Dec 132014
 


As I expected, participation would be robust on this one — 15 ballots — and the top dog was the unanimous choice. A total of 24 pitchers were named, with four of the top five named on every ballot.

Before I continue, here’s the list:

                              1. Lucas Giolito
                              2. A.J. Cole
                              3. Reynaldo Lopez
                              4. Austin Voth
                              5. Erick Fedde
                              6. Matt Grace
                              7. Taylor Hill
                              8. Jefry Rodriguez
                              9. Felipe Rivero
                              10. Jake Johansen

Others receiving votes: Sammy Soilis, Nick Pivetta, Travis Ott, Rafael Martin, John Simms, Gilberto Mendez, Jake Walsh, Robert Benincasa, Wander Suero, Robbie Dickey, Luis Torres, Matt Spann, Matt Purke, Eric Fornataro

Now, the thoughts…

• This is the third straight year Giolito has been named the #1 pitcher, so no pressure to come to DC in 2015, right?

• Cole was also #2 for the second straight year, but turns 23 next month and we’re already seeing speculation as to when he’ll make his MLB debut. I’ll be the jerk who will note that he’d be an awfully good trade chip (see: Karns, Nathan).

• Lopez went from zero ballots in 2013 to the #3 pitcher in 2014. Saw him twice this past summer and this kid can deal. He got my #2 vote, one of two that Cole did not get.

• The other went to Fedde, who makes the list despite being in recovery from UCL replacement surgery. I’d scoff but Giolito is the knee-jerk “Yeah, but” and being the Nats top draft pick is going to carry some weight no matter what.

• As some of you noted, the list breaks down rather quickly after the first five or so names. The gap between #7 and #12 was just seven points. Until the last three or four ballots came in, there was basically a five-way tie for the last three slots.

• Grace’s addition to the 40-man is being read by quite a few of you as the lefthanded analog to Aaron Barrett from a year ago (OK, fine maybe that’s just me)

• Hill made the list despite getting hammered in two MLB starts and giving up five HR in his last 10 starts at Syracuse. He and Grace will be 26 in 2015, thus continuing the tradition of the old-guy skew

With the close of the winter meetings, which also saw the Nats go Yukon Cornelius on the Rule 5 draft, we’re now at the point where we wait for trades and transactions. In between, and as always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Dec 102014
 


Let’s hope the participation is better for this one… I had to make the call because I’m trying to still follow in my digital size 13’s from last December as best as I can, plus if I give this three days, it’ll fall right into my (new) normal publishing timeframe (Saturday or Sunday).

As in previous polls, send your Top 10 list to enfieldmass-top10arms[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or post them in the comments.

Same methodology… I’ll compile the selections, weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point) and then post the results along with my observations and snark.

I don’t think I’m going to need to get pre-emptively medieval on anyone’s buttocks by pointing out who’s on the older side or ineligible this year, as I did last year with the likes of Davis, Garcia, Jordan, and Karns. I only ask that if you name a pitcher who’s two of the three archetypes — old, young, and hurt — that you side towards the arm with less mileage and more upside.

Next up — barring a trade with the A’s — the Rule 5 draft.

Dec 092014
 


While the participation wasn’t what I hoped it would be, it was enough to assemble a semi-decent Top 10 list.

One interesting trend is that youth seems to be getting served by virtue of Jakson Reetz as well as Dominican imports Wilmer Difo and Rafael Bautista, both of whom had breakout seasons with Hagerstown, with the former being added to the Nats 40-man roster.

Of course, some of that is attributable to three of last year’s Top 10 bats being traded away (Billy Burns, Zach Walters) or taken in the Rule 5 Draft (Adrian Nieto). And some of that is attributable to the “girl-watching” nature of prospect following (the prettiest one is the one that just walked by).

Anyway, a total of 15 players were named on the eight ballots received or submitted, which does include mine. I don’t find the 15 number all that disturbing since, as some put it, the bottom part of the list isn’t as clear-cut as the top, which was a near tie (77 points to 75 points) with Steve Souza the top pick on five.

