Mar 172015
 

The John Sickels 2015 annual arrived last night in my inbox, which isn’t quite as satisfying as getting a package in the mailbox, but it’s faster and cheaper. As is my tradition, I’ll break up discussing the book into two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

For the second straight year, there are 18 pitchers ranked while the number of position players has risen to 17 18 (yes, including Trea Turner). As we’ll see shortly, more than half of them are Grade “C,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with Sickels. Just five pitchers earned an “A” in the 2015 book, for example.

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

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers, a.k.a. the

…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 18 pitchers that made this year’s book (2014 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A-) Austin Voth – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
A.J. Cole – B+ (B+) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Jake Johansen – C (C+)
Joe Ross – B (C+) Abel De Los Santos – C Gilberto Mendez – C
Erick Fedde – B- Robbie Dickey – C Nick Pivetta – C
Reynaldo Lopez – B- Matt Grace – C Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Felipe Rivero – C+ (B-) Taylor Hill – C Derek Self – C

The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America’s, and it’s the same number as last year (four). This overlap used to be less, which may mean many things. The two most obvious inferences: (1) Sickels is less likely to go out on a limb (2) Baseball America is getting better about incumbency based on draft position.

Some quick tidbits…

…Sickels is among those that believe that Lopez’s size may shift him to the ‘pen. While I’d agree he’s a “college” 6’/185 lbs., he also appears more solidly built than say Gilberto Mendez (listed at 6′ and 170).

…Fedde’s grade is mostly due to conservatism, which I applaud. Yes, the success rate for TJ is high – but it ain’t 100 percent.

…Likewise, Pivetta is “only” a Grade C because of how wildly inconsistent his secondary pitches have been (“from poor to plus”).

…Sickels points to the improvement in K/IP and K/BB ratios for Joe Ross moving from a C+ to B.

….Finally, Voth is still “sleeper” material, but obviously now the word is out

Next up: the batters.

Mar 162015
 

Clint Robinson’s two-out RBI triple was the difference in a 2-1 slugfest to secure the first Washington win in nearly a week.

The 7th-inning surge made a winner out of Felipe Rivero, who tossed two shutout frames with no walks and two strikeouts. Rivero was the second reliever to follow starter Jordan Zimmermann, who went the first innings. The Wisconsin native gave up an unearned run on three hits and a walk in his third spring outing.

Michael Taylor once again started in CF and led off the game with a triple and scored the first Nats run. He went 1-for-4 overall.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers did today…
• Rafael Martin threw a scoreless inning following Zimmermann, allowing a hit, no walks, and striking out one.
• Mark Grace pitched around a double and a single in the 8th to preserve the 2-1 lead.
• Wilmer Difo subbed for Ian Desmond at SS but struck out twice in two at-bats.
• Matt Skole followed Ian Stewart at 3B and drew a walk in his only plate appearance.
• Cutter Dykstra reached base twice with a pinch walk and a single as the replacement DH.
• Sandy Leon went 0-for-1 as the substitute for backup backstop Jose Lobaton.

The Nats head back out on the road to face the Detroit Tigers tomorrow afternoon. The game can be heard on MLB radio.

Mar 152015
 

The bell did not toll for Heath as the Astros blasted the 37-y.o. non-roster invitee for all three of its runs in the 5th and held off a late rally for a 3-2 win over the Nationals in Kissimmee. The loss was the third straight and fourth in five games as the Nats have not won since last Wednesday.

Max Scherzer lowered his spring ERA to an even 2.00 with four shutout innings, allowing just a 1st-inning double to Luis Valbena and a walk to Andrew Aplin to lead off the 3rd. The 30-y.o. struck out three in his third Grapefruit League start.

Michael Taylor started in CF and led off but was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. He was followed by FA pickup Delta Cleary Jr. who struck out in his lone at-bat.

Matt Skole began in the field at 3B and was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts. Cutter Dykstra was his replacement as a pinch-runner and at third, and also struck out in his only plate appearance.

With the loss, the Nats fall to 4-7-1 for the spring. They host the Astros in Viera tomorrow, a game which is slated for a live MASN broadcast and a tape-delay showing on the MLB Network.

Mar 152015
 

The first of two spring doubleheaders saw neither squad win as the home crew was shut out, 4-0 by the Marlins and the road team was pummeled by the Mets, 13-4.

As is custom in spring training, most of the 25-man guys stayed home in Viera. Gio Gonzalez started but was charged with all four Miami runs on four hits and two walks over two and 2/3rds innings. The offense was limited to just four and four walks total while striking out 11 times.

Michael Taylor notched the only extra-base hit, a leadoff triple that neither Ian Desmond (grounder to the mound) nor Bryce Harper (popup to 2B) nor Ryan Zimmerman (grounder to 3B) could cash in to break up the shutout. Matt Skole (single), Josh Johnson (walk), and Mike Carp (walk) were the only reserves to reach base.

