Feb 022013

It’s a week later than last year, but the PDF of the John Sickels prospect hit the inbox early this morning, affirming my decision to paperless since the recent ice storms in the midwest are delaying shipment of the books.

As I’ve done the past two years, I’m breaking this into two posts and starting with the pitchers. For the second straight year, there are more position players listed than pitchers (22 vs. 17), but there are also six more players overall listed (39 vs. 33). Not sure if the former is good, but I’m pleased with the latter because it gives me more material to work with, especially as I finish off the player reports on the 2013 Watchlist.

A reminder: Sickels gives letter grades for the players and is extremely tough. How tough? There are close to 1,000 players in the book. Sickels gave out eight (8) A’s and sixteen (16) A-‘s. Among his Top 50 Batters and Top 50 Pitchers, there are twenty-four B’s.

Also, it’s important to remember that the grade is relative to the level — a C-grade guy in the Appy League could end up a superstar, but a C in the International League is probably going to ride the pine or pitch in blowouts if he ever makes it to The Show.

Let’s dig in. When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principles…

…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]

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

Sickels is a Bill James disciple in that he uses statistics to help identify trends and anomalies. But he also believes in the value in scouting to identify the intangibles like effort, body language, kinetics, athleticism, etc.

Here’s a look at the 17 pitchers (2012 grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – B Aaron Barrett – C Ivan Pineyro – C
Christian Garcia – B- Robert Benincasa – C Robbie Ray – C (B-)
Nathan Karns – B- Erik Davis – C Derek Self – C
Sammy Solis – B- (B-) Neil Holland – C Kylin Turnbull – C (C)
Brett Mooneyham – C+ Pat Lehman – C (C)  
Matt Purke – C+ (B-) Christian Meza – C  

Those that are bolded are ranked by Sickels but not Baseball America. All but three (Benincasa, Self, Turnbull) are on the 2013 Watchlist, which I’ll modify by adding them to the “Notables.” Now, for some tidbits…

…Like everyone else outside the Natmosphere, Sickels believes Garcia will work in relief, perhaps even as a closer.

…Giolito’s Grade B is based purely on potential and he was excluded from the Top 50 because of the TJ surgery.

…Scouts aren’t convinced yet that Karns will stick as a starter at the higher levels, pointing to his control issues and an uneven changeup (before you jump to the comments, remember that one of the key differences between High-A and AA is hitters being able to lay off certain pitches).

…Sickels tabbed Lehman as a sleeper a few years back, but still has faith that he might have a shot as a middle reliever in MLB (unfortunately, he said much the same thing about Josh Wilkie).

…Unlike everyone else, Sickels is skeptical that Purke will regain the velocity he showed in 2010 as a freshman at TCU.

…Oddly enough, Sickels still believes in Sammy Solis’s chances coming off TJ surgery, perhaps because he has more of a track record than Purke.

For those wishing more detail, let me remind you that Sickels is a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri) so you should buy the book (seriously, go for the PDF — you can search and annotate).

Up next: a post on the hitters, and I’ll be updating/finishing the Player Reports as well.

Jan 312013

Just a short note for those of you who access this site with a smartphone. I’m experimenting with a mobile version of the site, courtesy of a free trial by Duda Mobile via Google Ads. For the technically savvy, this automatically creates a redirect to this URL:


So, no, I have not been hacked.

Yes, it’s an effort to help boost ad revenue, which I can tell you is very modest. I’ve turned down every sleazeball that’s approached me since I enabled the site e-mail, partly because most wanted to have the ads in the content, partly because they didn’t pass the sniff test, but mostly because they couldn’t guarantee that I’d earn more than what I already have been with Google.

The goal has always been to simply to make enough to offset/defray the out-of-pocket costs of running the site. Because it’s a low-effort thing that’s already associated with Google, I look at it as a means of making sure I’m not leaving money on the table, as it were, with the folks that have become aware of the site via Twitter, which I know mainly people access from their smartphones already.

