AFL Update: Oct. 10, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-2
The Solar Sox scored 11 times in their first four turns at bat as they cruised to a 13-3 victory over the Desert Dogs.

Sammy Solis got the start and the win, tossing three and 2/3rds scoreless innings with three hits and a walk allowed. The 25-y.o. southpaw struck out two in his first AFL start since November 2011.

Adrian Nieto got the start behind the plate and went 1-for-2 with a double and a run scored. The 23-y.o. drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and had no baserunners attempt to steal against him.

Steve Souza Jr. started in right field and went 1-for-5, grounding into a double play, but stealing two bases. He made four putouts in the field.

Robert Benincasa pitched the 9th for the Solar Sox but was greeted with a solo HR to the first batter he faced. He retired three of the next four batters he faced, issuing a one-out walk and striking out a batter.

The Solar Sox hit the road tonight as they visit the Salt River Rafters. Matt Purke is scheduled to make the start for Mesa.

AFL Update: Oct. 9, 2013

Arizona-Fall-League-2013-1Matt Skole launched a two-run homer in Mesa’s five-run 8th as the Solar Sox and the Glendale Desert Dogs played to an 8-8 tie in 11 innings.

Skole went 2-for-4 with a walk and run scored and three RBI total as the DH, where he’s expected to remain for the time being, though MASN’s Byron Kerr noted that he’ll play more 3B than 1B when he returns to the field.

It was the first live game action for the 24-year-old since injuring his left (non-throwing) elbow on April 5th in a collision at 1B that was initially described as a microfracture of the left wrist, but required Tommy John surgery and ended his 2013 regular season after just two games.

Brian Goodwin also saw game action and went 2-for-5 with a walk while batting second and playing centerfield, where he made two putouts. Former National Alex Meyer picked off Goodwin in the 3rd, but was otherwise hammered for three runs on five hits over three innings.

Neither Robert Benincasa nor Richie Mirowski were used in relief. Sammy Solis is scheduled to make the start today while Matt Purke is tabbed for tomorrow. Steven Souza Jr. will be eligible to play today and Saturday while Adrian Nieto awaits his chance behind the plate. Former Nationals backstop David Freitas went 0-for-4 at the plate and 1-for-4 in throwing out baserunners.

Morning Reading

Morning Reading 2We’re almost ready for the AFL to start, which is where we’ll lead off with this edition of Morning Reading (our fill-in post for when it’s slow on the minors front):

• This year the Nationals will fill out the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox. Nick Melotte has a preview on John Sickels’s site.

• Both Baseball America and Ballpark Digest have covered the recent front-office turnover in Syracuse. The good news? The Chiefs don’t appear to be going anywhere. The bad news? Neither story chose to discuss the role of economics or demographics.

• The Hagerstown Suns have formally applied to NAPBL and the South Atlantic League relocate to Fredericksburg for the start of the 2015 season. Worth noting — and not mentioned in the story — the Player Development Contract between Washington and Hagerstown expires after next season. While this may not prevent the Suns from leaving town, it does not preclude the Nationals from seeking a new team, either.

Four P-Nats Named To BA’s Carolina League Top 20

Ok, so maybe it’s a little easier to place multiple players in an eight-team league, but that should shouldn’t diminish the distinction of four Potomac Nationals making the Baseball America Top 20 Prospects List — A.J. Cole (#10), Michael Taylor (#12), Robbie Ray (#16), and Billy Burns (#19).

Like last year’s contingent of Suns to get the BA badge of approval, three of the four P-Nats were promoted to the next level, led by the two pitchers, with the older of the two position players going last.

Alright, fine, you’ve probably already skipped ahead to see what the folks in Durham had to say, going from highest to lowest, beginning with #10, A.J. Cole…

Cole can command his fastball to both sides of the plate and the pitch can be explosive coming out of his long, lanky frame. The fastball, however, is the only pitch he throws with any consistency. He’s still inconsistent with a slurvy curveball, though he did begin to show better feel for it by the end of the season. His changeup remains a work in progress. One scout suggested Cole should abandon the curveball for more of a power slider.

