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.

UPDATE:
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.

Jan 132013
 

As Spike used to say... mehPerhaps the most depressing thing is that this is the third time I’ve had to write this kind of post, thanks to the news slowdown. Today’s spring-like weather certainly won’t help because, like the first full week after a long weekend (or, say, a winter break), when it gets cold again (it is January, after all,) it’ll seem just a little worse.

Just like last January, there’s blather chatter from the “A” ball affiliates regarding new facilities. In Hagerstown, a grandstanding city councilman suggests putting out a bid for ballpark proposals, which sounds reasonable to folks unfamiliar with how minor-league baseball operates. Ballpark Digest explains why that’s a chimera.

Meanwhile, in Potomac, the filet mignon that’s going to be tomorrow night’s special at the diner is scheduled to be one of the highlights of the P-Nats’ Hot Stove Banquet next week. If that sounds familiar, well, perhaps that’s because you’ve seen it before. (For those wondering, the Senators’ event is on the 26th, the Chiefs hold theirs on February 1st, while Doubledays are on the 2nd.)

Not much else to report, unfortunately. Feel free to discuss in the comments.

Jan 102013
 

20120
The latest transaction post from Baseball America is in and it’s the beginning of comings and goings to/from the farm. First, the additions:

  • RHP Ross Ohlendorf
  • LHP Sean West
  • C Joe Witkowski

Ohlendorf, a former stalwart in the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation, has been largely ineffective since suffering a shoulder strain in 2011. He began 2012 with the Boston Red Sox, opting out of his contract and signing with the San Diego Padres, where he was pounded for a 7.77ERA (yes, even in Petco Park) over 13 appearances last summer.

West was the 44th pick overall from the 2005 draft by the Florida Marlins and made it to the majors in 2009 but has been frequently injured, not pitching at all in 2012, and spending most of 2010 and 2011 in AAA New Orleans.

Witkowski was signed as an NDFA by the Houston Astros in 2011, playing in the GCL for 18 games and released last June, shortly after the draft.

Now, the subtractions…

  • LHP Bobby Hansen
  • 2B Hendry Jimenez
  • C Jeremy Mayo
  • 1B Brett Newsome
  • OF Tony Nix
  • LHP Joe Testa

Some familiar names here, with three of these six having spent five (or more) seasons in the system (’07 IFA Jimenez, ’08 draft pick Hansen, and ’08 NDFA Newsome), Mayo an inaugural watchlister, and Testa coming via the Matt Capps trade in July 2010.

Jan 102013
 

Big In JapanUnfortunately, he’s an American returning back to affiliated baseball for the first time in three years. Sorry.

Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com has reported that LHP Brandon Mann has signed a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals. The deal also includes an invite to spring training.

The 28-year-old southpaw has spent the past two seasons in Japan with the Yokohama BayStars, going 1-1 with a 1.16 ERA in 12 relief appearances in 2011, but just 2-8 with a 5.32 ERA (though a decent 1.357 WHIP) in 15 starts in 2012. He was originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the 27th Rd. of the 2002 draft as a HS pick from Des Moines, WA.

Mann reached as high as AA in 2009 when he went 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 27 appearances (21 starts) with Montgomery. As a MLFA, he hooked on with the L.A. Dodgers in 2010 but was dropped down to High-A and released after 37 games in relief, going 3-0 but posting a 4.12 ERA and a 1.833 WHIP. He was picked up by the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs later that season and made five starts for a 1-2 record and a 5.14 ERA, 1.643 WHIP.

Jan 092013
 

As the previous post indicated, I’ve been working on the player reports for the 2013 Watchlist and have completed the “first draft,” if you will. After the book from Baseball America and the .PDF from John Sickels are received and reviewed, I’ll fill in the “Report Not Yet Written” entries and revise/rewrite the others as needed.

With the signing of Adam LaRoche, we can hope that the dominoes will begin to fall elsewhere in baseball, eventually rippling down to the AAA and AA levels. Invariably, folks are talking trade for Michael Morse, which GM Mike Rizzo can deny isn’t inevitable with all the sincerity of a college basketball coach.
Personally, I’d much rather write a story about “the new guys” than run another pic of Spike forlornly looking out the back window, but I digress.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments while we wait out the winter.

Jan 062013
 

Plugging AwayAs mentioned previously, we’re in a slow stretch here… typical of this time of year, but still a bit painful.

I know the casual fans are dying for new on if/when/whether Adam LaRoche will re-sign, a drama which is playing out elsewhere in MLB — most notably in St. Louis, where Kyle Lohse must wonder if he’s a convertible in an Alaskan used-car lot. For those confused by the bad metaphor, Lohse is one of a handful of free agents, along with LaRoche, who received a qualifying offer that requires the signing team to lose a draft pick and a share of their 2013 Draft bonus purse.

Confused? Well, there’s a reason why front offices can have more law degrees than baseball pedigrees. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold outlines the added cost of signing such a free agent, which might explain this tortoise fight.

