Oct 032012
 

As semi-predicted yesterday, three Hagerstown Suns were named to the Baseball America Top 20 prospects for the South Atlantic League — Brian Goodwin (#8), Alex Meyer (#10) and Matt Skole (#19).

All three were promoted from the Sally League, with one leapfrogging to the Eastern League after just 58 games played, another making the jump after 18 starts, and the last getting the call so late that it managed to disappoint fans of both Hagerstown and Potomac, but only after enraging just about the rest of the frequent commenters here first.

Highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…
A hamstring injury that knocked him out for five weeks was the only thing that stopped Goodwin in the SAL. His plus power potential and speed make Goodwin at least a 20-20 candidate once he reaches the majors, though he’s still learning how to read pitchers. His short stroke and disciplined approach should allow him to hit for a high average as well. Defensively, he’s a quality center fielder with solid arm strength.

Meyer battled inconsistency but also dominated at times in his pro debut, lowering his ERA in each of his three months in the SAL, the performed even better after a promotion to High-A. The 6’9″ Meyer has a lot of moving parts, which makes maintaining his mechanics a challenge. When he’s in sync and maintains a consistent release point, he works downhill with a 93-97 mph FB and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s. He also shows some feel for a changeup that could become an average third pitch.

Matt SkoleThe league MVP, Skole led the SAL in homers (27), walks (94), on-base percentage (.438) and slugging (.574). Managers tabbed him as having the best strike-zone judgment in the league after watching him use his disciplined approach to pound pitchers with consistency. While Skole was old for the league, his strength and bat speed give him legitimate power. Almost all of his value is tied up in his bat, however, as he’s a well below-average runner and subpar defender at third base.

Goodwin and Skole, of course, are among the Nats’ Arizona Fall League contigent while Meyer was shut down in late August and should start 2013 with the Harrisburg Senators, along with fellow P-Nat Nathan Karns.

The Carolina League is next up (Friday), with the Eastern League scheduled for next Tuesday (non-spoiler alert: look for Goodwin to get named to the E.L. list, too) and the International League on the 12th.

Oct 022012
 

Like two years ago, the first couple of 2012 league Top 20s from Baseball America — Gulf Coast League, New York-Penn League — have been sans Nats.

That will most likely change with tomorrow’s Top 20 for the 2012 South Atlantic League, with Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer and Matt Skole as good possibilities to make the list.

However, there was a mention in the BA chat held yesterday, which I’ll pass along:

Ben (Leland Grove): Did any of the Doubledays come close to making this list?

Aaron Fitt: As our college readers surely know, I’ve been a Tony Renda fan for a long time, and he was in the mix for a spot on this list. He’s an undersized second baseman who did not stand out for his performance in his pro debut, but he has an innate feel for his barrel that I think will carry him through the minors. He also made great strides defensively this summer, though he has a few more things to clean up in order to become an average defender. Brett Mooneyham had an encouraging debut, but he’s got to smooth out his delivery in order to harness his potential — I think there’s a lot of risk there. Robert Benincasa and Derek Self are a couple of college relievers who pitched very well this summer; both have polish, tenacity and solid stuff (working in that 90-93 range with solid-average sliders), and I think both could move quickly. And Estarlin Martinez is an interesting sleeper with some power potential — certainly a guy to keep an eye on.

The Doubledays, as you’ll be shocked to learn (no, not really), were one of the oldest teams in the New York-Penn League. This is a function, of course, of the organization’s tendency (philosophy?) towards collegiate players. It’s disappointing, of course, when there were two candidates (Martinez, Narciso Mesa) that put up stronger numbers than the four OFs that were tabbed, but two were younger and two were recent high-price/high-profile draftees — and let’s not forget BA’s tendency to favor youth and money spent when it comes to prospects.

