Oct 192014
 

Saturday Smorgasbord
Post number 2000 is a bit of a smorgasbord, which many of these weekly posts have been and probably will be this offseason. So let’s just jump into it…

AFL UPDATE
Without the daily coverage, and with less-than-stellar performances, the four-game win streak by the Mesa Solar Sox seems a bit anti-climactic to pass along. Felipe Rivero got the Jack Morris win in the 8-4 triumph, allowing three runs in two and 2/3rds innings, though Derek Self would have gotten it in a regular-season contest for his two and 1/3rd scoreless innings of relief. Tony Renda tripled in two while Pedro Severino hit a sac fly. Matt Grace also turned in an efficient outing of five outs on 14 pitches, nine for strikes.

BA TOP 20 PROSPECT LISTS
Michael Taylor was voted the #1 prospect in the Eastern League, which is actually a bit of a shock when you consider that the #2 prospect, Mookie Betts played 52 games for the Red Sox (losing rookie status doesn’t disqualify players from these lists). In the “chat,” others brought up that point, noting how much better Betts performed at AAA and in the majors. Josh Norris defended his decision thusly: “In reality, it’s not 1 and 2 for me, it’s 1 and 1a. The difference for me is Taylor has the potential for more power, is a true center fielder with game-changing range in the outfield and has a well above-average arm.”

A.J. Cole was “only” the #15 E.L. prospect but ranked as the #7 I.L. prospect, which is only dissonant to the folks who mistakenly believe AAA is the highest level for prospects, as opposed to a place for refinement and a holding ground for replacement-level players. While noting his propensity to give up the longball, the scouts project the turns-23-in-January righty as a No. 3 starter, praising improvements in his secondary pitches. Steve Souza was ranked #5 while former farmhands Robbie Ray and Alex Meyer were nos. 8 and 9 respectively.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
It’s not clear which Felix Taveras the Nats signed in the latest missive from BA, but the list of catchers that signed or re-signed is awfully familiar:

  • Jeff Howell
  • Devin Ivany
  • Sean McCauley
  • Andruth Ramirez

Before folks get too excited, recall that McCauley spent 2014 as a player-coach and appears headed towards the same role. Given that Ivany and Ramirez did not play this past season, it might be fair to guess that one or both will be serving in the same capacity.

MORE ON THE MINORS LAWSUIT
One of the ugly truths about the minors is how poorly these guys are paid. At some levels, the guys washing the uniforms make more than the guys wearing them. That’s not news per se, but earlier this summer, a class-action lawsuit was filed by former Giants prospect-turned-lawyer Garrett Broshuis on behalf of former minor-leaguers (a group that includes former Nats farmhands Tim Pahuta and Brett Newsome) has generated headlines and more interest in the subject. This week, Toronto Star reporter Brendan Kennedy filed this story that goes into detail about the economics of minor-league baseball, and makes some rather telling comparisons to minor-league hockey.

THE HAGERSTOWN SUNS
The Suns lost in the Sally League Finals for the second straight year but won 87 regular-season games and nearly took both halves. Despite fielding a winning team with exciting prospects, the locals voted with their feet and stayed away as attendance — which is routinely exaggerated anyway — fell to below 1,000 at 979 per date (also consider that the #13 team averaged 1,925). While the PDC was renewed, it’s doubtful this trend will reverse itself until the team is under new ownership and/or the facilities are renovated or replaced.

As you might expect from the second-best team in the league, the Suns leveraged strong pitching (4.11 R/G; Lg. Avg 4.58) and strong hitting (4.99 R/G) while committing the fewest errors (118 vs. 152). The old-for-the-level report: 22.2 vs. 21.5 for the bats, 21.8 vs. 21.8 for the arms. Expectations for this crew to match the 2013’s effort in the Carolina League will probably be high.

