Feb 192012
 

It was just two weeks ago that the Nationals announced the signing of Rick Ankiel, creating a three-man race for the CF position and two-man race for the backup spot. Today, Mike Cameron announced his retirement, opening the door of opportunity for an outfielder prospect to make the team.

The white phone is for you, Corey Brown.

Of course, I am toying with you: Nothing I can write will convince the impatient that this doesn’t increase the odds of Bryce Harper making the Opening Day roster. Because, on paper, I have to agree that that’s true.

But I can remind folks that Harper has mostly played left field since his promotion from Hagerstown to Harrisburg (all 37 games in LF) and made six errors in 25 AFL games last fall. None of this is all that surprising considering Harper is a converted catcher. To assume that Harper is ready on defense, however, requires not only a leap of faith but perhaps even the ingestion of a foreign substance.

Never mind whether Harper is ready on offense, with less than a third of a season of AA and zero (0) games of AAA experience.

Working against Brown is his handedness. A platoon of Cameron and the winner of the Ankiel/Berndina battle seemed to be the storyline, with the loser manning the bench. Now, as Bill Ladson noted in his story linked above, the odds of Jason Michaels and Brett Carroll also have improved — especially this late in offseason, when a thin crop of FA outfielders has been largely picked over.

Feb 172012
 

It’s two more days until pitchers and catchers report, roughly four days until the Panera Bread references from the beat guys become a tired meme.

MLB Network has yet to release its ST broadcast schedule, but even with the increased respect the Nationals have been getting lately, the safe bet is to look at the games involving Boston and the New York teams that aren’t already listed below (April 2 for Boston, March 16 for the Yankees, March 10, 20, 28 for the Mets) and hope that one of them gets picked up. ESPN is not televising any Nationals games. The Nationals and Phillies do not play at all this spring.

Unless it has an asterisk, the games on MASN are also broadcast on the radio. The March 15th radio broadcast will be on 1580AM (double-asterisk). The March 24th TV broadcast (triple asterisk) will be with the Orioles broadcasters, but WJFK will be broadcasting that game.

Day Date Time (ET) Opponent Network
Sat. Mar. 3 1:05 p.m. Houston 106.7 FM
Sun. Mar. 4 1:05 p.m. Houston MASN
Mon. Mar. 5 6:10 p.m. NY Mets MASN
Tue. Mar. 13 6:05 p.m. Detroit MASN*
Wed. Mar. 14 6:05 p.m. Atlanta 106.7 FM
Thu. Mar. 15 1:05 p.m. NY Yankees MASN**
Sat. Mar. 17 1:05 p.m. Miami 106.7 FM
Sun. Mar. 18 1:05 p.m. Detroit 106.7 FM
Wed. Mar. 21 1:05 p.m. Atlanta MASN*
Sat. Mar. 24 1:05 p.m. Baltimore MASN***
Sun. Mar. 25 1:05 p.m. NY Mets 106.7 FM
Fri. Mar. 30 6:05 p.m. Miami MASN*
Tue. Apr. 3 3:05 p.m. Boston MASN

As always, if you’re able to access MLB Audio wherever you are during the day, you can listen to additional broadcasts during the week.

Feb 152012
 

One of the most consistently frustrating exercises each spring is determining who has options left. As I mentioned in my previous post, this may be one of those rare springs where it might not matter that much. I believe this to be a sign that the team is on the upswing.

Simply put: Winning teams don’t agonize over these kinds of decisions because they’re not choosing between young and marginal players.

In a nutshell, once a player is added to the 40-man roster during the 25-man period (a.k.a. Open Day to August 31), the team has three years that they can bounce him back and forth between the minors. Steve Lombardozzi, for example, has three options left because he was added to the 40-man in September, while Chris Marrero has only two because he was added in November 2010 and optioned to Syracuse in March 2011.

Think you got it straight? Well, then there’s the 20-day exception. An option year is any year in which a player spends more than 20 consecutive days in the minors. I suspect that this was originally intended for rehab assignments (try sifting through that set Google results; I dare you) but has since morphed into a means for teams to stash a position player (or No. 5 starter) at AAA for three weeks in April. Hence, Roger Bernadina’s upstate New York furlough in 2010.

