Feb 182014
 

Having received word via e-mail from Jeri Sickels, wife of John, that his 2014 Baseball Prospect Book remains behind schedule due to a concussion he suffered this offseason, I decided to finish off the player reports rather than wait. The hope is that I can still revise some of the player reports on guys that I was hoping Sickels might write about that BA didn’t.

But my fear is that once spring training games begin, it’ll slide… not to mention get lost in the shuffle as all eyes (and some drones) are focused on Viera. The watchlist is conceived while doing the season reviews in October-November, set after the Rule 5 draft in December, with the writing begun in early January with a focus on the guys I’ve seen (and the ones I’m sure won’t be written up), and usually finished in late January after I’ve received and reviewed the major prospect books.

So if you’ve got some extra time — say, because you’re at home with your kids because schools have been delayed a couple hours by less than a centimeter of snow — take another gander and feel free to discuss in the comments here or on the player pages.

Feb 162014
 

The last of our predictions is finally here with the forecast of the Hagerstown pitchers.

If I’m right about the composition and wrong about the timing, this is arguably the most exciting starting five of the four full-season affiliates*, with four of the team’s Top 30 pitching prospects per Baseball America, including the #1 overall, Lucas Giolito.
* Tickets, I’ve heard, are readily available.

But before we get too far down that road, let’s look at my choices for the 2013 Suns:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Blake Schwartz Dixon Anderson Leonard Hollins
Brian Rauh David Fischer Cody Davis
Nick Lee Derek Self
Blake Monar Robert Benincasa
Pedro Encarnacion Michael Boyden
Brett Mooneyham


That’s more like it. After only getting one or two wrong in parts one through three, missing on four serves as a reminder that this is still a guessing game. Plus, a reminder that short-season ball is fickle and inferences suspect.

Case in point: Michael Boyden, who was bumped up from the GCL to Auburn after six scoreless appearances in 2012. Not only did he not make it to Hagerstown in 2013, he didn’t return to Auburn, repeating the GCL and was ultimately released.

So maybe I’ll be very wrong on the two swingmen below, but I still feel like somebody from the GCL is going to skip Auburn, and it seems more likely that it’d be older guys used in relief (and a lot) than teenagers like Jefry Rodriguez.

Without further ado, the final set of picks:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Lucas Giolito Hector Silvestre David Napoli
Jake Johansen Wander Suero L.J. Hollins
Austin Voth Cory Bafidis
Nick Pivetta Jake Joyce
R.C. Orlan Derek Self


Before you ask, “What about__________?” a reminder that I’ve purposefully excluded guys that I know or believe were hurt. Besides, information regarding players’ health and/or injuries is sparse and the Nationals kinda sorta have a history of being less than truthful when they do release such information.

Also, I don’t know precisely who’s been released yet or who’s retired. In part, because I do know the players, their friends and families, and their agents are reading, I’m not keen on predicting or speculating on those two outcomes. If someone’s not mentioned, take it face value: a guess at who the 12 pitchers will be this year at a given level.

Now, we return to the wait-and-see mode until the games begin (and the fluffing of Matt Williams stops).

Feb 152014
 

While this is third in our series, it’s the fourth staff to be set at the end of spring training, which often leads to some disappointment for the fans… and the players. At least at the outset. Thanks to the half system — and a steady stream of pitchers working their way back from injury — top picks do pass through in the second half of the season.

I personally like to think of High-A as a proving ground for prospects. Maybe I’m biased as a season-ticket holder for the level, but it sure seems like this is where wheat gets separated from the chaff.

On that somewhat dischordant note, let’s review how I picked the 2013 P-Nats pitchers:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
A.J. Cole Christian Meza Aaron Barrett
Robbie Ray Matt Swynenberg Colin Bates
Taylor Hill Richie Mirowski
Taylor Jordan Greg Holt
Kylin Turnbull Ben Hawkins
Matt Purke


In what’s becoming a pattern, I got a lot right… but just barely. Meza and Turnbull were demoted, Hawkins was released, and Purke made six starts for Hagerstown, twelve for Potomac. This reinforces another mantra which I’m sure will be repeated again in six weeks: It’s not where a guy starts, it’s where he finishes (see: Jordan, Taylor).