Now, for the obligatory Top 5’s…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS, .280 GPA, 14HR, 49SB 1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, 2.20/3.16/1.00, 10.1 K/9, .196 OBA
2. Spencer Kieboom, C, .283 GPA, .500 SLG% 2. Austin Voth, RHP, 2.45/2.68/1.05, 1HR in 69.2IP
3. Drew Ward, 3B, .257 GPA, 42BB 3. Wander Suero, RHP, 2.13/3.16/0.97, 1.38 BB/9
4. Rafael Bautista, CF, .249 GPA, 69SB 4. Justin Thomas, LHP, 2.78/3.01/1.08, 1.39 BB/9
5. James Yezzo, 1B, .239 GPA, .991FA 5. Jake Walsh, LHP, 1.45/3.33/0.87, .152 OBA


Honorable mentions go to Carlos Lopez and David Napoli, as we hit the point where all things are not equal and performance relative to age takes greater precedence. A couple of the bats were also held back for consideration for the Potomac list. As always, if you’d like to see the entire team’s stats, just click here.

Oct 122014
 

SpencerKieboom101114 copy
OK, so I haven’t come up with a name for this post yet. “This Week In The Nats Minors” or “The Washington Farm Report” seem a little too been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. “Next-Gen Nats?” Um, sure, but I’ll have to change my site’s color scheme to teal, purple, and black. I’m open to suggestions… In the meantime, let’s do this weekly thing again.

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
Thanks to a rainout — the first since 2011 — the Mesa Solar Sox have played just four games, losing the first three by a collective score of 30-9 before finally getting a win with a 6-3 decision last night. As you might imagine, the stats thus far aren’t pretty, so let’s hold on posting them. I am thinking another picture-gallery post midweek might be in order.

BA TOP 20 PROSPECT LISTS
As noted in the comments, Pedro Severino edged into BA’s Carolina League Top 20 at #18, which is actually a mild surprise given the size and talent of the league, but not undeserved. Severino’s ballyhooed defense actually fell short of the hype during last offseason, but that’s not to say he’s not a good defender. Perhaps not at the level of Sandy Leon at the same (st)age, but not far off either. Like Leon in 2011, the 21-year-old Severino’s bat came alive in 2014, particularly in the second half, and that’s what caught the attention of scouts. The hope/unknown is whether that’ll continue in 2015.

TRANSACTION STUFF
Greg Dobbs, we hardly knew ye, as the 36-y.o. who stapled a .483 OPS in 13 games with the big club and thumbtacked AAA pitchers for a .635 mark in 36 games has declared free agency.

WINTER LEAGUE
Folks are hungry to know who’s playing winter ball. The Mexican Pacific League and the Venezuelan Winter League started up this weekend, and a scan of the rosters has turned up three pitchers:

Rafael Martin (Hermosillo, MWL)
Paolo Espino (Anzoategui, VWL)
David Ramos (Aragua, VWL)

The Dominican Winter League starts on this Friday, while the Puerto Rican and Australian winter leagues both start up on the 30th.

THE AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
The Doubledays couldn’t help but improve on 2013, which won the fewest games (26) since the ’06 Lake Monsters (23) and was dead last in pitching and third-worst in hitting. The 2014 crew, which included a sizable contingent from the ’13 GCL squad, broke the 30-win mark and performed to its pythagorean projection of 34-41 with 299 runs scored (3.99/G) and 332 allowed (4.43) with the league averaging 4.15 runs per game. After years of being among the league’s oldest teams [insert college-senior drafting remark here], the Doubledays hitters were slightly older (21.2 vs. 21.0) while the pitchers were the fourth-youngest crew in the league (20.9)

And with that I’ll leave you with the Top 5’s…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Raudy Read, C, .265 GPA, .462 SLG% 1. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, 0.75/3.14/0.83, .124 OBA
2. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, 1B, .250 GPA, .996FA 2. Robbie Dickey, RHP, 2.25/2.74/1.05, 1.35BB/9 allowed in 20IP
3. D.K. Carey, CF, .248 GPA, .353 OBP 3. Travis Ott, LHP, 3.05/3.98/1.24, 6.7 H/9
4. Cody Gunter, 3B, .239 GPA, 23BB in 54G 4. Mario Sanchez, RHP, 4.11/3.50/1.17, 2.8 BB/9
5. Austin Davidson, IF, .231 GPA, 4.89 RF/G (2B) 5. Chase McDowell, RHP, 4.50/3.16/1.54, 0.98 BB/9


Honorable mentions go to Matthew Page and Austen Williams, but like the GCL crew, it was not easy after the first two or three names — especially in a year where the Nats had several multiple-level pitchers. As always, folks who want to see the numbers for the full team, can find them here.

