Jan 102015
 

This morning John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 list. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
B+ Michael Taylor, A.J. Cole
B Trea Turner, Joe Ross
B- Wilmer Difo, Erick Fedde, Reynaldo Lopez, Drew Ward
C+ Brian Goodwin, Austin Voth, Rafael Bautista, Jakson Reetz, Felipe Rivero, Pedro Severino, Raudy Read, Spencer Kieboom, Tony Renda, Chris Bostick
C Nick Pivetta

Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, Michael Taylor is #2, A.J. Cole is #3… Chris Bostick is #19, Nick Pivetta is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. Because Sickels only ranks Grade C or better, that means becoming a C+ or better guy after being previously identified as a Grade C.

Top 20 guys from 2014 are in bold while guys that played their way onto the list are in italics. Like last April, I chose not to italicize the players acquired by trade but did indicated if they improved (Joe Ross).

My apologies in advance if I misled anyone with the earlier post; I was unaware that Nick Melotte and Sickels were both doing Top 20 lists. That said, it is interesting to see, as others have noted, the differences between the two. Sickels is much higher on Goodwin while lower on Lopez. But you should click the link above to see for yourself as Sickels has a comment for each and every one.

Jan 072015
 

Yesterday, John Sickels’s protege Nick Melotte released his Top 20 Nationals Prospects.

Melotte does the star system — 2.5 to 5, which roughly equates to Sickels’s C to A rating, with a 2.5-star player being an organizational guy and an five-star being a future superstar. The hyperlinked article explains the gradations before getting into the list.

As I’ve done the past few years, I’ll break it down by the star (letter) system while noting the players who have improved (by grade, not numerical rank), declined, and the newcomers. It’s not a perfect translation — Melotte may have been higher/lower on a Prospect A than Sickels was in the first place, so he may not have actually improved/declined — but it’s what we have to work with.

★★★★★ Lucas Giolito
★★★★½ Michael Taylor, Reynaldo Lopez
★★★★ Trea Turner^, A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde+, Joe Ross^, Drew Ward, Austin Voth, Wilmer Difo, Jackson Reetz+
★★★½ Rafael Bautista, Tony Renda, Taylor Hill, Raudy Read, Felipe Rivero, Chris Bostick^, Robbie Dickey+, Abel De Los Santos^
★★★ Gilberto Mendez
Honorable mentions Derek Self, Brian Goodwin, Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom, Anderson Franco, John Simms, Steven Fuentes, Neil Holland

+ Newcomer by draft ^ Newcomer by trade

Now for some quick thoughts…

…There are only seven holdovers (bolded) from the 2014 list, and while we can’t assume the honorable mentions are nos. 21-28, it’s telling that of the 15 eligibles (four were traded, one graduated to MLB), just eight remain in the “Top 28.”

…According to the article, the honorable mentions are all three-star players; I separated from Mendez to make it easier for the list-obsessed folks to figure out who was #20 ;-)

…Just five guys played their way onto the list; the other eight were either traded for or drafted (hence the superscripts).

…Since B-/C+ guys aren’t delineated, it’s difficult to say that there are more “better than marginal” prospects, which was always something that I would look for; we’ll have to wait until next month to see how that pans out

…With the exception of Fedde, looks like Melotte takes the Weaver-esque approach (“I only deal with the living”) to prospects, which I actually prefer because the opposite leads to too much wishful thinking

As I did last year, I encourage folks to click through to read Melotte’s thoughts on Giolito, Taylor, and Lopez.

May 022014
 

You can dismiss it as a byproduct of injuries, but the fact remains: More than half of the position players on the current Washington 25-man roster are homegrown. This time five years ago, you could fit the number of homegrown position players on a unicycle.

Sure, I’m being melodramatic, but the larger, implied point is that the Nats have come a long way in terms of player development in a very short time. The trick will be maintaining that ratio while still remaining a contender.

There are just 15 bats in the 2014 book by Sickels — the least it’s been since 2010 (hey, that rhymes). What’s probably more troubling, though, is that nine (9) of those are outfielders. There’s just one 3B, two SS, one C, and one 2B. The other guy? Matt Skole, who’s probably going to be a 1B after all.

Before we break down the 15, let me pass along Sickels’s principles on hitters:

Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

Sickels likes to look at OPS+ and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power.
…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability (which fielding percentage measures).

