs. His overall point? Any team that doesn’t go outside the U.S. is at a disadvantage. My personal opinion is that folks obsess too much about the high-dollar IFAs, when the evidence is ample that spreading that money out over more players is a better value play. Doesn’t mean I’m right, of course.

Spending — Teams that go over slot tend to get better talent. In a related story, being tall is conducive to playing basketball. But Churchill points out how a “rich” team like the Mets (#26 per Law), which has not been a big spender, is languishing while a team like Cincinnati (#8) has been both spending and getting results. Unfortunately, there are teams like Philadelphia (#5) that seem be able to spend conservatively and still get good results, which contradicts Churchill, too.

The Right Kind Of Depth — I’m going to quote Churchill directly: “The kind of depth that matters means having a true abundance of a particular position or skill, such as starting pitching. Having a good player is nice, being able to spare one is better.” (The italics are mine because it echoes my sentiments exactly). The whiners Folks wrung their hands over not being able to trade for Zach Greinke and Matt Garza, but that’s primarily because such a move would have been almost literally betting the farm (which is basically what Milwaukee did, coming in at #30 per Law and not having a single Top-100 prospect).

Today might just be another multiple-post day, but I thought I’d give the snowbound folks a little some to read and discuss while we wait for the thaw.

Jan 262011
 

As the pic suggests, that would be #19, like Paul Hardcastle’s sole U.S. hit single. Maybe that’s not something to get all that excited about… until you consider that just two years ago Mr. Law had Washington at #29 and last year, it was #23.

Law describes this as “a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM,” pointing to spending beyond the top pick, as our guest columnist Marcus Wyche wrote yesterday. My point in dedicating a post to this is that the folks that believe Law “has it in for the Nats” — much like the Lieutenant Dans — need to reconsider their prejudices.

Tomorrow, Law ranks his Top 100 prospects, which may get some play here tomorrow. Bryce Harper getting ranked #3 by MLB.com for its Top 50 didn’t because quite frankly it felt like I’d done a post like that recently.

Jan 262011
 

Picking up where we left off yesterday, guest columnist Marcus Wyche breaks down the Top 5 candidates for the Nationals second first-round pick at #23 overall. Without further ado…

By Marcus Wyche

As I mentioned yesterday, while Rizzo has been favoring big-body, power-arm pitchers, he’s also shown a tendency to hedge his bets by taking a risk pick along with a safe bet. With the #23 pick, I’m envisioning a bit of a gamble.

TOP FIVE FOR THE SECOND PICK AT #23 OVERALL

  1. Alex Meyer, RHP – Univ. of Kentucky
    Another big guy (6-8, 205) with a power arm. Based just upon stuff, he could be drafter much higher than #23 but he’s been inconsistent with control and he’d be a good pick at this spot.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  2. Archie Bradley, RHP – Broken Arrow H.S. (Oklahoma)
    Another great high school athlete that has already committed to play QB for Oklahoma. Based on potential, he could be drafted much higher than this but could also fall due to his commitment to Oklahoma. He’s a power arm from the right side with a big frame (6-4, 225). He’s already been clocked as high as 95 mph.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  3. Michael Kelly, RHP West Boca H.S. (Florida)
    High ceiling high school pitcher. Already sits in the low 90s. Also features a changeup and curve ball in his arsenal.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  4. Blake Swihart, C – Cleveland H.S. (New Mexico)
    Nationals have had some success lately developing and picking H.S. catchers. Derek Norris is the obvious name but Sandy Leon has done well so far, too. Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher with developing power and a good arm behind the plate.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  5. Travis Harrison, OF/IF – Tustin H.S. (California)
    Scouts argue on where to project him in the pros. I’ve seen him listed as an OF/3B/1B. No one doubts this guy’s power from the right side. He’s a high- risk, high-reward player in the first round but we lack young power prospects in our farm system and he’d be a great addition, no matter where he plays.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2

Other Names to Watch: Dillon Maples, RHP – Pinecrest H.S. (North Carolina) HS; Jack Armstrong, RHP – Vanderbilt; Charlie Tilson, OF – New Trier H.S. (Illinois); Noe Ramirez, RHP – Cal State Fullerton

My picks for the Nationals would be Jackie Bradley and Travis Harrison. Washington right now lacks a truly viable CF prospect aside from Eury Perez and we have few high-school power bats in our system. Bradley would be a safe pick with a solid ceiling attached to him and should be in the majors within a year or two of being drafted. Harrison will be more of a volatile prospect, and will take longer to develop, but I like his ceiling and he could add a legitimate H.S. corner IF prospect to our system.

