Luke Erickson

Luke Erickson is a season-ticket holder for the Potomac Nationals, but makes a point of seeing games in Hagerstown and Harrisburg at least once a summer. When the PNats are away on the weekend, Luke finds a minor-league game somewhere to watch, and generally attends 70-80 baseball games a year up across several states. A former sportswriter with newspapers in Massachusetts and Oregon, Luke lives in Western Fairfax County with his wife and two sons.

Dec 242014
 

Xmas-2014-SpikeNo, really — we wish you the best for whatever holiday tradition you observe, be it religious or secular (and if you’re American, it’s probably both). More importantly, my hope is that by the time you read this, you’re at your desired destination and spending time with who you want to be with, or who wants to be with you.

Remember that the rituals and traditions that you do this time of year are what those who love you will remember you by. Like getting pizza on Christmas Eve, which was a big deal because we rarely got takeout food. Yet what I wouldn’t give to have one of my Mom’s semi-homemade efforts.

Anyway, be safe and be happy today, tomorrow, and always.

Dec 212014
 

2015 Watchlist
As alluded previously, when I’m at a loss for what to post, I take a look at what I did around this time last year and follow my digital footsteps. We can only hope that GM Mike Rizzo will hold at 30 trades for a few days and not require any more edits this week.

Thus, I present to you the fifth annual NationalsProspects.com Watchlist — this is a selection of Washington’s minor-leaguers that we’ve got our eye on. Most are prospects to some degree or another, be it by age, tool(s), or dexterity. Some have lost their luster, or have gotten hurt, but are talked or written about often enough to merit their own category.

Now, for the obligatory caveats…

It’s not a depth chart — Players are listed primarily by the highest level at which they played significant time. This mostly applies to the pitchers and outfielders, but folks should not infer that the player at the top of the list is necessarily better than the guy at the bottom.

It’s not a prediction of usage — In the early iterations, I was dumb bold enough to list starters and relievers. Now, I simply list them by their handedness. Some of the IFs could be listed elsewhere, but I’ve done my best to balance aesthetics against projections.

It’s not fair — You may have noticed some names have been dropped and shuffled around since the preliminary list was unveiled. In the case of the former, it’s because the depth has increased. In the case of the latter, It’s because I’ve been influenced to change my mind (it happens).

Given the new world order, it’s a little daunting to think of the next steps, but my gut feeling is that I’ll do it, but I’ll stretch the work out over a longer period of time.

In the meantime, feel free to kvetch in the comments…

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Severino Skole Renda S. Perez
Ward Taylor
Kieboom Wooten Bostick Difo Gunter Goodwin
Read Yezzo Davidson Turner* Gutierrez Vettleson
Reetz Marmolejos-Diaz T. Alvarez
Lora Aguero Ballou
Bautista
Carey
Corredor
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms M*A*S*H Notables
Hill Grace Pimentel Baez Rosenbaum Kobernus
Cole Br. Harper
Agustin Fuentes F. Rivero Dykstra
Ross Spann Robles Cespedes Purke Benincasa
Voth Silvestre Mota Y. Ramirez
Solis Self
Simms Thomas A. Martinez
Bermudez J. Rodriguez
Pleffner
Dickson Walsh Fedde Turnbull
Mendez Reynoso Johansen
De Los Santos
Suero
Giolito
Pivetta
R. Lopez
Dickey
Je. Ramirez

* Will not play for Washington until June 2015 due to MLB Draft rules

Dec 192014
 

Baseball America for NPP
Having confirmed the new list via Twitter, here’s the new-and-improved Washington Nationals Top 10 list from Baseball America (Last year’s ranking in parentheses):

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP (1)
2. Michael Taylor, OF (7)
3. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP (–)
4. Erick Fedde, RHP (’14 Draft Pick)
5. A.J. Cole, RHP (2)
6. Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS (–)
7. Drew Ward, 3B (17)
8. Brian Goodwin, OF (3)
9. Nick Pivetta, RHP (22)
10. Austin Voth, RHP (15)

If you’re a TCU an A.J. Cole fan, you’re probably wondering what he did to drop three slots, but I think the better way to look at it is that the three guys ahead of him simply have either more upside (Fedde) or were in stratosphere this past summer (Taylor, Lopez).