Recall that yesterday I picked six starters for Harrisburg. Now one of those guys might start in Syracuse, but it’s also possible that one of them will start here, too. If I’m right about Lucas Giolito being held back like A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray, then it’s not hard to envision the odd man out in Harrisburg beginning here until he’s ready, then the board is reset — happened last year with Purke/Schwartz/Jordan (not precisely, but close enough for this anecdote) and to a lesser extent in 2012 with Purke and Nathan Karns (Cameron Selik was bumped up instead of a starter).

Of course I want to wrong about Giolito… I’d rather see him pitch two months from now instead of four or six (or not all), but the Nats track record says otherwise.

With that, I give you my guess for the 2014 Potomac pitchers…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Brett Mooneyham Ian Dickson Matt Spann
Pedro Encarnacion Ronald Pena Gilberto Mendez
Kylin Turnbull Cody Davis
Dakota Bacus David Fischer
Nick Lee Greg Holt


Next up: The 2014 Hagerstown Suns

Feb 142014
 

Well, nothing like a trade on the first day of Spring Training to [fudge over] this series of posts.

Anyway, to pick up where we left off yesterday (and staying in format)… the 2014 Senators just got a whole lot more interesting, but before we take a look at this year’s guess, let’s see how well I picked last year’s staff…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Nathan Karns Adam Olbrychowski Paul Demny
Trevor Holder Blake Treinen Marcos Frias
Brian Broderick Neil Holland
Rob Gilliam Rob Wort
Tyler Herron Cameron Selik
Matt Grace


Much like Syracuse, I was only completely wrong on one, but missed the roles on several… and was just barely right on a few more (Wort, demoted; Herron and Grace began in Potomac, but spent the lion’s share of 2013 here). I’m not arrogant enough to think that maybe I’m getting good at this, just lucky.

As aforementioned, yesterday’s trade changes things. At least I think it will. In the most optimistic scenario, Taylor Hill benefits by rounding out the Chiefs rotation instead of the Senators. In the most pessimistic, Matt Purke is held back for another few weeks in Potomac. And if you’re cynical, he’ll be put on the DL again for the month of April again (quite frankly, if that were to happen, it would raise some unsettling questions).

Thus, I’ll name six starters to reflect the trade and its uncertainty. Here’s who I think will make up the Nats’ AA pitching staff in 2014 (40-man guys in bold):

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
A.J. Cole Paul Demny Richie Mirowski
Sammy Solis Brian Rauh Tyler Herron
Blake Schwartz Robert Benincasa
Felipe Rivero Matt Grace
Taylor Hill Colin Bates
Matt Purke


I feel fairly confident in getting the starters mostly right, but aside from Mirowski and Benincasa, I don’t feel as good about how I picked the rest of the staff. Mostly because I fear that one or two of these guys will not go to either Potomac or Syracuse.

The P-Nats’ playoff meltdown not withstanding, if this collection of arms does live up to its billing and the hitters don’t start slowly, it should be another contender at City Island this summer.

Feb 132014
 

So Long
RHP Nathan Karns was dealt away today to the Tampa Bay Rays for backup catcher Jose Lobaton, LHP Felipe Rivero, and OF Drew Vettleson. The move is expected to put an end to one of the few position battles this spring and clouding the future for a pair of longtime backstops, Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, who both have one option left.

To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Erik Davis was placed on the 60-man DL with what Washington officials are calling an elbow sprain.

Karns (2012) also becomes the sixth minors’ player or pitcher of the year to be traded since GM Mike Rizzo assumed the helm in 2009, following Derek Norris (2009), Tommy Milone (2010), Brad Peacock and Steve Lombrdozzi (2011), and Billy Burns (2013). (Perhaps the award should be nicknamed Kemmerich’s Cleats?)