Thanks for reading and I hope folks enjoy this and make it worth the effort (*wink, wink, nod, nod*).

Jan 302013

Mayo 2Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has released his 2013 Top 100 list and four Nationals farmhands were among the spread.

At #28, third baseman Anthony Rendon was the highest ranked Washington prospect. He actually moved up from #33 on last year’s list despite an abbreviated 2012 campaign. The 22-year-old is expected to begin the season for AA Harrisburg, but as a member of the team’s 40-man roster, Rendon will being spring training with the big boys in Viera.

Next on the list at #52 is centerfielder Brian Goodwin, who is also due to begin ’13 for the Senators. Such is the capriciousness of prospect ranking that Goodwin, who missed five weeks early in the season but was still jumped from Low-A to AA last July, rose from a #67 ranking in 2012.

The Nationals top pick in the 2012 draft, Lucas Giolito, was ranked #74 but is unlikely to pitch in a competitive game this season, thanks to having Tommy John surgery last August. Prior to suffering an elbow injury in the spring, Giolito was on track to be a “one-one” with a triple-digit fastball and a pair of plus breaking pitches.

Finally, recently re-acquired A.J. Cole was #91, dropping a spot from the 2012 list. While it’s possible for Cole to join Rendon and Goodwin on the AA squad, the smarter money is on Cole beginning ’13 with Potomac, given his struggles in High-A last season as well as Rizzo’s more conservative tendencies. Cole effectively replaces Alex Meyer (ranked #40), who went to Minnesota to acquire CF Denard Span.

Jan 282013

no25John Sickels has released his second annual farm system rankings, and if you haven’t guessed where the Nats came in by now… have I got some real estate in Florida for you!

All kidding aside, you can tell from his lengthy intro that this is something he’s doing mostly to appease his readers, but also to make the point that things change rapidly — the James Shields trade for Kansas City and Justin Upton trade for Atlanta, for example, dropped them from Top 10 systems in 2012 to No. 21 and 27 respectively. It’s nice to have a top-ranked farm system, but it’s not as important as developing talent that can play for your major-league team — now and in the future.

From that perspective, the Nationals have obviously succeeded, which I’ve mentioned before.

Sickels ranked the Nationals #14 last year. They’re now ranked #25, right about where I would have guessed, even if the recent Baseball America book had them at #16. No sense paraphrasing his short comment, as this will sound awful familiar:

Strengths: Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin have star potential. Considerable raw material for a pitching staff. Weaknesses: They are banking a lot on injured pitchers recovering well. Many prospects are too old for their levels.

Rankings like these are by their very nature subjective — some folks put a premium on having multiple prospects with high ceilings, others prefer a system to have both depth and diversification. Never mind the philosophical differences about when and how to draft and/or develop pitchers vs. position players.

Take it for what it’s worth — something to talk about for a while in late January that most folks will forget by mid-February.

Jan 262013

Picking up from our last post, here are nos. 16 through 31 in the 2013 BA Prospect Handbook…

16. Ricky Hague, SS/2B (15)
17. Destin Hood, OF (11)
18. Robbie Ray, LHP (17)
19. Brett Mooneyham, LHP
20. Corey Brown, OF
21. Estarlin Martinez, OF
22. Brandon Miller, OF
23. Chris Marrero, 1B (12)
24. Carlos Rivero, 3B/SS
25. Steven Souza, OF
26. Billy Burns, OF
27. Ivan Pineyro, RHP
28. Paul Demny, RHP (29)
29. Wirkin Estevez, RHP
30. Jhonatan Solano, C
31. Shawn Pleffner, 1B

As mentioned previously, a sizable portion of this list is what prospect followers would call “old” — others might call them 4A, some folks would have an entirely different opinion — which is what happens with the draft tilting so heavily towards collegiate players. Drafting last in the Rule 4 draft, in a year that is considered one of the weakest in recent memory (insert “Girlwatching” joke here), one has to wonder if this is when Nationals GM Mike Rizzo finally starts to roll the dice on some HS guys.