More Links To Follow The MLB Draft

MLB Bonus Baby’s Mock Draft

Five Tool Talk’s Mock Draft

My MLB Draft’s Mock Draft

Minor League Ball’s Mock Draft #3

A Scout’s View

Prospect Junkies’ Mock Draft

Jan 252011
 

Today we have a guest column from Marcus Wyche, a student at George Mason University who’s been kind enough to take me up on my offer to write about the upcoming 2011 draft, which would otherwise get short shrift since I’m not a “draftnik.”  Today, Marcus breaks down the Top 5 candidates for the #6 pick. Tomorrow, we’ll see his Top 5 choices for the #23 pick. Without further ado…

By Marcus Wyche

Since we have two picks in the first round this year, I decided to do things a little differently. I’m going to list a Top 5 for our top two picks in the first round. I know, I know we have three first round picks but the last one is too far away to even guess. As a matter of fact, the players I’m listing for the second pick could be picked out of a draft-eligible hat and the odds are that the random guess is as good as mine.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has been preaching athleticism, pitching, and defense since he took over the team in 2009. In his first two drafts, the Nationals have favored big-frame, power-arm pitchers and have also avoided the super toolsy outfielders with little on-field results. Washington has spent more on the draft than any other team in MLB the past two years; obviously due in large part to #1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

Still, as the Nats continue rebuilding its farm system, I expect Washington to continue to spend a lot of money on the draft. A player’s “signability” should not be an issue. Nevertheless, I do believe Rizzo will also hedge his bets and pick one guy who is almost a sure thing to make it to the Majors (e.g. Sammy Solis, Drew Storen type) and another guy who is a high-risk/high-reward type(A.J. Cole).

TOP FIVE FOR THE FIRST PICK AT #6 OVERALL

Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Matt Purke are all but guaranteed to go in the top three. Even if one of them falls lower, I doubt they will fall to number six with Orioles and Royals still picking in front of the Nats. But if any of them do, expect that player to be chosen.

  1. Jackie Bradley, OF – USC
    Competing in the SEC, he managed a 1.061 OPS last year with a .368 BA and helped his team win the College World Series. He only had 13 HRs but even if his power doesn’t develop, he should still make it to the majors just based upon his defense in CF.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  2. George Springer, OF – UConn
    Has one of the highest ceilings in the draft. Has gone 45/50 in SB attempts in his college career with 34 HRs and a great arm. He has more than his fair share of strikeouts and his plate discipline will be put to the test against advanced competition. Potential five-tool talent.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  3. Taylor Jungmann, RHP – Univ. of Texas
    Big guy (6-6, 220), power arm — just the type of pitcher Rizzo likes. Struck out 129 batters, with a 1.08 WHIP and a 9.68 K/9 last year in the Big 12. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he’s been clocked in the 94-95 range as well. Also features a spike curve ball and changeup in his repertoire.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  4. Bubba Starling, OF/RHP – Gardner Edgerton H.S. (Kansas)
    He’s already committed to play QB at Nebraska, so it will definitely take an over-slot deal to sign him. Starling doesn’t have the showcase pedigree like some of the other talented two-way H.S. stars, but his ceiling is higher than any H.S. position player in the draft, making him an early first-round selection.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  5. Daniel Norris, LHP – Science Hill H.S. (Tennessee)
    Lefthanders with a plus fastball are not easy to come by, especially so young. Norris has been clocked as high as 96mph and generally pitches in the low 90s. He also has a changeup. Unfortunately, young pitching is very volatile and the Nationals don’t have the best track record developing H.S. starting pitchers. Brad Peacock has been the most successful thus far.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2

Other names to consider: Sonny Gray, RHP – Vanderbilt; Matt Barnes, RHP – UConn; Trevor Bauer, RHP – UCLA

Jan 242011
 

As alluded to in my previous post, the signings of Adam LaRoche, Todd Coffey, Tom Gorzelanny, and Jerry Hairston Jr. will result in some folks being bumped off the 40-man roster.

Last week, J.D. Martin was released outright to make room for LaRoche. Today, we learned that Shairon Martis was designated for assignment to make room for Hairston. Martis had been acquired in 2006 from the San Francisco Giants in a July deadline deal for reliever Mike Stanton.

Martis spent all of 2010 with Syracuse, after starting 15 games for Washington in 2009, and four games as a September call-up in 2008. His time with the parent club was most noted for for his loss of command, which jumped from 2.2 BB/9 in Syracuse to 4.1 BB/9 in Washington, and a tendency to give up the gopher ball (11 in 85⅔ innings).

I’m sure folks will speculate in the comment about who’s next, as it appears there are still two more moves to go…

Jan 212011
 

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post like this, but the usual “filler stories” have been wanting. The past two BA transaction updates have been wanting, either reporting no news or news that we already had reported. Given that it took nearly two full weeks for the J.D. Martin move to make room for Adam LaRoche, I’m not holding my breath to find out who else will be cut or outrighted (but props to SpringfieldFan to keeping the Big Board up to date).

Since we’re not quite at the point where I can jump into parent-club fray under the guise of spring training — in a more perfect world, I’d be going to Viera for a week, but the budget (both monetary and spousal tolerance) isn’t there — I thought I’d pass along a few links with some commentary.