In Port St. Lucie, the AAAA-laden lineup was held scoreless until the 7th when Sandy Leon (1-for-2, BB) drove in two on a two-out single while Ian Stewart jumped on journeyman Erik Goeddel for a two-run blast. A report that Goeddel was seen applying at a Publix could not be confirmed.

Tanner Roark got the start vs. the Mets, but was once again ineffective — 2⅔ IP, 4H, 4R, 4ER, BB, K, HR. Matt Grace (1⅓ IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, K, 1-0 IR-S) and Taylor Hill (1⅔ IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 2K, HR) were among the parade of relievers to follow Roark.

Among the notable minor-leaguers to appear…
• Shawn Pleffner pinch-hit and played 1B, going 0-for-1
• Jason Martinson pinch-ran and played SS, going 1-for-1 with two runs scored
• Randolph Oduber pinch-hit for the DH, going 0-for-1

Prior to the games yesterday, UT Jeff Kobernus was optioned to Syracuse. This morning, the Nationals optioned RHP Taylor Hill to Syracuse while reassigning RHPs Eric Fornataro, Mitch Lively & Scott McGregor to minor-league camp, which begins today. Thanks to Jack Tavenner, a.k.a. @NatsJack on the Twitters, folks interested in this year’s minor-league schedule can find it here.

Mar 142015
 

With the release of his 2015 edition expected in the next day or so, John Sickels has released his Top 50 Batting and Pitching prospects, which included two Nationals pitchers and one Washington batter.

It should come as no shock that Lucas Giolito was ranked #1 with the Dodgers’ Julio Urias ranked #2. Giolito was ranked #12 in the 2014 book, which is pretty heady considering that the Nats 1st Rd. pick in the 2012 draft was coming off Tommy John surgery and had pitched just 36⅔ innings in 2013.

If you guessed that A.J. Cole was the second pitcher, ranked #31, congratulations. You can now collect your prize. Cole was #33 on the 2014 Top 50, #46 in 2013, and #23 in 2012. Cole, who turned 23 in January, was a 4th Rd. pick in the 2010 draft and has been traded twice — to Oakland in December 2011 and from Oakland in 2013.

A mild surprise, given his age and proclivity to whiff, is Michael Taylor, who was ranked as the #35 batting prospect. Taylor has long been a favorite here on this website, but his ascendance has been a long time coming as the almost-24-y.o. was drafted in the 6th Rd. in 2009.

Giolito and Cole will most likely begin 2015 in the minors — the former at either Potomac or Harrisburg, the latter in Syracuse. Until this week, Taylor seemed bound for upstate New York, too. But with healthy outfielders in short supply in Viera, the narrative has changed from “Well, maybe he might make the club as a 4th outfielder” (well, no, not really) to “He could be the Opening Day centerfielder” (yeah, more than maybe).

Mar 132015
 

The Astros rallied for two in the 9th to salvage a 6-6 tie and preserve the Nats’ .500 record at 4-4-1 for the spring.

Houston posted a picket fence on the scoreboard with single runs in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th innings. Washington rallied for three in the 3rd, two in the 6th, and for what appeared to be an insurance run in the 8th before Scott McGregor gave away two in the 9th.

Here’s a rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers did coming off the bench:
• Rafael Bautista went 0-for-2 with an RBI in CF
• Wilmer Difo went 0-for-2 with a strikeout at SS
• Kevin Keyes went 1-for-2 in RF
• Cutter Dykstra went 0-for-1 with a run scored at 2B
• Matt Skole went 0-for-1 as a PH for the DH
• Sammy Solis struck out three over two and 2/3rds innings and gave up a run on a home run and four hits total

Prior to the game, catchers Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino were reassigned to the minor-league camp. More cuts are expected after tomorrow’s pair of split-squad games vs. the Mets and at the Marlins.

Mar 122015
 

The Nats offense tried to salvage a nine-run bullpen implosion in the bottom of 8th with a five-run retort in the top of the 9th, but fell short in an 11-9 loss today in Port St. Lucie.

The Mets sent 13 men to the plate in the frame, with losing pitcher Mitch Lively retiring one of four batters faced (three hits to the others), Eric Fornataro getting one of seven out (two walks, four hits, including a HR), and Brian Rauh letting in an inherited runner with a single before getting the third and final out.

Clint Robinson’s pinch-hit grand slam capped off five straight men reaching base to start the 9th, but the Nats could only muster one more baserunner — a Sandy Leon single, his second in two at-bats as the second DH — before Derrick Robinson (0-for-2) and Jeff Kobernus (0-for-2) struck out to end the game.

A.J. Cole made the start in place of Stephen Strasburg, but was fortunate to allow just one run (a homer to Curtis Granderson) as the Mets strafed him for four hit and two walks over an inning and 2/3rds.