As the headline says, I’ve finished the final two essays — DSL Guys and M*A*S*H — and have done what I can (sans the prospect books for the guys I haven’t seen) for the catchers, first basemen, LHPs, and RHPs.

Jan 042013
 

With the close of the Venzuelan League’s regular season, we can now take a look at the final numbers of the Nationals players in the 2012-13 winter leagues.
VWL HITTERS
VWL Hitters 1-4-13
DWL HITTERS
DWL Hitters 1-4-13
PRWL HITTERS
PWL Hitters 1-4-13
VWL PITCHER

DWL PITCHERS
DWL Pitchers 1-4-13
PRWL PITCHER
PWL Pitcher 1-4-13
MWL PITCHERS
MWL Pitchers 1-4-13



As I semi-predicted, the latest BA Transaction post was indeed no new news. Still a bit surprising is how slow the FA market has been in terms of former Nationals — just four have signed thus far. Even the Nationals themselves have been less active than last offseason — just nine signed as opposed to 15 by this time last year.

Jan 022013
 

It’s back to work and back to school for most folks today, as the too-long-for-parents winter break is finally over. As the headline says, I’ve completed the essays for the Notable Arms and Notable Bats and will be working on the other portions of the list that can be done without the books by John Sickels and Baseball America.

This, of course, is a tough time for the minor-league baseball blogger fan. Beyond one more winter-league update and the next transactions post from BA, which could very well only contain the signings from last weekend, it’s a waiting game.

As always, I’ll do my best to keep the site fresh, even it means, um, well, a post like this. Happy New Year!

Dec 302012
 

12 from '12Thanks to our handy-dandy multiplication table, you can see that the finish of Year Three equals 36 months of NationalsProspects.com. It’s time for the annual look at the year that was, a staple of news during the end of the year no matter what the medium.

Last year in this piece, I remarked about how the system was in a state of transition, away from the outsized hopes of “The Coming Thing” and towards the more practical promise of steady player development, where the bets are hedged and the risks spread more evenly. Don’t get me wrong… there’s still some big names — Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito — but the expectations are lower* than they were for Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.
*Before you disagree, ask yourself if you’re depending on any of those guys to be playing in D.C. before next September.

Nope, things have changed when it comes to the pressure for the “baby Nats” to become “Big Nats.” Winning nearly a hundred games instead of losing more than a hundred will do that.

Speaking for myself, I’m more interested in the journey than the destination. I’d be lying if I claimed that I paid as close attention to the big boys as I do the kids… especially when all seven affiliates are in action. But it makes writing pieces like this easier to do, too.

With that, let’s delve into twelve (hey, that rhymes!) stories from the 2012 season in the Nationals minors.

Bryce Harper Comes to D.C.
There was never a question of whether — only when — Harper would get the call. The Lt. Dans (nee The Lerners Are Cheap) were sure that the Nats would wait until June to avoid “Super Two,” but were once again proven to have no legs to stand on when the promotion came in late April instead of late May or early June. Still late enough to ensure team control through 2018, mind you. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure if this was the plan all along or if injuries were indeed the reason for the early summons.

Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, too
In keeping with the theme of transition, it would seem that 2011 — when Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos made the club out of spring training as starters — was an exception. In 2012, the drama was whether or not a rookie could make the club as a bench player. Lombardozzi did just that, “proving” the narrative that versatility and fundamentals can be more valuable than the sum of the rest of his game. Unlike Harper, injuries were most definitely a factor in helping Moore make it after all. Of course, it helps to have a knack for getting the big hit off bench, too.

Sandy Leon Injured in MLB Debut
The Nats’ ballyhooed catching depth was put to the test in 2012. Not one but two injuries paved the way for Sandy Leon, who got hurt in the fourth inning of his major-league debut — two days after Wilson Ramos went down for the season and about three weeks after Jhonatan Solano went out with what turned out to be a neck injury. Thankfully, the chain of injuries stopped with Carlos Maldonado. The Nats would dip into that depth again in August, trading David Freitas to the Oakland A’s to get Kurt Suzuki.

Four Nats Nailed for Drug Violations
Perhaps it’s some small comfort that these were merely “drugs of abuse” instead of steroids, but the Nats have yet to go a year without a minor-leaguer being suspended. Zech Zinicola was suspended in January, Josh Wilkie in June, along with Josh Johnson and Rafael Martin, who were merely “disciplined.” The suspension ultimately “earned” Wilkie his release while Zinicola, who had spent 2011 in Syracuse, spent an abbreviated 2012 in Harrisburg.

