Apr 072016

Poor field conditions and cold weather has cancelled the opening, four-game series for the Chiefs, and there’s a threat of rain at all three sites tonight, as the Senators open on the road against the Curve, the P-Nats visit the Blue Rocks, and the Suns host the Shorebirds (believe it or not, only 19 head-to-head games this year).

Team Today’s Game Pitching Matchup (’15 Stats at Level)
Syracuse Postponed N/A
Harrisburg @ Altoona,
6:00 p.m.
TBD vs.
A. Sanchez (12-8, 4.41)
Potomac @ Wilmington,
6:35 p.m.
P. Valdez (3-2, 3.77) vs.
Lovvorn (4-5, 3.93)
Hagerstown vs. Delmarva,
6:05 p.m.
TBD vs.
Long (3-9, 5.26)

Now for the annual reminder: These pitchers are not necessarily the team’s #1 starter. They are, within a spot or so, how the Nationals would like the starters to align from Low-A to MLB in the event of promotions or injuries.

Syracuse will make up two of the games on Friday morning at 11 a.m. before a packed crowd of Trump supporters with Ph.D’s an empty ballpark as the games will not be open to the open to the public. No word on the starters yet. Likewise for Hagerstown, but perhaps our colleague Zach Spedden will have something today.

Harrisburg’s rotation is probably going to be Giolito-Lopez-Mapes-Simms-Williams, but probably not in that alphabetical order. For more on the Senators, read the estimable Mick Reinhard.

Byron Kerr’s feature focuses on team speed, and has the rotation as Valdez-Estevez-Fedde-Whiting*-Reyes.
* That’s Boone, not Boomer. Sorry.
So settle in, kids. We’re in for our favorite five months of the year.

Apr 062016

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals officially announced the 2016 Opening Day rosters for the full-season affiliates. Here’s how it breaks down by the Watchlist:

Pitchers – A.J. Cole, Matt Grace, Sammy Solis, Austin Voth
Hitters – Brian Goodwin, Pedro Severino, Matt Skole, Trea Turner

Pitchers – Dakota Bacus, Abel De Los Santos, Lucas Giolito, Bryan Harper, Nick Lee, Reynaldo Lopez, Tyler Mapes, John Simms, Austen Williams
Hitters – Isaac Ballou, Rafael Bautista, Christopher Bostick, Wilmer Difo, Spencer Kieboom

Pitchers – Erick Fedde, Koda Glover, Phillips Valdez
Hitters – Osvaldo Abreu, Alec Keller, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, Bryan Mejia, Narciso Mesa, Andrew Stevenson, Raudy Read, Drew Ward

Pitchers – Connor Bach, Joan Baez, Matt Crownover, Matt DeRosier, Taylor Guilbeau, Taylor Hearn, Andrew Lee, Tommy Peterson, Mariano Rivera III, Jefry Rodriguez
Hitters – Telmito Agustin, Edwin Lora, Kelvin Gutierrez, Jakson Reetz, Victor Robles, Max Schrock, Jorge Tillero, Rhett Wiseman

M.I.A. (excluding DSL and GCL players) – David Kerian, Oliver Ortiz, Darryl Florentino, Max Valerio, Grant Borne

As of virtual press time, there were no additional releases reported by MiLB.com. However, this is the time of the year when some players go Judge Crater, with no official word of an XST assignment, placement on the DL, or a retirement.

Some thoughts…

• No real surprises on Syracuse, as per usual. The days of a AAA guy necessarily being better than a AA guy are long gone.

• Giolito returning to AA is not anything to fret about (unless you’re a Chiefs fan). He only made eight starts there last summer and a few more in April won’t kill his development.

• Williams getting the bump is a mild surprise, but that’s just my opinion, which, along with $2 gets you a cup of coffee

• As is usually the case, Potomac is interesting mix of might-be’s, could-have-been’s, and I-thought-that-guy-retired’s. Most folks will be focused on Fedde, Glover, and Stevenson.

