Mar 302016
 

Transactions for NPP 2
Less than a week to go before the full-season affiliate rosters are announced, but more than a week to go for “our” Opening Day.

On Monday, the Nats optioned SS Trea Turner and RHP Rafael Martin to Syracuse while picking up the contract of RHP Matt Belisle. This effectively reduces the battle for the Opening Day roster down to the last spot on the bench and/or bullpen, which can usually be handicapped by looking at the number of options left for a given player or pitcher, but may be less predictable for the latter with two to choose from (Treinen, Gott) and a southpaw who hasn’t pitched since 2014 and can become a free agent on Friday (Burnett).

In terms of what’s next, the usual pattern is for Harrisburg to announce its roster, then Syracuse, then Hagerstown, and then Potomac. I expect the press releases to begin on Tuesday morning, but it could be sooner. In 2013, for example, the news came six days ahead of the minor-league season start. But usually it’s 2-3 days before.

Reminder: Where the players are now (on paper) on the Big Board or the rosters on MiLB.com is not a guarantee of where they’ll be next week. These press releases will finalize the guessing game that our intrepid volunteer (SpringfieldFan) does during the offseason.

Mar 242016
 

So Long
While I’m sure many of you heard by now that Lucas Giolito was reassigned to minor-league camp – along with Erik Davis, Burke Badenhop, and Michael Brady – our resident keeper of The Big Board, Springfield Fan, alerted me to a set of releases that happened last week (H/T as always):

  • RHP Justin Amlung (Hagerstown)
  • RHP Calvin Copping (GCL)
  • RHP Ian Dickson (Potomac)
  • RHP Brian Dupra (Harrisburg)
  • RHP Scott McGregor (Syracuse)
  • RHP Drew Van Orden (Hagerstown)
  • LHP Darin Gorski (Offseason pickup)
  • LHP David Napoli (Hagerstown)
  • LHP Jake Walsh (Potomac)
  • C Zach Wright (Potomac)

No real surprises here. These are the proverbial “other shoe(s)” to drop for the minor league free agents that were signed during the offseason. Let’s not forget that for some, if not most, of these guys this means their days as a professional baseball player are over.

UPDATE
As noted in the comments, several more cuts have been posted on MiLB.com:

  • UT Ricky Hague (Syracuse)
  • RHP Jon Velasquez (Offseason pickup)
  • IF Reegie Corona (Harrisburg)
  • OF Estarlin Martinez (Potomac)
  • RHP Deion Williams (Hagerstown)
  • RHP Adam Boghosian (Auburn)
  • RHP Kida De La Cruz (GCL)

It’s always embarrassing when a watchlist player gets released (Martinez), especially in spring training, but it’s still a mild surprise because he had just turned 24 (March 8). The saga of the lone HS bat signed in 2011 (Williams; converted to RHP in 2012) also comes to a close, as does a couple of pitchers from the past two drafts (De La Cruz, 2014; Boghosian, 2015).

Mar 222016
 

Looking over previous years’ version of this particular post, it would appear that Washington has finally reached that long hoped-for point where it not only develops both pitchers and hitters, but position players at nearly every position.

I have to use “nearly” because I’m still not thrilled with the depth at every position. Let’s just say Matt Skole and Jose Marmolejos-Diaz should not be allowed to ride in the same vehicle.

Now that I’ve shown that the DC-area sense of entitlement has worn off on me after 10 years of living here, I only need to look here to remind myself how things have changed.

Like the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1) Controlling the strike zone 2) Hitting for power 3) Hitting for average 4) Offensive speed 5) Fielding range 6) Fielding reliability
7) Throwing utility

Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

Sickels likes to look at OPS and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power.

…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability.

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Trea Turner – A- (B) Raudy Read – C+ (C+) Spencer Kieboom – C (C+)
Victor Robles – B (C) Max Schrock* – C+ Edwin Lora – C
Wilmer Difo – B- (B-) Pedro Severino – C+ (C+) Jose Marmolejos-Diaz – C
Anderson Franco – B- (C) Rhett Wiseman – C+ Jakson Reetz – C (C+)
Andrew Stevenson – B- Telmito Agustin – C Matt Skole – C (C)
Osvaldo Abreu – C+ Brian Goodwin – C (C+) Juan Solo – C
Rafael Bautista – C+ (C+) Kelvin Gutierrez – C Drew Ward – C (B-)
Christopher Bostick – C+ (C+)


As I did yesterday, the bolded names are the ones that don’t appear in the BA book, the italics are 2015 draft picks, and Sickels’s SLEEPER PICK has an asterisk. FWIW, Brian Goodwin appears in the “exclusive bonus supplement,” but like the BA editors, I don’t feel like making the effort to code his name with semibold typeface.