Rivero was signed as an IFA in 2008 out of Venezuela and was ranked as Tampa Bay’s #17 prospect overall in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook. He was 9-7 in 23 starts with pitcher’s line of 3.40/3.88/1.37 for High-A Charlotte (FL) in the (usually) pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

He works off a 91-94 FB and features a sharp 12-6 curve and changeup. Both BA and this guy have noted that he has trouble maintaining his speed, which could signal a move to the bullpen. BA was projecting him to pitch for AA Montgomery, so the logical extension is a ticket to Harrisburg this summer.

Vettleson is a 2010 HS pick (1st Rd., supplemental) out of Silverdale, WA and has moved up steadily in his first three years, progressing from advanced rookie Princeton in 2011 to Low-A Bowling Green in 2012 to High-A Charlotte in 2013. He suffered a bit of a power outage in FSL, which both BA and Sickels attributed to issues with plate discipline.

Defensively, Vettleson’s arm is considered above-average but his footwork is considered substandard. Like Rivero, Vettleson was considered on track to play at AA Montgomery, which could force either Caleb Ramsey or Randolph Oduber to repeat Potomac.

Feb 132014
 

Now that we’ve taken a swag at the position players, it’s to time to project the four full-season pitching staffs. This is only the third time I’ve attempted this and I’m reminded every time I work the board why I resisted trying this in the first place: It’s really difficult.

The previous two times, I hedged by “overpicking” — naming more guys than the typical 12-man staff. This year, I decided just to go with the gut and stop at 12. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I think a guy at given level will be released (though that’s always a concern with picking the “A” teams) it just means I’m on the fence about where he fits in the organization’s plans, which I’m not privy to (and if I were, it wouldn’t be guessing!)

I also skipped anybody coming off surgery or that I believe has had surgery or was hurt. This is simply prudent: The only way we know a guy is healthy is when he pitches. Thus, by exension, I’m not designating anybody on the D.L. as I did a year ago.

With the caveats spelled out, let’s review how I picked the 2013 Syracuse pitchers…

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Yunesky Maya Ryan Tatusko Erik Davis
Ross Ohlendorf* Fernando Abad* Pat Lehman
Tanner Roark Pat McCoy
Jeff Mandel Hassan Pena
Matt Torra* Cole Kimball
Ryan Perry
Bold = On 40-Man Italics = Non-Roster Invitee * = ’12-’13 MLFA


Missing on roles doesn’t bother me much because pitchers are moved in and out of the bullpen all the time in the minors, which is part of what the farm is for — finding a role that suits a pitcher so he can contribute when the big club calls him up.

One of the two that I got entirely wrong started at AA (Lehman) and never made it up, the other was released (Pena). All things considered, this is probably as good as it gets for an exercise like this. Still, I’m aware of some the ones I got right were just barely… McCoy and Perry, for example, were demoted in April and June respectively; Cole Kimball was in Viera until late June.

Finally, here’s my projection for the 2014 Syracuse staff, without the cushion of extra picks or the track record of spring training usage:

STARTERS SWINGMEN RELIEVERS
Taylor Jordan Ryan Tatusko* Aaron Barrett
Nathan Karns Matt Swynenberg Tyler Robertson*
Danny Rosenbaum Daniel Stange*
Chris Young* Zack Jackson*
Blake Treinen Neil Holland
Bold = On 40-Man Italics = Non-Roster Invitee * = ’13-’14 MLFA


Obviously, I feel the least amount of confidence in the starters… Taylor could win the #5 starter’s job in DC… Young could be released before the Ides of March… Rosenbaum could be converted to relief in an effort to buy more time for Sammy Solis to develop… not to mention any number of possibilities resulting from how the “Big Nats” pitching staff is constructed.

Next up: The 2014 Harrisburg Senators.

UPDATE: Karns was traded literally while this was being written. Given the nature of such a post (a speculative prediction), I’m leaving it as is until more details of the trade are available.