Oct 052014
 

Renda-Bunting-2014I had been hoping as I plugged away at this week’s column/post during my time confetti to be able to make some reference to how the parent club is doing in the playoffs. Now, I’m just hoping this will get read between wailing and second-guessing from last night’s 2-1 loss in 18 innings.

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
The “other” fall baseball starts up on Tuesday, with sponsor-contrived exhibition festivities held last night (hence, the pic). It looks like there won’t be a taxi squad guy this year, as the Nationals also officially placed the seven players named in late August onto the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox.

BA TOP 20 PROSPECT LISTS
The love-fest for Reynaldo Lopez continues as Baseball America named him the #2 prospect in the New York Penn League, citing what we all know now: a 96-99 FB, a killer 11-5 CV, and a devastating changeup. Also named (#13) was catcher Raudy Read, who may be more intriguing given how thin the position had gotten. The trio of Pedro Severino, Read and Reetz are all under 22 and should populate the rosters at AA, Low-A, and SS-A with a resurgent Spencer Kieboom the likely starter at High-A (though he’ll be 24).

BA loves to double-dip, which is why Lopez got the nod as the #3 prospect of the South Atlantic League, two spots behind Lucas Giolito. In a bigger market, or a true baseball town, these two would have a nickname by now (Giopez?) though I suspect they won’t be teammates again until they’re both in AA. Coming in at #14 for the Sally Top 20 was Wilmer Difo, which I suspect is a function of his age (22) as twelve of the thirteen players ranked above him were 21 or younger.

TRANSACTION STUFF
So far, it’s quiet, which is the norm. Thus far, two players have been re-signed for next year — IF Cutter Dykstra and RHP Sam Runion. As much as we’d like to read into that, Occam’s Razor suggests it’s simply that both the organization and the player are content to continue with the 2014 arrangement for 2015.

2014 AFFILIATE SHUFFLE
Thankfully, the Nats affiliates will remain the same for another two years, which is hardly a shock — even with the rumblings in Hagerstown and Fredericksburg, which continues to be more talk than walk. It does however mean that they’ll be seeing some new opponents, as the Rockies join the Eastern League and the Cubs join the Carolina League, replacing the Twins and Rangers, respectively. Jamestown will be moving to Morgantown, which will require some new scheduling for Auburn and longer bus rides for everyone.

THE GCL NATIONALS
Let’s face it: No matter what this team did in 2014, it would be a disappointment compared to 2013. It also bears repeating that folks shouldn’t get too high or too low about performance in the short-season leagues (and yes, I’ve been guilty of that “crime”). So even though the team reverted to the mean — 25-35, .417 — there’s still some kids to get excited about (ok, that sounds a little creepy).
Offensively, the team was pretty much league average (4.32 vs. 4.37) but the pitching was second-worst in the league, giving up nearly a run more per game (5.32 vs. 4.37).

Without further ado…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Jakson Reetz, C, .285 GPA, 26BB in 43G 1. Jean Ramirez, RHP, 3.41/3.60/1.45, 0HR allowed in 36⅔ IP
2. Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, .250 GPA, .934FA 2. Luis Reyes, RHP, 4.42/3.86/1.42, 2.95 BB/9
3. Aldrem Corredor, LF, .256 GPA, .411 OBP 3. Yorlin Reynoso, LHP, 3.38/3.97/1.75, 73.8 LOB%
4. Thomas Alvarez, 2B, .253 GPA, 4.65 RF/G 4. Maximo Valerio, RHP, 5.23/4.28/1.45, 7.3 K/9
5. “Fred” Aguero, IF, .249 GPA, .400 SLG 5. Jose Morales, RHP, 4.68/4.58/1.68, 3.03 BB/9


I’d give an honorable mention to Edwin Lora who batted .293 and stole 13 bases, but worry about the lack of doubles (just eight out of 53 hits). It was a stretch to name five pitchers, as it seemed like the best you could say for most of these guys is that they were still teenagers. Folks who are interested in seeing the entire team’s stats, should click here.

Feb 202014
 

lucas-giolito-2
The lovefest for the Nationals’ top pick in 2012 continues as Lucas Giolito was named as the No. 21 prospect on Baseball America’s 2014 Top 100 Prospects List.