Gambling On Injuries, Part One
The Nats were — and as we saw last week, still — praised heavily for spending big and gambling on talented players with health questions in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, neither Matt Purke nor Anthony Rendon were able to have the kind of season that would silence the doubters. Rendon would go down in April with an incomplete (read: not partial; there is no such thing) fracture in his left ankle, which he hadn’t hurt previously. Purke was held in XST until late May and made just three starts, only one at home (during the day) before disappearing. Rendon would eventually come back and play for both Potomac and Harrisburg and in the AFL, but Purke would be shrouded in mystery until October, when it was revealed he had indeed had shoulder surgery as feared and/or rumored.

Gambling On Injuries, Part Two
Despite the new CBA, teams still spent heavily on first-round picks. Picking 16th, the Nats spent $2.125M on HS pitcher Lucas Giolito despite what turned out to be the case some two months later: The 18-year-old would undergo elbow surgery and miss the rest of 2012 and most of 2013. Two anomalies: (1) Unlike Purke, the Nats did not wait months until admitting the obvious (2) Nats fans expressed dismay more than disappointment, which again is fodder for my argument that things have changes when it comes to the Nats fans and the farm.

The Fast and The Furious: Promotions
The new world order is a level per year, with some exceptions. Bryce Harper was one. Brian Goodwin turned out to be another. Both outfielders were jumped from from Low-A to AA, which prompted accusations of punishment for Potomac in 2011 due its field issues. With a brand-new field, the stagnation of Michael Taylor was the more plausible explanation in 2012. Meanwhile, Matt Skole was beating on Sally League pitchers like John Henry with a nine-pound hammer but was left behind until mid-August while several teammates moved up, which of course, made fans, followers, and commenters, well, furious.

Nathan Karns
For the first 18 months of this site’s operation, Karns was akin to something that went bump in the night: heard in the comments, but otherwise unseen. When he finally emerged in June 2011, he would blow away the GCL with 26K’s and two hits allowed in 18⅔ innings. He fell back to earth in Auburn (3.44 ERA, 6.63 BB/9), but made the 2012 Watchlist. After working out of the bullpen in April, the big, ol’ Texan finished the month of May with three straight quality starts and was bumped up to Potomac in June. After a couple of shaky starts against Frederick and Salem, Karns got into a groove — striking out 32 over a three-start stretch and eight QS in his last 11 appearances. He would lead the farm in ERA, WHIP, SO, and OBA.

Christian Garcia
Had he not been a former Yankees 3rd-round pick, Garcia’s signing in late July 2011 would not have warranted much more than a line item in a transactions post. Within three weeks, however, he made the GBI and had the category existed, would have probably made the 2012 watchlist as a “Notable Pitcher.” Fifteen months later, the 27-y.o. was pitching in the postseason and there’s talk (though unrepeated besides beat reporters, Nats bloggers, and the Washington front office) of Garcia joining the Nats rotation. While that still seems unlikely, the observation that the Nats were trying to catch lightning in a bottle seems apt (pat, pat 😉

Multiple Affiliates Make Playoff Runs
While there’s only been one league championship during our tenure, we’ve been fortunate to have pennant chases from multiple affiliates in all three seasons. Some will snort that this is a natural byproduct of the lean towards collegiate players — and that’s fair criticism — but it’s fun nevertheless. The Auburn Doubledays held off a furious charge from the Batavia Muckdogs (winners of 19 of 21 in in late Aug./early Sept.), while the Potomac Nationals couldn’t replicate the run they made in 2011 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009, thanks in no small part to an abysmal 22-47 mark on the road. The Hagerstown Suns fell 3½ games short in the first half despite a 42-27 record, but did nearly as well (40-28) in the second half and took the Sally North by three games. Both the Suns and Doubledays were bounced in the first round, with Hagerstown getting swept and Auburn falling hard (16-7) in the deciding Game Three.

Rizzo Finally Gets His Span
One of the more troubling aspects of following prospects is getting used to the idea that they may get traded. Now that the Nats are contenders, that means prospects tend to be going in exchange for major-leaguers instead of vice-versa. It happened again last month as top pitching prospect RHP Alex Meyer was traded for long-coveted OF Denard Span. For as long as the Nats have been in Washington (and even years before that), center field has been a soft spot in the lineup, enough that the Nationals were willing to put a 19-year-old rookie there. With that problem ostensibly “solved,” one or more the current crop of centerfielders (yes, even Goodwin) could be next if the right deal comes along to improve the parent club. (See “surplus of catchers,” 2010-2011)

Rosenbaum, Kobernus “Lost” To The Rule 5 Draft
The final reminder in the motif “we’re contenders, get used to this” was the removal of four farmhands earlier this month. In the “dark time” of 2008-2009, following 100+ loss seasons, there was (now, in retrospect) an almost-perverse delight in picking first in the Rule 5 draft, despite rule changes that have diluted it. Fast-forward three years and now it’s the wondering of who will leave, not who will arrive. It’s quotes on the subhead verb because the two players taken in the major-league phase — Danny Rosenbaum (Colorado) and Jeff Kobernus (Boston, flipped to Detroit) — have to stay on the 25-man rosters throughout 2013 and, historically, a significant percentage of draftees are returned.