And with that “said,” I present the list:

                              1. Steve Souza
                              2. Michael Taylor
                              3. Wilmer Difo
                              4. Drew Ward
                              5. Jakson Reetz
                              6. Brian Goodwin
                              7. Matt Skole
                              8. Spencer Kieboom
                              9. Rafael Bautista
                              10. Pedro Severino

Others receiving votes: Tony Renda, Drew Vettleson, John Wooten, Stephen Perez, Raudy Read

I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that half of these names won’t be on this list next year, given proximity to the majors, age, or “trade baitiness.” It’s tempting to conclude that that means we’re about to swing Broadway backward, but if past is prologue, those that move on will be replaced with players who had breakout seasons.

Next up: The pitchers, which always leads to much more discussion (dissension?)…

Dec 062014
 


Since this is a popular feature — and it’s rather quiet on the minor-league front, unless you’re into start times and hot stove guests — let’s do this again.

For those unfamiliar with the drill (and obviously good at brushing and flossing), send me your Top 10 list of minor-league position players (40-man guys are eligible as long as they have rookie status) to enfieldmass-top10bats[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or submit them in comments.

After I get enough submissions to work with, I’ll update this post to close the polls and weight the lists in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points, yada yada yada, #10 = 1 point).

Then, I’ll present the fifth annual NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Bats. Now, bear in mind that I use the term “bat” as a shorthand for a position player. As we all know too well, some folks will make it to the majors despite being poor on defense. Nevertheless, I would like you to consider both offense and defense in your selections, if for no other reason than the National League still does not have the designated hitter [insert troll remark here].

In addition to being an exercise that reinforces our sense of community on this site, I think it also produces a better list than if I were to pick it myself, which I did the first year. While there are some obvious exceptions, this is based on the “Wisdom of Crowds” theory that the collective opinions of many is usually more accurate than the opinion of one, which is an old idea (think Aristotle) that’s been given new life by a 2004 business book by James Surowiecki.

If nothing else, it’ll give us something to discuss until the Winter Meetings begin tomorrow.

UPDATE: I’m calling it and writing the next post.

Nov 302014
 


Welcome to the first pass on what will become the fifth watchlist in this site’s history. For folks unfamiliar with what we’re trying to do here, here’s a quick reminder. I can’t stand Top 10/15/25/6/4 lists (I get that they drive traffic, but so do cheesecake pics, a.k.a. “The Other Rule 5″) because I feel they just lead to pointless arguments over whether Prospect A should be ranked above or below Prospect B.

So I created a list of prospects, broken down by position, that were worth keeping an eye on — a watchlist. It’s not a list of guys that are on the verge on becoming major-leaguers. It’s a list of players that have shown some promise. That’s it.

The watchlist used to be quite large — nearly 90 players, but I’ve since learned to be less inclusive as I’ve become more experienced in prospect following. While I see most of these guys for at least part of one season as a season-ticket holder to Potomac, Washington’s High-A affiliate, until then I have to scout by boxscore or extrapolate from other first-person accounts, which ranges in quality from amateur to semi-pro.

I don’t put very much credence into draft position. That’s like expecting honesty in personal ads*. Certain names get brought up ad nauseum because of when they were drafted or how large their bonus was. I don’t care. I understand that a higher draft pick will get more chances and lower one will not. How players are acquired is beast unto itself that I understand is an art; it just doesn’t interest me and I’ll defer to those that do. Don’t make me paraphrase Eddie Murphy’s drunken father (NSFW).
* Still waiting for “Gold Digger Seeks Sugar Daddy”
Before I go any further… let’s review the caveats:

It’s not a depth chart… Obviously, when you arrange it the way I have — by the highest level played to date — it’s going to look like it at first glance. That also doesn’t mean that the guys near the top of a column are “better” than the guys at the bottom; it just means they’ve played at higher level.

It’s (mostly) based on 2014 usage… The Nats have a habit of rotating guys between 2B, 3B, and SS which makes it a little difficult to slot guys, especially at the short-season levels (DSL, GCL, NYPL). So sometimes I have to be arbitrary and pick the slot based on usage or aesthetics.

It’s preliminary… I like prospect gurus like John Sickels who solicit comments and feedback. While I’m aware that will include some complaints, it’s worth it if that’s what it takes to get some thoughtful feedback and/or suggestions.