Feb 102014
 

For the third straight spring, I think we’re looking at a spring training with not much drama for the minor-leaguers.

This, of course, is a good thing in the bigger picture of the organization. Contenders don’t come into camp raving about how their kids are going to make this season a championship run. It also feels good to use the word “contender” without a hint of snark or sarcasm.

No, we’re looking at the mundane vernal ritual of seeing if one of “our guys” can snag a spot on the bench, challenge for the #5 starter’s job, or wedge their way into the bullpen.

Where could I potentially be very wrong*? . One rather obvious “X” factor is new manager Matt Williams, who has reportedly mapped out every day of Spring Training. This implies that Williams will be more of a taskmaster than his predecessor, and would seem to make sense as teams often change manager’s style if they don’t clean out the clubhouse, so to speak.
* That’s rhetorical question; besides, I’ve been married for more than 18 years and can get that answer without asking at any time.

On paper, that might mean a better chance for the younger players, particularly (especially?) if any veterans come into camp in less than stellar form or start slow. But we’re not going to “know” for at least a couple more weeks (and even then, it’ll be filtered through the lens of the beat writers).

What can be potentially more interesting for us is what might happen if there are any position battles that might result in a trade. Danny Espinosa showing he’s healthy and in second-half 2012 form… Sandy Leon continuing to hit the way he did in the VWL… Eury Perez outplaying Nate McLouth and/or Scott Hairston for a backup outfielder’s spot.

Unfortunately, almost any pitcher scenario seems to involve guys with multiple options left (with the notable exception of Ryan Mattheus), though it’s possible for GM Mike Rizzo to do a Perry-for-Balester trade in reverse. Still, that doesn’t jibe with his obsession with preference for options and flexibility.

As in years past, I’ll post about Nationals Spring Training from the minors perspective for as long as feasible and/or reasonable — probably until mid-March — before stepping back and doing semi-daily posts for the rest of March until the minors rosters are announced and the games begin in early April.

Feb 082014
 


We finish this little exercise in killing time forecasting with a look at the Harrisburg Senators.

But first, let’s review my picks for last year’s 2013 AA squad (mistakes in red, wrong roles in blue, not quite right in purple):

CA – Jeff Howell
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Ricky Hague
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Anthony Rendon
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Brian Goodwin
OF – Chris Rahl
DH/BIF – Justin Bloxom
BCA – Kris Watts
BIF – Sean Nicol
BIF – Francisco Soriano
BOF – Jimmy Van Ostrand

Even if you count my not-quite-right as wrong (Van Ostrand spent 76 of his 97 games at Harrisburg, but began the season in Syracuse), I got 9 out 13 right on making the team. If you cut me some slack, that’s the same success rate for how these guys were used. That’s quite a bit better than in 2012 where I only got six right without hedging (which I’ll have do this year, too, but for a much more valid reason).

This year’s squad won’t have quite the luster of three BA Top 10 players in the field as they did a year ago, but that should be more than offset by having (spoiler alert!) two Top 10 pitchers (okay, maybe not). Without further vamping, here’s my guess at the 2014 Senators:

CA – Adrian Nieto or Brian Jeroloman
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Ricky Hague
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Cutter Dykstra
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Michael Taylor
OF – Theo Bowe
DH/1B – Kevin Keyes
BCA – Jeroloman or Cole Leonida
BIF – Adrian Sanchez
BIF – Sean Nicol
BOF – Caleb Ramsey

As you can see, I’m waffling at the catcher slots because, historically, there’s a very good chance that Nieto will be returned to Washington. And even Jeroloman isn’t a sure thing with all the backup catchers the Nats have been stockpiling. I’m presuming Sandy Leon will finally begin the season at AAA (which I won’t pick because it’s just too unpredictable) but it’s not unfathomable for him to come back to City Island, which is my pick (unfortunately, for their sakes) for five players.

