Offseason Update: Sept. 24, 2016

Well, it’s been a week. I know some of you are still smarting from another late-inning collapse by the big club, complete with the requisite angst of “the guy we traded away did better than the guy we traded for,” as well as another managerial blunder (pro tip: when you have a true CF available in the late innings, you might want to use him on defense), but this is a site devoted to the minor leagues, so let’s follow my digital 13’s from last year and see what’s what…


THE STATE OF THE FARM

Two of the seven affiliates made the playoffs (Hagerstown, Potomac) and two narrowly missed (Harrisburg, GCL). Unfortunately, the other three were not believers in corporal punishment (that’s no hitting, kids) and had league-average pitching (Syracuse, DSL) or worse (Auburn), which resulted in finishes at or near the bottom of the standings.

Naturally, this is not the best bellwether. The system generated another starter for the big club (Trea Turner) and was able to call on a trio of upper-level starters (A.J. Cole, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito) to fill in 16 times (as of this writing) for Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg with subpar-but-not-bad-considering results (4-6, 5.11/5.04/1.51) as well as a hard-throwing reliever (Koda Glover). Even F.P. Santangelo can tell you that most of these guys were probably rushed a little, but it’s in line with the shift league-wide towards going younger.

As written in this space a year ago, the hopes for an influx of positional talent from the D.R. was fulfilled with the strong seasons from Juan Soto, Kelvin Gutierrez, and Jose “Orange” Marmolejos, with half-a-dozen or more guys behind them, though defense is a big “yeah, but” with the latter (e.g. Raudy Read, Osvaldo Abreu). And that’s not to overlook the ascendance of the age-appropriate Americans like Andrew Stevenson and Drew Ward.

In short, the system is still developing talent on both sides of the ball that can be used for both short-term and long-term needs.

BA TOP 20 LISTS
These are just starting up, so it looks like it’ll be another few days before we see our first Nationals, though I think most of us can probably guess it’ll be only a handful total and usually one or two (tops), for any given league. In other words, SSDY.

THE WATCHLIST AND THE GBI
A year ago, I was worried that this may have to be scrapped. I’m less worried about that than I am in keeping the GBI. I scaled it back this year and it still felt like a struggle to produce. I know it’s a popular feature, but if it stays, I think it’ll be monthly in 2017. My apologies in advance.

A SHOUTOUT TO DISTRICT ON DECK
My season reviews are much, much shorter than they used to be (like below). But one of the writers at District on Deck has taken on that task, and I’m passing along links to his work on the Potomac Nationals and, with my sympathies (for him, not you), the Syracuse Chiefs.

THE DSL NATIONALS
In a word, disappointing. While I don’t follow this level as closely as I used to, it just seems to me that a team with a lot of guys repeating the level should have done better. After being the youngest set of batters in the DSL in 2015, the pendulum swung back to just slight older than the league average (18.4 vs. 18.2) while the pitching staff was still younger (18.7 vs. 19.1).

As alluded to above, the offense was horrible: 35th in the 42-team league and more than a half-a-run worse than the league average (3.80 vs. 4.46). The pitching improved from near-the-worst (33rd out of 38) to middle-of-the pack (4.43 R/G vs. 4.46). The defense was, like 2015, slightly below average (.953FA vs. .957FA — remember, all we have to go on are the stats).

Without further comment, here are the obligatory Top 5’s, excluding the old-for-the-level players…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Jose Cabello, C/1B
.259 GPA, 28 BB
1. Yelmery Sisneros, LHSP
0.43/2.39/0.91, 4.56 K:BB ratio
2. Santo Falcon, CF
.234 GPA, 12 SB
2. Angel Guillen, RHSP
1.67/2.61/0.94, 4.17 K:BB ratio
3. Brailin Mesa, RF/LF
.225 GPA, 16 2B
3. Gilbert Chu, LHSP
3.18/2.68/0.96, 1.6 BB/9
4. Jesus Morales, 2B/3B
.215 GPA, 10E
4. Warner Duran, RHRP
1.65/2.59/1.22, 6BB in 32⅔ IP
5. Juan Pascal, SS
.209 GPA, 55 of 56G at SS
5. Jairon Peguero, LHRP
4.91/2.91/1.46, 0HR in 33IP

As you might imagine, there are no honorable mentions this year, especially since there were just two (2) batters above the league average and under the age of 20. Folks interested in seeing the entire team’s stats can find them here.

Checking In…

Uninspired for NPPFor those of you not celebrating National Apple Dumpling day, today’s just another Saturday. For us, it’s that weird limbo with the big club steaming towards the playoffs, which nowadays means that “our guys” are mostly sitting the bench until the division is clinched.