This matches up well with what I saw in Woodbridge, but when Cole racked up W’s in three of his first four starts, such naysaying seemed out of place. Not to mention, the similar success shown by Robbie Ray after his promotion.

Taylor began to tap into his power at the plate but still isn’t disciplined enough in his approach to drive balls with regularity. At his best, he has the bat speed to turn on fastballs and the strength to take breaking balls to the opposite field. Yet he is susceptible to chasing fastballs up in the zone and curveballs off the plate. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Taylor has all-star potential. If not, he figures to be a 4th outfielder [like] Justin Maxwell.

Last year, Taylor couldn’t correct either flaw (bolded) and this year the weaknesses would come and go. No doubt he’ll be challenged with AA in ’14, but those are the kind of holes that pitchers can consistently exploit at the next level.

Ray attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball and has the arm strength to add more velocity down the road. His slider grew from more of a slurvy pitch to a power one with good depth that could turn into an above-average offering. He showed feel for a changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Ray still struggles with his command at times and gets in trouble when he leaves pitches up — his nine home runs in just 84 innings were the 11th most in the league.

Quite frankly, had Ray been a righty or a year or two older, I’d have dropped him from the ’13 Watchlist — that’s how bad he looked in ’12. But after making some serious adjustments to recover from that debacle, there’s reason to hope that he can refine his game further in ’14.

Burns excels at working counts and putting the ball in play as a slap-and-dash hitter. He’s more than willing to put the ball on the ground and beat throws to first base. The natural righthanded hitter began switch-hitting in 2012, but he hit a respectable .312/.418/.383 in 266 at-bats from the left side in the CL. One scout suggested that Burns could be more of a line-drive hitter if he incorporated his powerful legs into his swing.

In his last month or so in Woodbridge, Burns certainly did appear to be working on trying to hit balls into the gaps, but with mixed success (a fair amount of weak flyballs). Given that small-ball skills — aside from speed — have fallen out of favor lately, this is Burns’s next challenge to meet if he’s to proceed beyond AA.

Quite a gap between the next BA Top 20 post for which a National may be named — next Thursday for the International League. It looks like they’re saving the Eastern League for last, on the 14th. Next up: perhaps a morning reading post before we begin following the Arizona Fall League.

Season Review: 2013 GCL Nationals

How good were the 2013 GCL Nationals?

It’s tempting to fall into the football mindset, where specious aphorisms such as “you are what your record says you are” come twelve for ten cents. This precise question was asked of Baseball America in a recent “Ask BA” column. After a breathless paragraph about Lucas Giolito, J.J. Cooper’s answer was:

Overall, the GCL Nationals impressed with a group of solid if not spectacular prospects having very good years. They had a deeper lineup and pitching staff than anyone else in the league. Many of these same players were on the Nationals’ Dominican Summer League club that went 38-32 in 2012, failing to make the playoffs. Seven of the nine regulars in the lineup came from that club, as did six of the club’s top nine pitchers. Given another chance to play together, they dominated the competition.

As I’ve written in the comments, the only thing we really do know is that the G-Nats were dramatically better than the other three teams in the GCL East. They probably would have still done very well in a more balanced schedule, but it’s hard to believe they would have won at the same clip. Ultimately, it’s a moot point. The schedule is primarily drawn up to minimize travel, not to determine who’s the best.