As you might have already guessed, Giolito was the sole National to make the list. Last year, it was three as Anthony Rendon (30), Giolito (67), and Brian Goodwin (70). In 2012, Bryce Harper topped the list for the second time with Rendon coming in at No. 19.

The 19-year-old Californian returned to action last summer after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2012, struggling with his command early on, getting lifted twice in the first inning in his first four starts. After bottoming out with a four-run outing to the GCL Mets in his fifth appearance, resulting in a loss, Giolito got his bearings and strung together three solid starts to earn a bump up to the New York-Penn League in mid-August.

Giolito went 1-0 with 14K in 14IP in three starts for the Auburn Doubledays, giving up his only HR of the season in his last start against the Batavia Muckdogs. BA broke from its previous pattern of double-dipping and only named him to one (1) of its postseason league Top 20 lists, the Gulf Coast League’s No. 2 prospect.

MASN’s Byron Kerr has reported that Giolito will begin 2014 in Low-A Hagerstown, insisting in the comments that he’ll be there for Opening Day. History strongly suggests otherwise as previous HS pitchers (A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray) were held back until May, though there is the counter example of Taylor Jordan, who underwent TJ in July 2011, came back to action with Auburn and Hagerstown in the June 2012, and was sent to Potomac in April 2013.(Can we both be wrong and have him debut in Woodbridge in mid-May? ;-)

Giolito features a 80-grade fastball that can hit triple digits from a high arm angle created in part by his 6’6″ frame, though scouts noted he tended to work best when it was around 95 to 97 mph. He also boasts a 12-6 curve (clocked in the 84-86 range) that could reach the 80 mark, but alas his changeup only figures to reach 70 mark, making it merely plus, not plus-plus (for the velo whores, it comes in around 82-83).

With less than 39 innings total as a pro, the folks at BA believe this season will be a matter of demonstrating he can handle the workload of full-season ball and peg his MLB debut at possibly late 2015 but more likely in 2016.

Feb 032014
 

Picking up where we left off, here are Washington’s nos. 16 through 31 in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

16. Pedro Severino 21. Jefry Rodriguez 26. Nick Lee
17. Drew Ward 22. Nick Pivetta 27. Robert Benincasa
18. Aaron Barrett 23. Blake Treinen 28. Rafael Bautista
19. Jeff Kobernus 24. Christian Garcia (6) 29. Erik Davis
20. Eury Perez (7) 25. Brett Mooneyham (19) 30. Adrian Nieto
31. Anderson Franco


As mentioned in the comments, Severino’s defensive prowess has been noticed outside our little bubble. It’s encouraging to see some “love” shown for the GCLers, beginning with Ward at #17 and continuing with Jefry Rodriguez at #21 and Bautista at #28.

Ward and Pivetta are two of the four on this list who were drafted in 2013, leading us to the breakdown of how the Top 31 was “built.”

2013 Draft — Johansen (8), Voth (15), Ward (17), Pivetta (22)

2012 Draft — Giolito (1), Renda (13), Mooneyham (25), Benincasa (27)

2011 Draft — Goodwin (3), Skole (4), Purke (11), Burns (12), Lee (26)

2010 Draft — Cole* (2), Ray (5), Solis (6), Barrett (18)

2009 Draft — Taylor (7), Karns (9), Kobernus (19)

2008 DraftNieto (30)

2007 Draft — Souza (10)

Int’l Free Agents — Severino (16), Perez (20), Rodriguez (21), Bautista (28), Franco (31)

Domestic Free Agent — Garcia (24)

Trade — Cole* (2), Walters (14), Treinen (23), Davis (29)
* Take your pick: the Nats originally drafted Cole, traded him away, then reacquired him via trade

The five IFAs represents a high-water mark in the five seasons I’ve been running this site. Four of them were co-signed by Johnny DiPuglia, the veteran scout the Nationals signed after the 2009 season, or more importantly, roughly six months after “Smiley-gate.” That may not be enough for some folks’ tastes, but it’s more than it’s been in several years.

Perhaps more encouraging is that Rodriguez is BA’s breakout prospect for 2014, which may have some significance for the folks who recall that Taylor Jordan was given the same anointment in 2013. Likewise, they’re tabbing Franco as a “sleeper” (same as Pleffner last year) despite the Dominican having signed for $900,000 on his 16th birthday last August.

