Jan 102015
 

This morning John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 list. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
B+ Michael Taylor, A.J. Cole
B Trea Turner, Joe Ross
B- Wilmer Difo, Erick Fedde, Reynaldo Lopez, Drew Ward
C+ Brian Goodwin, Austin Voth, Rafael Bautista, Jakson Reetz, Felipe Rivero, Pedro Severino, Raudy Read, Spencer Kieboom, Tony Renda, Chris Bostick
C Nick Pivetta

Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, Michael Taylor is #2, A.J. Cole is #3… Chris Bostick is #19, Nick Pivetta is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. Because Sickels only ranks Grade C or better, that means becoming a C+ or better guy after being previously identified as a Grade C.

Top 20 guys from 2014 are in bold while guys that played their way onto the list are in italics. Like last April, I chose not to italicize the players acquired by trade but did indicated if they improved (Joe Ross).

My apologies in advance if I misled anyone with the earlier post; I was unaware that Nick Melotte and Sickels were both doing Top 20 lists. That said, it is interesting to see, as others have noted, the differences between the two. Sickels is much higher on Goodwin while lower on Lopez. But you should click the link above to see for yourself as Sickels has a comment for each and every one.

Jan 092015
 


A little later than in years past, but five affiliates announced their 2015 coaching contingents yesterday (new hires in red):

SYRACUSE
Manager – Billy Gardner, Jr.
Pitching Coach – Bob Milacki (new hire)
Hitting Coach – Joe Dillon

HARRISBURG
Manager – Brian Daubach
Pitching Coach – Chris Michalak
Hitting Coach – Mark Harris

POTOMAC
Manager – Tripp Keister
Pitching Coach – Franklin Bravo
Hitting Coach – Brian Rupp

HAGERSTOWN
Manager – Patrick Anderson
Pitching Coach – Sam Narron
Hitting Coach – Luis Ordaz

AUBURN
Manager – Gary Cathcart
Pitching Coach – Tim Redding
Hitting Coach – Amaury Garcia

For those of you who are thinking “WHERE’S PAUL MENHART?!” worry not — the Nationals have made him the minor-league pitching coordinator while shifting longtime official Spin Williams to “senior advisor for player development.”

Byron Kerr, as usual, has the details on what’s largely a story of “It ain’t broke, so we ain’t fixin’ it.” Well, except maybe the hiring of Rick Ankiel to “life skills coordinator” (dutch uncle was perhaps too harsh?) to mentor players in the system.

Jan 072015
 

Yesterday, John Sickels’s protege Nick Melotte released his Top 20 Nationals Prospects.

Melotte does the star system — 2.5 to 5, which roughly equates to Sickels’s C to A rating, with a 2.5-star player being an organizational guy and an five-star being a future superstar. The hyperlinked article explains the gradations before getting into the list.

As I’ve done the past few years, I’ll break it down by the star (letter) system while noting the players who have improved (by grade, not numerical rank), declined, and the newcomers. It’s not a perfect translation — Melotte may have been higher/lower on a Prospect A than Sickels was in the first place, so he may not have actually improved/declined — but it’s what we have to work with.

★★★★★ Lucas Giolito
★★★★½ Michael Taylor, Reynaldo Lopez
★★★★ Trea Turner^, A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde+, Joe Ross^, Drew Ward, Austin Voth, Wilmer Difo, Jackson Reetz+
★★★½ Rafael Bautista, Tony Renda, Taylor Hill, Raudy Read, Felipe Rivero, Chris Bostick^, Robbie Dickey+, Abel De Los Santos^
★★★ Gilberto Mendez
Honorable mentions Derek Self, Brian Goodwin, Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom, Anderson Franco, John Simms, Steven Fuentes, Neil Holland

+ Newcomer by draft ^ Newcomer by trade

Now for some quick thoughts…

…There are only seven holdovers (bolded) from the 2014 list, and while we can’t assume the honorable mentions are nos. 21-28, it’s telling that of the 15 eligibles (four were traded, one graduated to MLB), just eight remain in the “Top 28.”