Finally, there’s the fourth-option exception (hey, that rhymes!) that’s likely to become a relic: Teams can petition for a fourth option year if a player has less than five seasons of professional experience. This has mostly been the case with guys added to the 40-man immediately upon being drafted or those who have had significant injuries. Now you know how Ross Detwiler was able to start 2011 at Syracuse.

As I wrote in the previous post, the competition for the 25-man roster is most likely going to be at the fringes of the roster: the 12th man out of the bullpen and last spot or two on the bench. Here’s a look at who’s out of options but still has less than five years MLB service time (another rabbit hole), based on this post from Todd Boss and the work of our intrepid volunteer SpringfieldFan on the BigBoard:

  • Roger Bernadina
  • Sean Burnett
  • Tyler Clippard
  • Ross Detwiler
  • Tom Gorzelanny
  • Michael Morse
  • Henry Rodriguez

Sure, I think most of us can pick a name or two here that could potentially not make the 25-man, but is any of them a starter? Now take a look at another subset: Non-prospects not on the 40-man with options:

  • Mike Ballard
  • Gaby Hernandez
  • Waldis Joaquin
  • Ryan Perry

Do any of these guys look like they’ll beat out the aforementioned “one or two?” Maybe. But then there’s this list of established players that still can be optioned down:

  • Ian Desmond (2)
  • Danny Espinosa (3)
  • Jesus Flores (1)
  • Gio Gonzalez (2)
  • John Lannan (1)
  • Wilson Ramos (2)
  • Drew Storen (2)
  • Stephen Strasburg (1)
  • Jordan Zimmermann (2)

I think you can see that between these groups GM Mike Rizzo has his coveted “contingencies.” And why most of the non-Harper prospect drama might just be about making noise, not making the roster.

But that’s okay I’ve been professionally trained to manufacture drama.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not drawn to the destination so much as the journey. Which is good because as the parent club gets better, the draft picks get lower and the prospects become less of a sure thing. A fair knock on the Nationals is that any idiot could have picked Strasburg, Harper, and Rendon [insert Jim Bowden joke here], let’s see how well they do when they’re picking 30th.

Well, it certainly looks like that chance is coming, doesn’t it?

Feb 132012
 

This may be the spring training with the least drama, if not the fewest players, of the eight spring trainings for the Washington Nationals. As of this writing, there are just 15 non-roster invitees — a far cry from the days when there were 70+ guys in camp.

For the most part, the drama appears to be more of the “normal” variety: who’s gonna man the bench, who’s gonna be the 5th starter, who’s gonna be the last man out of the bullpen, etc. Some of the beat guys are already making predictions on who the final 25 will be and it seems rather reasonable to me.

I’m not downplaying the Bryce Harper madness, which I know will play a big part of the 2012 story line, but I’m not going to feed that monster, either. I think the Nats brass will serve up all the usual bromides about “the best 25,” with perhaps even Davey Johnson playing the good cop and Mike Rizzo playing the bad cop. We’ll probably see some (breathless) stories comparing him to Ken Griffey Jr. and/or Alex Rodriguez in the past and Mike Trout in the present. Or perhaps we’ll get a cautionary tale about Jason Heyward, especially if the 2010 N.L. Rookie of the Year starts very fast or very slowly in Buena Vista.

What will change things in a hurry is if there’s a trade of an existing starter or two. It’s no secret that the Nats are hurting for a CF and that they have a perceived surplus of starting pitchers (pay no attention to those two guys that have had Tommy John surgery the past year or two). Perennial punching bag Ian Desmond is another trade option (as long as you’re convinced that Danny Espinosa will revert to first-half form). But I don’t anticipate such a trade happening any earlier than the last week of March (if at all).

Aside from Harper, I think most of the prospect drama this year will be whether or not Steve Lombardozzi makes the club as a bench player. The only potential wrinkle I can foresee is Johnson deciding on a platoon, which I can’t recall happening recently with two switch-hitters. I put it out there only because Espinosa’s splits finished so severely last season (.222/.312/.390 vs. RHPs; .283/.361/.496 vs. LHPs) while Lombardozzi was closer to the ideal of being even. The safer bet is to see Lombardozzi return to Syracuse so he can play everyday (and maintain trade value).

Of course, there’s an outside shot that Corey Brown can displace Roger Bernadina as a spare outfielder. Perhaps Mike Cameron will start too slowly again for the Nats to carry him. Or maybe Adam LaRoche won’t be fully healthy or effective after nearly a year off.

