Mar 062014
 

It’s not as detailed as anyone would like it to be (e.g. 30 players were reportedly signed, but no complete list), but here are the highlights from the Baseball America review of the Washington Nationals International signings in 2013.

As noted previously, the CBA limited the Nationals to the smallest pool for signings for the July 2013 to June 2014 signing period ($1,846,000) thanks to its MLB-best 2012 finish. As such the Nats only exceeded the $100,000 signing figure for just four players — Anderson Franco ($900,000), Victor Robles ($225,000), Dany Rojas ($100,000) and Israel Mota ($100,000).

Franco is one the “Notable Bats” on the 2014 Watchlist, who signed on his 16th birthday last August. He’s a big kid (6’1″, 190) who features raw power and arm strength along with an advanced feel for his position (3B). The question mark is whether the Nats can fix some of the flaws (long swing, poor pitch recognition) and turn him into a true hitter.

Robles is a 17-y.o. right-handed outfielder, listed at 6′ and 180 lbs and praised for “above-average speed and a strong arm,” as well as being a “high-energy player with a high baseball IQ.”

Rojas is another 17-y.o. OF, but lefthanded and more compact at 5’10” and 185 lbs with power to all fields. Both Robles and Rojas were July 2 signees.

Mota signed early enough to play in the DSL but only hit .215/.356/.313 in 180 PAs and will likely repeat. His best tool is his arm, which was said to be top-level (80 on the 20-80 scale).

Two 16-y.o.’s that fell short of the 100K threshhold, but were given some play in the article were Dominican southpaw Jose Jimenez and Venezuelan catcher Jose Cabello, both of whom signed for $75,000. Jimenez was clocked just shy of 90mph but at 6’1″ 170 could very well add some length as he continues to physically mature. Cabello, listed at 5’11” and 185, is a technically sound defensive backstop with a line-drive swing.

Feb 182014
 

Having received word via e-mail from Jeri Sickels, wife of John, that his 2014 Baseball Prospect Book remains behind schedule due to a concussion he suffered this offseason, I decided to finish off the player reports rather than wait. The hope is that I can still revise some of the player reports on guys that I was hoping Sickels might write about that BA didn’t.

But my fear is that once spring training games begin, it’ll slide… not to mention get lost in the shuffle as all eyes (and some drones) are focused on Viera. The watchlist is conceived while doing the season reviews in October-November, set after the Rule 5 draft in December, with the writing begun in early January with a focus on the guys I’ve seen (and the ones I’m sure won’t be written up), and usually finished in late January after I’ve received and reviewed the major prospect books.

So if you’ve got some extra time — say, because you’re at home with your kids because schools have been delayed a couple hours by less than a centimeter of snow — take another gander and feel free to discuss in the comments here or on the player pages.

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.

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.

Feb 192013
 

Some of these names have been mentioned previously over the past few months. I’d like to tell you the latest dispatch from Baseball America on the 2012 international signings gives significant information.

Alas, IFAs are much like a politicians — long on promise, short on details.

Before I editorialize, let me distill what little there is from the BA review for paid subs…

The big sign was Dominican centerfielder Luis Guzman, a 6’1″, 185-lb. left-handed hitter who turned 17 in September and went for $385K on July 2nd. He’s praised for “an advanced approach at the plate, great balance[,] and good bat speed” with plus speed and a plus arm (both 55 on the 20-80 scale).

Venezuelan Aldrem Corredor — also 17, a lefty, and listed at 6’1″, 185 — but with more power and less speed. BA is projecting him as a corner outfielder and noted his price tag at $190K.

Sixteen-year-old third baseman Neivy Pilier warranted a post in December for his youth and $225K bonus. Nothing new in terms of scouting or description.

Finally, another outfielder: Darryl Florentino who was described as a 6’2″, 180-lb speedster and praised for his athleticism. No age was given, but he was reportedly inked for $85K on July 2nd.

Of course, it’s been two years since the Nationals made a big deal about its 2010 signings and just one (Gilberto Mendez) has played north of Florida. The point, of course, is not to complain but to emphasize that despite the hype, it could be a while.

Feb 042013
 

With this year’s editions of both Baseball America and John Sickels’s prospect books received, read, and reviewed, I’ve finished the player reports for the 2013 NationalsProspects.com Watchlist.

For the newcomers, this is a list of the players that are on our radar for 2013. It’s built upon the guys that catch my eye in the course of doing the season reviews, and it’s something that I’ve been tweaking each year, making some major changes this year, which you can read about here and here.