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Brian Goodwin – B (B+) Drew Ward – B- Osvaldo Abreu – C
Tony Renda – B- (C+) Rafael Bautista – C+ Isaac Ballou – C
Matt Skole – B- (B) Eury Perez – C+ (C+) Randy Encarnacion – C
Steve Souza – B- (C+) Drew Vettleson – C+ (B-) Destin Hood – C (C+)
Michael Taylor – B- (C) Zach Walters – C+ (C+) Pedro Severino – C


As you’ve probably already deduced, the three bolded players are the ones not listed in the BA Prospect Handbook. Kids from the D.R. rarely register until they make some noise in the GCL, which they did and got them put on the site watchlist.

Now, for some tidbits from the book…

…As hinted in the previous post, Osvaldo Abreu is another “SLEEPER ALERT!!” as Sickels cites his speed and strike-zone judgment, which is similar to what I wrote this past offseason, though I had the built-in bias of having previously selected him as a “DSL Guy” in 2013.

…The final “SLEEPER ALERT!!” is Rafael Bautista (also a 2013 “DSL Guy”) but a stronger emphasis on his speed and defensive skills, and a little less enthusiasm for his K rate, which has increased thus far in 2014 with Hagerstown.

…Like many of us, Sickels is of two minds when it comes to Brian Goodwin — could be an All-Star in the National League… or the Atlantic League, but gives him the benefit of the doubt (and reverts his letter grade to “B”).

…Sickels, who predicted Renda’s increase in doubles in 2013, shares the belief that Tony Renda can continue to exceed the expectations of scouts, though he cautions that the true test will be AA and warns that he must stay healthy (this was written after his most recent injury) to do so.

…Ward has 70-grade power and cautioned folks to not get too caught up in the one (1) HR that Ward hit last year in the GCL, projecting the 19-y.o. to eventually be a 25+ HR guy. Since the book went to press, Ward has hit three HRs and boasts a .500+ SLG%

And with that, we conclude the annual review of John Sickels’s prospect book, which you can purchase here. My recommendation is to buy the PDF, which you can search and annotate.

May 012014
 

As I feared when I first heard his book would be delayed, the arrival of John Sickels’s Prospect Book has been buried with the season in full swing, the Potomac homestand, and the recent flurry of player moves. The rain has already slowed things down, the P-Nats are on the road, but aside from a few points in the year, predicting when transactions will occur is next-to-impossible.

In other words, this is my chance and I’m taking it!

For the third straight year, I’ll do two posts, starting with this one for the pitchers.

For the first time in a few years, the Nats have more pitchers (18) ranked than position players (15), which I think can be attributed to the natural ebb and flow as well as trades. I think some folks will be more concerned about the number of ranked prospects falling from 39 to 33, but whenever I look back at previous editions of Sickels’s book, it’s usually been in that range.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers, a.k.a. the

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

In some circles, there’s an acronym known as TINSTAAPP, which stands for There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, which you’ll still hear every now and then (Jonah Keri includes it in this longform piece for Grantland in 2012 in which former National Edwin Jackson is the story peg). My personal belief is that it’s fallen out of favor because of the work of John Sickels and other baseball writers who have shown that TINSTAAP is a too-convenient excuse for “baseball men” to hide behind poor decisions (drafting or usage).

Without further ado, here’s a look at the 18 pitchers (2013 grade, if available, in parentheses):

Lucas Giolito – A- (B) Dakota Bacus – C (C) Nick Pivetta – C
A.J. Cole – B+ (B) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Matt Purke – C (C+)
Felipe Rivero – B- (B-) Christian Garcia – C (B-)
Jefry Rodriguez – C
Aaron Barrett – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
Blake Schwartz – C
Jake Johansen – C+ Richie Mirowski – C
Blake Treinen – C
Sammy Solis – C+ (B-) B. Mooneyham – C (C+)
Austin Voth – C

Names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America. Not much of a shock that there are so few, given the 33 in one book vs. 30 in other. Now, for some tidbits…

…Giolito was ranked #12, Cole #33 in his Top 50 Pitching Prospects List.

…Sickels moved Cole up from a B and now puts his ceiling as a No. 3 starter

…Holland’s lack of plus velocity shouldn’t impede him from possibly becoming a ROOGY at the MLB level

…Add Sickels to the “haters” who think Johansen may eventually become a reliever

…Likewise for Solis and Mooneyham

…Purke is the analog to Giolito in terms of drafting and rehabbing a hurt pitcher

…Voth is one of three “SLEEPER ALERT!!” Nationals in 2014 which is a tag applied to Blake Treinen a year ago.

Up Next: The Batters.