…According to the article, the honorable mentions are all three-star players; I separated from Mendez to make it easier for the list-obsessed folks to figure out who was #20 ;-)

…Just five guys played their way onto the list; the other eight were either traded for or drafted (hence the superscripts).

…Since B-/C+ guys aren’t delineated, it’s difficult to say that there are more “better than marginal” prospects, which was always something that I would look for; we’ll have to wait until next month to see how that pans out

…With the exception of Fedde, looks like Melotte takes the Weaver-esque approach (“I only deal with the living”) to prospects, which I actually prefer because the opposite leads to too much wishful thinking

As I did last year, I encourage folks to click through to read Melotte’s thoughts on Giolito, Taylor, and Lopez.

Jan 032015
 

Winter Baseball Update
With the close of the Venezuelan Winter League last night, here’s the last look at how players in the Nationals organization did in the 2014-15 Winter Leagues.

BATTERS

PLAYER LG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Tyler Moore DWL 22 77 19 23 4 0 6 17 18 20 .299 .429 .584 2
Emmanuel Burriss DWL 17 55 4 16 4 1 0 4 2 6 .291 .350 .400 1
Estarlin Martinez DWL 2 7 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .143 .250 .143 0
Wilman Rodriguez DWL 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 3 .500 .500 .500 0
Jose Lozada PWL 29 99 11 23 8 0 2 7 5 23 .229 .295 .429 0
Sandy Leon VWL 46 147 13 31 8 1 2 14 17 27 .211 .290 .320 1
Mario Lisson VWL 32 112 11 26 5 1 4 13 18 20 .232 .372 .402 2
Wilson Ramos VWL 18 67 4 15 2 0 1 6 2 17 .224 .257 .299 0
Adrian Sanchez VWL 5 6 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 .000 .000 .000 0

PITCHERS

PLAYER LG W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Richard Bleier DWL 1 3 0 5.23 7 4 20⅔ 26 14 12 2 4 12 1.45
Manny Delcarmen DWL 1 0 0 8.71 14 0 10⅓ 15 10 10 2 6 7 2.03
Gilberto Mendez DWL 0 0 0 0.00 3 0 2⅔ 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.00
Rafael Martin MWL 1 0 10 1.90 24 0 23⅔ 22 8 5 1 4 22 1.10
Jose Lozada PWL 0 0 0 0.00 1 0 0⅔ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
Paolo Espino VWL 3 0 0 3.74 8 8 33⅔ 34 14 14 3 11 34 1.34
Mitch Lively VWL 1 2 0 3.38 6 2 18⅔ 21 8 7 2 5 18 1.39
David Ramos VWL 0 1 0 2.95 6 0 18⅓ 19 6 6 0 6 7 1.36


As usual in early January, there’s very little to report on the minor-league front. Earlier this week, the Nationals signed another veteran catcher: 33-year-old Omir Santos, who appeared in just 11 games last summer with Pittsburgh’s AAA affiliate due to a concussion and an ankle injury. Santos was orignally drafted by the Yankees in 2001, but made his MLB with Orioles in 2008. Since filling in for former Nats catcher Brian Schneider for 96 games with the Mets in 2009, Santos has played sparingly — just 226 games across five seasons for the Mets, Tigers, Rockies, Indians, and Pirates, with only 15 games played at the MLB level (14 for Detroit in 2011 and 2012, one for Cleveland in 2013).

Dec 282014
 

Top 10
In keeping with the new world order, I’m dropping back down to the more prototypical ten stories in the fifth annual edition of this piece. Naturally, they’re not ranked; I went through each month and started writing down ideas until I got there.

I’m sure I may have overlooked something or somebody; 2014 was a tough year for me personally, though I believe this site was something that helped distract from that fact, which is why I’m still holding on to it.

Without further vamping, here are ten stories that marked 2014 for the Washington Nationals minor leagues…

Long-Term Extensions For Syracuse, Harrisburg
I’m cheating a little here (Syracuse re-upped in December 2013), but instead of the usual two-year extensions, Washington doubled that with its AAA and AA affiliates. This will ensure an eight-year run for the top five rungs on the ladder after four switches in the first six seasons (two at AAA, one at Low-A, one at SS-A), which helps to offset the tiresome threat of relocation in Hagerstown and the tedious talk of a new stadium in Potomac.