Cooper’s answer — aside from incorrectly implying that David Ramos was one of the the team’s best pitchers — correctly gets to what was brought up in the previous season review: It looks like the DSL Class of ’12 was pretty good, even if some of the guys were a little older. Given the organization’s poor record in developing talent from the DSL since 2006* (thus far: Eury Perez, Atahualpa Severino, and Sandy Leon have seen MLB playing time), this is the key takeaway from the 2013 edition.
* That’s the earliest roster available on baseball-reference.com

In keeping with the format, let’s take a look at how they compared to the average GCL team:

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
G-Nats 1881 319 528 15 184 392 .281 .359 .374 .255 110
Lg. Avg. 1921 251 467 18 194 447 .243 .323 .338 .230 63

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
G-Nats 496 2.47 2.78 1.109 18 158 435 7.1 2.9 7.9 2.75
Lg. Avg. 508⅔ 3.55 4.20 1.299 18 194 447 8.3 3.4 7.9 2.30



If you’re looking for nits, the G-Nats didn’t lead the league in pitching strikeouts, fewest home runs allowed, fewest wild pitches thrown, doubles, triples & home runs hit, walks drawn, and total bases. They were first or second in the league in just about everything else. Ordinarily, this is where the highs and lows of the team in the aggregate are discussed, but it’s pointless in this case. There are only highs and mediums here.

Let’s drill down a little further, and take a look at the Top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, listing their position(s) in terms of games played. Players with an asterisk played in the DSL in 2012 or 2013; Players with a double asterisk are GCL repeats from 2012; the player with a carat(^) is an IFA; The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Rafael Bautista* 20 254 CF/RF/LF 41/11/1 .990 1 .287 .066
Drew Ward 18 199 3B 35 .950 4 .278 .095
Bryan Mejia* 19 179 2B/3B/SS/1B 35/7/2/1 .961 8 .228 .119
Osvaldo Abreu* 19 171 SS/2B 19/9 .945 10 .261 .095
Jose Marmolejos-Diaz* 20 158 1B 37 .993 2 .276 .121
Raudy Read* 19 158 C 31 .996 1 .211 .075
Hayden Jennings** 20 154 RF/CF/LF 21/17/7 1.000 0 .227 .095
Willie Medina 22 130 SS/2B/3B 19/18/1 .965 6 .201 .009
Randy Encarnacion* 18 126 RF/LF 16/5 .947 2 .327 .174
Luis Guzman^ 17 126 LF 33 1.000 0 .191 .056
Garrett Gordon 20 119 LF/RF/CF 17/9/1 .979 1 .239 .060
Diomedes Eusebio** 20 113 1B/3B/2B 26/9/1 .990 1 .284 .120



What stood out to me among this group — aside from the DSL connection — was the amount of continuity here. Injuries, promotions, demotions, bad food at Panera Bread — these are things that usually cut into playing time. Instead, nearly 87 percent of it went to the to the top 12, instead of the usual 79 to 82 percent. None of the top 12 was promoted. The two significant repeats received less playing time in 2013 than in 2012.

Drew Ward also sticks out like a sore thumb. Under Rizzo, the Nats haven’t drafted many teenagers. When they do, they usually don’t get this much playing time period, never mind at one position. As if all of that weren’t compelling enough, Ward outhit all but a couple of his teammates, both of whom were either significantly older (Bautista) or more experienced as a pro (Encarnacion). If you haven’t read Ryan Kelley’s 2013 draft post, which I also have in the right sidebar, then check it out. Not too often you see a kid live up to the hype, especially with a fair amount of doubters, thanks to the level of competition he faced as a schoolboy.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but I’m sure folks are wondering right now: “So how many of these guys will be challenged with Hagerstown in 2014?” I’d like to think at least half of them. Three reasons for this: 1) The Nats have been more aggressive lately 2) The Auburn guys were, by and large, disappointing 3) It’s been a long time since there’s been group this young that won so readily.

