Jan 282013
 

no25John Sickels has released his second annual farm system rankings, and if you haven’t guessed where the Nats came in by now… have I got some real estate in Florida for you!

All kidding aside, you can tell from his lengthy intro that this is something he’s doing mostly to appease his readers, but also to make the point that things change rapidly — the James Shields trade for Kansas City and Justin Upton trade for Atlanta, for example, dropped them from Top 10 systems in 2012 to No. 21 and 27 respectively. It’s nice to have a top-ranked farm system, but it’s not as important as developing talent that can play for your major-league team — now and in the future.

From that perspective, the Nationals have obviously succeeded, which I’ve mentioned before.

Sickels ranked the Nationals #14 last year. They’re now ranked #25, right about where I would have guessed, even if the recent Baseball America book had them at #16. No sense paraphrasing his short comment, as this will sound awful familiar:

Strengths: Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin have star potential. Considerable raw material for a pitching staff. Weaknesses: They are banking a lot on injured pitchers recovering well. Many prospects are too old for their levels.

Rankings like these are by their very nature subjective — some folks put a premium on having multiple prospects with high ceilings, others prefer a system to have both depth and diversification. Never mind the philosophical differences about when and how to draft and/or develop pitchers vs. position players.

Take it for what it’s worth — something to talk about for a while in late January that most folks will forget by mid-February.

Dec 282012
 

Late yesterday afternoon, John Sickels released his Top 20 list for the Washington Nationals. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by grade:

B+ Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin
B Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole
B- Nathan Karns, Christian Garcia, Sammy Solis
C+ Matt Purke, Eury Perez, Tony Renda, Zach Walters, Destin Hood, Steven Souza, Brett Mooneyham, Estarlin Martinez, Carlos Rivero
C Sandy Leon, Michael Taylor, Brandon Miller, Corey Brown

Left to right is by number, i.e. Rendon is #1, Goodwin is #2… Miller is #19, Brown is #20. In bold are last year’s Top 20 guys, red = they ranked higher, blue = they ranked lower. Italics = played their way onto the list.

The good news and bad news are both two-fold. For the second straight year, eight guys played their way onto the list… and nine of the 20 are C+ guys, meaning they’re a notch above the average so-called prospect (remember Sickels is a tough grader). Unfortunately, after having a baker’s dozen guys rated B- or better last year it’s just seven this year… and five of the eight repeats fell in their letter grade.

I think it’s important to repeat what Sickels wrote about the Nationals system as a whole:

The system has thinned out massively, but that’s understandable: much of the major league roster is home-grown, and farm system products were important in key trades. So while the current list is not impressive, it should not be taken as an indictment of the farm system…

As I did a year ago, here are few of my thoughts on the list…

…While perhaps true, Sickels may have done Rendon no favors by suggesting he can play 2B because now the drumbeat for Rendon to replace Espinosa will only get louder.

…Like Baseball America, I’m intrigued as to why Solis gets a pass despite having had surgery and not mastering A+ yet. Sickels seems to talking out of both sides of his mouth (and I know how hard that is to do, because I’ve caught myself doing many a time) by dropping Giolito from an A grade to a B grade.

…Thankfully, Sickels is on board with the idea that Skole should be switched to 1B and the jump from a C to a B grade is quite the vote of confidence.

…Interesting to see Hood and Souza ranked back-to-back because Hood’s 2011 was much like Souza’s 2012. The difference, of course, is that they’re roughly a year apart in age (23 vs. 24) but Sickels seems to hinting that Souza could be a sleeper.

…Other sleepers: Erik Davis and Carlos Rivero, though the wording in his blurb (“Could be nice utility guy for someone.”) seems to suggest he’ll be back in Syracuse and groomed as trade bait.

…The list of “others,” akin to an honorable mention, effectively mirrors the 2013 Watchlist with the exceptions of Kylin Turnbull, Robert Benincasa, and Derek Self. But that also includes “old guys” like Davis and Pat Lehman, along with mostly-discussed-just-here guys like Neil Holland and Christian Meza.