Steve Souza was originally the #5 prospect on this list, though I think most most folks already knew this as the top 10 list was leaked (tweeted) earlier this week.

I’m a bit curious as to why Brian Goodwin remains ranked so high, given this tidbit (italics added):

They pushed him to Double-A Harrisburg by the second half of 2012, but he followed a lackluster 2013 with a horrific 2014 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse that ended on July 1 when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder sliding into second base.

Granted, Goodwin throws righthanded, but injury experts have long held that the torn labrum is baseball’s most fearsome injury, not to mention the conventional wisdom that shoulder injuries in general are what ends or alters baseball careers.

Unfortunately, BA did not weigh in on Difo’s defensive prowess so the SS vs. 2B debate will have to wait until the book is released or perhaps John Sickels’s book is released. They did, however, note that Drew Ward may outgrow 3B, pointing to his size-16 cleats and describing his footwork as merely adequate while noting his arm was strong and accurate.

BA’s projections for 2015 were as follows:

AAA –Taylor, Cole, Goodwin
High-A — Giolito, Lopez, Difo, Ward, Pivetta
Not specified — Fedde, Voth

I still believe Giolito will be jumped to AA (and would love to be wrong) because the Nats have not been keen on letting high-profile prospects play at Potomac (see: Strasburg, Harper, Goodwin). Voth is a near-lock to return to Harrisburg, while I’d expect Fedde to follow the track of Giolito and start out at the GCL and perhaps make an appearance with Auburn late in the year.

Dec 172014
 

Sorry, no “pair of Padres” pun this time.

Another December trade has the Nats taking part in an 11-player, three-team trade that will be known elsewhere as “Myers To Friars” and perhaps to us (Nationals fans) as the Souza for Turner trade.

Late-bloomer Steven Souza (2007, 3rd Rd.) and teenage southpaw Travis Ott (2013, 25th Rd.) are the two players reported to be on the move. In return immediately will be RHP Joe Ross (2011, 1st Rd.) while 2014 1st Rd. pick SS Trea Turner will be eligible to join the Washington organization in June, thanks to MLB’s rules that prohibit draft picks from being traded within a year of signing.

Obviously, most folks are interpreting this as a move to acquire a possible successor to Ian Desmond by using a bench/role player, albeit one coming off a career year as the International League’s MVP while giving up a young southpaw in exchange for AA pitcher. Having just traded for 2B Chris Bostick, one has to wonder if another trade is coming or if there’s another PTBNL in this deal, which, as of this writing, is not official yet.

Tacitly, it would also seem that GM Mike Rizzo is agreeing with the scouts who say that Difo is a 2B and not a SS. If you’re the type that likes to bring the tartar sauce when you go after a white whale, then you counter with the notion that when Turner comes in Difo moves up and whoever’s playing SS in Harrisburg steps aside.

A little more on the new guys…

Turner split time between SS-A Eugene and Low-A Fort Worth, posting a combined line of .323/.406/.448 with 23 steals in 69 games. He’s considered an 80-grade speedster but there are questions about his ability to hit for average at the upper levels. Defensively, he’s the unusual 3B-to-SS convert despite his size (6’1″, 170).

Ross made 19 starts for High-A Lake Elsinore and three starts for AA San Antonio with a combined ERA of 3.92 and a WHIP of 1.258. In his 2014 book, John Sickels noted the gap between the effusive praise for his “stuff” (93-97 FB, hard-breaking SL) and the pedestrian H/IP and K/9IP ratios (9.0 and 7.2 for his career) and wondered aloud at what point will the numbers improve or the scouts dial down?

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Dec 162014
 


Thus far it’s been quiet on the free-agent front for the minors, but with the latest dispatch from Baseball America, we’re finally starting to see some movement.

• RHPs Paul Demny, Mitch Lively
• 1B-DH Clint Robinson
• 3B Mario Lisson
• OF Delta Cleary

Demny and Lively are re-signs, with Demny apparently finding no interest elsewhere in his first free-agent stint while Lively looks to be returns after making seven starts and two appaearances for Syracuse after getting released by the Giants organization.