Jan 272012
 

Picking up where we left off, here are nos. 16 through 30 for the 2012 BA Prospect Handbook…

16. Tyler Moore, 1B
17. Robbie Ray, LHP
18. Kylin Turnbull, LHP
19. Zach Walters, SS
20. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
21. Matt Skole, 3B
22. Eury Perez, CF
23. Danny Rosenbaum, LHP
24. Sandy Leon, C
25. Jason Martinson, SS
26. Cole Kimball, RHP
27. David Freitas, C
28. Adrian Sanchez, 2B
29. Paul Demny, RHP
30. Kevin Keyes, OF

Of the 26 (minus the four traded), 14 are holdovers — Harper, Solis, Lombardozzi, Hood, Marrero, Taylor, Hague, Moore, Ray, Kobernus, Perez, Rosenbaum, Martinson, Kimball, and Sanchez — leaving us with 12 newcomers. Let’s take a look at how they were acquired:

2011 Draft — Rendon, Goodwin, Meyer, Purke, Turnbull, Skole

2011 Acquisition — Walters

2010 Draft — Freitas, Keyes

2008 Draft — Demny

2007 IFA — Leon

2006 Draft — Kimball

It would be nice to know who was the 32nd, 33rd, 34th, and 35th picks were (the “bonus” pick, a.k.a. #31 was Taylor Jordan), but we can probably surmise that at least three of those four are from the past two drafts. As mentioned previously, I still believe the time has come to start diversifying the portfolio and try to sign more HS and JuCo guys. Easy for me to say, I know, but when I go through the player reports and and see the bulge of 22-24 year-olds, it worries me.

As we did a year ago, let’s look at BA’s pie-in-the-sky 2015 Washington Lineup (edited to account for the GG trade, with Solis slotted in because he was the next rated pitcher after 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 – Brad Peacock Gio Gonzalez
#4P – A.J. Cole Matt Purke
#5P – Matt Purke Sammy Solis
CL – Drew Storen

Let’s face it: The reason why these projected lineups are so famously wrong is that they build them from the pieces on hand that year. And it presumes that every prospect will work out. Hence, pie-in-the-sky, i.e. if everything falls into place.

This I can only fault them for so much; the fantasy baseball market demands this kind of projection, and you gotta do what pays the bills. I think of this as the equivalent to the advertorial “Business Review” articles I had to write for the newspapers back in the day.

Like I wrote last year, BA is a lot like the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” list: you can complain about it, you can make fun of it, but you cannot ignore it. Not yet, at least.

Have at it in the comments. The Sickels e-book is coming soon!

Jan 262012
 

The good news is that my copy of the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook came in the mail yesterday. The bad news is that the four prospects traded away for Gio Gonzalez were still there. I’d go all whiny-complainy on you, but I’m old enough to remember when cut&paste was done with an Xacto and a wax machine vs. Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V. It may be easier to get the words onto the galleys, but it still takes time to publish and bind on paper.

It’s also a slight surprise to see that the pre-trade ranking of the system was #1. That may be as meaningful as winning Dixville Notch in the big picture, but I suspect if GG wins 15 or so games, it’ll be forgotten everywhere but here.

As the headline suggests, I’m breaking up the list to have multiple posts and discussion fodder. But before I do that, let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 28 (remember, Michael Burgess and A.J. Morris were also traded prior to the book release):

Graduated (3) — Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Yunesky Maya (exceeded IP limit).

Rule 5 Draft (2011), Taken (1) — Brad Meyers

Rule 5 Draft (2010), Returned (1) — Elvin Ramirez

Traded (4) — Derek Norris, A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone

Dropped Out (5) — J.P. Ramirez, Ryan Tatusko, Trevor Holder, Adam Carr, Hassan Pena

Like last year, roughly half the list is new. Also, like last year, BA is effusive in its praise for Washington spending big. Naturally, no mention was made that much of the impetus for the 2011 spree — unlike the expenditures on uber-prospects Bryce Harper in 2010 and Stephen Strasburg in 2009 — might possibly have been because of the new CBA or that a Top 10 pick in 2012 was highly unlikely. Time will tell how well Rizzo really did with his unique 2009-2011 window, but for now it’s 17 of these 26 were drafted then.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Nos. 16-30, but I’ll leave you today with the Top 15 per the book:

1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brad Peacock, RHP
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
5. Brian Goodwin, OF
6. Alex Meyer, RHP
7. Matt Purke, LHP
8. Sammy Solis, LHP
9. Derek Norris, C
10. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
11. Destin Hood, OF
12. Chris Marrero, 1B
13. Tommy Milone, LHP
14. Michael Taylor, OF
15. Rick Hague, SS

Oct 072011
 


As predicted earlier this week, Brad Peacock appeared on a second list (wouldn’t want to draw up 20 unique prospects for each level – who’d want that?) issued by the folks at Baseball America — coming in at #9.

As expected/feared, Peacock was the sole National on the list.

Here’s the highlight from the scouting report:

Displaying excellent arm action, Peacock sits at 93-94 mph and touches 97 with his sinking and tailing fastball. While scouts preferred his changeup to his curveball in the Eastern League, the reverse was true in the IL, where evaluators rated his curve as a plus pitch. He tends to lose his delivery at times, which led to struggles with his command in Syracuse.

As you might expect for a late bloomer such as Peacock, the opinions vary regarding his future. As we saw earlier this week, John Manuel of BA thinks he could be the #3 starter for the Nationals. Keith Law has been adamant since last fall that he’s a reliever not a starter.
And, of course, I was able to find a scouting report that says he could be either.

Ultimately, I think the silver lining is that it’s nice to have a pitcher that looks like he’s going to contribute one way or another as opposed to the long line of guys that might be able to fulfill a narrowly defined need. As always, if I spot something in this evening’s chat, I’ll update this post.

UPDATE:
One question in the chat, but not about Peacock…

Q [Jim from Miami]: What are your thoughts on Tom Milone? He had a nice season in Syracuse then pitched fairly well in 5 starts in Washington. Do you think he can be a contributor for the Nationals, both short-term and long-term?

A [James Bailey]: Milone has exceptional control and command. He walked just 16 hitters in 148 IP for Syracuse while striking out 155. That’s outstanding at any level. His command was the best in the league, and his changeup may have been. But … his fastball runs only 88-91 mph. He doesn’t have the same margin for error that a lot of the guys who throw harder have. I think he can be a contributor as a back-of-the-rotation guy or long man.

Oct 042011
 

If you think that’s a contrived headline that does a disservice to Brad Peacock and Derek Norris while attempting to leverage a certain prospect’s “juice” to get more attention… you got me!

But it’s been done before, you know.

Harper, of course, was ranked as the #1 Prospect in the Eastern League by virtue of the .256/.329/.395 line he put up in 147 plate appearances with the Harrisburg Senators. As aforementioned, Brad Peacock (#4) and Derek Norris (#12) were the other two Sens to make the list. Will, however, Peacock be another two-fer with the International League’s Top 20? We’ll find out on Friday (unless BA flip-flops its schedule for a third time).

Harper, Norris, and Peacock were all teammates on the 2010 Scottsdale Scorpions, who begin their title defense tonight against Surprise. No, really: They’re playing the Saguaros.

Norris and Harper are back, along with 2010 teammate Sammy Solis, 2011 draftees Matt Purke and Anthony Rendon, and fellow Senators Rafael Martin and Pat Lehman. Zach Walters is listed on the roster without a number, a strong indicator that he is — as commenter Ernie Salazar first noted (H/T) — on the taxi squad.

As before, some highlights from the BA scouting reports…
Harper has excellent strength and bat speed and near-legendary power. He refined his two-strike mindset and learned to spread out and let balls travel deeper, an approach that culminated with a game-winning, 450-foot homer over the batter’s eye in center field against Trenton on Aug. 12. He does have some excessive movement in his swing that gives scouts and managers pause while grading his hit tool, though his fearsome presence ensures that he’ll draw plenty of walks.

