Feb 202015

Spring training has only just begun but the prospect-ranking season, which never seems to end, culminated last night as Baseball America unveiled its 2015 Top 100 List.

Lucas Giolito, the undisputed* #1 Washington Prospect, came in at #7 this year. Joining him on the list are Michael Taylor (#32), Reynaldo Lopez (#49), Erick Fedde (#90), A.J. Cole (#91), and Joe Ross (#96).* Not counting parents, significant others, and agents, natch

The six prospects on the list is indeed the most ever for the franchise since it relocated from Montreal prior to the 2005 season. The previous high was four in 2011 when Bryce Harper (#1), Danny Espinosa (#66), Derek Norris (#72), and Wilson Ramos (#96) were all ranked. Four times the Nationals had just one prospect ranked in the annual preseason ranking (2005-2007, 2009).

Giolito is marking his third year on the list, having been ranked #21 last year and #67 in 2013, which are the bookends for the Tommy John surgery he underwent in August 2012 shortly after making his pro debut. In 2014, his first full season, he won 10 of 20 starts and turned in 98 innings, with a three-start layoff in May. He struck out 110 while walking just 28 for a robust pitcher’s line of 2.20/3.16/1.00, though he did give up seven HR’s (hence the just slightly better than league-average FIP).

The $64,000 question for 2015 is whether or not Giolito will progress to High-A Potomac after winning 10 of 20 starts made for Low-A Hagerstown in 2014. It lingers because the Nats do have a history of skipping top prospects from Low-A to AA, most recently with Brian Goodwin (2012) and previously with Bryce Harper (2011) and to lesser extent, Stephen Strasburg (2010) as it’s not as unusual for a collegiate “1-1” prospect to debut at that level.

The hope here is that the Nats handle Giolito much like Jordan Zimmermann (2008) or Taylor Jordan (2013) and give him 5-6 starts before sending him on his way to Harrisburg. Potomac opens at home this season, but a case of Hellenic flu could delay his debut for a week and allow for him to start on the road on normal rest four times, should the Nationals decide to split the difference while keeping him away from the DC area, as they’ve also done with high-profile pitchers (Matt Purke, 2012-2013).

On that note, here are the expected assignments for the rest of the Nats Top 100 guys:

  • Taylor — AAA Syracuse
  • Lopez — A+ Potomac
  • Fedde — GCL Nationals
  • Cole — AAA Syracuse
  • Ross — AA Harrisburg

Feel free to discuss in the comments (and stay warm).

Feb 062015

Picking up where we left off, here are Washington’s nos. 16 through 31 in the 2015 Baseball America Prospect Handbook:

16. Taylor Hill 21. Spencer Kieboom 26. Drew Vettleson
17. Jake Johansen (8) 22. Raudy Read 27. Hector Silvestre
18. Felipe Rivero 23. Matt Grace 28. John Simms
19. Jefry Rodriguez (21) 24. Matt Skole (4) 29. Robbie Dickey
20. Rafael Bautista (28) 25. Victor Robles 30. Nick Lee (26)
31. Wander Suero

One of the things that struck me was how some of the prospects remained on the list despite injuries and/or poor performance, which may be acceptable for a younger player, but not so much for the older player. Yes, the Nationals skew older because they draft older, but it sometimes feels like incumbency (or dexterity) is given far too much credence.

Almost half of the 2015 list was not on the 2014 list, which is not unusual given the nature of the beast. Let’s take a look at how the newcomers break down:

2014 Draft — Erick Fedde (4), Jakson Reetz (14), Robbie Dickey (29)

2013 Draft — John Simms (28)

2012 Draft — Spencer Kieboom (21)

2011 Draft — Taylor Hill (16)

2010 Draft — Matt Grace (23)

Int’l Free Agent — Reynaldo Lopez (3), Wilmer Difo (7), Raudy Read (22), Victor Robles (25), Hector Silvestre (27)

Trade — Felipe Rivero (18), Drew Vettleson (26)

As alluded yesterday, there seem to be some returns coming out of the Dominican Republic five years past the “Dark Times of 2009,” with five of the newcomers and nine overall signed by the Nationals from the Caribbean nation, all since 2010. That may not be enough to satisfy the tastes of the folks who want Puig-like spending, but perhaps aren’t aware of the gamble that entails (3rd graf).