Robinson is a former Royals farmhand who’s spent the past four seasons at AAA, bouncing to the Blue Jays in 2013, and the Dodgers in 2014, where he posted a line of .312/.401/.534 in the hitter-friendly PCL. He turns 30 in February and would appear ticketed for Syracuse.

Lisson is also a former KC minor-leaguer who returned to the U.S. after spending 2013 in the Mexican League to play with the AA Richmond squad as a 30-year-old (he turns 31 in May). The Venezuelan native hit .266 with 18 HR and 76 RBI and mostly played 3B.

Cleary is former 37th Rd. draft pick for Colorado (2008) and lands with Washington as six-year free agent, having peaked last summer in AAA for Colorado Springs. He turns 26 in August and for the tea-leave-reading folks, it would appear he’s the plan B for the Senators if the powers that be deem Isaac Ballou not ready for AA, as Clearly has spent the majority of his career as a centerfielder.

It’s also worth noting that virtually all of these signees played in the same leagues as the Nationals affiliates at one point or another.

Dec 132014
 


As I expected, participation would be robust on this one — 15 ballots — and the top dog was the unanimous choice. A total of 24 pitchers were named, with four of the top five named on every ballot.

Before I continue, here’s the list:

                              1. Lucas Giolito
                              2. A.J. Cole
                              3. Reynaldo Lopez
                              4. Austin Voth
                              5. Erick Fedde
                              6. Matt Grace
                              7. Taylor Hill
                              8. Jefry Rodriguez
                              9. Felipe Rivero
                              10. Jake Johansen

Others receiving votes: Sammy Soilis, Nick Pivetta, Travis Ott, Rafael Martin, John Simms, Gilberto Mendez, Jake Walsh, Robert Benincasa, Wander Suero, Robbie Dickey, Luis Torres, Matt Spann, Matt Purke, Eric Fornataro

Now, the thoughts…

• This is the third straight year Giolito has been named the #1 pitcher, so no pressure to come to DC in 2015, right?

• Cole was also #2 for the second straight year, but turns 23 next month and we’re already seeing speculation as to when he’ll make his MLB debut. I’ll be the jerk who will note that he’d be an awfully good trade chip (see: Karns, Nathan).

• Lopez went from zero ballots in 2013 to the #3 pitcher in 2014. Saw him twice this past summer and this kid can deal. He got my #2 vote, one of two that Cole did not get.

• The other went to Fedde, who makes the list despite being in recovery from UCL replacement surgery. I’d scoff but Giolito is the knee-jerk “Yeah, but” and being the Nats top draft pick is going to carry some weight no matter what.

• As some of you noted, the list breaks down rather quickly after the first five or so names. The gap between #7 and #12 was just seven points. Until the last three or four ballots came in, there was basically a five-way tie for the last three slots.

• Grace’s addition to the 40-man is being read by quite a few of you as the lefthanded analog to Aaron Barrett from a year ago (OK, fine maybe that’s just me)

• Hill made the list despite getting hammered in two MLB starts and giving up five HR in his last 10 starts at Syracuse. He and Grace will be 26 in 2015, thus continuing the tradition of the old-guy skew

With the close of the winter meetings, which also saw the Nats go Yukon Cornelius on the Rule 5 draft, we’re now at the point where we wait for trades and transactions. In between, and as always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Dec 112014
 

PairofRangers
Guess it wouldn’t be December without a trade by the Nationals.

Multiple online sources are reporting that the Washington Nationals have traded LHP Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers for a pair of minor-leaguers, 2B Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de los Santos.

Bostick is a (*spoiler alert*) former Oakland A’s farmhand who has now been traded twice in two offseasons, going to Texas last year as part of the Choice-for-Gentry swap. He spent 2014 in the Carolina League with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans where he posted a line of .251/.322/.412 with 11HR and 62RBI, but alas, 116 whiffs in 130 games.

Defensively, he’s considered a project despite being a former shortstop, committing 55 errors 305 games at 2B, though scouts believe his range is decent and his arm strength adequate. As Sickels pointed out in his most recent prospect book, this is hardly unusual for someone his age (turns 22 in March). Between Wilmer Difo and Tony Renda, the most logical deductions are that Bostick may be forced to repeat High-A or change positions for 2015.

