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.

Sep 242013
 

lucas-giolito
For the first time since 2009 (Destin Hood), a Nationals player has been named the Baseball America Top 20 prospect list for the Gulf Coast League… 2012 1st Rd. pick, Lucas Giolito.

The 19-year-old entered 2013 with the twin burdens of being the team’s top draft pick and proving himself to be healthy after UCL-replacement surgery. Early on, he exhibited the most common side effect of pitchers coming back from TJ: shaky command, which was so bad he was lifted in the first inning. Twice.

However, after allowing nearly two baserunners per inning in his first five appearances, Giolito hit his stride over the next three, as he earned his first win and began hitting the five-inning mark instead of his pitch limit. He was promoted to the New York-Penn League in mid-August and continued to give out donuts for a total of 20 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a home run in his final start vs. Mahoning Valley.

Scouts clocked the SoCal native in the mid-90s, with some claims of triple-digit velo, with mid-80s speed on his curve that seems to vary between 12-6 and 11-5 action but late bite that earns the “plus-plus” in scout lingo. BattingLeadoff.com had this to say about his mechanics:

Has present stuff, but needs to clean up arm action. His delivery has some effort to it with a long arm circle and pronounced stab. He gets caught with his arm behind his body and arm will drag.

There’s also some disagreement about whether his changeup is back to where it was pre-surgery, but odds are pretty good that it varied from start to start (see above, command).

Of course, the million-dollar question for 2014 is where will Giolito start? The Nats have been careful with healthy HS arms and holding them back from full-season ball until early May, which they did with Robbie Ray in 2011 and 2012. Pitchers coming off surgery or shoulder problems, it’s been more towards Memorial Day (see: Purke, Matthew in 2012 and 2013).

A year ago, I probably would have written — they’ll be conservative and hold him in Viera until the NYPL starts up; he’s only had 14 innings at the level. Now, after a year of semi-aggressive promotions, I’m inclined to think he may actually be challenged to go to Low-A, perhaps even starting up as soon as the third week of April (i.e. the Suns first road trip south of Maryland).

Next possible BA Top 20 mention: Friday, when they rank the NYPL, though I’m not holding my breath…

Mar 272013
 

Baseball America for NPPLike slideshows of cheerleaders and WAGs for Bleacher Report*, Baseball America can’t resist another chance to re-issue a list, which it did today with the 2013 Organizational Talent Rankings.
*Full disclosure: I can’t resist bulldogs or visual puns.

As a system, the Nats came in at #13 — up three spots from the #16 ranking last December — but perhaps of more interest is the “new” Top 10 list, which is as follows:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (AA)
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP (XST)
3. Brian Goodwin, OF (AA)
4. A.J. Cole, RHP (A+)
5. Matt Skole, 1B-3B (AA)
6. Nathan Karns, RHP (AA)
7. Christan Garcia, RHP (MLB D.L.)
8. Eury Perez, OF (AAA)
9. Sammy Solis, LHP (XST)
10. Matt Purke, LHP (XST)

In a nutshell, A.J. Cole was inserted at #4 and the “old” nos. 4-9 were moved down one spot. Zach Walters was the “bumped” #10 prospect. My projected destinations for where they’ll be for Opening Day are in parentheses.

The Washington farm was ranked #12 last year in this revision, following a brief moment on paper when the system was rated #1 prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade.

Jan 262013
 

Picking up from our last post, here are nos. 16 through 31 in the 2013 BA Prospect Handbook…

16. Ricky Hague, SS/2B (15)
17. Destin Hood, OF (11)
18. Robbie Ray, LHP (17)
19. Brett Mooneyham, LHP
20. Corey Brown, OF
21. Estarlin Martinez, OF
22. Brandon Miller, OF
23. Chris Marrero, 1B (12)
24. Carlos Rivero, 3B/SS
25. Steven Souza, OF
26. Billy Burns, OF
27. Ivan Pineyro, RHP
28. Paul Demny, RHP (29)
29. Wirkin Estevez, RHP
30. Jhonatan Solano, C
31. Shawn Pleffner, 1B

As mentioned previously, a sizable portion of this list is what prospect followers would call “old” — others might call them 4A, some folks would have an entirely different opinion — which is what happens with the draft tilting so heavily towards collegiate players. Drafting last in the Rule 4 draft, in a year that is considered one of the weakest in recent memory (insert “Girlwatching” joke here), one has to wonder if this is when Nationals GM Mike Rizzo finally starts to roll the dice on some HS guys.