But I also can’t help but think that with so much youth there is time to err on the side of caution (so maybe just three, no more than four). It’s a lovely dilemma to have, and it’s part of what helps pass the offseason: wondering who moves, stays, and goes from the 2013 finish to the 2014 opener.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Hector Silvestre* 20 13/8 7-0, 0 1.82 49⅓ 33 8 40 0.831 2 1
Wander Suero* 21 13/3 8-1, 0 1.65 49 27 13 46 0.816 2 7
Jefry Rodriguez* 19 12/12 3-0, 0 2.45 47⅔ 40 20 43 1.259 6 7
Phillips Valdez* 21 14/3 3-0, 2 1.95 32⅓ 16 12 27 0.866 2 4
Kelvin Rodriguez* 19 13/1 5-0, 0 3.07 29⅓ 31 6 15 1.261 8 3
Travis Ott 18 10/7 3-0, 0 4.03 29 24 12 32 1.241 4 2
Matt Derosier 18 7/0 2-1, 2 2.67 27 24 5 20 1.074 0 1
Lucas Giolito+ 18 8/8 1-1, 0 2.78 22⅔ 19 10 25 1.279 5 2
David Ramos* 21 14/0 5-3, 1 6.95 22 23 10 16 1.500 2 3
Jake Walsh+ 22 16/0 0-0, 8 1.40 19⅓ 10 5 17 0.776 1 1
Joey Webb 22 12/0 2-0, 2 1.89 19 13 6 25 1.000 0 0
Elliot Waterman- 22 12/0 0-2, 0 1.53 17⅔ 17 9 9 1.472 2 2



In 2013, there was quite a bit of movement in both directions between the GCL and Auburn — nine guys sent up, four sent down. Most of the guys that were reassigned upwards went fairly quickly: two after just one appearance and seven after pitching less than 13 innings. The most notable, aside from that Giolito kid, were Nick Pivetta, Ryan Ullmann, and Austin Voth as that trio would form the majority of the Auburn rotation for the season, with Voth getting a second bump to Hagerstown.

Some of this, no doubt was by plan: the trip to Auburn delayed, for example, for coaching purposes. Or there were some guys that the organization misjudged. In either case, with the exception of Deion Williams — who, as a conversion project was clearly given every opportunity to fail learn — the decision was made quickly and the demoted pitched fairly well. But only one pitched enough to crack the top 12 in terms of innings pitched.

There were no repeats from last year’s GCL squad who received significant innings. Like the batters, there were a significant contingent from the DSL. If there is any cause for concern, it’s this: four of those top five pitchers spent mutiple seasons in the DSL, with the three 21-year-olds all turning 22 before the end of this year. As with the batters, this may be nitpicking, but that’s part of the point of why I do a season review: to take a closer look and point out these things, which is important whether the team is the windshield (this year) or the bug (most other years).

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Thankfully, it’s plural for a second straight year.

Top 5 Batters
1. Drew Ward
2. Rafael Bautista
3. Randy Encarnacion
4. Osvaldo Abreu
5. Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz
HM: Diomedes Eusebio, Bryan Mejia

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Lucas Giolito
2. Jefry Rodriguez
3. Hector Silvestre
4. Wander Suero
5. Kelvin Rodriguez
HM: Phillips Valdez, Travis Ott

Jake Johansen, BA’s #13 NYPL Prospect

Baseball America has issued its Top 20 prospects for the New York-Penn League and coming in at #13 is Jacob Johansen.

Thanks to the decision to sign a free-agent closer, which forfeited their 1st round pick, the Washington Nationals’ first pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft did not come until the 29th pick of the 2nd round, 68th overall. With it, the Nats chose Johansen out of Dallas Baptist — an under-the-radar pick who immediately begat comparisons to Nathan Karns, as both put up less-than-stellar numbers in college, pitched in high school and collegiately in Texas, and were power arms with control issues.

Obviously, the comparisons end with Johansen not suffering an injury and dominating the NYPL — holding opponents to a .147 BA, while hanging a 1.06/2.77/0.92 pitcher’s line (ERA/FIP/WHIP) over 10 starts. He finished the season in Hagerstown, where he was knocked around in his final two regular-season starts before tossing five shutout innings for the “W” in the Suns sole victory in the Sally League Finals against the league-champion Savannah Sand Gnats.