Steven Souza
After years of tumult and torment, Souza put up a career year in 2014 and earned the International League’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards at the not-so-tender age of 25. However, with only a bench spot open for 2015, GM Mike Rizzo horned in on a three-way (trade) and sold high on Souza, who will be remembered for a good catch and not his 3-for-23 mark over 21 games last summer.

Michael Taylor
Taylor wasted no time making it known that his time had come, smacking the game-winning triple in the Grapefruit League opener and then putting together an amazing campaign at AA — a .313/.396/.539 line with 22 homers and 34 steals while racking up 10 assists in CF. However, it did come at a cost of 161 whiffs over 127 total games. With just 12 games of AAA experience, the smart money is on him returning to Syracuse for more seasoning.

Reynaldo Lopez
Perhaps I’m giving short shrift to fellow Dominican Wilmer Difo, or taking his teammate Lucas Giolito for granted, but the ascendance of Reynaldo Lopez in 2014 is simply a better story. He signed for just $17,000 in 2012 and missed most of 2013 with arm soreness, reportedly due to bone weakness. After two poor starts in late May for the Suns, Lopez dropped to Auburn and dominated the NYPL for a 3-2, 0.75 mark over seven starts before returning to Hagerstown and dominating (15H, 1ER in 39⅔ IP).

Hapless In Harrisburg
They barely escaped being the worst Senators team ever in terms of wins and losses, but considering that they opened the season with six Top 20 prospects according to Baseball America, a dead-last finish seemed rather unlikely. Obviously, injuries were a factor all summer long it felt like watching a demolition in slow motion with each boxscore.

Matthew Purke
After finally putting in a full season in 2013, the hopes were high for Purke to build upon it and start producing. Instead, his season ended in May after just eight starts. He joined the legion of Nationals pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery and was ultimately released in November to make room on the 40-man roster. While he re-signed and will perhaps make a handful of starts in 2015, thus far he represents a Mike Rizzo injury gamble that didn’t pan out.

John Simms, Austin Voth Rise From Low-A to AA
In general, 2014 saw the Nationals promote early and often. A lot of this was necessitated by injuries and ineffectiveness, but two pitchers who could have arguably been kept to just two levels made it from Hagerstown to Harrisburg with a stay at Potomac. John Simms spent April in the Suns bullpen but then started 10 games for Potomac before finishing up in Harrisburg. Voth, who is six months younger, stuck around longer in Hub City (13 starts), but blew through the Carolina League before joining Simms. Neither pitcher was effective at AA, which begs the question: were they pushed up too soon? How they do in 2015 could be the answer.

Potomac Wins The Mills Cup
After dominating wire-to-wire in 2013, Potomac matched the feat in 2014, taking the first half crown by 4½ games and the second by seven games. Still, their counterparts in the Southern Division, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans also won both halves and dominated them in their final two series, taking five of six games. Unlike 2013, the bats did not go dead and the team fired on all cylinders to win three straight after dropping Game One, 2-0.

Chiefs Make The Playoffs
For most of this site’s existence, Syracuse has been an also-ran with few homegrown players. In 2014, the Chiefs put up the league’s best record and made the playoffs with an 81-62 mark. Alas, the parent club called up six players including Souza and Blake Treinen while shutting down A.J. Cole as they were swept in the first round, losing 2-1 in 10 innings, 8-2, and 7-6.

Suns Fall Short In Sally League Finals
Hagerstown and Greensboro tied each other in wins and losses over both halves, with the Grasshoppers winning the first half and the Suns taking the second. After rallying for three in the 9th in Game One of the semis, Hagerstown took the series with a 6-2 win in Game Two. In the finals, the Suns were pounded 16-7 in Game One but battled back to tie the series twice before falling 4-1 in Game Five, the second straight year Hagerstown lost the Sally League Championship.

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 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.