Dec 262012
 

This afternoon John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list — the penultimate step before releasing the 2013 Top 20 list.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot of crossover between this list and my Watchlist. Like I did a year ago, it’s easier to list the omissions, of which there are much fewer, thanks in no small part to my decision to delineate the edges of the radar by separating the young, the old, and the hurt from the regular categories:

Joel Barrientos Diomedes Eusebio Kevin Keyes Will Piwinica-Worms
Justin Bloxom Matt Foat Bryan Lippincott Brian Rauh
Paul Demny Matt Grace Craig Manuel Adrian Sanchez
Wilmer Difo Neil Holland Mike McQuillan Pedro Severino
Pedro Encarnacion Will Hudgins Gilberto Mendez Daury Vasquez

Similar pattern as last year: Sickels passed on the players that are a little too old for the level or (now) Dominicans that haven’t made it to full-season ball yet. I can live with both of those because my list is necessarily larger than his — he’s covering roughly the top 15% of 30 organizations; my list is more like the upper third of one.

Stay tuned for a breakdown of the Top 20 when Sickels releases it.

UPDATE
Sickels has a quick follow-up post in which he reveals there will be 39 ranked players with five B- or better and eight at C+ — with the caveat that some of the C’s will get the C+ (and one can reasonably infer vice-versa, since Sickels is a tough grader).

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…

Jan 292012
 

For the longest time, the knock on the Nats system was that they could develop pitchers, but not position players. Since the relocation from Montreal, there have been two — Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa. Even if you want to count Ian Desmond (drafted in 2004), that’s three. And how much credit can be taken for Zimmerman is questionable, given he was able to play in MLB the September after he was drafted.

As mentioned yesterday, there are 20 position players listed in this year’s book. It was 17 in 2011, 14 in 2010. But to illustrate my point about spreading the risk, nine of those 20 are 23 or older, and just three of those nine have played a full season of AA (Marrero, Moore, Lombardozzi). Just two of the remaining seven are expected to play in Harrisburg this season; both Justin Bloxom and Jeff Kobernus turn 24 during the season. Just something to think about.

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. That may sound obvious, but recall how many people have used “offensive woes” in conjunction with Derek Norris the past two years, when he batted .210 and 235 but had secondary averages of .534 and .480 — higher than his teammate Tyler Moore both years (.515 in ’10, .424 last season).

…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:

Bryce Harper – A (A) Chris Marrero – C+ (C+) Jason Martinson – C (C)
Anthony Rendon – A- Michael Taylor – C+ Tyler Moore – C (C)
Brian Goodwin – B Justin Bloxom – C (C) Randolph Oduber – C (C)
Destin Hood – B- (C) Blake Kelso – C Eury Perez – C (C+)
Steve Lombardozzi – B- (C+) Kevin Keyes – C Matt Skole – C
David Freitas – C+ (C) Jeff Kobernus – C (C) Zach Walters – C (C)
Rick Hague – C+ (C+) Estarlin Martinez – C

Like yesterday, the bolded guys weren’t ranked by BA and all are on our watchlist. Sickels gave his “Sleeper” tag to David Freitas and Michael Taylor. This is significant because Sickels has a good track record for picking them. Brad Peacock, for example, was a “Sleeper” last year as was Danny Rosenbaum. For those wondering, Erik Komatsu was given a “C” grade and Sickels was not high on him: “Komatsu profiles as a reserve outfielder, with a line-drive bat, solid plate discipline, gap power, and slightly above-average speed.”

With the faster delivery, and one less book, that concludes the prospect book review this year — about 10 days sooner than last year. We can only hope that another trade is made that involves prospects, now that the Prince Fielder sweepstakes are over. I’m doubtful it will happen before Spring Training begins.

Unlike years past, it doesn’t appear that there will be a cattle call of 4A guys that might make the club. Absent a trade, the drama from the prospect angle might simply be whether or not Steve Lombardozzi and Corey Brown make the club as a reserves. Am I missing anyone else?