Let’s take a look at how the newcomers to the BA list were acquired:

2012 Draft — Lucas Giolito (2), Tony Renda (12), Brett Mooneyham (19), Brandon Miller (22)

2011 Draft — Billy Burns (26), Shawn Pleffner (31)

2009 Draft — Nathan Karns (5)

2007 Draft — Steven Souza (25)

Int’l Free Agents — Estarlin Martinez (21), Ivan Pineyro (27), Wirkin Estevez (29), Jhonatan Solano (30)

Domestic Free Agent — Christian Garcia (6)

Waiver Claim — Carlos Rivero (24)

Trade — Corey Brown (20)

That’s quite a hodge-podge, with two of the team’s Top 10 coming out of nowhere to the casual fan. I’m tempted to lump in “fantasy” with “casual,” but I’m aware that there’s a subset of folks that are into prospects for the purposes of getting a Christian Garcia or Nathan Karns onto their team. If only there were a way to make a buck off ’em the way BA can…

The better news, of course, is that 27 of these 31 are homegrown. In addition to spending big and taking risks, I believe BA rewards this in terms of ranking the organizations (#1 St. Louis is 30 of 31). Four more tidbits before we close out with a look at the 2016 Nationals…

…Taylor Jordan is their breakout prospect for 2013, citing the return of his 96 mph heater. Having seen him in 2010, I can understand the hype if indeed he’s fully recovered from TJ surgery and progressed accordingly.

…Perhaps not coincidentally, Karns is listed second and Jordan third in the RHSP depth chart behind, of course, Giolito

…Shawn Pleffner is their sleeper for 2013, noting that 2011 was lost to injury (sports hernia), which somewhat validates my decision to include him on the watchlist.

…With Matt Skole still not officially recognized as a 1B, Chris Marrero is still the top-rated 1B in the organization (which in part is why I included Pleffner and Kevin Keyes)

The 2016 Nationals (pay no attention to injuries, trades, or free agents)
C – Wilson Ramos
1B – Ryan Zimmerman
2B – Danny Espinosa
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Anthony Rendon
LF – Brian Goodwin
CF – Denard Span
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Lucas Giolito
#3P – Gio Gonzalez
#4P – Jordan Zimmermann
#5P – Ross Detwiler
CL – Drew Storen

Like your rural pothead, BA likes ’em homegrown — 12 of those 14 to be exact. I can buy Giolito’s ceiling, but the #2 SP after what will undoubtedly be two innings-limited seasons? Sure, and that’s just a lamp…

Jan 252013

2013-BA-Prospect-HandbookThe 2013 Baseball America Prospects book is here and the staff is reviewing it. As much as I like to bash BA, I can’t ignore them, either. Like it or not, when it comes to prospects, the conversation starts with them. Fine by me, because I think the recent anointing of the Brothers Upton is proof positive that baseball fans are desperate for winter to end (that, and lately, narrative in sportswriting has been cheap and easy).

Like last year, I’m doing multiple posts to spread out the material and have fodder for discussion.

As mentioned in the comments, I was shocked to see that the system came in at #16 — I was expecting somewhere in the mid-20s. And this does not include the return of A.J. Cole. Much like 2011, the folks in Durham really approved of the gamble taken with the drafting of Lucas Giolito.

Let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 26 (remember, the Gio Gonzalez trade happened after the book went to press).

Graduated (3) — Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore

Rule 5 Draft, Taken (2) — Jeff Kobernus, Danny Rosenbaum

Traded (2) — Alex Meyer, David Freitas

Dropped Out (4) — Kylin Turnbull, Cole Kimball, Kevin Keyes, Adrian Sanchez

So a little more than than half (15/26) of last year’s list is the same. Half of it has been signed since GM Mike Rizzo has become GM. One-fifth (6) are IFAs signed by the Nationals. A bit more of a mild surprise: six of the thirty will be 25 or older by midseason, which is somewhat of an indictment of Washington’s collegiate drafting bias, but one would have thought that more these guys would have been passed over in favor of 2012 draftees.