Believe me, I prefer this to the earlier days of this site’s existence when WAY TOO MUCH attention, hopes, and pent-up desire for a contender was projected onto players who could only have gotten a shot on a losing team with a farm system that had been stripped for parts by the team’s first GM, then run into the ground without changing the oil, filter, or tires by the team’s second GM.

I don’t miss those days… or the pseudofans who would reflexively (repeatedly) wail about the team’s spending (“The Lerners Are Cheap!”) who I now refer to as the Lieutenant Dans (because they don’t have any legs to stand on), though I believe they’re now lurking in the comments section of MASN and WaPo, where there’s so much stupid, I wouldn’t advise visiting without a dumbrella.

I rather like the folks who’ve stayed here past the meteoric rises of Strasburg and Harper and enjoy following the development of guys who might replace today’s Washington Nationals in a few seasons, but also understand they might be traded away, too. (If we’re honest, it may be more of the latter than the former ☹)

About the only thing I can add to what our diligent commenters have beaten me to the punch in the previous post is the almost fait accompli of the Nationals renewing its PDCs with Auburn and Potomac this month, joining Hagerstown last month. This ensures that all five affiliates that the team doesn’t own will remain in place through the 2018 season.

I know this doesn’t sit well with some folks, who’d like the AAA and AA teams to be closer, but Bowie isn’t going to open up without an apocalypse (Richmond is both farther away in miles and drive time, not to mention its stadium is AA’s analog to the Pfitz) and Norfolk might only be a shorter drive if you’re willing to go there in the middle of the day and the middle of the week.

In my opinion, the substandard facilities in Hagerstown and Potomac notwithstanding, the current arrangement is about as good as we can reasonably hope for. It’s better than it was 10 years ago, when Washington’s AAA affiliate was in Louisiana, Low-A was in Georgia, and SS-A was in Vermont. Maybe you could ask for a switch in the NYPL to State College from Auburn or for Washington to make an arrangement with an Appy League team, I suppose.

That’s about it for now as we shift from daily posts to weekly posts before the AFL starts up. Enjoy your dumplings! 😉

Transaction Update

Transactions for NPP 2
Less than a week to go before the full-season affiliate rosters are announced, but more than a week to go for “our” Opening Day.

On Monday, the Nats optioned SS Trea Turner and RHP Rafael Martin to Syracuse while picking up the contract of RHP Matt Belisle. This effectively reduces the battle for the Opening Day roster down to the last spot on the bench and/or bullpen, which can usually be handicapped by looking at the number of options left for a given player or pitcher, but may be less predictable for the latter with two to choose from (Treinen, Gott) and a southpaw who hasn’t pitched since 2014 and can become a free agent on Friday (Burnett).

In terms of what’s next, the usual pattern is for Harrisburg to announce its roster, then Syracuse, then Hagerstown, and then Potomac. I expect the press releases to begin on Tuesday morning, but it could be sooner. In 2013, for example, the news came six days ahead of the minor-league season start. But usually it’s 2-3 days before.

Reminder: Where the players are now (on paper) on the Big Board or the rosters on MiLB.com is not a guarantee of where they’ll be next week. These press releases will finalize the guessing game that our intrepid volunteer (SpringfieldFan) does during the offseason.

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospect List

Last night, John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 prospects list for 2016. Here’s how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
A- Trea Turner
B/B+ Victor Robles
B Reynaldo Lopez, A.J. Cole
B/B- Erick Fedde
B- Wilmer Difo, Anderson Franco, Austin Voth
B-/C+ Andrew Stevenson
C+ Osvaldo Abreu, Rafael Bautista, Christopher Bostick, Pedro Severino, Max Schrock, Rhett Wiseman
C+/C Raudy Read, Abel De Los Santos, Koda Glover, Andrew Lee


Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which if you must know, you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, Trea Turner is #2, Victor Robles is #3… Koda Glover is #19, Andrew Lee is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. The opposite, i.e. folks who have dropped a notch, are in blue.

Top 20 guys from 2015 are in bold. Guys who played their way onto the list are in italics. Draft picks from last June are in green.

The last category is interesting because there are two ways of looking at it: (1) the system was so weak that the new talent simply looks better in comparison (2) the Nats drafted really well.  I’ll leave that up to the draft gurus to debate in the comments, but I think I have to lean towards the latter when I look back at previous iterations of this post and realize there’s never been this many just-drafted picks to make the Top 20 (hence the Kermitization 😉

It’s also interesting that Sickels is outlining the guys that are straddling two grades, which he also points out with nos. 11-7 (the C+ guys and Raudy Read):

Significant cut-off here: slots 11-17 could be ordered in many different ways with valid logic. Look at this like tiers.

Other thoughts…

…Clearly Sickels is higher on Cole than others, especially when you consider that he’s ranked him above Fedde. His comp is to Jake Odorizzi in terms of prospect fatigue.

…Speaking of comps, let the hype begin if Reynaldo Lopez is likened to Luis Severino.