Naturally, I expect the uninformed and impatient fans (a redundancy, I know) to pound the drum for Bryce Harper. I’m sure there will be the “Davey Johnson and the kids” reminiscing from the 1984-85 era Mets, minus much discussion about his complicity in ruining the careers of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I’m not saying he hasn’t learned his lesson (though it’s telling that no other team has ever trusted Johnson with a young team since) but glossing over that part of the story is like reviewing “Mad Men” and not mentioning the misogyny.

Anyway, I’ll try my best to find the minors angles that I can glean from the beat guys’ coverage of what’s happening in Florida. No “This Afternoon In Viera” — it’s just not in the budget. Besides, the staff here doesn’t tolerate the heat very well.

Jan 282012
 

It’s a little less satisfying than getting that package in the mail — not to go off on a tangent, but when I lived there, the mail truck going by was easily the highlight of the day — but the Sickels e-book came to my inbox overnight.

As I did last year, I’m breaking this up by pitchers and position players. I’m starting with the pitchers, but believe it or not, there are more position players than pitchers this year (20 vs 13). I can’t remember when that was before, if ever.

I’m also breaking this in two because Sickels doesn’t rank the prospects like BA does. Instead, he gives letter grades… and he doesn’t grade on a curve — he is very, very tough. As he himself puts it, a C+ grade is good praise, but he is careful to note that the grade is relative, i.e. a rookie-ball Grade C prospect could still end up becoming a star while a AAA Grade C is more likely to end up as a backup or long reliever.

When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principals…

…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

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

Here’s a look at the 13 pitchers (2011 grade in parentheses)

Alex Meyer – B Brian Dupra – C Rafael Martin – C
Matt Purke – B- Wirkin Estevez – C Josh Smoker – C
Sammy Solis – B-(B) Taylor Hill – C Kylin Turnbull – C
Robbie Ray – B-(B-) Cole Kimball – C(C+)  
Danny Rosenbaum – C+(C) Pat Lehman – C  

The bolded names are those that weren’t ranked by BA, and all of them are on our 2012 Watchlist. Unlike last year, there are no sleeper alerts for the pitchers and Sickels didn’t do a cutting room floor this year (probably because of all the prospect trades in the offseason this year).

Now for the pre-emptive strikes…

…Tommy Milone was rated a B- and his writeup began: “At some point, you just have to put the radar guns away. Tom Milone is a pitcher.”

…Brad Peacock was rated a B with the following admonition: “I think he could have adjustment issues if he is pushed too quickly, and an apprenticeship in the major league bullpen, or another 15 starts in Triple-A, seems like a good idea to me. He can be a number three starter, perhaps something more, if he continues to progress with his changeup and command.”

…A.J. Cole was rated a B+ with this caveat: “His changeup still needs work and his command wobbles at times, but he held his peak velocities more consistently last year. If the change comes around and he builds his stamina and strength, he can develop into a number two starter… perhaps more.”

…Brad Meyers made the book and got rated a C, with the caveat: “You don’t see Meyers on many top prospect lists due to a marginal 87-91 MPH fastball, but his secondary stuff (curve, slider, change) is workable and his location within the strike zone is superior. At age 26 he isn’t a hot prospect, and I don’t see how he easily fits into the Yankees pitching staff, but for many teams he would deserve a look as a fifth starter or relief option.”

I’d give more detail (as I did two years ago, but that was *after* the printed run had sold out and before he began selling this as a PDF), but knowing that Sickels is basically a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri), I’d strongly recommend folks purchase the book and support who I consider to be the best in the business.

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

Jan 252012
 


Leading up to his annual book, John Sickels has released his Top 50 batters and Top 50 pitchers to the folks that pre-ordered it.