The knock on Johansen prior to the draft was on his mechanics and approach, which BA mentioned in the course of its writeup as such:

The Nationals got him to simplify his approach this summer, attacking hitters with power stuff rather than trying to trick them. Though his command and his secondary stuff remain works in progress, Johansen dominated this summer with a premium fastball that sat at 94-96 mph with heavy sink and topped out at 99.

The rest of his arsenal is described as CV, CH, and depending on whom you ask, a SL or CT. For a more detailed look at Johansen, check out Ryan Kelley’s take via District Sports Page from this past August.

Unlike Giolito, I don’t think Johansen will skip ahead to Potomac. With Giolito, repeating Auburn means waiting until June whereas Johansen can begin in Hagerstown and be moved up by mid-to-late May just like (aw, crap – sometimes comps just sneak up on you) Karns in 2012.

Next up: BA will be ranking the Top 20 Sally League prospects, then a look at the 2013 GCL Nationals.

Season Review: 2013 DSL Nationals

They’re a little younger and a little better than they were in 2012.

Looking back over the previous three season reviews, it’s a bit an obsession, this thing with the age of the D-Nats. That’s because in the wake of the events of the spring of 2009 — when it was revealed that Smiley was a bit long in the tooth — the Nationals had to fill out an already-old roster with players who probably would have gone unsigned (e.g. for seven of the thirty-six players, 2009 was their only pro season) or been released (for nine others, it was their last), creating the league’s oldest and nearly its worst.

Since then, the average age of the bats has gone from 19.4 in 2009 to 18.1 in 2013, a figure it’s been at since 2011. The arms have gone from 19.7 to 18.1, though the trajectory has been more erratic: 19.2 in 2010, 18.9 in 2011, 19.0 in 2012. The success of the GCL team in 2013 is significantly due to the talent that came from the DSL — five bats, six arms — and the natural hope and inference is that the international pipeline is starting to produce… despite the scandal… despite the past parsimony… despite the new CBA that has codified limited spending for contenders.

Following the format of the past three seasons, let’s take a look at how the team did vs. league averages…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
D-Nats 2205 287 503 12 262 457 .228 .320 .300 .219 67
Lg. Avg. 2265 312 534 17 271 500 .236 .329 .318 .228 93

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
D-Nats 602.2 2.85 3.86 1.185 24 195 514 7.8 2.9 7.7 2.64
Lg. Avg. 610 3.40 4.45 1.320 17 271 500 7.9 4.0 7.4 1.84



The 2013 edition, which finished a half-game better than the 2012 team (38-31 vs. 38-32), scored at a below-average clip (23rd out of 35 teams) but won more than they lost because the pitching was in the upper third of league (boy, they sure do start The Nationals Way early, don’t they?). Defensively, they were right about the league average of a .954 fielding percentage while the catchers were significantly better at throwing out runners (43% vs. 37%).

While short on power, the batters struck out at well below the league average (sixth-fewest) while the pitchers issued the third-fewest walks per nine innings. Both of those are good signs to look forward to for next year’s GCL squad as well as the guys that the organization decides needs to repeat the DSL, given that contact and control are skills that feed into attributes like power and “stuff.”

Using 100PA as the cutoff, here’s how the 2013 DSL Nationals broke down, with the primary player at each position listed under “G” and total games played “GP” (e.g. Brayan Serrata played 47 of 49 games at catcher). Fielding percentage is for the primary position played for the starters while the bench and utility guys players have their numbers combined. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.

Position Name Age G/GP Fld% Err PA GPA
C Brayan Serrata 19 47/49 .980 7 164 .213
1B Oliver Ortiz 17 23/26 .985 3 102 .277
2B Edwin Lora 17 43/55 .940 15 208 .199
3B Younaifred Aguero 20 48/57 .893 17 195 .218
SS Kelvin Gutierrez 18 42/60 .921 18 235 .234
LF Aldrem Corredor 17 37/57 .950 3 228 .243
CF Darryl Florentino 17 56/58 .964 4 222 .226
RF Israel Mota 17 50/52 .945 4 180 .238
UT (2B/SS/CF) Thomas Alvarez 18 28, 20, 11 .975 6 253 .209
UT (LF/RF/1B/CF) Dionicio Rosario 19 20, 20, 3, 1 .953 4 216 .220
Bench (1B/C) Yermin Mercedes 20 16, 3 .990 1 128 .249



I think it’s interesting that the two names that I mentioned at the end of this section last year were the two guys that were used a lot, but not enough to be considered the starter for any one position. In both cases, this appears to be a good problem: more guys that can play than positions available. Alvarez, for example, appears to be the better shortstop than Gutierrez, who appears to be the better hitter.