All three books have been ordered, so the anticipated posts of what the experts think are forthcoming. But it’s useful to see what other online folks think outside our little bubble, even if it’s under the dreaded auspice of rankings.

Fangraphs listed its Top 10 Nats prospects, with only one real surprise: J.P. Ramirez as its #10 pick. Our spies will feel some validation when they read this:

His ticket to the Majors is definitely tied to his bat. He’s not a speedy player by any means, which hampers him on the base paths and in the field. His arm is also average-at-best and he’ll be limited to left field.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Bryce Harper as the #2 OF prospect, which thus far has raised a couple of hackles, but is a good example of the hair-splitting that I can’t stand about rankings. Why wouldn’t you rank a five-tool guy with 800+ professional PAs ahead of a kid that has less than 40 (counting the AFL as official, which it isn’t)? I took that to mean: Wow, that must mean Mike Trout is pretty damn good.

Finally, the folks over at www.prospectjunkies.com have been making their Top 10’s, and guess what? They rank Harper the #1 OF prospect. Derek Norris comes in as their #7 catching prospect. (For those of you wondering, they’ve been sour on Ramos as a hitter, which is fair as you can see they value offense more than defense) while Danny Espinosa comes in as their #9 shortstop

Now, if history is any guide, now that I’ve done a post-to-keep-the-site-fresh, naturally something else will happen today…

Jan 182011
 

The early reaction to the trade was, of course, negative — “Seems like an awful lot to give up”, “We’re trading young for old?!” and my personal favorite “Two top four picks for a fifth starter?”

Some phrased it in the form of a question: “Would you trade John Lannan for Michael Burgess and A.J. Morris?” Let me repeat my answer:

Yes. Neither name so far has been a player that’s likely to play at Syracuse, much less Washington in 2011

This, of course, was written before we knew who the third player was (Graham Hicks) but all sources were indicating that the last player would be either very young or very old for a prospect. Now, I realize the Syracuse line seems a little harsh, but thus far Rizzo has not shown a proclivity to rush his pitchers, no matter how old or how promising (e.g. Adam Carr, Cole Kimball).

Since I have the resource of some astute commenters, let me quote Souldrummer at length before adding on:

To me, it’s a crapshoot between two GM’s prospect evaluation skills. Rizzo has to be shrewd enough to evaluate which of the many faces of Gorzelanny (real good Pirates pitcher, absolute disaster pitcher, replacement-level pitcher, serviceable swingman) will show up based on his scouts’ assessments. The Cubs have to assess whether there’s any juice in Morris and the two meh prospects. I think that we have a deep enough pool of C+ prospects where we can risk guys who won’t pan out before 2012.

One the constant complaints in the Natmosphere is how we can’t or won’t make trades unless it’s considered a cost-saving maneuver. As we saw from the Garza and Greinke postmortems, virtually every move seemed to involve the likes of the guys that we’re already counting on for 2011 and beyond — Zimmermann, Espinosa, Norris, etc. As I’ve stated before, we don’t have the depth in those areas to replace those prospects.

This trade, however, represents a trade in two places in the Nats where Washington does have some depth: outfielders and right-handed relievers (my apologies on the latter to the newbies, but I made the page live to make my point; it’ll be filled in later when the scouting books start to come in).

Morris had been seventh on our watchlist for right-handed relievers, which isn’t a depth chart per se, but note that there are also seven more relievers behind him. It nearly goes without saying that Bryce Harper had been breathing down Burgess’s neck after outshining him in the AFL. Hicks had been sixth on our watchlist for left-handed starters but with fewer behind him and only one younger. He may very well be the hidden gem in this trade, but as Souldrummer said, he was not on the immediate horizon.

Left unsaid until now was what this trade represents: insurance. Rizzo has acquired a serviceable left-handed pitcher without significant injury or performance issues — unlike Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Mien Wang, Ross Detwiler, Jason Marquis and Yunesky Maya. Trading three prospects with significant questions is not too much to give, not when you have it to spare.

Jan 172011
 

Multiple sources are reporting that the Nationals have traded three prospects to the Cubs for journeyman Tom Gorzelanny. Bill Ladson has tweeted that none of the players given up (reported to be two pitchers and an outfielder) are of major significance. Gorzelanny is expected to compete for a spot in the Washington rotation after going 7-9 with a 4.09ERA for Chicago last season.

More details to come as the new breaks…

UPDATE #1: Foxsports.com is reporting that Michael Burgess is among the three prospects.

UPDATE #2: Ben Goessling is confirming that report via his contacts.

UPDATE #3: Mark Zuckerman is speculating that the two pitchers will be already on the 40-man.

UPDATE #4: Bill Ladson is reporting that A.J. Morris is among the three.

UPDATE #5: Jim Callis of Baseball America says the other pitcher is not in their Top 30.

UPDATE #6: Ladson has tracked down the last pitcher. It’s Graham Hicks.