Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospect List

As noted in the comments, John Sickels released his Top 20 Prospects for the Washington Nationals last night. Here’s the breakdown by letter grade:

B+/A- Victor Robles
B+ Erick Fedde
B Juan Soto
B- Carter Kieboom, Koda Glover, Austin Voth, Sheldon Neuse
B-/C+ A.J. Cole, Andrew Stevenson
C+ Drew Ward, Wilmer Difo*, Pedro Severino, Brian Goodwin, Tyler Watson, Rafael Bautista, Kelvin Gutierrez, Osvaldo Abreu, Joan Baez, Yasel Antuna  *Not a prospect by the usual definition (exceeded MLB service time limit), but Sickels is taking the “I get a lot of questions about him” copout
C+/C Rhett Wiseman

Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, higher grade
Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, same grade
Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, lower grade
Italics = Not on the 2016 list
Green = 2016 Draft pick
Purple = 2016-17 International Free Agent

I simplified the explanation with a key so I can get to the commentary…

What struck me the most is that the clump of “a notch better than average” players continues to be a hallmark of these Top 20’s. This time, it’s half the list, same as it was in Year 1 of this website. There’s some consolation in that there are no “C” players to crack the Top 20, as three did that year (2010) and as recently as 2014, there were four.

Conversely, this is the first list since 2012 that has no A- or better players, which I think is fair. Yes, we love our Victor Robles, but let’s be honest: He is injury prone, the arm isn’t quite as good as initially advertised (Sickels does acknowledge this), and there’s some doubt he’ll develop home-run power. Remember, there is significant value in considering the opinions outside our little bubble.

I am a little surprised that Andrew Stevenson didn’t bump up to at least a straight-up B-minus. Before folks start howling about he was the hit leader of the 2016 AFL, remember it’s a SSS and the pitching isn’t as consistent as it is in AA or AAA. Sickels is citing questions in Stevenson’s swing mechanics, which I’d infer comes from a scout or two.

Before folks get a case of the Mondays, Sickels is high on Soto:

I normally take a wait-and-see approach with guys like this but in my opinion Soto is definitely for real; features bat speed, raw power, sound swing mechanics, and a good batting eye; has the tools to be an excellent hitter and the skills to make those tools work are advanced; mediocre speed is the main weakness but he can handle a corner and I strongly believe in the bat. ETA: late 2020

He’s also a believer in both Glover and Voth, which is good news because the big club can use them this upcoming season. And for those wondering, LHP Tyler Watson is Sickels’s “SLEEPER ALERT” again.

Unlike MASN, I encourage you to click through to the link above—Sickels is no longer doing the BPB, so let’s give him some traffic, shall we?—and then comment below.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Position Players

There are four players we can agree on: Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Drew Ward, and Carter Kieboom. They’re the only ones named on every ballot. This is actually pretty normal, since the Nats aren’t typically deep in position players.

Twenty different players were named on 12 ballots (including mine), down one from last year. Robles was the clear #1 player, named #1 on eleven ballots. Juan Soto got the most second-place votes, but finished third behind Stevenson, who was in everybody’s Top 5.

Without further ado, ze list:

  1. Victor Robles
  2. Andrew Stevenson
  3. Juan Soto
  4. Drew Ward
  5. Carter Kieboom
  6. Pedro Severino
  7. Jose Marmolejos
  8. Brian Goodwin
  9. Anderson Franco
  10. Rafael Bautista

Others receiving votes: Osvaldo Abreu, Nick Banks, Kelvin Gutierrez, Yasel Antnua, Sheldon Neuse, Jakson Reetz, Raudy Read, Austin Davidson, Rhett Wiseman, Blake Perkins, Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

For those wondering, that’s five names carrying over from 2015, same as last year from 2014. Two players graduated (Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo), one was traded (Christopher Bostick), and the other two (Osvaldo Abreu and Spencer Kieboom) dropped out.

The Dominican presence also remains strong with six of the Top 10, ten of the 20 nominees being born in the D.R. or to Dominican parents. This ought not to be a shock to the mindful watchers of the Nationals minors (a.k.a. the regulars), but given the reaction to Washington refusing to overpay for a “closer,” I feel obligated to point this out for the folks who are new (and welcome) here.

Next up: The pitchers, which just got a whole less interesting (or more difficult to pick) with four would-be nominees traded in the last week.