Otherwise, I’m fairly confident Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza will move up another level. But for any other position player, I don’t have the answer to “What about __________?” Remember, this is a guessing game.

Unfortunately, as we saw yesterday in the comments, it’s also a realization that some players may have hit the end of their road. Once I get to the bench, it’s trying to divine which of last year’s bench guys will hang it up or go to Syrcause and which of the guys from Potomac will move up but shift into backup roles. The alternatives are being sent to XST, hidden placed on the DL (often the same thing) or getting released.

As always, hope folks enjoyed this little diversion. Judging by the Twitter reaction to the signing of an aging middle reliever, it’s obvious that folks can no longer stand to wait for Spring Training to begin.

Feb 072014
 


Picking Low-A is a matter of guessing who will move along from Auburn and who might be held back. The former is fairly common, but the latter isn’t. With High-A, it’s not so much who might be held back but who will be kept down by the FAs in AA and AAA (this is less of a factor than in the the dark times of ’07-’10, when 70+ players would be in the big camp and nearly 15 of them were major-leaguers).

With that in mind, here’s what I thought the 2013 P-Nats would be (mistakes in red, wrong roles in blue):

CA – Nieto
1B – Keyes
2B – Dykstra
SS – Ortega
3B – Sanchez
OF – Burns
OF – Taylor
OF – Souza
DH – Ramsey
BCA – Leonida
BIF – J. Miller
BIF – Kelso
BOF – Oduber

Like Hagerstown, I was much more accurate with my prediction than in the two previous years, getting 10 of 13 players right and seven of 13 roles correct. I don’t feel so bad about getting the roles wrong because both Sanchez and Dykstra have been shifting around the infield for the past couple of seasons. Missing on Souza was also a happy mistake because it meant that he finally got the bump to AA.

Despite my success thus far, I have no illusions that I’ll be as accurate with this set of predictions, either. But that’s not the point — giving us fodder for discussion (and maintaining site traffic, natch) is!

CA – Severino
1B – Pleffner
2B – Renda
SS – S. Perez
3B – McQuillan
OF – Wooten
OF – Mesa
OF – B. Miller
DH – Ramos
BCA – Manuel
BIF – Norfork
BIF – Soriano
BOF – Piwnica-Worms

Feb 062014
 


We’re a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and if aging veteran minor-league backup catchers are getting this much press, then it’s safe to say that folks are wee bit desperate for spring training to start.

In that spirit, it’s time for my annual humbling as I guess how the rosters (position players) for the middle minors (Low-A, High-A, AA) will shake out in about eight weeks and review how I did a year ago.

Without further ado, my predictions for the 2013 Hagerstown Suns:

CA – Kieboom
1B – Pleffner
2B – Renda
SS – S. Perez
3B – C. Lopez
OF – E. Martinez
OF – Ramos
OF – Mesa
DH – B. Miller
BCA – Manuel
BIF – Norfork
UT – McQuillan
BOF – Ramirez

Before folks accuse me of being falsely modest, I was wrong on five of 13 names being on the Suns roster in 2011 and 2012 and was incorrect on predicting the usage four times and once, respectively. Since DH is used in the minors differently than in the majors, it’s hard to be “right,” but Miller played 102 of 103 games in the field so I can’t let that slide. I will take credit for getting Pleffner right because it’s doubtful that even a healthy Carlos Lopez (presuming he was actually hurt, which is never a given with the DL) would have prevented him playing there.

So what’s the forecast for 2014? Well, this was not easy. Some folks may be disappointed that I didn’t project more GCLers leapfrogging a lackluster Auburn squad, but I’m (mostly) staying conservative (but taking a couple of chances):

CA – Spencer Kieboom
1B – James Yezzo
2B – Cody Dent
SS – David Masters
3B – Drew Ward
OF – Rafael Bautista
OF – Isaac Ballou
OF – Bryan Lippincott
DH – Estarlin Martinez
BCA – Matt Reistetter
BIF – Wilmer Difo
BIF – Khayyan Norfork
BOF – Greg Zebrack