…Andrew Lee appears to be his next Austin Voth: A sleeper pick that becomes a workhorse with stuff that’s neither exceptional nor weak.

As always, I encourage folks to click through to the first link above and read John’s comments on each player. Then discuss in the comments (a.k.a. the opposite of MASN).

Nats Make a few Minor-League Signs

minor leagues signs 2
As some have already noted in the comments, there’s finally some movement on the transaction front with the Nationals signing two career minor-leaguers and a former major-leaguer to a minor-league contract.

First, the guys we might see this summer:

• LHP Robert Fish – Hasn’t pitched since 2013. While he’s already succumbed to Nationals elbow (2012), the inference that he’s had another round would certainly be logical, but there’s little to found on the southpaw since his release.

• C Nick Rickles – Released in October by Oakland after a lackluster 2015 spent at three levels, but mostly at High-A. He missed all of 2014 with a torn labrum.

Both would seem to be look-see candidates with only a small chance of sticking, which should be obvious given the lateness of the offseason; most guys signed this late are released within 6-8 weeks.

The former major-leaguer is Brendan Ryan, who was also given a non-roster invite and will compete for a bench job as a utilityman and, if he loses, will look to hook on elsewhere.

Watchlist Player Reports Are (Mostly) Finished

With John Sickels’s prospect book still a month out or so, I decided to finish the Watchlist with the BA book and hold out on a couple of guys that I think (hope) he’ll cover. One’s a 2015 Draft pick, the other’s a 40-man guy that I want his opinion on before I weigh in. (No, I’m going to tell you; you have to go look so I can get more pageviews 😉

The Baseball America transaction reports have been disappointing of late, at least in terms of giving us something to talk about. Sorry, veteran has-beens signing minor-league contracts doesn’t cut it for me. This is not unusual, but frustrating nevertheless.

Folks interested in why “Orange” didn’t make the cut can read Byron Kerr’s interview with BA’s John Manuel. TL; DR — the boys in Durham think Marmolejos-Diaz cheats too much on fastballs and will get exposed at the upper levels of the minors.

Finally, while it’s old news, it’s still worth passing along while things are slow. The Suns and Hagerstown may actually extend the lease without a threat to leave. This may be a realization on the part of the Suns ownership that if they want to please both the parent club and their current landlords, a more cooperative approach is necessary; not to mention a five-year run as the Sally League’s least-attended club.

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part Two

After being reminded that I have a lousy copyeditor 😉 Here are Washington’s Nos. 16 through 31…

16. Drew Ward (8) 21. Rhett Wiseman 26. Phillips Valdez
17. Sammy Solis* (15) 22. Edwin Lora 27. Nick Lee (30)
18. Joan Baez 23. Raudy Read (22) 28. Taylor Hearn
19. Austen Williams 24. Juan Soto 29. Mariano Rivera III
20. Abel De Los Santos 25. Christopher Bostick 30. Koda Glover
* According to baseball-reference.com,
Solis has exhausted his rookie eligiblity
31. Brian Goodwin (9)


For those wondering, Juan Soto, who turned 17 in October and signed for $1.5 million — $100K more than you-know-who — was the IFA referred to in yesterday afternoon’s post. BA is projecting him to start in the GCL and has high praise for his advanced skills as a hitter, projecting him as a corner OF due to below-average speed and average arm strength (yes I’m aware the link above has him as a 60 arm).

Nearly a third of the list is comprised of the past two drafts, and it’s fair to say that BA loved the 2015 draft with six picks in the Top 30. As we usually do, let’s break down the newcomers:

2015 Draft – Andrew Stevenson (8), Blake Perkins (12), Wiseman (21), Hearn (28), Rivera3, Glover

2014 Draft – Williams (19)

Trade – Trea Turner (2), De Los Santos (20), Bostick (25)

Int’l Free Agent – Anderson Franco (10), Osvaldo Abreu (15), Baez (18), Lora (22), Soto (24), Valdez (26)

Add in the trades and that makes 14 of the Top 30 acquired since 2014. That’s particularly impressive because the Nats have been drafting from the lower half since 2012.