Nats Go All in for Eaton

For those of you who work the third shift, aren’t on the Twitters, or had a date last night (hey, it could happen), Washington traded Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning for Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton.

This is hard for us as prospect followers because we become (or have become) enamored with the exploits of “our guys” and envision their future with the big club, which we saw briefly last summer with Giolito and Lopez, and were looking forward to with Dunning in 2-3 years. I’ll be the first to admit that my first thought was: “Just Adam Eaton? No PTBNL?”

That’s because I’ve become used to the consolation prize that Mike Rizzo seems to find with his trades: Joe Ross… Blake Treinen… Tanner Roark, etc.

Nope. Three maybes, two of them pretty strong, for one proven, in-his-prime major leaguer.

As the pic suggests, Rizzo appears to be going all-in for this season; at least that’s the knee-jerk narrative. But if you look more closely, and think about it a little more deeply, he’s got an OF option secured for the next five seasons at a reasonable price. This is critical because at least one of the two guys who’ll play next to him next summer won’t be here in 2019.

That’s not being Chicken Little – Jayson Werth’s skills are in decline, Bryce Harper may leave. If you’re a Pollyanna, then you look at this trade as freeing up the Cayman Island that it’ll take—and if he reverts to 2015 form, deserves—to keep Harper in DC.

If you’re bitter, or cynical, then you wonder if the Nats have soured on at least one of these three prospects and are dealing them because they’ve reached their peak and/or will get hurt. I certainly hope not because if a pattern like this emerges it will be harder for Rizzo to make trades in the future.

It’s worth paraphrasing what one scout tweeted yesterday: Prospects have three purposes (1) play for the parent club (2) use to trade for other players (3) fill out the rosters in the minors. Number one is obviously top of mind for us, but this is yet another reminder that number two may actually be number one in the minds of the Washington front office.

Last call for the Top 10 Nats Bats while we brace for the Rule 5 Draft.

Nats Make Some Minor-League Signs

As noted yesterday, the latest BA transactions post—first in nearly two weeks—was published yesterday. Here are Washington’s signees:

• RHPs – Dustin Antolin, Derek Eitel
• LHPs – Yoan Aponte, Braulio Lara
• C’s – Brian Jeroloman, Adderling Ruiz
• 2B – Corban Joseph

Antolin, whose full name (Dustin Kamakana Mai Ku’u Makualani Antolin) makes for a difficult time at the DMV, Aponte and Eitel appear ticketed for Syracuse as inventory while little can be found on Aponte, which leads to the inference that he’s low-tier IFA.

Jeroloman and Ruiz are re-signs and will likely continue in their roles as player and player-coach, respectively. Jospeh spent 2016 with the Orioles organization as a stopgap at AA and AAA and will likely do the same for the Nationals in 2017

Vote for Your Favorite Bats

favbat2016Quick! Before they get traded!

It’s time to crowdsource our favorite position players in the Washington farm system as part of our annual offseason ritual to fill the void between when the Nats get eliminated in the playoffs and a season-ending injury in Spring Training the last pitch in September and the first pitch in April.

OK, so here’s how it works… Send me your Top 10 list of minor-league position players (40-man guys are eligible as long as they have rookie status) to enfieldmass-top10bats[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or submit them in comments.

I’ll compile the votes and weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). When it feels like I’ve got a sizable number of submissions, I’ll update this post to let people know I’ve ready to write the “Top 10” post.

This will create the seventh annual NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Bats list.

Now, let’s not forget that “Bat” is my shorthand for “position player” – obviously there are guys for whom the glove is something to wear to blend in when they’re out in the field, but try to take into account both offense and defense. The National League remains stuck in the 19th century when it comes to the DH, so we can’t overlook defense entirely.

The Winter Meetings start up today at the Gaylord in National Harbor, so there’ll be plenty o’ speculation (because speculation is always Irish?) about proposed trades, both actual and agent-planted. Baseball America hasn’t had a Transactions post since before Thanksgiving but one is expected this morning, so we may have back-to-back posts this week!

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments…

Nationals Trade Pedro Avila for Derek Norris

Derek Norris for NPPAs semi-predicted in the penultimate post, the Nats have begun the plug holes via the trade route with the acquisition of former farmhand C Derek Norris from San Diego for RHP Pedro Avila.