I’m not big on prospect-ranking, but I do compile a pair of Top 10 lists, one each for the position players and the pitchers.

It’s not a depth chart or a prediction of how, when, and where guys will be used this year — though I’ll make some guesses like I did last year for the rosters of Hagerstown, Potomac, and Harrisburg. I may even take a swag at the pitchers again, especially since this upcoming spring training appears to be mostly an exercise of rounding out the bench and the bullpen, with very little prospect drama — much like last year when it was limited to whether or not Steve Lombardozzi and/or Corey Brown could make the bench (don’t make me ruin a future post!).

Ten days ’til pitchers and catchers report…

Jan 302012
 

With the 2012 editions of the Baseball Ameria and John Sickels prospect books received, read, and reviewed, I’ve completed the player reports for the the 2012 NationalsProspects.com Watchlist.

For the newcomers, a reminder: It’s not a depth chart, it’s based on 2011 usage, and it’s not a prediction of 2012 placement. Players are ordered by the highest level they’ve played, with some educated guesses regarding the 2011 draft picks. With the deadline to sign moved up from mid-August to mid-July, we’re unlikely to see this many guys not play at all the same year as they were drafted anytime soon.

Don’t worry, I’ll take a swag at who might end up where with the position players for the Suns and the P-Nats like I did last February (and I’ll point out my mistakes). But I tried to make fewer predictions in the capsules than in last year’s watchlist, especially with the pitchers. Generally speaking, it’s a level a year until AA under the Rizzo FO, but there’s an always an outlier or two.

As always, have at it in the comments as we wait for the calendar to match the weather…

Nov 102011
 

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.) Bryce Harper — Has an abundance of confidence, but no different than A-Rod, Bonds, or Kobe Bryant. Harper will see the majors in 2012, but his odds of making the Opening Day roster are low.

2.) Anthony Rendon — Could be moved to 2B, but 3B is probably his best position, given his injury history [ankles, not shoulder]. Conversion unlikely to take long, so Nats can afford to wait.

3.) Brad Peacock — 2011 not a fluke, and of the pitchers discussed, the most likely to achieve his ceiling, though others have a higher ceiling.

4.) A.J. Cole — Mostly discussed in passing, but said to have second-highest ceiling among the five pitchers in the Top 10

5.) Brian Goodwin — Said to have worked on incorporating his trunk into his swing during instrux, and was likened to Garrett Anderson, though with less power [and presumably, more speed]

6.) Alex Meyer — High ceiling [well, he is 6'9" *rimshot!*] but the least likely to realize it, given the usual concerns for power-forward-sized pitchers [Andrew Brackman comparison made].

7.) Matt Purke — Like Cole, mostly discussed in comparison to the others, but characterized his signing as a “high upside gamble.”

8.) Sammy Solis — Said to have the lowest ceiling, but second-best chance of achieving it. [Bear in mind that "ceiling" for all these guys is top-line starter.]

9.) Derek Norris — His combination of pitch recognition, power, and discipline is his greatest asset, but it now appears that his path has been blocked and a trade could be in his future.

10.) Steve Lombardozzi — Bullishly characterized as potential everyday 2B that will hit in the .280-.310 range, draw some walks, steal a few bases, get lauded a la David Eckstein.

Destin Hood — Third-best OF prospect but a left-field only guy [*ahem*]

Tyler Moore — Plus-plus power, but lacks Marrero’s ability to hit for average and draw walks.

Chris Marrero — Plus power potential, but now it’s doubtful he’ll be more than a fringy regular or right-handed platoon player.

Tommy Milone — Back-end starter that makes the most out of superior control and a plus changeup — plenty of lefties with his profile that have succeeded with that stuff in that role.

Michael Taylor — Upside of and similar to Mike Cameron or Devon White.

Matt Skole — Outside the Nats Top 20, needs to step it up defensively to stick at 3B, but has good plate discipline.

Robbie Ray — Has fallen down the ladder in terms of projection, now a #4 starter.

Matt Grace — Likely to return to the ‘pen eventually.

Danny Rosenbaum — Like Milone, knows how to work a batter, but unlike Milone lacks a plus pitch. Probably a middle relief candidate.

Manny Rodriguez — Intriguing upside with a decent fastball, strong frame, and is beginning to get a good feel for his curve and change.

Nov 092011
 


For most of you, this list is hardly new. But the blogging protocol is that I needed Baseball America to officially release its list so I could link to it before mocking discussing it. Without further ado, here’s the list from the home office in Durham, North Carolina…

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/SS

So what’s with the picture, Sue? Glad you asked. I’ve put the prospects with zero regular-season pro experience in italics. As the old expression goes, when you’re girl watching the prettiest one is the last one to walk by. It’s a crude metaphor, but we all know there’s some commonality here with ranking prospects.