Among the highlights for the prospects…
• Michael Taylor started in CF and connected for a two-run double in between two strikeouts
• Wilmer Difo followed Danny Espinosa at SS but whiffed twice in two ABs and committed an error
• Matt Skole walked and scored in the 9th, his first PA after subbing for Ian Stewart at 3B
• Cutter Dykstra drew a bases-loaded walk ahead of Clint Robinson’s homer after taking over at 2B from Emmanuel Burriss, who was 0-for-2
• Matt Grace pitched a scoreless 7th, giving up a hit for his third clean outing of the spring

The Nats return to Viera tomorrow to host the Astros. The game can be heard on MLB Radio.

Mar 112015
 

After a three-game absence, the Washington offense showed up today in Viera with a 9-2 win over Detroit. The Nats pounded out 11 hits, including a solo homer by Drew Vettleson (1-for-1) in the 7th and a two-run shot by Matt Skole (1-for-2) in the 8th.

Jordan Zimmermann made his second start and struck out four over two and 2/3rds while letting in a run on two hits to earn the spring-training win. Felipe Rivero was among the parade of relievers who followed, stranding two hits allowed while strikins out one in a scoreless 8th.

Wilmer Difo got things rolling early as he doubled in the 1st and tripled in the 2nd, finishing with a 2-for-3 mark as the starting 2B. Cutter Dykstra followed and went 1-for-2 with a strikeout. Emmanuel Burriss, Sandy Leon, and Jeff Kobernus all went 0-for-1 while subbing at shortstop, catcher, and left field, respectively.

The win improves Washington’s 2015 Grapefruit League record to 4-3 and was the first game played this spring to be won or lost by more than one run.

Stephen Strasburg will not toe the slab tomorrow. A.J. Cole will make the start instead as the Nats travel to Port St. Lucie to take on the Mets tomorrow afternoon.

Mar 102015
 

Derek Dietrich’s one-out homer in the last of the 9th off journeyman Bruce Billings gave the Marlins a 2-1 walkoff win while handing the Nats another 2-1 loss.

All six games thus far in spring training have been decided by one run, with the Nats winning three straight, then losing three straight (and counting).

Max Scherzer was stretched to three innings but gave up two hits in each frame, allowing a first-inning run with the “help” of a wild pitch.

The six hits Scherzer allowed matched the total for the Nats lineup, which broke up the shutout in the 6th when Mike Carp was hit by a pitch. Dan Uggla doubled in pinch-runner Kila Ka‘aihue with two outs to tie the game at 1-1.

Michael Taylor got the start in CF but was hitless in three ABs with one strikeout. Jeff Kobernus, the Nats No. 29 prospect in the latest pageview grab ranking by MLB Pipeline, also started in LF, but struck out three times in three plate appearances.

The rundown for the notable minor-leaguers:
• Caleb Ramsey subbed for Tony Gwynn Jr. in RF and went 0-for-1
• Cutter Dykstra pinch-ran for Uggla and drew a walk while playing 2B
• Matt Skole followed Ian Stewart at 3B but was 0-for-1 with a strikeout
• Wilmer Difo took over for Danny Espinosa at SS and went 0-for-2 with a whiff, but threw out a runner at the plate in the 8th
• Kevin Keyes subbed for Kobernus in LF but had no chances and did not bat
• RHP Rafael Martin worked around two one-out hits and a passed ball but got defensive help (Difo) to notch a scoreless inning

The Nationals return to Viera to host the Tigers tomorrow afternoon. The 1:05 game is scheduled to be broadcast live on MASN and on tape delay on MLB Network tomorrow night.

Mar 092015
 

After taking three straight one-run games, the Nationals have now lost two straight, falling to the Braves 2-1 this afternoon in Viera.

The offense managed just seven hits, two of which came from Tony Gwynn Jr. who was given the start after the news that CF Denard Span will require an additional abdominal surgery while Michael Taylor was given the day off.

Gio Gonzalez got the start and spun two scoreless before giving way to Tanner Roark, who was lit up for both Atlanta runs on an Eric Young Jr. homer in the 3rd and took the loss.

The Nats rallied in the 9th as Matt Skole (1-for-1) singled and scored on a two-out double by catcher Steven Lerud. Wilmer Difo (0-for-1) struck out to end the game, leaving both the tying and winning runs on base.

A rundown of how the notable minor-leaguers performed in the loss:
• Drew Vettleson subbed for Bryce Harper in RF and drew a walk
• Emmanuel Burriss took over at SS for Ian Desmond and struck out in his only AB
• Jeff Kobernus went 0-for-1 after following Tyler Moore in LF
• Matt Grace retired four of six batters faced over an inning and a 1/3rd, walking one and striking out one
• Taylor Hill pitched a scoreless inning, pitching around a one-out single while catching Kelly Johnson looking to end the 8th

The Nats head to Jupiter to take on the Marlins tomorrow, with Max Scherzer slated to make his second start for the Nats. The game can be heard locally on 1580 AM or on MLB Radio.