I’d love to know what’s the deal with Rosario, who made the 2012 watchlist by posting a .229 GPA as a 17-y.o. in the 2011 DSL, then didn’t play last season. Like all things DSL, it’s a guess unless the player is high-profile (in which case there might be a story). His 2013 performance wasn’t as good, but he got lots of playing time (216PA is 5th most) and judging by his finish (.297/.352/.422 in 18G in August vs. .136/.190/.220 in 18G in July and .217/.357/.304 in 21G in June) it would appear that he may have been shaking off rust.

If you’re not intrigued by what 17-y.o. (born May 1996) Oliver Ortiz achieved in a very short period of time (July 19-August 24), you’re probably on the wrong site. Obviously, the caveats of small sample size apply — it does for everybody in the short-season leagues — but the closest performance for someone his age is Randy Encarnacion last year (when he used Novas as his last name), and that was a .257 GPA over 60 games and he turned 18 during the season. Encarnacion hung a .349/.437/.523 line in the GCL this year, so you can following the bouncing ball from there.

The three 17-y.o. OFs (Corredor, Florentino, Mota) also should engender some excitement, with two producing offensively above league average and the third just a shade shy of it. The guess here and now is that no more than two of them will get sent stateside, for much the same reason why Rosario and Alvarez were used elsewhere: there’s only so much playing time to go around.

On to the pitchers, listing the top 12 in terms of innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Deibi Yrizarri 18 14/13 5-3, 0 1.99 68 59 16 50 1.103 5 4
Maximo Valerio 17 14/13 3-4, 0 2.86 63 55 17 56 1.143 3 8
Mario Sanchez 18 18/5 2-3, 0 2.33 58 46 14 54 1.034 1 8
Jose Morales 18 16/8 4-3, 0 1.13 55⅔ 35 5 37 0.719 7 1
Luis Reyes 18 12/12 5-3, 0 2.82 54⅓ 38 20 65 1.067 11 10
Luis Torres 19 13/9 1-3, 0 3.91 53 54 17 51 1.340 3 7
John Feliz 19 20/0 4-2, 1 2.54 39 33 5 33 0.974 6 3
Yefri Pena 18 17/2 2-1, 2 3.62 37⅓ 37 15 29 1.393 3 5
Yorlin Reynoso 17 19/1 1-1, 0 2.70 36⅔ 27 13 31 1.091 2 7
Jean Ramirez 18 14/4 1-1, 0 3.71 34 32 16 27 1.412 3 3
Melvi Salazar 18 22/0 4-0, 13 0.98 27⅔ 21 10 21 1.120 2 1
Ramses Rosario 17 7/2 1-3, 0 3.54 20⅓ 22 6 15 1.377 2 1



Last year’s pitching was subpar, yet five pitchers moved up to the GCL and did well. And I thought only a couple would be bumped. Granted, three of them were no longer teenagers, but the point I’m trying to make is that when you go strictly by numbers, you’re gonna be wrong. Still, it’s encouraging to see almost all of these guys with more innings pitched than hits allowed and none of them will be 21 at the beginning of the 2014 season.

Two pitchers I feel relatively confident in projecting going to the GCL are Maximo Valerio and Luis Reyes. Valerio has spent two seasons in the DSL now and made improvements year-to-year. Reyes was called up to make an additional start after the DSL season ended and was invited to Instrux — either is generally a sign that the org will move him up the following year. Beyond that, you can make a case any of the other 10 pitchers; that’s how good the pitching was.