Sadly, the M*A*S*H category has returned. I had hoped it wouldn’t, and as you might expect, it’s mostly pitchers. I had thought about putting both Brian Goodwin and Drew Vettleson there, but opted not to because the list of outfielders is already pretty short (maybe an overcorrection to last year’s list of OFs).

Consequently, I have combined the notables into a single column for layout purposes. As aforementioned, I was more judicious (or capricious) this time, choosing just 10 names versus 18 a year ago and 16 two years ago. It’s worth noting that very few of the notables have reappeared in subsequent watchlists — just six, not counting guys that have reappeared via the M*A*S*H category.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments… just keep it civil. The players, their families, and their agents are reading, too. ;-)

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Severino Skole Renda S. Perez
Ward Souza
Kieboom Wooten Davidson Difo Gunter Taylor
Read Yezzo Mejia Abreu Gutierrez Goodwin
Reetz Marmolejos-Diaz T. Alvarez
Lora Aguero Vettleson
Ballou
Bautista
Carey
Corredor
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms M*A*S*H Notables
Hill Grace Pimentel Baez Rosenbaum Kobernus
Cole Br. Harper
Agustin Fuentes F. Rivero Leon
Voth Spann Robles Cespedes Purke Dykstra
Simms Silvestre Mota Y. Ramirez
Solis Benincasa
Dickson Thomas A. Martinez
Bermudez J. Rodriguez
Self
Mendez Walsh Fedde Pleffner
Giolito Ott Turnbull
Suero Reynoso Johansen
R. Lopez
Pivetta
Dickey
M. Sanchez
McDowell
Je. Ramirez
L. Reyes
Valerio
Morales
Nov 212014
 

Confession: This is a reclamation of a post that I began yesterday and couldn’t finish by the time the moves were made
With the additions of A.J. Cole, Willem Dafoe, Wilmer Difo, Brian Goodwin and Matt Grace, the focus now turns to who is now exposed to next months Rule 5 Draft. Grace is an outlier; usually once a guy is exposed to the Rule 5 draft at his age, he makes it through subsequent drafts. So let’s look at the Nats draftees who appear to be eligible for the first time (H/T to SpringfieldFan for her efforts in keeping the Draft Tracker updated):

DRAFTEES ELIGIBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME

Matt Skole* Caleb Ramsey* Khayyan Norfork Shawn Pleffner* Kylin Turnbull
Brian Dupra Manny Rodriguez Nick Lee* Travis Henke Bryan Harper
Richie Mirowski*


Asterisks are for 2014 watchlist players. Notable IFAs believed to be eligible include Wirkin “For The Weekend” Estevez, Wander Suero and Kelvin Rodriguez.

Bear in mind, this is for the MLB phase. The AAA and AA phases are impossible to guage because the protected lists aren’t made public. Organizational soldiers tend to go in those phases, and if folks will recall, only one player acquired by Washington last December played in the minors last season: 23-y.o. Martires Arias, who was returned to the Mets and pitched 57 innings in short-season ball. (Theo Bowe was the other and all indications are that he retired).

I had planned on predicting that either Matt Skole or Brian Goodwin would be exposed, as it seemed likely that either the former’s struggles or the latter’s injuries would be enough to take the risk. Had I been pressed in the comments, I would have leaned towards Skole because Tyler Moore is out of options while the ascendance of both Michael Taylor and Steven Souza could cushion the “loss” of Goodwin.

Another theory/explanation is that the Nats brass believes that Souza can still function as a 1B/OF type (defensively, he’s head and shoulders above Moore anyway). Viewed through that prism, the decision not to protect Skole makes sense.

Grace is a small surprise, until you consider that he’stough on lefthanded batters (.371 OPS in ’14) and generates ground balls (3.23 G/F ratio). He’ll get an audition in spring training and if he loses the numbers game, sent back to Syracuse to await a callup, perhaps assuming the role of out-of-options Xavier Cedeno.