For the second straight year, Bryce Harper ranked #1. Coming in at #2 was Mike Trout, who I would have not have been surprised or upset if he had ranked #1 (OK, maybe that second qualification is akin to my giving up skydiving for Lent). Sickels ranked just five batters with a Grade A, with four others getting the Grade of A-.

The last of those four, coming in at #9 overall, was Anthony Rendon. That’s mighty high praise when you consider that there are a few dozen more than 2,000 batters in the minors. For those wondering, Derek Norris still made the list, but dropped from #25 to #45 and in letter grade from B+ to B.

As you might have guessed, there are no Nationals pitchers in the Top 50. Former farmhands A.J. Cole (#23) and Brad Peacock (#39) made the list for Oakland, which was one of the top organizations in terms of total players making the two lists:
BATTERS

Zero Arizona, Chicago (A), Los Angeles (N), Milwaukee, Philadelphia,
One Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, New York (A), New York (N), San Francisco
Two Baltimore, Chicago (N), Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles (A), Oakland, Pittsburgh, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Texas, Washington
Three Boston, Colorado, Kansas City, Minnesota, Toronto
Four San Diego

PITCHERS

Zero Cleveland, Chicago (N), Cincinnati, Houston, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, Washington
One Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles (A), Texas
Two Chicago (A), Colorado, Los Angeles (N), Milwaukee, New York (A), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
Three Arizona, Atlanta, New York (N), San Diego, Seattle
Four Oakland, St. Louis
Five Toronto

Double-crunching it, the Toronto Blue Jays are this year’s “it” organization with eight players on the two lists, followed by San Diego with seven, and Oakland and St. Louis (six apiece). Unlike last year, no organization was shut out, but Cleveland, Miami, and San Francisco each had but one player on either list. Washington is one of nine organizations with two players on either list.

Jan 202012
 

Three days after releasing his initial Top 20 list, the Nationals traded four of their Top 10 to the A’s for Gio Gonzalez. Today, Sickels has revised the list.

Thankfully, this is in print, so I don’t have to channel my bad Casey Kasem impersonation (click for a better one), but with everybody moving up four spots on the countdown, here are the four new names on his Top 20:

20) Justin Bloxom — C

19) Jeff Kobernus — C

18) Eury Perez — C

17) Tyler Moore — C

Moore, of course, has gotten some attention lately with Byron Kerr’s profile that has him being tried in the OF during Spring Training. This is, of course, being tried to give the Nats options besides DH if/when both he and Chris Marrero are in the same lineup at Syracuse.

Kobernus and Perez could easily be flip-flopped, but I, too, would rate Perez ahead of Kobernus because he can hidden on a bench as a defensive replacement/pinch-runner, not to mention he’s two years younger. Both have the same impediment for the long haul: impatience at the plate (4.0 and 4.7% BB rates, respectively).

Bloxom was one of the overlooked that I listed when Sickels put the call out to the community (first comment), but it’s still a bit of a surprise to see him get the nod when you look at the list of “Others” — folks that most likely will make the book, which is due out next weekend.
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And for today’s copyeditor’s nightmare (and non-sequitur?)… the sole signing last week by the Nationals was for Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a candidate for the Syracuse staff. He turns 27 in April and another Venezuelan League signee. One might also think, given this article, that he’s a project for the coaches to make a mechanical adjustment.

Dec 202011
 

I’ll expand on this later, but I wanted to put this up ASAP so folks can discuss in the comments. Here’s the summary:

A Bryce Harper
A- Anthony Rendon
B A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Brian Goodwin, Derek Norris, Alex Meyer
B- Matt Purke, Tom Milone, Steve Lombardozzi, Sammy Solis, Destin Hood, Robbie Ray
C+ Chris Marrero, Danny Rosenbaum, Michael Taylor, David Freitas
C Rich Hague, Matt Skole, Jason Martinson

That’s 13 of 20 prospects graded B- or better. Last year, it was 12 of 20 that were C+ or C. This is huge because Sickels is a notoriously tough grader.