Norris, who was traded away nearly five years ago to Oakland, will most likely split time with Jose Lobaton while Pedro Severino becomes trade bait or insurance, given his age and option status.

Avila, 19, rose quickly through the Nationals farm system making the jump from the DSL in 2015 to Low-A in 2016. He went 5-5 with 2.91 ERA in the first half, but 2-2, 4.18 in the second half, which is not uncommon for young pitchers in their first full season. The Venezueln teenager had been rated as the #23 prospect in the most recent listing by the MLB.com.

The Next CBA

New CBAAs expected, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed upon before the deadline last night. As predicted, there will be no international draft.

BUT…
(There’s always a but, isn’t there?)

In this case, the scuttlebutt on the “but” is higher bonus pools – somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to $6M per team per year – in exchange for more severe penalties on teams that exceed the limits.

As Doug Gray pointed out over at Redminorleagues.com, this new limit of $150M to $180M is roughly 40-50% of what teams spent during the last full year of International Free Agency (2015-16), including penalties.

In essence, Gray says, the MLBPA gave away $120 to 150M from amateurs to the owners in exchange for not very much; slightly higher luxury tax thresholds, tweaks to the qualifying-offer system.

To me this is same shit, different CBA. The players’ union and the owners continue to negotiate over monies spent on (or to) people not at the table. Last time, it was the minor leaguers. This time it’s the foreign-born players.

Bottom line: the players we know and love to watch play are being attached to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis. (Translation).

Don’t even go down the path of what this means socioeconomically… in both cases, young men (or teenage boys) are being asked to trade their youth and/or postpone their education in exchange for a pittance and an infinitesimally small chance to make it to the major leagues.

The Americans at least have the threat of going to college; the (mostly) Dominicans and Venezuelans have nothing. And now they have less.

More details on the CBA are forthcoming, but I’m quite confident we’re not going to see anything that will be better for our guys.

The Preliminary 2017 Watchlist

Preliminary Watchlist 2017
Here we go again on my own, traveling down the only road I’ve ever known with the seventh edition of this site’s watchlist. There’s a certain degree of fear this time around because, CBA uncertainty aside, it feels like this might get blown up in less than a month.

Why? Because even Stevie Wonder can see that the big club’s window may be closing soon, and there are immediate needs at multiple positions. Free agency may solve some of the problems, but a trade or two seems possible, if not imminent.

That means some of these guys might not be here by the time this is finalized. It’s happened before.

Truth be told, I think they should listen to any and all offers for anybody listed below. The December 2011 trade accelerated the timeline from pretender to contender; we certainly don’t want to hear the jokes about no DUIs at Rizzo’s sports bar (because you’re done after just one round).

Now for a quick explanation on what the watchlist is (and isn’t):

Six years ago, I decided to list the players that had shown some promise by position; guys who were worth watching. I don’t give a rat’s @ss about what round a player was drafted in or how much of a bonus he got.

Those two things are decided by the market and the draft rules, neither of which are fair. But I understand that they influence decisions due to the factors of “sunk cost” and reputation (of the drafter, not the draftee).

Now for the “isn’ts”…

It’s not a depth chart. It’s ordered by the highest level played to date. The guys at the top of the column are not necessarily better than the guys at the bottom.

It’s (mostly) based on 2016 usage. The Nats have a history of rotating MIs between 2B and SS, trying to develop utility players, and being weak at the corners of the IF and OF.

It’s preliminary. I can’t spend the time that I used to on this site, so I’m depending on my readers to call me out in the comments. That doesn’t mean that I’ll respond to every suggestion or crticism, but I will listen.

Now, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that I’ve collapsed two categories and expanded another. This is for aesthetics: Washington has a shipload of right-handed pitching prospects, and thimbleful of middle infielders worth listing.

Take a look a look, tell me what you think, and let’s get the 2016-17 offseason started.