I believe the selection of Difo says less about him — despite an MVP season in the South Atlantic League, including 14HRs, 90 RBI and 49 SB’s — and more about the other middle-infield options available at the upper levels and the fringes of the 40-man. With no offense to Jeff Kobernus, but it would seem he’s a candidate to get cut loose when the Nats are next looking to clear room.

Finally, there’s little to be said about the protection of A.J. Cole. Even F.P. Santangelo could have predicted this; it was that obvious. Conventional wisdom has always been that hard-throwing pitchers can be hidden in a bullpen, especially for a team that’s budget-conscious or realistic about its chances of contention.

Nov 202014
 

For the first time since 2011, the Washington Nationals have added more than a couple players to its 40-man roster in preparation for next month’s Rule 5 draft. RHP A.J. Cole, IF Wilmer Difo, LHP Matt Grace, and OF Brian Goodwin were added this afternoon while RHP Ryan Mattheus (released) and IF Pedro Florimon (waived) were removed. Earlier this week, LHP Matt Purke was also released as was longtime backup backstop Jhonatan Solano.

Even F.P. Santangelo could have predicted the inclusion of Cole; that’s how obvious it was. A hard-throwing RHP is relatively easy to bury in an MLB bullpen, not to mention that GM Mike Rizzo traded for him in January 2013 some 13 months after dealing him away as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Cole figures to begin 2015 in AAA, but if history is any guide, a strong spring and/or injuries could have him making his MLB debut before Memorial Day.

Perhaps it’s more of an indictment against the other MI options than an endorsement of his future viability, though Wilmer Difo did about as much as a Low-A prospect could do in 2014, winning South Atlantic League MVP while earning the second annual Bob Boone award. The 22-y.o. posted a .315/.360/.470 line while showing both power (14HR) and speed (49SBs). Difo figures to begin next season in Potomac, though I’m sure his inclusion on the 40-man will spur speculation of a two-level promotion.

As noted in the previous post, Grace’s 2014 season earned him a place as a situational lefty and could be the next Aaron Barrett. He may not throw 95 mph but does generate a lot of ground balls (3.23 G/F ratio) and is tough on left-handed batters (just a .371 OPS). If he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, look for him to return to Syracuse in 2015 and have a carry-on bag ready to go.

Brian Goodwin was once the heir apparent to Denard Span but now has Michael Taylor breathing down his neck. Injuries limited Goodwin to just 81 games last season, but having turned just 24 less than three weeks ago, it would seem that the Nats brass seem willing to let him get healthy in 2015 while also serving as insurance should Taylor falter. It will be interesting to see how the two (Goodwin & Taylor) will be used when they appear in the same outfield, though I’d be more surprised about seeing Goodwin in LF than Taylor in RF, given the latter’s cannon right arm.

Nov 152014
 
L to R: T.D. Swinford (trainer), Felipe Rivero, Matt Grace, Patrick Anderson, Tony Renda, Spencer Kieboom, Neil Holland, Derek Self, Pedro Severino

L to R: T.D. Swinford (trainer), Felipe Rivero, Matt Grace, Patrick Anderson, Tony Renda,
Spencer Kieboom, Neil Holland, Derek Self, Pedro Severino

One last look before we close the books, beginning with the stats…

BATTERS

PLAYER G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO AVG OBP SLG SB
Tony Renda 22 85 12 17 3 1 0 7 3 19 .200 .233 .259 1
Pedro Severino 12 44 1 11 2 1 0 5 2 7 .250 .292 .341 0
Spencer Kieboom 10 34 3 11 2 0 1 7 5 4 .324 .390 .471 0

PITCHERS

PLAYER W L SV ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Felipe Rivero 2 4 0 6.08 7 7 23⅔ 26 18 16 2 11 15 1.56
Derek Self 1 0 0 1.20 9 0 15 12 2 2 0 5 6 1.13
Neil Holland 1 2 0 10.80 8 0 11⅔ 20 14 14 1 8 8 2.40
Matt Grace 0 0 0 3.18 10 0 11⅓ 10 4 4 0 5 8 1.32



Now for the thoughts…

• Renda started cold, got hot, and then finished cold. What to make of it? Nothing, really. Renda is your starting second baseman at Harrisburg come hell or high water (knock on wood – ow, that’s my head!). With the big club rumored to be shopping at 2B, Renda will get a little more scrutiny and mention, and his poor showing could lead to some fun assumptions from beat writers who don’t know Tony Renda from Tony Rendon.