Finally, here’s BA 2019 projected Washington lineup, which ignores such things as free agency, injuries, or sudden declines in skills. This time, I’m including BA’s 2016 picks and MLB’s current depth chart side-by-side for reference/comparison:

Pos. 2019 2016 (BA) 2016 (MLB)
C Wilson Ramos Wilson Ramos Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman Ryan Zimmerman Ryan Zimmerman
2B Wilmer Difo Danny Espinosa Dan Murphy
SS Trea Turner Ian Desmond Danny Espinosa
3B Anthony Rendon Anthony Rendon Anthony Rendon
LF Victor Robles Brian Goodwin Jayson Werth
CF Michael Taylor Denard Span Ben Revere
RF Bryce Harper Bryce Harper Bryce Harper
#1P Stephen Strasburg Stephen Strasburg Max Scherzer
#2P Lucas Giolito Lucas Giolito Stephen Strasburg
#3P Max Scherzer Gio Gonzalez Gio Gonzalez
#4P Joe Ross Jordan Zimmermann Tanner Roark
#5P Gio Gonzalez Ross Detwiler Joe Ross
#5P Reynaldo Lopez Drew Storen Jonathan Papelbon

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part One

A pleasant surprise — even if I did pay extra for expedited shipping — as the 2016 Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived in today’s mail. This is almost a full week earlier than last year… and despite the recent snowstorm.

A bigger surprise? The folks in Durham, NC rated the Nationals as the fifth-best organization..

Obviously, having a Top 5 overall prospect in the person of Lucas Giolito helps. But they also give props to the team’s success in the D.R., noting that five of the team’s Top 11 come from the Caribbean island nation “despite a restricted international budget from ownership.”

While this doesn’t change my opinions that system is top-heavy, drafts too many college seniors, and isn’t deep at certain positions, BA sure loves what the Nats have been doing in terms of acquiring younger talent with more upside – including a high-priced 2016 IFA who has yet to play a professional game (some things never change).

Let’s review how last year’s Top 30 fared:

Graduated (2) – Michael Taylor, Felipe Rivero

Traded (3) – Steven Souza, Nick Pivetta, Tony Renda

Removed from 40-man – Taylor Hill

Dropped out (11) Brian Goodwin, Hill, Jake Johansen, Jefry Rodriguez, Spencer Kieboom, Matt Grace, Matt Skole, Drew Vettleston, Hector Silvestre, John Simms, Robbie Dickey

The Top 30 is now down to two (2) older-than-25 guys — both left-handed relievers — which is something we’ve been hoping for and had suggested might happen last year.

With that, I’ll close with the Top 15 from the book and continue with nos. 16-31 in Part Two. Last year’s ranking, if applicable, in parentheses:

1. Lucas Giolito (1) 6. Wilmer Difo (7) 11. Pedro Severino (13)
2. Trea Turner 7. A.J. Cole (6) 12. Blake Perkins
3. Victor Robles (25) 8. Andrew Stevenson 13. Rafael Bautista (20)
4. Erick Fedde (4) 9. Austin Voth (11) 14. Jakson Reetz (14)
5. Reynaldo Lopez (3) 10. Anderson Franco 15. Osvaldo Abreu

Initial 2016 Player Reports Completed

Watchlist Added3The first pass at the player reports for the 2016 Watchlist is now done. Rather than use the snowstorm to work on my novel, I tried to get as many written as reasonably possible.

Truth be told, between doing this and reading the books from Baseball America and John Sickels, this is where the real research gets done.

Until the BA book and the Sickels PDF arrive, I punt on some with a “Report Not Yet Written” with the belief hope that one or the other will list him and discuss him – especially with the 2015 draft picks and guys who I haven’t seen recently (with an exception or two).

The Baseball America handbook and John Sickels’s prospect PDF have been ordered, so now we wait until they arrive to fill in the gaps, which I’ve labeled “Report Not Yet Written,” because I believe one or the other will cover the player. Nevertheless, you’ve got individual capsules on 36 of the 51 pitchers and position players to read, plus the essays on the DSL guys and notables.

The latest BA Transaction post yielded just one new name to ponder: Darin Gorski, who fits the Rizzo mold of an MLFA that can eat innings for either AA or AAA. [Insert speculation about conversion to relief to help big club here].

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Catching up on Transactions

Catching Up On Transactions
Things have been slow, but with the Baseball America transaction post earlier this week, we have some stuff to discuss:

SIGNED
• RHP Boone Whiting

RELEASED
• RHP Andrew Cooper
• RHP Sam Johns
• RHP 2B Thomas Alvarez
• RHP OF Wilman Rodriguez

OUTRIGHTED TO AAA
• RHP Erik Davis
• RHP Taylor Hill

Whiting would appear to be in the mold of other AAA/AA inventory, but *gasp* not a former Arizona draft pick. He struggled in two stops at AAA, going 0-2 with an 7.77/7.10/2.32 line in seven appearances for Mempis; 4-7, 1 SV and 6.04/5.78/1.82 in 22 appearances for Colorado Springs.

Cooper’s release is a mild surprise, given he turns 24 in June and wasn’t terrible (3.53/3.63/1.40) for the Suns last summer. Johns and Rodriguez appear to be classic cases of aging out (both will turn 25 by mid-July). Alvarez, who at one point was the youngest American-born farmhand in the Nats system, looks like he simply hit his ceiling as he struggled to produce a line of .204/.332/.284 in 151 games over four seasons in the DSL and GCL.