Now for the tidbits…

• Not much else to say about Turner that you haven’t heard, read, or seen previously — needs more polish controlling the strike zone and may struggle some when he does get the call, but once he adjusts he’ll be an everyday SS.

• Sickels picked Robles in his 2015 book and obviously since Robles had a breakout year, a little chest-thumping (no different than yours truly when a DSL Guy does well, see below 😉 — otherwise, he’s in tune with the chorus that Robles is the next big thing.

• Likewise, he feels that Anderson Franco may be the next Victor Robles, but cautions that it might not be until 2017.

• Telmito Agustin was the fourth SLEEPER PICK and the sole position player. As noted in the comments, the stats have caught my eye and same for Sickels. Reportedly his defense is raw, which for teenage players, is about as shocking as learning that blonde starlet in that hit movie was born a brunette.

• Unfortunately, Sickels believes “The Orange” could get squeezed at higher levels if he doesn’t develop more power and/or defensive range.

With that, I finish up my annual review of the Sickels book, which you can purchase here.

Mar 212016
 

The John Sickels 2016 annual arrived late Friday night in my inbox, which may not be as much fun as getting a thick envelope in the snail mail, but it’s more efficient. As I always have, I’ll discuss the book in two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

The pendulum has swung back towards position players — 22 were graded — for the first time in three years, leaving just 14 pitchers ranked, including 29-y.o. IF-to-RHP convert Michael Brady.  While there aren’t as many pitchers as in years past, more than half of them are rated above a “C,” which is encouraging. Even better, three of the newbies he’s tagged as “sleeper alert” players.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt, given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…However, when a low H/IP ratio is accompanied by a high K/IP, it’s a positive data point [and vice-versa]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

Here’s a look at the 14 pitchers that made this year’s book (2015 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A) Abel De Los Santos – C+ (C) Nick Lee – C
A.J. Cole – B (B+) Koda Glover – C+ Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Reynaldo Lopez – B (B-) Andrew Lee* – C+ Tyler Watson* – C
Erick Fedde – B (B-) Michael Brady – C Austen Williams – C
Austin Voth – B- (C+) Taylor Hearn* – C


The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not in Baseball America’s, and for the third year straight it’s four. The italics are 2015 draft picks. The asterisks are “sleeper” picks, which if you think that’s meaningless, consider that Austin Voth was one in 2014

Some quick tidbits…

• Sickels is all in on Giolito and only worries — like we all do — whether he’ll be able to withstand a 200IP workload. Like many power pitchers, he believes the key for him to be a true #1 will be that changeup, which right now is merely “above average.”

• Cole, as has been mentioned in the comments, could be the next Jake Odorizzi, but Sickels is worried about the lack of whiffs.

• Lopez needs his command to catch up to his control and for his changeup to be more consistent. Sickels notes that some folks think he may be better off as a reliever, but if things click in 2016, he could rise from AA to MLB a la Luis Severino last summer.

• Glover could be Blake Treinen II — a power pitcher that needs a breaking pitch to keep lefties honest (e.g. a .316OBA by LHBs in Hagerstown last summer).

• Lee, Hearn, and Watson — all 2015 picks — were each listed as a sleeper pick for various reasons (convert, 98mph heat, promising numbers/reports in limited action from an 18-y.o.)

• Despite getting lit like a Kennedy at an open bar in the AFL, De Los Santos got the bump up from a C+ because Sickels thinks he may still have enough stuff to be middle reliever.

Next up: the batters.

Mar 202016
 

Shifting-GearsI’ve been putting this post off in the hopes that something more obvious would occur, but the combination of the rainout, another small set of cuts, and that we’re down to just two watchlist players in the MLB camp (Giolito and Turner), is enough to make the call.

Whether that it’s the first day of spring is ironic or coincidental is beside the point; it’s time to revert to offseason mode and wait for the minors to start up.

The Sickels book came in the (e)mail yesterday, so I’ve updated the “Report Not Yet Written” entries on the 2016 Watchlist and will use it as the peg for some posts this week.

I was a little bit disappointed in what Sickels had to say for the players I was holding out on, but that may very well be a factor of hoping he’d have something different to say. (Still not getting how Kieboom is pronounced, BTW).

Anyway, enjoy your Sunday… and thanks for stopping by.

Mar 192016
 

Lucas Giolito got the start yesterday against the regulars of the defending N.L. Champs and did not disappoint: two scoreless innings, two baserunners, and a whiff of David Wright as the Nats beat the Mets 12-7 for their fourth straight win.

Despite the lack of accomplished starters in camp, it does appear that the 21-y.o.’s time in major-league camp is coming to a close soon. Coupled with the news that Bronson Arroyo’s MRI may have been misread (although the Nats are disputing that story), Giolito’s next appearance may be in minor-league camp.