• Bravo to the decision to not socially promote Drew Ward. Obviously, it’s not a good sign to repeat a level, but he’ll still be about a year an half younger than the league average, so there is no need to rush [insert Anthony Rendon remark here].

• Conversely, it is a head scratcher to see Reetz in Hagerstown after struggling in the NYPL in 2015.

• Hagerstown’s roster appears to be loaded but it reminds me of the story of a basketball coach telling his team on the first day of practice: “I added up everybody’s scoring averages from last year and it’s impressive. But gentlemen, we are not going to score 200 points per game.”

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments. Opening Night is tomorrow.

Apr 032016

Catching Up On Transactions
After some April Fools fun, it’s time to cleanse the palate and take a look at the latest transactions (all releases, unfortunately):

• Released 3B Zach Cox
• Released RHP P.J. Walters
• Released 1B Marquez Smith

• Released LF Randolph Oduber
• Released C Craig Manuel

• Released 2B Conor Keniry

• Released 2B Melvin Rodriguez

• Released LF Philip Diedrick

Maybe it’s me, it seems like there are lot more releases this year. I’d like to think that perhaps the slow boat to China facade of extended spring training has fallen out of favor, but I could be proven wrong in a day or two when the rosters are announced.

Apr 012016

Two-way player could be the next Giolito… or the next Harper

ENFIELD, MA — The Washington Nationals announced the signing today of Dana Prescott on his 18th birthday for a reported $1 million after a private workout for General Manager Mike Rizzo and Vice President of Scouting Doug Harris.

“It’s unusual for us to spend this much money on an amateur,” Rizzo said, “And, as you all know, I’ll be the first to admit when I’ve made a mistake, but this kid is the real deal.”

Prescott briefly pitched and played first base for Quabbin Regional High School in 2014 after his parents petitioned the local school board for what’s more commonly known as a Tim Tebow exception to allow the home-schooled student to participate in athletics.

In a late-March scrimmage against Nashoba Regional High School, Prescott is said to have struck out 21 batters while tossing a no-hitter over seven innings, which is the standard length of games in the Midland-Wachusett League.

“We realize he didn’t play much two years ago, but usually word of triple digits on the gun is enough to flood an area with scouts and cross-checkers,” Harris added. “Even if were just that one game, you’d think some other organization would have checked up on it.”

Prescott reportedly hit 100 m.p.h. the day after that game, according to QRHS coach Gil Greenwich, who says he asked the Town of Barre’s police department to take an hour off from writing speeding tickets on Rte. 122 and put the town’s chief source of income radar on his pitcher.

An undisclosed injury prevented him from appearing in the 2014 regular season. Prescott’s parents did not reapply for the waiver in 2015, and it is unknown if Prescott played anywhere else.

Besides the lightning arm and the light-tower power–he also went 4-for-4 in that game, homering three times lefthanded and once righthanded–there is also one other thing that makes Prescott unusual. He has an ugly girlfriend.

“We don’t quite understand it,” Greenwich said. “We know his vision is good because he hit everything we threw at him in BP, including the pitching machine turned up all the way to 11.”

“I don’t want to come off as sexist, ” Greenwich continued, “but usually the athletes in these parts end up with the cheerleader types, but his girlfriend? If her face was her fortune, she’d qualify for a tax refund.”

MLB officials said Prescott earned his GED last May, and in an unusual maneuver, formally declared for the Rule 4 Draft a year ago today. All 30 teams passed on him last June, which made him a free agent.

“We know we could have signed him for $1,000 and a plane ticket,” Rizzo explained. “But when I called the Lerners, they insisted on opening up the pocketbook to make sure he’d sign.”

It’s unknown where the young man, who’s listed at 6’3″ and 185 lbs, will play this year. Harris demurred on questions regarding his first minor-league destination.

“We’ll assign him to XST,” the Assistant GM said. “But you’ll be hearing from him soon.”

Mar 302016

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

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

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

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

Mar 242016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 222016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the tidbits…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 212016

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

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

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

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some quick tidbits…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: the batters.

Mar 202016

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 192016

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

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

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

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

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