It’s also possible someone will shock us from the bullpen, but I think the lack of options for most will be the deciding factor. Dan Cortes and the Ryans (Perry and Mattheus) are your top candidates for the Syracuse-to-DC shuttle (formerly known as the Balester back-and-forth). Otherwise, we’re looking to see if anyone can move up from Harrisburg (Rafael Martin, Erik Arnesen, Pat Lehman).

As always, my hope is to dig up what I can while watching from afar and keep the conversation going until the minors start up on April 5th.

Feb 102012
 

Our last installment in this little exercise takes a pass at the position players for the Harrisburg roster. For the folks that are new here, I can’t help but repeat that the jump from Low-A and High-A is relatively short, but the gap between High-A and AA is often a chasm for a lot of players.

If I’m right that most of the ’11 P-Nats will become the ’12 Sens, this could be the youngest AA team since the early “aughts.” If you value continuity, a lot of these guys will have been teammates for multiple seasons with manager Matt LeCroy at the helm. But if you worry about this group starting slowly, as it did last year, there’s no half system to wipe the slate clean.

So here’s a crack at the Sens:

CA – Sandy Leon
1B – Steve Souza
2B – Jeff Kobernus
SS – Chris McConnell
3B – Carlos Rivero
DH – Justin Bloxom
OF – Eury Perez
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Chris Rahl
BIF – Francisco Soriano or Tim Pahuta
BIF – Stephen King
BCA – Devin Ivany or Beau Seabury
BOF – J.R. Higley

This came together too easily. Even with the hedges, there’s still room for me to be wrong:

…I’m not hopping aboard the Carlos “Me llaman Guillermo Rowell” Rivero train, it’s still possible he could make it to AAA.

…The same goes for Chris Rahl, but both are competing against more-established players (e.g. Jarrett Hoffpaiur, Brett Carroll) that could accept assignments to Syracuse.

…That same “pushdown” could put Higley at Potomac, though I still think his defense will keep him in the backup OF mix.

…Beau Seabury has a reputation as a catch-and-throw receiver that’s only recently started to hit, but Ivany is more of a known quantity in both the role and at the level.

…McConnell gets the nod over King, but I feel stronger about King being kept than McConnell. Always possible for Josh Johnson to return for third season.

As always, discuss in the comments. We’ve still got another nine days until the voice of the turtle will be heard.

Feb 092012
 

Picking up where we left off on Tuesday, let’s take a look at my guess at the P-Nats position players from last February.

CA – Sandy Leon
1B – Justin Bloxom
2B – Jeff Kobernus
SS – Rick Hague
3B – Steven Souza
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Eury Perez
OF – Bryce Harper
DH – J.P. Ramirez
BCA – Sean Rooney
BIF – Francisco Soriano
BIF – Stephen King
BOF – Chris Curran
BOF – Brett Newsome

Aside from picking 14 instead of 13 position players, my success rate was more or less the same as Hagerstown — eight of them made the Opening Day roster. I was a little less accurate in picking the eventual positions: five of the eight in the field, six of the nine if you can give me a pass for the DH slot, five of nine if you can’t. Obviously, picking Harper wrong again was to “blame” for a lot of my mistakes (red), but position changes (blue) are also duly noted. As we saw in the debate for Hagerstown, I could be wrong there again, too.

Unlike the previous post, I’m a little more boxed in here. I’m choosing between repeats and promotions without the benefit of knowing who’s hurt and who’s still with organization. There’s also the twilight zone of XST, too. Invariably, I’m going to overlook someone, but here goes anyway…

CA – David Freitas
1B – Brett Newsome
2B – Adrian Sanchez
SS – Zach Walters
3B – Jason Martinson
OF – Michael Taylor
OF – Kevin Keyes
OF – Randolph Oduber
DH – Blake Kelso
BCA – Cole Leonida
BIF – Sean Nicol
BIF – Cutter Dykstra
BOF – J.P. Ramirez

Those last three slots were the hardest to pick. My choice for 1B was also tough, but I made my bed when I decided not to leapfrog Matt Skole from Auburn, which left me to choose between Mills Rogers, who finished on the Auburn roster, Brett Newsome, and possibly Jose Lozada. Or perhaps Steve Souza repeating.