Using a fastball that sat at 91-94 mph and touched 97, Peacock was leading the league in strikeouts when he departed for Triple-A in mid-July. He commanded the pitch much better this year than he had in a seven-game EL trial in 2010, thanks in part to working with Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin on keeping his front shoulder closed longer. The adjustment also added to his deception.


Though scouts still consider Norris an offensive catcher, he has improved defensively, so much so that his bat doesn’t completely have to carry the load. His receiving still needs polish, as evidenced by his 15 passed balls, but he doesn’t box nearly as many pitches as he used to. He’s refined his throwing technique and used his average arm strength to throw out a league-best 40 percent of basestealers.


Harper, of course, skipped Potomac so I have nothing to add or detract to the BA report. Methinks there are few other folks that might have an opinion that’s been written elsewhere.

Having watched Peacock last summer and in his September callups, I still maintain that his success as a starter will hinge upon his breaking pitches, particularly the changeup. Next spring should be fun as he, Tommy Milone and Ross Detwiler will be battling for a spot in the rotation.

As we’ve seen in the comments here and on Nats Insider, Norris inspires strong opinions on his future as a catcher, with his supporters pointing to his OBP and SLG and his detractors pointing to his PB and BA. I personally suspect that most of the Norris naysayers have never seen him for more than a game or two (if at all), but would also argue that most of his fans (disclosure: myself included) have seen him a lot and simply like his cut of his jib, as it were. He’ll be 23 in mid-February so time is still on his side, but the “should he shift to first base” question will be with us all winter long, I suspect.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Purke has replaced Rendon on the AFL roster per Adam Kilgore’s post this morning in Nationals Journal.

UPDATE #2: A couple of tidbits from the BA chat, which speak to some of the comments thus far:

Q: [JC (VT)] How much of Derek Norris’s contact issues can be traced to lingering effects of his wrist injury?
A: [John Manuel] Not sure we can blame that anymore, we have a two-year sample size of Norris not hitting for average, and the scouts and managers I talked too attributed it more to not knowing when to be aggressive and when to be selective. I ranked him as high as I did because they all like his swing, athletic ability and improved defensive ability behind the plate. He went from being an American League player to a legit option at C, though his defense is still such that he’s going to have to be an offensive catcher. He’ll never be a plus defender, it seems.

To repeat for the folks that haven’t been reading all along… Norris moves extremely well for his size and IMO, a switch to 1B would not take nearly as long as it did for Marrero.

Q: [Matt (West Chester, PA)]: I was surprised to see Peacock get grouped together with Turner and Banuelos, let alone rank ahead of both. Considering Peacock’s year and development, has his ceiling jumped from #3 to #2?
A: I really like Peacock a lot, and gave him the edge because of my single-minded (probably to a fault) emphasis of guys pitching off their fastball. Peacock went through lineups three times using mostly his heater. I like his fastball command…[it's] electric… and he’s a good athlete. I like him as a future No. 3 starter, which is convenient as he slots in behind Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman[sic].

Manuel goes on to say that Peacock has “average” fastball command, but I believe he meant it in terms of MLB average, not AA prospect.

Last but not least…

Q: [@Jaypers413 (IL)] If you’re Nats management, do you start Harper back at Harrisburg come April, or bump him to Syracuse?
A: I’m not sure why you wouldn’t include Washington as an option there. He’s probably the best CF in the organization, and I bet they are tempted to put him there. More likely they get a CF this offseason (they made a run at Denard Span in July), keep Harper on the corners and start him back at Harrisburg.

Just when I was starting to have my love/hate disdain with BA dissipate, that first sentence in Manuel’s answer reminds me that I can both respect them and mock them as I see fit ;-)

Sep 292011
 

Well, the announcement came a bit sooner than previously reported, but the news is good: Destin Hood (#12) and Sammy Solis (#13) joined the ranks of the players anointed by Baseball America in the year-end prospect rankings by league.

Like last year, this is a bit of a surprise. That’s because I felt like Solis would be passed over because he only made 10 starts and turned 23 during the season, not to mention the high HR rate. Something to keep in mind before complaining about, say, Jeff Kobernus’s omission even if the Potomac 2B had a substandard rates for both OBP and SLG.