As mentioned in the 2013 Watchlist review (and elsewhere), the DSL is where I’ve made a lot of mistakes in picking players to watch — hence the new category — but that won’t stop me from making…

THE OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
All five of the batters I picked last year made it to the GCL this year. Two of the top five pitchers made it, too… and two were released. As written above, I don’t think I’ll be so lucky prescient with the batters, but I’m also hoping that my streak of picking guys that end up getting released ends, if for no other reason than these kids are too young to not repeat.

Top 5 Batters
1. Aldrem Corredor
2. Kelvin Gutierrez
3. Oliver Ortiz
4. Israel Mota
5. Darryl Florentino
Honorable Mentions: Dionicio Rosario, Thomas Alvarez

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Mario Sanchez
2. Deibi Yrizarri
3. Luis Reyes
4. Luis Torres
5. Maximo Valerio
Honorable Mentions: John Feliz, Jose Morales

Next up is the 2013 GCL Nationals, which I have a feeling is going to spark some debate as I’ll be incorporating some of the thoughts I’ve already made in the comments.

Lucas Giolito, BA’s #2 GCL Prospect

lucas-giolito
For the first time since 2009 (Destin Hood), a Nationals player has been named the Baseball America Top 20 prospect list for the Gulf Coast League… 2012 1st Rd. pick, Lucas Giolito.

The 19-year-old entered 2013 with the twin burdens of being the team’s top draft pick and proving himself to be healthy after UCL-replacement surgery. Early on, he exhibited the most common side effect of pitchers coming back from TJ: shaky command, which was so bad he was lifted in the first inning. Twice.

However, after allowing nearly two baserunners per inning in his first five appearances, Giolito hit his stride over the next three, as he earned his first win and began hitting the five-inning mark instead of his pitch limit. He was promoted to the New York-Penn League in mid-August and continued to give out donuts for a total of 20 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a home run in his final start vs. Mahoning Valley.

Scouts clocked the SoCal native in the mid-90s, with some claims of triple-digit velo, with mid-80s speed on his curve that seems to vary between 12-6 and 11-5 action but late bite that earns the “plus-plus” in scout lingo. BattingLeadoff.com had this to say about his mechanics:

Has present stuff, but needs to clean up arm action. His delivery has some effort to it with a long arm circle and pronounced stab. He gets caught with his arm behind his body and arm will drag.

There’s also some disagreement about whether his changeup is back to where it was pre-surgery, but odds are pretty good that it varied from start to start (see above, command).

Of course, the million-dollar question for 2014 is where will Giolito start? The Nats have been careful with healthy HS arms and holding them back from full-season ball until early May, which they did with Robbie Ray in 2011 and 2012. Pitchers coming off surgery or shoulder problems, it’s been more towards Memorial Day (see: Purke, Matthew in 2012 and 2013).

A year ago, I probably would have written — they’ll be conservative and hold him in Viera until the NYPL starts up; he’s only had 14 innings at the level. Now, after a year of semi-aggressive promotions, I’m inclined to think he may actually be challenged to go to Low-A, perhaps even starting up as soon as the third week of April (i.e. the Suns first road trip south of Maryland).

Next possible BA Top 20 mention: Friday, when they rank the NYPL, though I’m not holding my breath…

Reviewing The 2013 Watchlist

First off, the point of this post is not to report on the players per se but the list itself. Now, a little background. The watchlist is something I created in 2010, the first year the site was in operation. I knew I didn’t want to rank the players from 1 to 50 (or, as it turned out that first year, 89) in part because it’s specious to compare pitchers to position players but mostly because that kind of stuff leads to pointless arguments about who was ranked too high/low, or at all.

So I created something that listed the players by position and usage, ordering them from high to low (i.e. AAA to DSL). The intent was not to create a depth chart, but that’s how it turned out [insert quote about luck being the residue of design here]. I got more selective in the next iteration, cutting it down from 89 to 69 names, but kept the original categories.