If so, he may be throwing to Pedro Severino, who was optioned to Syracuse yesterday, reducing the number of watchlist players in the MLB camp to two.

The other one, Trea Turner, came off the bench in relief of Danny Espinosa and struck out in his only at-bat in the 9th. Isaac Ballou also appeared as a sub in LF and grounded out to 1st in the 7th.

The Nats play host to the Mets today at Space Coast this afternoon. The game will be broadcast on both MASN and 106.7 FM.

Mar 182016
 

After blowing leads of 2-1 and 6-4, Chris Heisey’s three-run HR secured a 9-7 walkoff win for the Nats’ third straight win.

It was the fourth longball overall as Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Wilson Ramos also went deep.

Stephen Strasburg made the start and was dinged for two runs on five hits and two walks over four innings. Jonathan Papelbon got the win as he induced three Braves reserves to fly out in the top of the 9th.

The appearances for “our guys” are dwindling, with just two watchlist players seeing time yesterday. Trea Turner started at SS and went 0-for-2 with a whiff while batting ninth. Pedro Severino replaced Ramos at catcher and grounded out in his only at-bat in the 8th.

Tonight, the Nats travel to Port St. Lucie to visit the Mets. The game will be broadcast on MLB.tv with the away feed.

Mar 172016
 

The Nats’ four-run 3rd was enough to double up the Marlins, 4-2 and extend Washington’s unbeaten streak to six games.

Blake Treinen got the start in place of Bronson Arroyo, whose career is likely over with the diagnosis of a labrum tear. Treinen tossed two scoreless innings with two baserunners allowed (one hit, one walk) while striking out four.

Michael Taylor was responsible for three of the four runs with an Earl Weaver special off former Oriole Bruce Chen while his competition for the starting CF job drove in the other with an RBI single.

Pedro Severino was the sole watchlist player to play in the game, replacing Jhonatan Solano behind the place but going hitless in two trips to the plate.

The Nats return to Viera today to host the Barves. The game will not broadcast on TV or radio, thanks to the second-largest gambling event of the year most likely due to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Mar 162016
 

After Lucas Giolito was lit up for a pair of runs in his second inning of relief in the 8th, the Nats took him off the hook for the loss with a three-run rally in the 9th for a 6-4 win over the Astros.

The comeback gave Michael Brady the win. The architect converted IF got the last out of the 8th while stranding two runners. Aaron Laffey retired the side in order in the 9th to earn the save.

Gio Gonzalez started and struggled again with his control, walking four batters in four innings while giving up a run on a leadoff HR in the 4th. He allowed three hits total and struck out four.

Giolito came on in the 7th and gave up a leadoff single, but then retired the next three batters on flyballs. In the 8th, he struck out the first batter before walking the second. After another whiff, it looked like the 21-y.o. would escape but he then walked a second batter before giving up back-to-back singles that plated both baserunners and ended his outing.

Giolito’s final line: 1⅔ IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 2K. No word on how many cakes, pies, or breads baked.

Trea Turner helped spark the 9th-inning comeback with a one-out double, then scored on Clint Robinson’s two-run two-bagger. The 22-y.o. watchlist SS finished 1-for-2 to improve his spring average to .190 in relief of Danny Espinosa, who has as many hits in 2016 as most of the people reading this do.

Pedro Severino got the start at catcher and was 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. Isaac Ballou came off the bench and played RF and was 0-for-1 with flyout in the 9th ahead of Turner.

The Nats stay on the buses for another road trip this afternoon to visit the Marlins. Bronson Arroyo is expected to start and the game can be heard on MLB Radio.

Mar 152016
 

For the second straight game, the Nats neither won nor lost as they tied the Astros, 1-1.

Joe Ross got the start and gave up Houston’s run on two-out solo shot in thr top of the 1st. He let up five hits total, walked two, and struck out three over four innings.

Just three watchlist players saw game action:

  • Matt Skole walked three times and scored the lone Washington run as Anthony Rendon’s sub at 3B
  • Trea Turner went 0-for-2 with a strikeout after replacing Brendan Ryan at SS
  • Nick Lee worked around a walk and his own error while pitching another scoreless inning

Following the game, the Nats announced another round of cuts, which will likely put an end to our spring training coverage very soon:

  • LHP Sammy Solis and OF Brian Goodwin were optioned to AAA
  • LHP Nick Lee, C Spencer Kieboom, and IF Christopher Bostick were optioned to AA
  • IF Matt Skole and OF Logan Schafer were reassigned to minor-league camp

The Nats travel to Kissimmee this afternoon to visit the Astros with Gio Gonzalez expected to start. The game will broadcast on MLB Network.