Let’s take a look at how the newcomers to the BA list were acquired:

2012 Draft — Lucas Giolito (2), Tony Renda (12), Brett Mooneyham (19), Brandon Miller (22)

2011 Draft — Billy Burns (26), Shawn Pleffner (31)

2009 Draft — Nathan Karns (5)

2007 Draft — Steven Souza (25)

Int’l Free Agents — Estarlin Martinez (21), Ivan Pineyro (27), Wirkin Estevez (29), Jhonatan Solano (30)

Domestic Free Agent — Christian Garcia (6)

Waiver Claim — Carlos Rivero (24)

Trade — Corey Brown (20)

That’s quite a hodge-podge, with two of the team’s Top 10 coming out of nowhere to the casual fan. I’m tempted to lump in “fantasy” with “casual,” but I’m aware that there’s a subset of folks that are into prospects for the purposes of getting a Christian Garcia or Nathan Karns onto their team. If only there were a way to make a buck off ’em the way BA can…

The better news, of course, is that 27 of these 31 are homegrown. In addition to spending big and taking risks, I believe BA rewards this in terms of ranking the organizations (#1 St. Louis is 30 of 31). Four more tidbits before we close out with a look at the 2016 Nationals…

…Taylor Jordan is their breakout prospect for 2013, citing the return of his 96 mph heater. Having seen him in 2010, I can understand the hype if indeed he’s fully recovered from TJ surgery and progressed accordingly.

…Perhaps not coincidentally, Karns is listed second and Jordan third in the RHSP depth chart behind, of course, Giolito

…Shawn Pleffner is their sleeper for 2013, noting that 2011 was lost to injury (sports hernia), which somewhat validates my decision to include him on the watchlist.

…With Matt Skole still not officially recognized as a 1B, Chris Marrero is still the top-rated 1B in the organization (which in part is why I included Pleffner and Kevin Keyes)

The 2016 Nationals (pay no attention to injuries, trades, or free agents)
C – Wilson Ramos
1B – Ryan Zimmerman
2B – Danny Espinosa
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Anthony Rendon
LF – Brian Goodwin
CF – Denard Span
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Lucas Giolito
#3P – Gio Gonzalez
#4P – Jordan Zimmermann
#5P – Ross Detwiler
CL – Drew Storen

Like your rural pothead, BA likes ’em homegrown — 12 of those 14 to be exact. I can buy Giolito’s ceiling, but the #2 SP after what will undoubtedly be two innings-limited seasons? Sure, and that’s just a lamp…

Jan 252013
 

2013-BA-Prospect-HandbookThe 2013 Baseball America Prospects book is here and the staff is reviewing it. As much as I like to bash BA, I can’t ignore them, either. Like it or not, when it comes to prospects, the conversation starts with them. Fine by me, because I think the recent anointing of the Brothers Upton is proof positive that baseball fans are desperate for winter to end (that, and lately, narrative in sportswriting has been cheap and easy).

Like last year, I’m doing multiple posts to spread out the material and have fodder for discussion.

As mentioned in the comments, I was shocked to see that the system came in at #16 — I was expecting somewhere in the mid-20s. And this does not include the return of A.J. Cole. Much like 2011, the folks in Durham really approved of the gamble taken with the drafting of Lucas Giolito.

Let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 26 (remember, the Gio Gonzalez trade happened after the book went to press).

Graduated (3) — Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore

Rule 5 Draft, Taken (2) — Jeff Kobernus, Danny Rosenbaum

Traded (2) — Alex Meyer, David Freitas

Dropped Out (4) — Kylin Turnbull, Cole Kimball, Kevin Keyes, Adrian Sanchez

So a little more than than half (15/26) of last year’s list is the same. Half of it has been signed since GM Mike Rizzo has become GM. One-fifth (6) are IFAs signed by the Nationals. A bit more of a mild surprise: six of the thirty will be 25 or older by midseason, which is somewhat of an indictment of Washington’s collegiate drafting bias, but one would have thought that more these guys would have been passed over in favor of 2012 draftees.

Today, I’ll leave you with the Top 15 Prospects listed in the book, then pass along 16-30 in Part Two. Where applicable, last year’s ranking is in parentheses:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (2)
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF (5)
4. Matt Skole, 3B (21)
5. Nathan Karns, RHP
6. Christian Garcia, RHP
7. Eury Perez, OF (22)
8. Sammy Solis, LHP (8)
9. Matt Purke, LHP (7)
10. Zach Walters, SS (19)
11. Michael Taylor, OF (14)
12. Tony Renda, 2B
13. Taylor Jordan, RHP (31)
14. Jason Martinson, SS/3B (25)
15. Sandy Leon, C (24)

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.