I’ve bolded the 2010 Top 20 picks that improved their standing and italicized the prospects that played their way on to this year’s list. The point? This isn’t just Bryce Harper and the 2011 Draft — 40% of this list are guys that were already in the organization and got better.

UPDATE: As promised, some thoughts on the Sickels Top 20.

…Now I’m rooting for Rendon to make it to Potomac next summer. Sickels downgraded the likes of Purke, Solis, Hague due to injury concerns and while he undoubtedly did here, too, it’s clear that he fell from Harper heights, whereas I would have guessed dropping from a B+ to a B.

…Naturally, I am psyched that he has become a Milone believer and thinks Rosenbaum could be following the same path, with Dupra, Hill, and Turnbull the possible next wave

…Not surprised that Kobernus, Moore, or Perez didn’t make the cut. All three aren’t much for walking. Moore didn’t get filleted at AA, but his walk totals have fallen each of the past two seasons while the strikeouts have risen. Kobernus and Perez don’t have the power to make you look the other way, and while both have speed, Perez is still one of the system’s true CFs.

…Pay attention to the “needs to show skills higher than” caveat that keeps recurring; seems to apply to nearly all of the Suns contingent and Skole. Luckily, we do have some coverage at Potomac *rimshot!*

…Sickels still believes in Norris, but downgraded him from B+ to B. The comp to Mickey Tettleton and/or Mike Napoli seems to be de rigeur nowadays, though I think that underrates his throwing arm, not to mention that he’s athletic enough to transition to 1B or LF in a very short time.

…Cole is likely to get the bump up to B+ per Sickels himself in the comments to his article: “I’m about 90% sure Cole is going to get a B+ when all is said and done. I got some mixed reports about his changeup and some velocity fluctuations but overall I love the guy. I want to do some comparisons with other guys in the same grade range and see who I like better.”

…Last but not least, Sickels hinted that the system itself may be entering the Top 10 for all of MLB. I know some folks get pumped over that whereas I’m more likely to remember the #10 ranking from early 2008 by BA after the Detwiler/Smoker/McGeary draft that dropped right back to #21 in early 2009.

Dec 192011
 

Yesterday, John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list — a precursor to the release of his Top 20 list, which should come this week.

Since last year he released his preliminary list prior to the selection of our 2012 Watchlist, I’ll list the omissions instead of the overlap:

Paul Applebee Joel Barrientos Corey Brown
Paul Demny Wilmer Difo Diomedes Eusebio
Marcos Frias Matt Grace Junior Geraldo
Neil Holland Greg Holt Hendry Jimenez
Taylor Jordan Nathan Karns Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
Estarlin Martinez Gilberto Mendez Narciso Mesa
Christian Meza Justin Miller Adrian Nieto
Bryce Ortega “Fred” Ortega Arialdi Peguero
Ivan Pineyro Wander Ramos Caleb Ramsey
Manny Rodriguez Adrian Sanchez Steve Souza
Hector Silvestre Matt Swynenberg Jean Carlos Valdez

Not too difficult to see the pattern here: Too old for the level by his standards or players from the Dominican Republic that haven’t played north of Florida. Omission may also be too strong a word — if I were to slice our watchlist in half, I’d probably do the same, especially if I had to put a few hundred of them in a book that’s going on sale next month.

The only name that was on his list but not ours was Deion Williams, a.k.a. the lone HS position players signed from the Nats 2011 draft.

This year, you’ll recall, I made a conscious effort to be more exclusive than inclusive and one of the areas in which I thought that I was too “easy” last year was the three-letter leagues (DSL, GCL). It’s a balancing act between identifying guys that caught my eye while doing the season reviews and being a homer. So if I get kudos for picking out “For The Weekend,” I deserve the Red Foreman treatment on the likes of Nick Serino.

I did, however, make the case on his board for the Adrians (Nieto and Sanchez) and Taylor Jordan, with an honorable mention for Justin Bloxom. I’m sure most of you can make the case for others, and encourage you to comment both here and there.