BA has ditched the three-year projection of the parent club’s starting lineup, which may be just as well because it always seemed a bit pie-in-the-sky (e.g. Cole & Solis were projected to be this year’s nos. 3 and 4 SPs in 2011, with Derek Norris at 1B and Eury Perez in CF) and basically ignored trades, age, and/or diminished skills (i.e. next year’s projected 1B Michael Morse)

Instead, I’ll leave you with the top unranked guys on BA’s minor-league depth chart at position/role. Call them nos. 32-43 if you want ;-)

C – Jhonatan Solano SS – Jason Martinson LHSP – Danny Rosenbaum
1B – Shawn Pleffner LF – Estarlin Martinez LHRP – David Napoli
2B – Ricky Hague CF – Narciso Mesa RHSP – Blake Schwartz
3B – Cody Gunter RF – Brandon Miller RHRP – Taylor Hill**

** Hey, that’s what BA “said”… Treinen and Lee were also listed as a relievers

Feb 022014
 

2014-BA-HandbookAs those of you on the Twitters already know, the 2014 Baseball America handbook did indeed arrive in yesterday’s mail. The staff has been reviewing it and so over the next couple of days, we’ll discuss what they found.

Like two years ago, the moves made in November and December are not reflected in the book. This is frustrating, but understandable given how long it takes to produce, edit, and publish a 500+ page book. Therefore, Robbie Ray, Billy Burns, and Adrian Nieto were included in the book.

Folks with the fetish interest in how the Nationals were ranked relative to the other 29 teams, will probably not be surprised that the folks from Durham placed Washington 21st. What is a bit surprising is that this is with fifteen different names than a year ago. It’s debatable how much further that would have dropped the Nationals, but given the conventional wisdom that the system is top-heavy, one or two spots sounds about right (H/T Brian Oliver for asking the question).

On that note, let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 30:

Graduated (2) — Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan

Traded (4) — Ivan Pineyro, Robbie Ray, Billy Burns, Corey Brown

Free Agents (2) — Chris Marrero, Carlos Rivero

Dropped Out (9) — Jason Martinson, Sandy Leon, Ricky Hague, Destin Hood, Estarlin Martinez, Brandon Miller, Paul Demny, Wirkin Estevez, Jhonatan Solano

Unfortunately, the ratio of players who are or will turn 25 by midseason hasn’t improved. In fact, it’s gotten worse — eight this year versus six a year ago, as only four 2013 draftees were added. The cynic in me is now starting to wonder how much of this is influenced by BA trying to market the book towards fantasy baseball folks by including some of edge-of-the-40-man types in the last third of the list. When you see #31 in the next post, you may understand why I might suggest something like that.

Without further ado, here are the Top 15 from the book, with last year’s ranking in parentheses. In the next post, we’ll look at nos. 16-31:

1. Lucas Giolito (2)
2. A.J. Cole
3. Brian Goodwin (3)
4. Matt Skole (4)
5. Robbie Ray (18)
6. Sammy Solis (8)
7. Michael Taylor (11)
8. Jake Johansen
9. Nathan Karns (5)
10. Steven Souza (25)
11. Matt Purke (9)
12. Billy Burns (26)
13. Tony Renda (12)
14. Zach Walters (10)
15. Austin Voth

Nov 062013
 

Baseball America for NPPNo sense vamping when this list has probably been tweeted dozens of times by now. (Last year’s revised ranking in parentheses.)

1. Lucas Giolio, RHP (2)
2. A.J. Cole, RHP (4)
3. Brian Goodwin, CF (3)
4. Matt Skole, 1B/3B (5)
5. Robbie Ray, LHP (–)
6. Sammy Solis, LHP (9)
7. Michael Taylor, CF (–)
8. Jake Johansen, RHP (’13 Draft Pick)
9. Nathan Karns, RHP (6)
10. Steve Souza, OF (–)

Frankly, I was initially confused as to how an injured position player and a coming-off-surgery pitcher could move up in the rankings. This, of course, is no disrespect to them, but simple logic dictates that getting hurt and/or losing a year of development is the kind of thing that drops your stock, not improves it. This was Fitt’s answer to my question about that rationale for ranking them higher in 2014 than 2013:

I think Skole is in the same No. 4* slot he was last year (and remember that Anthony Rendon graduated to the big leagues). I did not dock Skole for being hurt — it was a fluke injury, and he returned strong this fall. I still think he’s a quality power-hitting prospect, and I ranked him accordingly. As for Solis, I got very encouraging reports on him coming off that surgery, and I expect him to move very quickly next year (assuming he can stay healthy — which is a legitimate question, given his track record). At this point, I think he has a better chance to stick as a big league starter than Karns, who strikes me as more of a power reliever ultimately. So I moved Solis ahead of Karns. I can’t say I’m overly excited about any of those guys — Solis is 25 now and still has yet to reach Double-A, after all. I don’t think this is a great top 10 after the top of the list, although I do like some of the depth in the 11-30 range.
* Skole was initially ranked #4 in December 2012, then moved to #5 when BA revised the list in March 2013

I give Fitt credit answering honestly, particularly in remarking about how the talent thins out rapidly after the first few guys, which has been the case for about two years now. For those wondering, Fitt said that he wrestled with a cluster of Tony Renda, Matt Purke, Billy Burns, and Zach Walters before deciding upon Souza for the #10 spot. There are certainly arguments that can be made for any of those five against the other four and it may be bit revealing of your personal biases, too. Fitt, it appears, likes Souza’s five-tool promise over Burns’s speed, Purke’s LHSP capabilities, Renda’s bat/eye, Walter’s power, etc.

One new wrinkle to this year’s rankings is a list of the Top 15 players under the age of 25, which you can find in the free article along with a list of the best tools, prospects of the year and top draft picks from the past 10 years. And of course, the top bonuses paid, for which Robin Leach Fitt remains enamored of the decision of the Nationals to spend heavily just as they were hitting rock bottom.

The projections for where the 2014 Top 10 will begin (or finish) next season were as follows:
AAA – Cole, Goodwin, Karns, Souza
AA – Skole, Ray, Solis, Taylor
Low-A – Giolito
Not specified – Johansen

I personally believe Cole will probably return to Harrisburg and be moved up in May or June; likewise for Johansen with Hagerstown as his starting point — but lately the Nats have been more aggressive, so it could be Syracuse and Potomac, respectively. As mentioned in the comments, where a prospect starts is not nearly as important as where he finishes.

Oct 142013
 

Despite both having exhausted their rookie eligibility during the season, Baseball America has named Washington Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Taylor Jordan to its postseason 2013 Eastern League Top 20.

Obviously, both were key injury replacements for the “Big Nats,” in 2013 with Rendon perhaps even displacing second baseman Danny Espinosa while Jordan is a strong candidate to return to the starting rotation next April, with the nos. 4 and 5 spots unsettled for 2014.

Long-term, BA believes No. 9 prospect Rendon’s future could still be at 3B while scouts still type one-handed marvel at the power:

Rendon has Gold Glove abilities at the hot corner and is more than capable at second base. Because of the vast strength in his wrists and forearms, he’s also got the potential for more than 20 homers annually and a solid average.

No. 12 E.L. guy Taylor Jordan was given props for his pitching motion — which is often compared to Angels ace Jered Weaver:

Jordan employs a sneaky delivery that includes long arm action and a stab on the back end. That deception helps his arsenal, [which] includes a low-90s heater with plenty of run, as well as a slider and a changeup, play up.

All total, eight Nationals were named in these top 20 lists, though no prospects were named at the Low-A and AAA levels. Last year, that figure was five, with Brian Goodwin named to the Top 20 of both the Sally League and the Eastern League.

Oct 052013
 

Ok, so maybe it’s a little easier to place multiple players in an eight-team league, but that should shouldn’t diminish the distinction of four Potomac Nationals making the Baseball America Top 20 Prospects List — A.J. Cole (#10), Michael Taylor (#12), Robbie Ray (#16), and Billy Burns (#19).

Like last year’s contingent of Suns to get the BA badge of approval, three of the four P-Nats were promoted to the next level, led by the two pitchers, with the older of the two position players going last.

Alright, fine, you’ve probably already skipped ahead to see what the folks in Durham had to say, going from highest to lowest, beginning with #10, A.J. Cole…

Cole can command his fastball to both sides of the plate and the pitch can be explosive coming out of his long, lanky frame. The fastball, however, is the only pitch he throws with any consistency. He’s still inconsistent with a slurvy curveball, though he did begin to show better feel for it by the end of the season. His changeup remains a work in progress. One scout suggested Cole should abandon the curveball for more of a power slider.