De Los Santos is a 22-y.o. Dominican just finishing up his fifth professional season. The 6’2″, 180-lb “northpaw” converted to relief in 2013, and has averaged 10.4K/9IP the past two seasons with 113K in 97⅔ IP. Scouting reports are scarce as he was not profiled by either Sickels or Baseball American in their 2014 editions (it also doesn’t help that Texas has a Miguel de Los Santos and Cincinnati has a RHP by the same name, too).

De Los Santos went 5-2 with eight saves in 33 appearances with High-A Myrtle Beach and one would think that the Nationals would like to pair him with Gilberto Mendez in the back end of the Harrisubrg bullpen in 2015.

Dec 102014
 


Let’s hope the participation is better for this one… I had to make the call because I’m trying to still follow in my digital size 13’s from last December as best as I can, plus if I give this three days, it’ll fall right into my (new) normal publishing timeframe (Saturday or Sunday).

As in previous polls, send your Top 10 list to enfieldmass-top10arms[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or post them in the comments.

Same methodology… I’ll compile the selections, weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point) and then post the results along with my observations and snark.

I don’t think I’m going to need to get pre-emptively medieval on anyone’s buttocks by pointing out who’s on the older side or ineligible this year, as I did last year with the likes of Davis, Garcia, Jordan, and Karns. I only ask that if you name a pitcher who’s two of the three archetypes — old, young, and hurt — that you side towards the arm with less mileage and more upside.

Next up — barring a trade with the A’s — the Rule 5 draft.

Dec 092014
 


While the participation wasn’t what I hoped it would be, it was enough to assemble a semi-decent Top 10 list.

One interesting trend is that youth seems to be getting served by virtue of Jakson Reetz as well as Dominican imports Wilmer Difo and Rafael Bautista, both of whom had breakout seasons with Hagerstown, with the former being added to the Nats 40-man roster.

Of course, some of that is attributable to three of last year’s Top 10 bats being traded away (Billy Burns, Zach Walters) or taken in the Rule 5 Draft (Adrian Nieto). And some of that is attributable to the “girl-watching” nature of prospect following (the prettiest one is the one that just walked by).

Anyway, a total of 15 players were named on the eight ballots received or submitted, which does include mine. I don’t find the 15 number all that disturbing since, as some put it, the bottom part of the list isn’t as clear-cut as the top, which was a near tie (77 points to 75 points) with Steve Souza the top pick on five.

And with that “said,” I present the list:

                              1. Steve Souza
                              2. Michael Taylor
                              3. Wilmer Difo
                              4. Drew Ward
                              5. Jakson Reetz
                              6. Brian Goodwin
                              7. Matt Skole
                              8. Spencer Kieboom
                              9. Rafael Bautista
                              10. Pedro Severino

Others receiving votes: Tony Renda, Drew Vettleson, John Wooten, Stephen Perez, Raudy Read

I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that half of these names won’t be on this list next year, given proximity to the majors, age, or “trade baitiness.” It’s tempting to conclude that that means we’re about to swing Broadway backward, but if past is prologue, those that move on will be replaced with players who had breakout seasons.

Next up: The pitchers, which always leads to much more discussion (dissension?)…

Dec 062014
 


Since this is a popular feature — and it’s rather quiet on the minor-league front, unless you’re into start times and hot stove guests — let’s do this again.

For those unfamiliar with the drill (and obviously good at brushing and flossing), 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.

After I get enough submissions to work with, I’ll update this post to close the polls and weight the lists in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points, yada yada yada, #10 = 1 point).

Then, I’ll present the fifth annual NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Bats. Now, bear in mind that I use the term “bat” as a shorthand for a position player. As we all know too well, some folks will make it to the majors despite being poor on defense. Nevertheless, I would like you to consider both offense and defense in your selections, if for no other reason than the National League still does not have the designated hitter [insert troll remark here].

In addition to being an exercise that reinforces our sense of community on this site, I think it also produces a better list than if I were to pick it myself, which I did the first year. While there are some obvious exceptions, this is based on the “Wisdom of Crowds” theory that the collective opinions of many is usually more accurate than the opinion of one, which is an old idea (think Aristotle) that’s been given new life by a 2004 business book by James Surowiecki.

If nothing else, it’ll give us something to discuss until the Winter Meetings begin tomorrow.

UPDATE: I’m calling it and writing the next post.