For 2013, I decided to strike a balance by condensing the pitchers into dexterity (ending the carping about whether X was a starter or a reliever, natch) and creating four new categories:
     • DSL Guys
     • M*A*S*H
     • Notable Arms
     • Notable Bats

Are these guys full-fledged members of watchlist? Yes and no. Yes, in that we have an eye on them; no, in that these categories, by definition, are caveats. The first two categories are self-explanatory. The second two aren’t, but as I put it last November: they’re a means of acknowledging the ones that don’t quite merit full-fledged watchlist treatment, but are often discussed or mentioned.

I’m keeping these categories for 2014 because in a couple of months I’m gonna have some ‘splaining to do. [Here’s where we kind of get to the player performance part]. As is always the case, there are some players that hit their ceiling or underperformed in 2013. So long as they’re not old, it’s pretty easy to stash them in the notables if I decide they’re not up to snuff. When they’re not, well, then it gets difficult.

I’m leaning towards a no-repeat principle for the notables. If a player wasn’t hurt (in which case, he could be a M*A*S*H), he either played his way on or off the list. Otherwise, it feels like I’d be playing favorites. Maybe I’ll call it the Billy Rowell rule (who, if you’re not familiar with, was invariably tagged with a reference to his youth when his chances of making it out of A ball were assessed).

Graduating from the 2013 list are Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, and Chris Marrero. All three have surpassed the limits for rookie status (plate appearances, innings pitched, or time spent on the 25-man roster), which is the standard that I and a lot of folks use for prospecthood because it’s objective. Who else comes off the list in 2014? Sorry, not going to single anybody out because it doesn’t serve much purpose, plus the list is something I create in the course of doing the affiliate reviews, which I still hope to start publishing in early October.

Otherwise, I feel like the 2013 Watchlist achieved its mission — to list the most prominent names primarily by virtue of their performance or progression in the year prior, not their bonus or draft status.

Instructional League Rosters — Final Thoughts

For me, looking at the instrux rosters is often a thumbnail sketch on the past draft and the GCL, which of course, until this year was usually a whole lotta “meh.” The last winning season was in 2009, which probably comes as no surprise since there was a sizable contingent from the 2008 DSL champions.

It bears repeating, so I will. The invites can be broken down into three categories:

1. Young
2. Changing roles or position
3. Working on a specific skill/pitch

Unlike years past, #1 is less relative and more actual. A year ago, there were nine that were 21 or younger; this year, nine of them are teenagers. Not much has been heard about any possible #2 scenarios, which at this point, is only noted for position players. Given that first base isn’t a deep position for the Nats (or anyone else, really, as scouts have been complaining about the lack of true 1B lately) don’t be surprised if any of the 3B or LF-types become converts.

No. 3 of course is arguably the most important and obviously the most nebulous. It’s also why scouts hate instrux. For example, a pitcher with a FB-CV-CH repertoire might not throw his curve at all because he’s working on his change. A small-ball guy might be told not to bunt at all (“We know you can do that, let’s work on what you gotta do when the bunt is off”). Thus, what they see is not a complete picture and not entirely accurate.

Getting an invite used to mean that player was definitely moving up. That, of course, was more true in the previous front office and when the parent club had major-leaguers that would be on the bench or on the AAA squad of most, if not all of the other 29 teams. Now, you can count on roughly half a dozen of these guys returning to where they left off.

That’s about it. To steal from another prospect follower, instrux is a lot like Vegas: what happens there, stays there. Last year, we were fortunate enough to get a couple of dispatches, which you can read here and here if you find yourself getting the shakes or anything like that.

The next planned post is a review of the 2013 Watchlist. As always, the goal at this point in the offseason is to periodically update the site as time (and content) allows until the AFL starts up. It’s one of the dead times of the year for us, but not unwelcome after the 12-week marathon when all seven affiliates are playing, not to mention a couple weeks’ worth of playoffs.