Today, I’ll leave you with the Top 15 Prospects listed in the book, then pass along 16-30 in Part Two. Where applicable, last year’s ranking is in parentheses:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (2)
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF (5)
4. Matt Skole, 3B (21)
5. Nathan Karns, RHP
6. Christian Garcia, RHP
7. Eury Perez, OF (22)
8. Sammy Solis, LHP (8)
9. Matt Purke, LHP (7)
10. Zach Walters, SS (19)
11. Michael Taylor, OF (14)
12. Tony Renda, 2B
13. Taylor Jordan, RHP (31)
14. Jason Martinson, SS/3B (25)
15. Sandy Leon, C (24)

Jan 232013

I had seen the MASN press release from a couple of weeks ago but passed on a post since I prefer to let folks know both the radio and TV schedules. Lo and behold*, today I discovered that the concatenation already exists on the MLB.com site. *Why can’t it just be “Lo?”

I’m reproducing it below as a service (and to have a framework if/when ESPN or the MLB Network picks up a game not listed below). Unless it has an asterisk, the games on MASN are also broadcast on 106.7 FM:

Day Date Time (ET) Opponent Network
Sun. Feb. 24 1:05 p.m. Miami 106.7 FM
Tue. Feb. 26 1:05 p.m. @ Atlanta 1580 AM
Wed. Feb. 27 1:05 p.m. Miami 1580 AM
Thu. Feb. 28 6:05 p.m. N.Y. Mets MASN
Fri. Mar. 8 1:05 p.m. St. Louis MASN*
Mon. Mar. 11 1:05 p.m. Atlanta 1580 AM
Wed. Mar. 13 1:05 p.m. N.Y. Mets 1580 AM
Thu. Mar. 14 1:05 p.m. Houston 1580 AM
Sat. Mar. 16 6:05 p.m. Houston MASN*
Fri. Mar. 22 1:05 p.m. Detroit MASN*
Sat. Mar. 23 1:10 p.m. @ N.Y. Mets 106.7 FM
Sun. Mar. 24 1:05 p.m. Atlanta MASN
Fri. Mar. 29 2:05 p.m. N.Y. Yankees
@ At Nationals Park
Jan 222013

Morning ReadingYikes. Between the cold, the forecast of snow this week, and the dearth of news, it’s been a rough January.

For the newbies, when you see the kid with the newspaper, it means things are slow here and I’m just doing a post to keep the site fresh, passing a couple of baseball-related tidbits. It’s also a reference to my days as a small-town reporter (How small? Let’s just say the expression “Everybody knows what everybody does ’round here; we just read the paper to see who got caught” isn’t that far off).

Our friend Shawn in Hagerstown has been doing one of his winter staples: Interviewing some of his favorite ex-Suns, which unfortunately, at this time, is also an ex-Nat: Danny Rosenbaum. Check out the first(1) three(2) parts(3) of his interview. Part four should be coming soon.

The subject of attendance came in the comments, specifically to Syracuse most recently, but a staple of discussion from time to time. Someone with too much time on his hands (no word on the bar stool), David Kronheim of NumberTamer.com, has released his annual minor-league attendance analysis. A few of things I found interesting:

  • 2012 was the best year ever for the Carolina League in terms of total attendance and average per date (though all of that is attributable to Carolina replacing Kinston; the other seven teams had a net decline of 1.5%)
  • Attendance in the International League fell the most (159,620) continuing a three-year trend since breaking 7M in ’09
  • Harrisburg topped 200,000 for the 25th time in 26 seasons, posting its 3rd best season since 1991
  • Hagerstown’s attendance was its lowest since 1981, dropping 36,164 total and 565 per date.
  • Auburn’s attendance increased 15.2% from 2011, begging the question (not answered) — how much of that was attributable to winning (unlikely) vs. the economy (likely)

Last, but not least, in my quest to find a worthy competitor to Rutt’s Hut or The Root Beer Stand there is a new quest: The Big League Hotdog Company.