My gut says Souza showed enough by learning a new position and showing good plate discipline. The counterargument, of course, is that the latter came at the expense of power (.367 and just 2HR after Memorial Day). This one of the toughest questions because if he and Justin Bloxom are on the same roster, Matt LeCroy won’t always have the luxury of the DH to solve this dilemma.

I don’t expect to be as accurate with this year’s picks for the A-ball teams as I had last year. The health questions of Rick Hague and Anthony Rendon are the twin elephants in the room, and while I’m optimistic that they’ll be healthy, I think a reunion of the Rice IFs in Potomac this April is highly unlikely.

I’ll expand this series to a third part, which will address the Harrisburg roster, but be forewarned: I’m gonna have to punt and waffle [insert GOP debate joke here] on some of the slots.

As always, discuss in the comments. Ten days until pitchers and catchers report.

Feb 082012
 

Hey, I’m not above using some of the tricks tactics I used as an online marketer to get you here. My apologies to O’s fans, because I am most definitely taking advantage of the the DC-Baltimore provincialism to get some more folks to read this.

As the headline says, Keith Law has released his ranking of the 30 farm systems and Washington has come in at #21, four spaces behind the Baltimore system at #17, three spaces behind Boston at #18, eleven spaces behind the Yankees at #10. If you have a particularly good memory, you may remember that Mr. Law ranked DC at #19 a year ago.

The article (which is behind the ESPN paywall) cites the following for his ranking:

This was potentially a top-10 system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, no worse than top 15. But after dealing A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Derek Norris — probably three of the Nats’ top 10 guys before the Gio swap — this system lacks depth.

I’ve asked Mr. Law via Twitter if this is because he thinks the departed, along with the 2011 “graduates,” (Espinosa and Ramos) are better than the 2011 draftees. So far, he hasn’t responded, but I don’t take that personally. Law has a habit of retweeting his responses to queries that often rubs people the wrong way. Consequently, he may be confused by a legitimate question among the folks needling him. If/when he replies, I’ll certainly update this post.

My initial reaction was to be bothered by this, but Law is no different than a lot of prospect gurus in valuing youth. And I myself have been on record about the Nats needing to diversify their portfolio by drafting more JuCo and HS players. So if Law were to respond by saying there’s a lack of 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds in the system, we’d be in agreement.

Ultimately, I think rankings like these are like the reverse Bell Curve when it comes to students campaigning for a better grade — fans of the teams in the Top 5 (A- or A’s) or Bottom 5 (D- or F) are going to make the most noise. Most of us can concede that the “#1″ ranking from BA in the prospect book (printed prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade; I promise you I don’t have that as a macro in my blogging software) was inflated, so I think the converse may be true here: That maybe Law is underrating the system as much as BA may have been overrating it.

Feb 072012
 

I know I’m about two weeks ahead of where I was last year, but I have very few ideas on how to kill the time see no reason why we have to wait. Let’s take a crack at guessing the A-ball teams like we did a year ago.

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at my guess for the Hagerstown position players last February:

CA – David Freitas
1B – Mills Rogers
2B – Adrian Sanchez
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Blake Kelso
OF – Randloph Oduber
OF – J.R. Higley
OF – Wade Moore
DH – Russell Moldenhauer
BCA – Wilfri Pena
BIF – Justino Cuevas
BIF – Michael Taylor
BOF – Justin Miller

Eight out of 13 made the Opening Day roster. Seven out of nine for the Opening Day lineup. So where’d I go wrong (red)? The first mishap is pretty easy: I was convinced the Harper talk to Hagerstown was bluster. Therefore, Higley staying behind made sense, especially after a suspension-shortened 2010. Most of the others misses were simply wrong guesses, plain and simple.

So what’s the forecast for 2012 for the Suns position players*? Without further ado, here’s my guess:

CA – Adrian Nieto
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Anthony Rendon
SS – Rick Hague
3B – Bryce Ortega
DH – Justin Miller
OF – Caleb Ramsey
OF – Brian Goodwin
OF – Angel Montilla
BCA – Jeremy Mayo
BIF – Justino Cuevas
BIF – Khayyan Norfork
BOF – Billy Burns

