Dec 282012

Late yesterday afternoon, John Sickels released his Top 20 list for the Washington Nationals. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by grade:

B+ Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin
B Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole
B- Nathan Karns, Christian Garcia, Sammy Solis
C+ Matt Purke, Eury Perez, Tony Renda, Zach Walters, Destin Hood, Steven Souza, Brett Mooneyham, Estarlin Martinez, Carlos Rivero
C Sandy Leon, Michael Taylor, Brandon Miller, Corey Brown

Left to right is by number, i.e. Rendon is #1, Goodwin is #2… Miller is #19, Brown is #20. In bold are last year’s Top 20 guys, red = they ranked higher, blue = they ranked lower. Italics = played their way onto the list.

The good news and bad news are both two-fold. For the second straight year, eight guys played their way onto the list… and nine of the 20 are C+ guys, meaning they’re a notch above the average so-called prospect (remember Sickels is a tough grader). Unfortunately, after having a baker’s dozen guys rated B- or better last year it’s just seven this year… and five of the eight repeats fell in their letter grade.

I think it’s important to repeat what Sickels wrote about the Nationals system as a whole:

The system has thinned out massively, but that’s understandable: much of the major league roster is home-grown, and farm system products were important in key trades. So while the current list is not impressive, it should not be taken as an indictment of the farm system…

As I did a year ago, here are few of my thoughts on the list…

…While perhaps true, Sickels may have done Rendon no favors by suggesting he can play 2B because now the drumbeat for Rendon to replace Espinosa will only get louder.

…Like Baseball America, I’m intrigued as to why Solis gets a pass despite having had surgery and not mastering A+ yet. Sickels seems to talking out of both sides of his mouth (and I know how hard that is to do, because I’ve caught myself doing many a time) by dropping Giolito from an A grade to a B grade.

…Thankfully, Sickels is on board with the idea that Skole should be switched to 1B and the jump from a C to a B grade is quite the vote of confidence.

…Interesting to see Hood and Souza ranked back-to-back because Hood’s 2011 was much like Souza’s 2012. The difference, of course, is that they’re roughly a year apart in age (23 vs. 24) but Sickels seems to hinting that Souza could be a sleeper.

…Other sleepers: Erik Davis and Carlos Rivero, though the wording in his blurb (“Could be nice utility guy for someone.”) seems to suggest he’ll be back in Syracuse and groomed as trade bait.

…The list of “others,” akin to an honorable mention, effectively mirrors the 2013 Watchlist with the exceptions of Kylin Turnbull, Robert Benincasa, and Derek Self. But that also includes “old guys” like Davis and Pat Lehman, along with mostly-discussed-just-here guys like Neil Holland and Christian Meza.

Dec 262012

This afternoon John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list — the penultimate step before releasing the 2013 Top 20 list.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of crossover between this list and my Watchlist. Like I did a year ago, it’s easier to list the omissions, of which there are much fewer, thanks in no small part to my decision to delineate the edges of the radar by separating the young, the old, and the hurt from the regular categories:

Joel Barrientos Diomedes Eusebio Kevin Keyes Will Piwinica-Worms
Justin Bloxom Matt Foat Bryan Lippincott Brian Rauh
Paul Demny Matt Grace Craig Manuel Adrian Sanchez
Wilmer Difo Neil Holland Mike McQuillan Pedro Severino
Pedro Encarnacion Will Hudgins Gilberto Mendez Daury Vasquez

Similar pattern as last year: Sickels passed on the players that are a little too old for the level or (now) Dominicans that haven’t made it to full-season ball yet. I can live with both of those because my list is necessarily larger than his — he’s covering roughly the top 15% of 30 organizations; my list is more like the upper third of one.

Stay tuned for a breakdown of the Top 20 when Sickels releases it.

Sickels has a quick follow-up post in which he reveals there will be 39 ranked players with five B- or better and eight at C+ — with the caveat that some of the C’s will get the C+ (and one can reasonably infer vice-versa, since Sickels is a tough grader).

Dec 242012

Spike 2011 XmasAs you read this, I wish that you are where you want to be, gone where you need to go, and done all you wanted to do in preparation for the celebration of your holiday of choice.

Enjoy your food, friends, and family and be grateful for what you have for there are those that have only some or none of those things.

And in the immortal words of William Shatner: “Don’t drink and drive — do one or the other.”