Jan 162013

With the three-way trade of Michael Morse, 2010 4th Rd. pick A.J. Cole has returned to the Washington Nationals organization.

Cole, who had been dealt away 13 months ago in the trade for Gio Gonzalez, was acquired along with 24-year-old Blake Treinin and the ubiquitous “Player To Be Named Later” from Oakland for OF-1B Michael Morse, with Seattle sending Oakland C John Jaso to round out the deal.

Cole’s 2012 season was a rough one, getting pounded in his first eight starts for 60 hits including seven HR’s and seven losses for High-A Stockton before the A’s dropped him down to Low-A Beloit of the Midwest League. He rebounded to post a 6-3 record and a 2.07 ERA, which would have been league-best had he thrown more innings.

Scouts identified a tendency to fly open and leave his pitches up during his time with Stockton, but the better news for Nats fans is that his velocity, which had faded badly during his H.S. senior year, has returned and his control remains very good (1.8BB/9 for Beloit). His changeup has also reportedly improved, but his breaking ball — a slurve of sorts — remains a work in progress, which is not uncommon for A-ball prospects.

Given his age and praise, I’ve put Cole immediately onto the 2013 Watchlist.

Treinin is an unusual story, spending time but not pitching at the varsity level for Baker University and Arkansas before finally getting to pitch for South Dakota State in 2010, his junior year. He was drafted in 2010 by Florida in the 23rd round but had his contract voided when an MRI indicated damage. A strong senior season moved him up to the 7th Round, when Oakland took him and sent him to Low-A Burlington for 27 relief innings after a three-inning look-see in the Arizona League.

Treinin features a mid-90s fastball and what Sickels called “a workable slider” in his book last season. He also throws a change. As predicted by Sickels, the 24-year-old was given a shot at starting last summer and went 7-7 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.350 WHIP with good peripherals (2.0BB/9IP, 8.0K/9IP). It’s too soon to tell what the Nats have planned for him, but a guess would be that if he starts, it’s Potomac; if he relieves, he might have a chance at Harrisburg.

Jan 152013

More ST cutsIt’s a weird world we live in when a mere tweet can be the peg for a news story.

Such was the case yesterday when Jake Skole, the younger sibling of Matt Skole, congratulated his brother on his invite to Washington Nationals spring training, prompting this story from Byron Kerr, who confirmed it independently. The younger Skole’s feelings were echoed by teammate Jason Martinson (both of which I retweeted).

Hours later, Ryan Tatusko gave out the props to his AAA teammate Zach Walters for the same honor. Neither invite has been officially confirmed as of this writing, with the Nationals PR Twitter account dark since Friday.

Like most non-roster invitees, Skole and Walters do not have a strong chance of making the parent club this spring, but the invite is significant nevertheless because it means more time spent in Viera with the major-league coaches.

The logical inference is that both will spend time working on their defense. Walters has been pegged by some as having a future as a utilityman, and if so, will need to refine his defense at the non-SS positions and learn the OF, a la Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore last year.

Skole spent time at 1B in the Arizona Fall League and it’s probably fair to deduce he’ll spend more time learning the position, given that No. 1 prospect Anthony Rendon also plays 3B (and some other guy in DC).

Finally, in keeping with the theme of news-by-Twitter, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson is reporting that former Dodgers/Pirates UT Delwyn Young has been signed to minor-league deal with no invite. The 30-year-old Young, perhaps most famous in Nats lore for hitting a two-run HR in Stephen Strasburg’s MLB debut in 2010, played just 35 games in 2012 with the Camden Riversharks after failing to make the White Sox out of Spring Training.

This afternoon the Nationals officially announced the spring-training invites of LHPs Fernando Abad, Bill Bray, Brandon Mann, RHP Ross Ohlendorf and IF Will Rhymes, which were previously reported here, here, there, and everywhere, along with the official announcements for Skole and Walters.

They also extended non-roster invitations to C Carlos Maldonado, LHP Pat McCoy, and RHP Tanner Roark and officially announced that pitchers and catchers are due to report on February 12, position players on February 15.