Apr 162014
 

Late this morning, John Sickels released the last of his Top 20 lists, which was the Washington Nationals. As I’ve done the past couple of years, here’s a look at how it breaks down by letter grade:

A- Lucas Giolito
B A.J. Cole, Brian Goodwin
B- Matt Skole, Drew Ward, Michael Taylor, Steve Souza, Felipe Rivero, Tony Renda
C+ Drew Vettleson, Jake Johansen, Eury Perez, Zach Walters, Aaron Barrett, Rafael Bautista, Sammy Solis
C Blake Treinen, Jefry Rodriguez, Randy Encarnacion, Osvaldo Abreu


I realize some of you may be making a face like this when trying to decipher this, so let me try to do a better job than I did last year in explaining this…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, A.J. Cole is #2, Brian Goodwin is #3… Randy Encarnacion is #19, Osvaldo Abreu is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. Because Sickels only ranks Grade C or better, that means becoming a C+ or better guy after being previously identified as a Grade C.

Top 20 guys (for the Nationals) from 2013 are in bold while guys that played their way onto the list are in italics. Because it would be specious, I chose to neither bold nor italicize Vettleson and Rivero, though I did indicate whether or not they improved.

Now that that’s out of the way, time for a few quick thoughts…

…The sea of red shows what most of us already know: there were several guys that truly improved in 2013.

…With only eight repeats, there were also quite a few guys that took a step back — most notably, RHP Christian Garcia and LHPs Sammy Solis and Matt Purke.

…After falling to seven players graded at B- or better (and none A or A-), the system has rebounded to nine, though that does include one acquired by trade and one drafted.

Rather than summarize Sickels any further, I highly recommend folks click through and read his thoughts on the system, which begins after the list of players outside of the Top 20.

Apr 152014
 

John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list for the Washington Nationals this morning, and yours truly made the first comment.

All of the names Sickels listed are on the 2014 Watchlist, so as I’ve done for the past two years, it’s easier to note the omissions from the primary categories:

Sandy Leon Raudy Read Matt Reistetter Jose Marmolejos-Diaz Shawn Pleffner
Ricky Hague Bryan Mejia Wilmer Difo David Masters Cutter Dykstra
J.C. Valdez Estarlin Martinez John Wooten Bryan Lippincott Greg Zebrack
Cody Davis Gilberto Mendez L.J. Hollins John Simms Wander Suero
Nick Lee R.C. Orlan David Napoli Jake Walsh  


Not too hard to spot the pattern here: Sickels is looking for the Top 30-something guys, regardless of position, role, or usage, whereas I’ve got some built-in biases based on the how the list is constructed (Top 5’s from each affiliate) as well as the inescapable prejudice of fanhood, which isn’t necessarily inclusive.

As I put it a year ago, it doesn’t concern me that there are so many omissions; it’s just math. Sickels is looking at/for the top 15 percent of 30 organizations, my list covers the about third of one.

Hopefully, I’ll get home before Sickels releases his Top 20 list.

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.

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…

Feb 032013
 

It’s been a theme that the worm has turned when it comes to player development and the Washington Nationals. Once upon a time, it seemed like they could only develop pitchers and even then, it was back-of-the-rotation guys* and middle relievers. Before Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina ascended in 2010, it was pretty sparse — basically Ryan Zimmerman, who spent a grand total of 67 games in the minors in 2005. *Let’s face it: John Lannan may have been an Opening Day starter, but only on a 100+ loss team.

Since then, it’s been more steady… Danny Espinosa in 2011, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi in 2012, not to mention a couple of catchers that are on the verge, albeit most likely as backups (Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano). I suppose some credit is due for that Bryce Harper kid, too.

This is not to say Washington has become the Cleveland of the 1990s, but to paraphrase Terry Byrom — the organization sure has come a long way since the days of Larry Broadway.

Like the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1. Controlling the strike zone
2. Hitting for power
3. Hitting for average
4. Offensive speed
5. Fielding range
6. Fielding reliability
7. Throwing utility

Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

Sickels likes to look at OPS and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power.
…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability.