Dec 222012

reindogs-2012As I take a break from humiliating training the new staff, let me pass along a few small news items while wait out the offseason.

The new ballpark saga in Hagerstown meanders on, despite some rather ominous signs that it’s going to fade away, like most ballpark proposals do.

In upstate New York, the mood is a little different. To borrow from Henny Youngman, it’s take our ballpark… please, as the county government seems eager to rid itself of the maintenance expense, which is typically a battle between governments and teams — especially when things break or degrade unexpectedly.

Finally, minor-league baseball wrapped up its organizational all-stars with Washington, choosing the best at each position (“regardless of age or prospect status”) with few surprises — I might have chosen Jeff Kobernus over Cutter Dykstra, but like the BA awards, we don’t know when the selections were made — as the accolades for the likes of Nathan Karns, Brian Goodwin, and Matt Skole continue.

Dec 202012

Accompanying each team’s Top 10 per Baseball America is a chat for subscribers only. As such, I have to paraphrase and condense, which I’ve done per prospect, per ranking. I’ve then cherry-picked some names that came up in the chat. If it’s in brackets, those are my clarifications or amplifications. Otherwise, you’re looking at the opinions of Aaron Fitt.

1) Anthony Rendon — Could force a move of Ryan Zimmerman to 1B, but the Nats haven’t indicated their long-term plan; it’s still wait-and-see.

2) Lucas Giolito — If he were completely healthy, he’d be listed along with the likes of Gerrit Cole, Dylan Bundy, and Archie Bradley in a discussion of the top pitching prospects.

3) Brian Goodwin — [In response to the Jackie Bradley Jr. comp] Bradley is a safer prospect because of his hit tool, plus he’s more advanced on defense but Goodwin has louder raw tools — more power potential, more speed.

4) Matt Skole — There are some similarities to Chris Marrero, being only a year younger and still in A-ball, but his power output and his walk total are two encouraging signs. Skole strikes out plenty, but his strikeout-walk rate is 1.3-1 thus far as a pro [Marrero’s is 2.1-1], similar to what it was at Georgia Tech. You have to like power hitters who can offset their strikeouts by drawing lots of walks.

5) Nathan Karns — Has a physical frame and the makings of three quality pitches — a real chance to be a big league starter, though he could also thrive in a late-innings relief role [have a feeling that if he struggles in Harrisburg, they might make this switch sooner rather than later].

6) Christian Garcia — A bullpen guy all the way. He’s got starter stuff— three above-average pitches when he’s on his game — but durability is an issue.

7) Eury Perez — An 80 runner, mentioned in conjunction with discussion of Billy Burns as to the org’s fastest, who got the nod, though Fitt said it was not a unanimous choice, with Jeff Kobernus getting votes, too.

8) Sammy Solis — Not discussed.

9) Matt Purke — The expectation is that he’ll be 100% in ST, but you never know with a shoulder issue, especially one that has lingered for a couple of years now. Still some concern that he peaked as a freshman at TCU.

10) Zach Walters — Not discussed.

Michael Taylor — An outstanding defender in center field, but scouts worry about the length in his swing [266 K’s in 278 G].

Chris Marrero — A one-dimensional player who needs to really hit for power to have value but hasn’t slugged .500 since 2007 at Hagerstown.

Destin Hood — For a guy who’s supposed to have raw power, hard to get over just 26 homers in 1600-plus career at-bats; only three last year [Almost precisely what our Hagerstown guy said in 2010].

Sandy Leon — An outstanding defender — a plus receiver with good agility and blocking skills, and a slightly [a misspelling of “significantly”] above-average arm that he really knows how to use. He’s made huge strides offensively, though unlikely to ever be an impact hitter.

Corey Brown — A fourth outfielder [in MLB] with some power, and he’s a good enough athlete with enough arm strength to fill in anywhere in the outfield, but unlikely to hit enough to be a regular.

Ivan Pineyro — [Name a sleeper below High-A] A Dominican righty who just turned 21 this September, whose velocity tops out at 94 and has a changeup that could become a plus pitch.

Brett Mooneyham — Has a great pitcher’s frame, plenty of athleticism and arm strength from the left side, but has a long way to go [in terms of his mechanics].

Aaron Barrett — Stuff is pretty average — fastball (91-92) and a slightly above-average slider that eats up hitters at lower levels — but could eventually become a middle reliever.