Of course, this is not to say that none of these four isn’t a prospect. It’s just my personal conviction that placing a guy with no professional track record over a guy that does doesn’t pass the sniff test — especially when two of these four have injury issues, one of which we’ve been tracking from afar in the Arizona Fall League. For example: Which Matt Purke is the real Matt Purke — the one that’s turned in two scoreless innings in his last two outings, or the one that threw in-game BP the two appearances prior?

Maybe that’s just a pet peeve, so forgive me for seizing the chance to rant… I’m not as diplomatic as others have been on the subject.

Like last year, the free article focuses a lot on how the Nationals have spent freely and heavily the past three drafts. Two of last year’s Top 10 “graduated” — Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos — while a third went down with a season-ending injury (Cole Kimball). Chris Marrero dropped off the list while Cole, Harper, Norris, Peacock and Solis are repeats from last year.

What’s perhaps more interesting is the “best in the system” lists. Harper remains the best power hitter and best outfield arm, but lost the title of “Best Athlete” to Michael Taylor, who was also named as the best defensive outfielder (disagree, but no argument over naming Steve Lombardozzi as the best defensive infielder). Anthony Rendon with his undefined pro average (zero divided by zero) is the best hitter for average and those zero walks drawn have earned him the system’s best strike-zone discipline, topping Derek Norris’s .403 career OBP in 1,815 more plate appearances (OK, so maybe I’m still ranting). Brad Peacock’s curve was named the best in the system while Alex Meyer and A.J. Cole were said to possess the best slider and heater, respectively.

Among the non-Top 10 tools, Eury Perez retains the title of fastest baserunner (Kobernus is close, but Perez has that proverbial fifth gear). Tommy Milone retains the title of best control and takes the best changeup honors away from Josh Wilkie (which might explain why he’s demoted his bender to a show-me pitch). Deion Williams has the strongest infield arm while Sandy Leon was named the best defensive catcher (agreed).

Lastly, here’s where BA thinks these guys will start the 2012 season:
MLB or AAA – Lombardozzi
AAA – Norris
AA or AAA – Harper
AA – Solis
High-A – Cole, Purke
Low-A – Goodwin, Meyer

BA took no guess at Rendon, but my rule of thumb is to take whatever level you think is about right, and drop back one: In this case, Hagerstown instead of Potomac. If he’s as good as advertised, I’ll get to see him in June or July, presuming that field conditions won’t play a factor in promotions as they allegedly didn’t this past summer.

Byron Kerr will be running a series based on his conversations with Aaron Fitt of Baseball America (author of the article linked in the first graf), beginning with Lombardozzi. I encourage you to take a look, as that’s where we learned that the Nigel Tufnel is Destin Hood.

Oct 082010
 

Not surprisingly, just one Nationals farmhand made the cut for Baseball America’s Top 20 Prospects of the Eastern League: Danny Espinosa.

What did surprise me was this characterization of Espinosa’s defense in the scouting report:

Though Espinosa played exclusively shortstop at Double-A, scouts and managers agree he fits better at second base, where he mostly played in the majors. His infield actions aren’t quite good enough for a big league [sic] shortstop, but he has a chance to be a plus defender with a strong arm at second.

Whether this is kowtowing to the Nats’ decision to play the superior shortstop out of position or not is subject to debate. What’s more pleasing to read is that while the scouts still believe he’s a candidate to strike out frequently, they’re liking the power that first came on the scene in ’09, surprising nearly everyone.

Going into 2010, Espinosa’s task was to prove his power surge at Potomac was not a fluke, and clearly he’s succeeded. Now the scouts are predicting that he’s capable of hitting .260 to .270 with 15-20 HRs. Fun fact: Espinosa was one of three 20/20 players in the minors this past season.

As always, I’ll pass along any Nats-related comments I spot in the BA chat.

UPDATE: Here’s the lone Nat question in the BA chat…

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did Chris Marrero and Michael Burgess make your short list? Your thoughts on both at this point?

John Manuel: I asked one scout who’s better defensively at 1B, Adam Dunn or Marrero, and he answered Marrero, but he had to think about it. That tells you what you need to know on Marrero’s defense. As my son would say, he’s a 5 for strat-o-matic purposes. Burgess didn’t qualify, but I’d be leery of his big hack-no contact approach anyway.