C 1B 2B/SS 3B OF RHRP
Severino Skole Abreu Ward Goodwin Glover
Read Marmolejos Sagdal Gutierrez Bautista Brinley
Barrera Simonetti C. Kieboom Davidson Stevenson Mendez
Harris Bogetto Keller M. Sanchez
Robles Pantoja
Agustin Peterson
Wiseman Fuentes
Johnson F. Peguero
Soto
Florentino
RHSPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms Notable Arms
Notable Bats
R. Lopez Crownover Cabello Sisneros Mapes Ballou
Giolito Borne Falcon Guillen J. Rodriguez S. Kieboom
Voth Guilbeau Mesa Chu Baez Banks
Simms
Watson Morales Duran Rivera Corredor
Valdez McDonald Pascal J. Peguero Rishwain Franco
Avila Braymer
A. Lee
Dunning
W. Davis
Sharp
C. Peña

Happy Thanksgiving

As it did a year ago, it seems quiet on the minor-league front, like January before the prospect books arrive. The two major Top 10 lists — Baseball America and John Sickels — haven’t been published yet and most of the online stories center on the exploits of the AFL contingent.

Yesterday, the first salvo in the PR war for the new CBA was fired, with MLB threatening a lockout if a deal’s not agreed to by next Thursday. Who shot first is telling because ownership knows it has a built-in advantage — casual/uninformed fans will favor them over the players because the former is jealous of the latter — but I sincerely doubt we’ll see an international draft rather than some changes in the new rules regarding IFAs.

This may explain some of the quiet, of course, so I’ll let this lie here — especially since some of the national writers who actually understand law and labor negotiations haven’t weighted in yet.

Back to the original purpose of the post...

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I’m nine days removed from stomach surgery. I’ll be stuffing nothing, just eating sides and in small portions. But we’ll be celebrating my oldest son’s 17th birthday, and not out on the roads in any way, shape, or form.

This is by no means the worst Thanksgiving I will have ever had because I’ll be home and with family; 20 years ago, as I was finishing up my master’s degree in Oregon, I was neither.

So with that, I’ll dispense with the usual Thanksgiving instructions:
• Stay safe
• Show some plate discipline
• Call your mother

Saturday Smorgasbord

A lot of this has already been discussed in the comments, but for the sake of posterity…

NATS ADD FIVE TO THE 40-MAN AHEAD OF THE RULE 5 DRAFT
• Matt Skole
• Austin Voth
• Rafael Bautista
• Raudy Read
• Jose Marmolejos
Let’s be blunt: the Rule 5 Draft is like the pickings at a singles bar at the end of the night (or so I’m told 😉 ) – it’s a function of attention relative to what else is available. It’s not difficult to break down: They’re all relatively cheap backups to the backups, as were Bostick, Lee, and Kieboom a year ago. I’m always happy to see our guys win this “lottery” because the system otherwise is stacked against them — especially the guys from the D.R.

But let’s not kid ourselves that this is anything more than procedural maneuvering. GM Mike Rizzo just raised the price on five trading chips as the Winter Meetings approach (yeah, I know they’re local this year, but I don’t think I have the guts to go *rimshot!*).

AFL THOUGHTS
Very little that’s been posted in the comments I would disagree with… Andrew Stevenson has raised his stock and scouts have noticed, which makes other folks more tradeable. It’s no secret that the ideal path for Trea Turner is Robin Yount in reverse, but Rizzo appears to be showing folks with the placements of Stevenson and Bautista that he does have CF depth and therefore Victor Robles may be had (albeit along with someone else, no doubt).

Drew Ward had the kind of fall that everybody has been waiting for while Osvaldo Abreu held his own, thought not enough to be protected from next month’s Rule 5. Nick Lee wasn’t re-added, so he’s eligible to be drafted, as is Jake Johansen, whom I suspect the Nats wouldn’t mind terribly if he were taken because it’d take away some of the disappointment that’s almost entirely due to his draft position. Ryan Brinley, who got lit like Kennedy at an open bar at AA, seems to have re-established himself.

IT’S THE BUIES CREEK ASTROS
Those of you on the Twitters have already seen this rant, but for the rest of you: Yesterday, the new, 10th team in the Carolina League was officially introduced — the Buies Creek Astros.

Ultimately, the team will be located in Fayetteville, but for two seasons the Astros affiliate will call tiny (pop. 2,942) Buies Creek, NC its home on the campus of Campbell University.

It’s a boon for the small, private college, which will see its facility upgraded by the Astros and will reportedly collect all revenue generated by the games. And it’s a HUGE MISSED MARKETING OPPORTUNITY.

Why? Well, anything with “Buies Creek” is already a collector’s item. But they could have had fun with that it’s a dry town and (mostly) a dry county and called themselves the Buies Creek Bootleggers. Instead, they chose the least imaginative name and logos.