Wirkin Estevez — Had TJ surgery this fall [first I’ve heard of it — will edit the Watchlist accordingly].

Tony Renda — Similar to Lombardozzi, but not as defensively adept or a switch-hitter [thus endeth the comps to Dustin Pedroia].

Jason Martinson — A player with power potential, athleticism and a shortstop’s skills, but already 24 years old and a long way to go as a hitter.

Dec 192012

Only a couple of surprises here, but let’s cut to the chase before we discuss…

1. Anthony Rendon, 3b
2. Lucas Giolito, rhp
3. Brian Goodwin, of
4. Matt Skole, 3b
5. Nathan Karns, rhp
6. Christian Garcia, rhp
7. Eury Perez, of
8. Sammy Solis, lhp
9. Matt Purke, lhp
10. Zach Walters, ss

For me, the surprises are Christian Garcia, Nathan Karns, Matt Skole and Matt Purke. My bad on overlooking Garcia — in my head, he’s already “graduated” and will be a bullpen fixture; clearly I’m getting ahead of myself — which, along with Skole and Karns, is a bit of a departure from the slavish devotion to youth. Of course, that Skole and Karns have been getting so much virtual ink may also have something to do with it.

Purke surprises me for the same reason I was sure that Solis would make the list: His surgery wouldn’t be held against him. Indeed, BA did not deviate from its norms of hyperbole when selecting Lucas Giolito as having the organization’s “Best Fastball” and “Best Curveball” despite his UCL replacement (yes, TJ surgery has a high success rate, but it’s not 100%). Still, it’s a little odd that Purke fell beneath Solis in the rankings despite having a less invasive procedure done.

The free article focuses on the parent club and how the system produced the talent that fueled the unexpected (for the honest, at least) playoff run in 2012. And of course, BA is effusive in its praise for the selections of Strasburg and Harper in ’09 and ’10 as well as Rendon in ’11 and Giolito in ’12 (as for the rest of the 2012 draft, BA was like the lawyers responding to Billy Ray Valentine’s plea for help in the men’s club in “Trading Places”).

The projections for where the 2013 Top 10 will start the year were as follows:
MLB — Garcia
AAA — Perez, Walters
AA — Rendon, Goodwin, Skole, Karns
Lo-A — Purke
XST/Rehab — Giolito, Solis

Again, no big shocks — though the verb for Skole was “reach,” not “start” and they also qualified his placement with “his hands are sure enough to play at either corner,” which I can’t fault them for since everybody outside the organization sees him as a 1B but the Nationals have yet to fully commit to the position switch. Likewise, they projected Solis to start in XST and then head north on a rehab tour. My guess would be that he goes to Hagerstown for the three-inning stints and then moves up to Potomac for when he’s given the five-inning limit, then moved to Harrisburg if/when the coaches like what they see (that’s my CYA if/when he gets the bump despite poor nos.)

Dec 192012

Yes, things have slowed to a crawl in the minor-league front. Hence, a post about an upcoming post to keep the site fresh.

As the headline says, Baseball America is expected to release its Top 10 list for 2013. Mark Zuckerman remarks that it’s been roughly a year since the Nats had their on-paper #1 ranking, which vanished with the trade of Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, and Derek Norris for Gio Gonzalez and Rob Gilliam.

We won’t know where the Nats will rank relative to the rest of major-league baseball for another few weeks, but it’s likely going to be a wee bit lower than #1. Probably around 25, if I had to guess. Speaking of which… I’ll take a swag at what that Top 10 list will be while we await the official release:

1. Anthony Rendon
2. Lucas Giolito
3. Brian Goodwin
4. Matt Purke
5. Eury Perez
6. Brett Mooneyham
7. Tony Renda
8. Matt Skole
9. Nathan Karns
10. Sammy Solis

As I’ve written in the comments, there’s likely to be some angst in the general Natmosphere about the drop from 1 to 20-something. Thing is, that’s how the system is supposed to work: also-rans get first crack at the top amateur talent to improve the parent club, contenders have to work harder to keep the younger talent coming, which is what we hope the farm is transitioning towards: a model of developing major-league players on a regular basis, some of which will play in D.C. while others will not.

Dec 162012

RestockingThe latest transactions have been released from Baseball America, and as predicted following the Rule 5 draft, the Washington Nationals have signed three minor-league pitchers:

• LHP Francis Castro

• RHP Tyler Herron

• RHP Paterson Segura

Given the likelihood that 29-year-old Francisco Castro has come out of retirement, the logical deduction is that Castro is an IFA.