This matches up well with what I saw in Woodbridge, but when Cole racked up W’s in three of his first four starts, such naysaying seemed out of place. Not to mention, the similar success shown by Robbie Ray after his promotion.

Taylor began to tap into his power at the plate but still isn’t disciplined enough in his approach to drive balls with regularity. At his best, he has the bat speed to turn on fastballs and the strength to take breaking balls to the opposite field. Yet he is susceptible to chasing fastballs up in the zone and curveballs off the plate. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Taylor has all-star potential. If not, he figures to be a 4th outfielder [like] Justin Maxwell.

Last year, Taylor couldn’t correct either flaw (bolded) and this year the weaknesses would come and go. No doubt he’ll be challenged with AA in ’14, but those are the kind of holes that pitchers can consistently exploit at the next level.

Ray attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball and has the arm strength to add more velocity down the road. His slider grew from more of a slurvy pitch to a power one with good depth that could turn into an above-average offering. He showed feel for a changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Ray still struggles with his command at times and gets in trouble when he leaves pitches up — his nine home runs in just 84 innings were the 11th most in the league.

Quite frankly, had Ray been a righty or a year or two older, I’d have dropped him from the ’13 Watchlist — that’s how bad he looked in ’12. But after making some serious adjustments to recover from that debacle, there’s reason to hope that he can refine his game further in ’14.

Burns excels at working counts and putting the ball in play as a slap-and-dash hitter. He’s more than willing to put the ball on the ground and beat throws to first base. The natural righthanded hitter began switch-hitting in 2012, but he hit a respectable .312/.418/.383 in 266 at-bats from the left side in the CL. One scout suggested that Burns could be more of a line-drive hitter if he incorporated his powerful legs into his swing.

In his last month or so in Woodbridge, Burns certainly did appear to be working on trying to hit balls into the gaps, but with mixed success (a fair amount of weak flyballs). Given that small-ball skills — aside from speed — have fallen out of favor lately, this is Burns’s next challenge to meet if he’s to proceed beyond AA.

Quite a gap between the next BA Top 20 post for which a National may be named — next Thursday for the International League. It looks like they’re saving the Eastern League for last, on the 14th. Next up: perhaps a morning reading post before we begin following the Arizona Fall League.

Oct 012013
 

Baseball America has issued its Top 20 prospects for the New York-Penn League and coming in at #13 is Jacob Johansen.

Thanks to the decision to sign a free-agent closer, which forfeited their 1st round pick, the Washington Nationals’ first pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft did not come until the 29th pick of the 2nd round, 68th overall. With it, the Nats chose Johansen out of Dallas Baptist — an under-the-radar pick who immediately begat comparisons to Nathan Karns, as both put up less-than-stellar numbers in college, pitched in high school and collegiately in Texas, and were power arms with control issues.

Obviously, the comparisons end with Johansen not suffering an injury and dominating the NYPL — holding opponents to a .147 BA, while hanging a 1.06/2.77/0.92 pitcher’s line (ERA/FIP/WHIP) over 10 starts. He finished the season in Hagerstown, where he was knocked around in his final two regular-season starts before tossing five shutout innings for the “W” in the Suns sole victory in the Sally League Finals against the league-champion Savannah Sand Gnats.

The knock on Johansen prior to the draft was on his mechanics and approach, which BA mentioned in the course of its writeup as such:

The Nationals got him to simplify his approach this summer, attacking hitters with power stuff rather than trying to trick them. Though his command and his secondary stuff remain works in progress, Johansen dominated this summer with a premium fastball that sat at 94-96 mph with heavy sink and topped out at 99.

The rest of his arsenal is described as CV, CH, and depending on whom you ask, a SL or CT. For a more detailed look at Johansen, check out Ryan Kelley’s take via District Sports Page from this past August.

Unlike Giolito, I don’t think Johansen will skip ahead to Potomac. With Giolito, repeating Auburn means waiting until June whereas Johansen can begin in Hagerstown and be moved up by mid-to-late May just like (aw, crap – sometimes comps just sneak up on you) Karns in 2012.

Next up: BA will be ranking the Top 20 Sally League prospects, then a look at the 2013 GCL Nationals.