• Kieboom picked up where he left off at Hagerstown and did well despite limited playing time, though I suspect this was done to ease the burden on the catchers. Like Renda, he was going to move up regardless of his performance this fall.

• Severino cooled off some from his hot second half, which is hardly a surprise. He’ll still be the starting catcher at Harrisburg next spring. With longtime backups Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano out of options, there’s clearly some hope that his offense will catch up to his defense by 2016, if not sooner.

• As with all of these players, we’re looking at tiny sample sizes sight-unseen. Rivero was pounded in his first five starts, then terrific in his last two (combined: 10IP, 2R, 1ER, 2BB, 7K). With an injury-shortened regular season, the hope is that the October version was Rivero getting healthy and the November version is the one that will show up next April in Harrisburg.

• Self had the best fall of the three relievers, at least in terms of traditional stats of ERA and WHIP. What’s troubling is the guy who only walked 18 in 66⅔ innings this past summer gave up five BB’s in 15IP this fall. Six whiffs is also well below his usual K rate. But again, small sample size here.

• Holland was the analog to Self, with just three scoreless outings out of eight and 14 runs charged to him in the other five. He wasn’t auditioning for the 40-man roster — 2013 was his first year of Rule 5 eligibility — but didn’t help his chances to begin 2015 in AAA, where he spent three weeks in July.

• Grace is interesting case (hey, that rhymes!) as he had a terrific 2014 and could replace Xavier Cedeno as the boomerang lefty between ‘Cuse and DC. While it’s specious to say he’s competing with other lefthanded prospects for a 40-man spot, the Nats have already cut ties with one talented-but-can’t-stay-healthy southpaw, would they cut another to make room for Grace?

Nov 092014
 

OffseasonUpdate110914
Yesterday’s post took away one of our staples of the offseason update, but there’s still a few things to pass along as we wind our way through the 2014-15 offseason.

AFL UPDATE
The second-place Solar Sox have made things interesting by taking two of three games from the first-place Rafters, but the odds are still slim of them making it to the AFL title game as their tragic number is down to two with last night’s 11-4 loss to the Saguaros.

Perhaps more notable — and in the big picture, important — is that Felipe Rivero pitched well in Mesa’s 3-1 win over Salt River last Tuesday, allowing one run on one hit (not a HR) and one walk over five innings to earn his second win of the fall campaign.

Tony Renda saw his hit streak stopped at 12 with an 0-for-4 effort on Thursday, but has gotten off the interstate and raised his batting average to .216, while Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino both reached base twice in their two starts this week.

Matt Grace appeared just once, allowing a hit over an inning and a third for his sixth straight scoreless outing. Neil Holland was knocked around for four runs on five hits as his up-and-down fall continues. Derek Self had his six-game scoreless streak stopped in his lone appearance this week, giving up a run on three hits and a walk on Wednesday.

WINTER LEAGUE HIGHLIGHTS
Tyler Moore has smacked five HRs and is batting .333 with 14 walks (none intentional) in 15 games for Los Toros del Este in the DWL. He’s also driven in 13 and stolen two bases. While winter-league performance should always be taken with a pound of salt (see: Jesus Flores, Yunesky Maya), it certainly won’t hurt his chances of sticking with the club in 2015 (as Todd Boss notes, it’s being out of options, and the presence of the more versatile and athletic Souza).

Newly re-signed Paolo Espino lost last Sunday but has won two of five starts in the VWL, posting a 3.72 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 19⅔ innings (though he’s also issued eight walks).

Rafael Martin has notched four saves in four chances while stringing together 11 straight scoreless outings with no walks and eight K’s across 9⅓ innings.

THE SYRACUSE CHIEFS
After years of losing teams stocked with replacement-level players, the Chiefs finally fielded (yielded?) a playoff team, winning the I.L. North while posting the league’s best record at 81-62. While they were swept in the first round by the second-place PawSox, it was a successful season everywhere but the turnstiles as attendance fell for the fourth straight season and Syracuse finished dead last in both raw attendance and average per gate.