Herron, however, appears to have done just that after skipping the 2011 season and pitching 2012 for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the independent American Association, where he compiled a 12-3 record in 23 games (17 starts) with a 3.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.163.

The 26-year-old was a sandwich pick (46th overall) for St. Louis in the 2005 draft but was released midway through the 2009 season with the Cardinals citing performance issues despite the then-22-year-old’s 2-4, 4.34, 1.533 marks at AA Springfield. He was picked up by the Pittsburgh organization and released following the season. He spent 2010 with the Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League, where he was 1-3 with 3 saves in 14 appearances.

I was unable to find any mention of surgery for Herron, only speculation from websites such as Future Redbirds that the specificity of on-field performance was code for off-the-field issues.

The 16-year-old Segura (turns 17 on January 1) was signed last weekend by the Nationals from the Dominican Prospect League. He’s said to feature a FB-CV-CH arsenal with a 88-91 velocity and a high 3/4 arm slot with an unorthodox “pie throwing motion.”

Best guesses: Castro and Segura will be assigned to the DSL while Herron goes to Woodbridge (the AAPBL is roughly equivalent to Low-A).

Dec 142012

The Washington Nationals announced the 2013 lineup for their affiliates’ coaching staffs today:
(changes in red.)

Manager – Tony Beasley (returning)
Pitching Coach – Greg Booker (returning)
Hitting Coach – Troy Gingrich (returning)

Manager – Matt LeCroy (returning)
Pitching Coach – Paul Menhart (returning)
Hitting Coach – Eric Fox (returning)

Manager – Brian Daubach (promoted from Hagerstown)
Pitching Coach – Chris Michalak (returning)
Hitting Coach – Mark Harris (promoted from Hagerstown)

Manager – Tripp Keister (promoted from GCL)
Pitching Coach – Franklin Bravo (returning)
Hitting Coach – Brian Rupp (reassigned from Potomac)

Manager – Gary Cathcart (returning)
Pitching Coach – Sam Narron (returning)
Hitting Coach – Luis Ordaz (returning)

Manager – Patrick Anderson (new hire)
Pitching coach – Michael Tejera (returning)
Hitting coach – Amaury Garcia (promoted from DSL)

Manager – Sandy Martinez (returning)
Pitching Coach – Pablo Frias (returning)
Hitting Coach – Jorge Mejia (returning)

With the exception of Gary Thurman, who is replacing Tony Tarasco (the parent club’s new first base coach) as the Outfield/Baserunning coordinator, the rest of the minor-league staff remains intact. (Full list can be seen here). There is no word, official or unofficial, as to why Marlon Anderson has left the organization.

Aside from the shuffle between Hagerstown and Potomac, this is largely an uneventful announcement. To me, it’s a mild surprise that Eric Fox wasn’t reassigned or otherwise sanctioned in response to the Senators offensive collapse in the second half this summer. “Mild” only because as a fan, I might expect such a move but can understand otherwise that while MLB hitting coaches are fall guys, this is not the case in the minors.

I’ve not heard any whispers regarding Rupp’s reassignment, only previously that Daubauch was on his way to Woodbridge from Hagerstown. That Mark Harris has gone back and forth from the two affiliates the past two years could lead to the inference that this is not a demotion but a reassignment that avoids hiring an inexperienced/unfamiliar face. Note the italics.

Dec 142012

International SignWith a H/T to Marcus for bringing this to my attention, the Nationals have signed a 16-year-old third baseman Neivy Pilier for $225,000 — the second-largest spend since the infamous 2006 signing of 16-year-old Esmailyn Gonzalez 20-year-old Carlos Alvarez.
(Centerfielder Luis Guzman was signed this past July for $385K).

Baseball America broke the news first, describing him as:

At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Pilier has a quick bat with lift and occasional power in his righthanded swing, though he’s at his best when he stays with a line-drive approach and uses the middle of the field. He has a strong arm that fits well at third base, though with his youth and size he’s still trying to improve his footwork.

Pilier reportedly turned 16 on August 1st, and according to Adam Kilgore’s post, must still undergo MLB’s vetting for age and indentity.

In other news, the Nationals continue to stockpile minor-league veterans with the signing of 27-year-old Brian Bocock, who is most likely going to see time in Syracuse next summer.