*Why aren’t you picking the pitchers? Consider the following:
…Just two of the four 2011 Hagerstown pitchers that started more than 17 games are fully healthy
that we know of — Robbie Ray and Matt Grace. The third is Taylor Jordan. The fourth is A.J. Cole.
…Eight pitchers in Auburn started five or more games. The three that started the most (Wirkin “For The Weekend” Estevez, Manny Rodriguez, and Christian Meza) weren’t lights out, and at least one will repeat the level.
…There are two prominent draft picks that are more likely to pitch full-season than short-season but are 22 years old (Alex Meyer and Kylin Turnbull)
…Two of the 2011 Suns starters were hurt and missed two months or more (Bobby Hansen, Chris McKenzie) and at least one is likely to be back.
…Three of the ’11 college pitchers drafted will be 23 years old by Opening Day (Brian Dupra, Blake Monar, and Taylor Hill) and it’s a good bet that one of them will leapfrog from Auburn to Potomac.

Translation: Way too many variables to make a remotely accurate guess.

I think you can see I’m anticipating some position changes. You can flip-flop Rendon and Ortega or Ortega and Hague. But I do think that the Potomac IF logjam is going to make it easier to start Rendon lower than High-A and I think that same “problem” is going to lead to Hague taking a step back before moving forward. If I’m wrong about one or both, then the only logical conclusion is that one of the ’11 Suns IFers repeats or gets sent to XST.

Believe me, I like that it’s this difficult to call. Certainly a lot more fun than guessing which organizational soldier will go where. As always, discuss in the comments… Next time: It’s a look at Potomac.

Feb 052012
 

It’s Super Bowl Sunday as this goes to virtual press, so if you’re reading this before Monday, thank you very much.

In an unsurprising move, the Nationals have signed Rick Ankiel to minor-league contract with an invite to spring training, according to multiple online reports. For the second year in a row, there will be a three-man race for the CF job, with veteran Mike Cameron joining the mix along with Roger Bernadina.

While this does not necessarily eliminate Bryce Harper from the OF mix, it does indicate that the talk of Jayson Werth playing in RF CF could just be that: talk. As mentioned previously and repeatedly, Harper has been playing LF more than RF since being recalled from Hagerstown last summer. It’s pretty clear that Harper will not win a battle with incumbent Michael Morse unless Morse is needed at 1B because LaRoche is not fully healthy and/or ineffective.

But, as is always the case with Mike Rizzo, the only inarguable thing to infer from this is that he will make sure he has as many options as possible. My money is still on Harper being sent down Syracuse to “work on his defense,” even if he outhits the veterans.

Baseball America is reporting via its Free Agent Tracker that the Nationals have signed RHP Gaby Hernandez. The 25-year-old has been mired at AAA since 2008, pitching for Seattle, Florida, Kansas City, Chicago (A), and Arizona. As you might imagine, Hernandez has been well-regarded for his tools, and his age relative to the league, but has had trouble translating them into results.

As always, if there any other notable moves made in the next 24-48 hours, it will be updated in this space.

Feb 022012
 

We’re still here, celebrating the occasion of a rodent seeing its shadow (no, we’re not), waiting for the actual spring to come.

As you’ve come to understand with these posts, I’m passing along a couple of links while we wait for something more minors-oriented to come along. Well, something less specious than a half dozen or so folks parroting the “Number One” ranking in the Baseball America handbook for the Nationals farm system yesterday, with the caveat of “published prior to the Gio Gonzalez” buried three or four grafs in, if at all.

Meanwhile, the stadium saga for the Potomac Nationals continues. As it so happens, Route 66 is roughly a tenth of a mile from where I’m sitting right now. I can assure you that during the HOV hours, it’s backed up, too. Any inference that it’ll be any better than it is right now for anybody is simply not true. That’s just the nature of the beast that is Northern Virginia’s traffic and underfunded infrastructure.

Out in Northwestern Virginia and Western Maryland, the cities of Winchester and Hagerstown are vying for the affections of the Hagerstown Suns, with the pending transfer of land to the Winchester Economic Development Authority and a possible renegotiation of the stadium lease.

I will repeat that the only dog I have in either fight is that the teams don’t relocate out of driving distance and/or I’m forced to attend fewer games. I don’t blindly support any government giving away monies to team owners, but I also don’t begrudge the owners their right to angle for a better deal; it’s still a business for them, after all. My motivation here is simply to pass along the information and keep the website from going stale.

P.S. Yes, I’m aware of the Chad Durbin signing, but it’s clearly a look-see. I’m not that desperate for “news” ;-)