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Brian Goodwin – B+ (B) Steven Souza – C+ Chris Marrero – C (C+)
Anthony Rendon – B+ (A-) Zach Walters – C+ (C) Jason Martinson – C (C)
Matt Skole – B (C) Corey Brown – C Brandon Miller – C
Destin Hood – C+ (B-) Billy Burns – C Randolph Oduber – C (C)
Estarlin Martinez – C+ (C) Ricky Hague – C (C+) Wander Ramos – C
Eury Perez – C+ (C) Spencer Kieboom – C Caleb Ramsey – C
Tony Renda – C+ Sandy Leon – C Michael Taylor – C (C+)
Carlos Rivero – C+

The four guys that are bolded weren’t on the BA Top 31, but all are on the 2013 Watchlist (yes, I do take a small measure of pride in that). Blake Kelso, Kevin Keyes, and Justin Bloxom were dropped from this year’s while Harper, Lombardozzi and Moore graduated.

Of the nine guys that weren’t in the 2012 book, three were drafted last June (Renda, Kieboom, Miller). Two others (Burns and Ramsey) were drafted in 2011. For those wondering, David Freitas was graded a C+ while Jeff Kobernus was graded a C — both grades are the same as last year’s.

This year, the sole “sleeper” pick is Estarlin Martinez, a bat in search of a position, which seems to be LF after 30+ games at 2B, 3B, 1B, and RF. Martinez turns 21 in March and Sickels believes he’s primed for a breakout year, which will most likely begin in Hagerstown.

Most of the “bolded” guys are covered in the watchlist, which I’ll be finishing up soon, but I gotta give props for Sickels’s nickname of Spencer “Where’s The Earth Shattering?” Kieboom (link for those unfortunate enough to miss the reference), even though it’s pronounced Key-boom.

And with that, the annual review of the prospect books is complete. Two weeks to go until the full squad is due to report at Viera.

Feb 022013
 

It’s a week later than last year, but the PDF of the John Sickels prospect hit the inbox early this morning, affirming my decision to paperless since the recent ice storms in the midwest are delaying shipment of the books.

As I’ve done the past two years, I’m breaking this into two posts and starting with the pitchers. For the second straight year, there are more position players listed than pitchers (22 vs. 17), but there are also six more players overall listed (39 vs. 33). Not sure if the former is good, but I’m pleased with the latter because it gives me more material to work with, especially as I finish off the player reports on the 2013 Watchlist.

A reminder: Sickels gives letter grades for the players and is extremely tough. How tough? There are close to 1,000 players in the book. Sickels gave out eight (8) A’s and sixteen (16) A-‘s. Among his Top 50 Batters and Top 50 Pitchers, there are twenty-four B’s.

Also, it’s important to remember that the grade is relative to the level — a C-grade guy in the Appy League could end up a superstar, but a C in the International League is probably going to ride the pine or pitch in blowouts if he ever makes it to The Show.

Let’s dig in. When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principles…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

Sickels is a Bill James disciple in that he uses statistics to help identify trends and anomalies. But he also believes in the value in scouting to identify the intangibles like effort, body language, kinetics, athleticism, etc.

Here’s a look at the 17 pitchers (2012 grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – B Aaron Barrett – C Ivan Pineyro – C
Christian Garcia – B- Robert Benincasa – C Robbie Ray – C (B-)
Nathan Karns – B- Erik Davis – C Derek Self – C
Sammy Solis – B- (B-) Neil Holland – C Kylin Turnbull – C (C)
Brett Mooneyham – C+ Pat Lehman – C (C)  
Matt Purke – C+ (B-) Christian Meza – C  

Those that are bolded are ranked by Sickels but not Baseball America. All but three (Benincasa, Self, Turnbull) are on the 2013 Watchlist, which I’ll modify by adding them to the “Notables.” Now, for some tidbits…

…Like everyone else outside the Natmosphere, Sickels believes Garcia will work in relief, perhaps even as a closer.

…Giolito’s Grade B is based purely on potential and he was excluded from the Top 50 because of the TJ surgery.

…Scouts aren’t convinced yet that Karns will stick as a starter at the higher levels, pointing to his control issues and an uneven changeup (before you jump to the comments, remember that one of the key differences between High-A and AA is hitters being able to lay off certain pitches).

…Sickels tabbed Lehman as a sleeper a few years back, but still has faith that he might have a shot as a middle reliever in MLB (unfortunately, he said much the same thing about Josh Wilkie).

…Unlike everyone else, Sickels is skeptical that Purke will regain the velocity he showed in 2010 as a freshman at TCU.

…Oddly enough, Sickels still believes in Sammy Solis’s chances coming off TJ surgery, perhaps because he has more of a track record than Purke.

For those wishing more detail, let me remind you that Sickels is a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri) so you should buy the book (seriously, go for the PDF — you can search and annotate).

Up next: a post on the hitters, and I’ll be updating/finishing the Player Reports as well.