Syracuse tied for 2nd in team offense by runs scored (4.67 R/G) and led the I.L. in OBP with a robust .344 while finishing tied for third in pitching with (3.87 R/G). It was the summer of Steven Souza who mashed 18 taters, drove in 75, and stole 26 bases in just 96 games with a Nintendo-esque line of .350/.432/.590 despite going back and forth four times during the season.

Anchored by veteran southpaw Aaron Laffey, the pitching saw the emergence of Taylor Hill who rolled to a 9-2 mark with a 2.02 ERA before making a brief appearance for the big club. Upon his return, Hill stumbled badly — losing six of ten starts giving up seven HRs as his ERA rose nearly a full run to 2.81 as his propensity to give up hits returned. Also making a surprise run was Matt Grace, who split time between Harrisburg and Syracuse, but put up particularly good numbers against LHBs: .144 OBA, .371 OPS, which is leading to the natural speculation that he’ll become the next Aaron Barrett.

Naturally, in terms of prospects, the continuing ascendance of A.J. Cole bears mention as the 22-y.o. went 7-0 with a 3.43 albeit with a substandard 4.48 FIP. Like Taylor, Cole has also had a propensity to give up roughly a hit per inning over his career (9.9 per 9IP in 2014) which is something to watch for in 2015, especially as the league gets a second and third look at him.

And thus, we close out the seventh affiliate review with the final obligatory Top 5:

1. Steven Souza, OF — .342 GPA, 18HR, 75RBI, 26SB
2. Blake Treinen, RHP — 3.35/3.31/1.21
3. Jeff Kobernus, 2B/OF — .242 GPA, 15SB in 59G
4. Matt Grace, LHP — 1.30/3.31/0.98, .144 OBA vs. LHBs
5. Taylor Hill, RHP — 2.81/4.23/1.12, 81.9 LOB%

Even Stevie Wonder can see that this list is less than ideal, but consider that Zach Walters was traded away, Brian Goodwin and Taylor Jordan were injured, and Eury Perez was placed on waivers. Folks interested in seeing the full team statistics for the 2014 edition should click here.

Nov 082014
 

Hanging It Up for NPP
As noted earlier this week, Baseball America has released its list of the minor-leaguers who have become free agents. Without further ado, ze list…

(* = spent entire season on DL)
CATCHERS
AA — Mitch Canham, Brian Jeroloman
SS-A — Alex Marquez

INFIELDERS
AAA — Brandon Laird, Will Rhymes
AA — Melvin Dorta*, Oscar Tejeda

OUTFIELDERS
AAA — Destin Hood,
AA — Quincy Latimore

LHPs
AAA — Aaron Laffey, Tyler Robertson
AA — Zach Kroenke

RHPs
AAA — Mitch Lively, Omar Poveda, Daniel Stange
AA — Paul Demny, Tyler Herron

Two of the names are notable if for no other reason than they were 2008 Nationals draft picks: Destin Hood (2nd Rd.) and Paul Demny (6th). After a career year in Syracuse (.294/.344/.482), Hood will undoubtedly sign with another organization. Let’s face it: He’s third in line behind the likes of Steve Souza and Michael Taylor when it comes to the last couple of outfielder slots on the Nats 40-man roster.

Demny, who has languished at AA for three seasons, is far less of a surprise. Even with a shift to the bullpen, his velocity has dropped, and he spent significant time on the DL this year as well. At 25, he seems more likely to either retire or go to the indy route if he is to continue pitching professionally.

Believe it or not, this list of 17 is actually the smallest in the five seasons this site has been in existence. Whether that’s a good thing or not is something to debate. We’ve certainly noticed that in the Rizzo era, he has no qualms in peppering the AA and AAA rosters with free agents and much like his predecessor (sorry, but it’s true) he favors the guys he’s drafted or scouted. However, he has also released a fair amount of guys already from his first two drafts (2009, 2010) so there may not be very many (or any) eligible to re-sign this time next year (if you’re wondering, just three not on the 40-man already from 2009 — Danny Rosenbaum, Pat Lehman, and Matt Swynenberg).