BA’s pandering to fantasy baseball fans three-year projection is back, but before I reveal it, a reminder of what BA projected in 2012* about the 2015 Washington lineup:
* The 2012 book went to press before the Gio Gonzalez trade; originally the nos. 3-5 pitchers were Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, and Matt Purke.
C – Wilson Ramos
1B – Michael Morse
2B – Anthony Rendon
SS – Danny Espinosa
3B – Ryan Zimmerman
LF – Jayson Werth
CF – Brian Goodwin
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Jordan Zimmermann
#3P – Gio Gonzalez
#4P – Matt Purke
#5P – Sammy Solis
CL – Drew Storen

And what we could see in 2018 (pay no attention to injuries, trades, or free agency):

C – Wilson Ramos
1B – Ryan Zimmerman
2B – Tony Renda
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Anthony Rendon
LF – Steven Souza** Brian Goodwin
CF – Michael Taylor
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Jordan Zimmermann
#3P – Lucas Giolito
#4P – Doug Fister
#5P – Gio Gonzalez
CL – Reynaldo Lopez
** Same logic applied as in 2012 edits: Goodwin selected because he was the next-highest-rated OF

Dec 192014

Baseball America for NPP
Having confirmed the new list via Twitter, here’s the new-and-improved Washington Nationals Top 10 list from Baseball America (Last year’s ranking in parentheses):

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP (1)
2. Michael Taylor, OF (7)
3. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP (–)
4. Erick Fedde, RHP (’14 Draft Pick)
5. A.J. Cole, RHP (2)
6. Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS (–)
7. Drew Ward, 3B (17)
8. Brian Goodwin, OF (3)
9. Nick Pivetta, RHP (22)
10. Austin Voth, RHP (15)

If you’re a TCU an A.J. Cole fan, you’re probably wondering what he did to drop three slots, but I think the better way to look at it is that the three guys ahead of him simply have either more upside (Fedde) or were in stratosphere this past summer (Taylor, Lopez).

Steve Souza was originally the #5 prospect on this list, though I think most most folks already knew this as the top 10 list was leaked (tweeted) earlier this week.

I’m a bit curious as to why Brian Goodwin remains ranked so high, given this tidbit (italics added):

They pushed him to Double-A Harrisburg by the second half of 2012, but he followed a lackluster 2013 with a horrific 2014 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse that ended on July 1 when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder sliding into second base.

Granted, Goodwin throws righthanded, but injury experts have long held that the torn labrum is baseball’s most fearsome injury, not to mention the conventional wisdom that shoulder injuries in general are what ends or alters baseball careers.

Unfortunately, BA did not weigh in on Difo’s defensive prowess so the SS vs. 2B debate will have to wait until the book is released or perhaps John Sickels’s book is released. They did, however, note that Drew Ward may outgrow 3B, pointing to his size-16 cleats and describing his footwork as merely adequate while noting his arm was strong and accurate.

BA’s projections for 2015 were as follows:

AAA –Taylor, Cole, Goodwin
High-A — Giolito, Lopez, Difo, Ward, Pivetta
Not specified — Fedde, Voth

I still believe Giolito will be jumped to AA (and would love to be wrong) because the Nats have not been keen on letting high-profile prospects play at Potomac (see: Strasburg, Harper, Goodwin). Voth is a near-lock to return to Harrisburg, while I’d expect Fedde to follow the track of Giolito and start out at the GCL and perhaps make an appearance with Auburn late in the year.

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…

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.

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.

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.

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 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…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

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

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.