As before, the highlights from the scouting reports…

Hood’s bat has come a long ways since he was drafted, but he still has to prove he can catch up to hard fastballs and quality breaking balls. His raw strength should translate into average power, especially now that he has improved his plate discipline. His plus speed plays well on the bases and in right field, where he shows a solid arm.

If, by “solid” BA means accurate, then yes. If, by “solid” BA means strong, then no. I like Destin Hood, but he’s a left fielder playing right field. Regular readers know that I’ve said that all season long.


As a lefty who mixes a 90-93 mph fastball with an average slider and changeup, Solis has the stuff to stick in a big league[sic] rotation. His stuff plays up because he has good feel for pitching. He throws strikes, works both sides of the plate and gets plenty of groundouts thanks to good sink on his fastball.


Solis had his moments where he could get lit when he left his pitches up, which is something he needs to work on. I saw at both Low-A and High-A and AA hitters will make him pay even worse than he did this season. Like Kobernus, the injury history is going to dog him until he puts in a full season as a professional. Otherwise, this report is a decent assessment of the southpaw.

Sep 282011
 

OK, so maybe I’m being a little coy. Everybody knows who’s the #1 prospect in the South Atlantic League — Bryce Harper — the real drama is who else might get named.

That would be A.J. Cole.^ranked #11

Before Manno’s minions (see update below) storm the offices in Durham, NC, don’t forget that Baseball America likes ‘em young — twelve of the twenty were teenagers, like Cole & Harper, and six of those eight were 20. Also working against him: He’s a reliever. Every pitcher named was a starter.

That I don’t have a problem with, actually. I always worry about kids being shoved into the LaRussa bullpen model. If anything, I’d love to see the piggyback rotation in use more often in the lower minors because it dovetails with my belief (and others’) that the aforementioned has become a crutch for managers, and it certainly does no favors to minor-leaguers. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Here are the highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…

Primarily a catcher as an amateur, Harper converted to the outfield and put in time to improve his routes on flyballs. With slightly above-average speed and cannon arm, he has all the tools to become a good right fielder and might be able to handle center. Aside from a well-documented incident where he blew a kiss to the pitcher after a homer against Greensboro, his makeup came off as intense more than immature.

While many players hit the wall during their first full pro season, Cole did just the opposite. His fastball went from the low 90s in April to 94-95 mph in August. He also learned how to keep the ball in the yard: after giving up five HRs in his first seven starts, Cole allowed just one over the last 13. His success is often dictated by his fastball, which he commands well and can cut or sink. His breaking ball lacks consistency, and his changeup is a work in progress. He does a nice job of throwing all three pitches for strikes.

Unless BA switches up its schedule like it did with the NYPL, the Carolina League is slated for Friday, the Eastern League on next Tuesday, the International League the Friday after that.

UPDATE: It may not have the same catchet, but Busleaguesbaseball.com did name Chris Manno the second-best reliever in all of minor-league baseball.

Sep 262011
 

As mentioned last week, Baseball America has been running its Top 20 Prospect Lists and after getting shut out from the GCL, Matt Skole becomes the first Nationals farmhand to get recognition as the #13 New York-Penn League prospect.

Skole was the Nationals’ 5th-round pick out of Georgia Tech and led the NYPL in doubles and RBIs while posting a .290/.382/.438 line. He was the starting desginated hitter for the N.L. affiliates in the league’s All-Star game last month.

I was fortunate enough to see Skole twice on my midsummer jaunt to upstate New York and couldn’t agree more with Sean Hogan’s one-sentence analysis of Skole having “the bat to be an average major league 3B [and] the glove to be an average major league 1B.” He’ll be 22 entering the 2012 season, just four months younger than Hagerstown’s 3B-SS Blake Kelso, but the best guess is that he’ll start at Hagerstown while Kelso moves up to Potomac.