Dec 092011

Here it is, kids.

Now that the Rule 5 draft is over, this can be finalized. I was expecting not to add any names; drafting 16th in a crop that nearly every prospect guru said was thin, that seemed obvious. I was hoping not to drop any names, but the Yankees and Cardinals seem to think that a couple of our guys might be worth a flier next Spring.

So let’s review the caveats before folks go willy-nilly, pell-mell, or helter-skelter to the comments:

  • Not a depth chart — players drafted prior to 2011 are ordered by where they finished in 2011
  • Not a prediction of 2012 placement — 2011 draftees are slotted by my best guess
  • Not a prediction of 2012 usage — If it didn’t look so ugly, I’d clump the RHPs and LHPs like the OFs
  • Not responsible for injuries or accidents — I’m keeping Marrero and Solis on the list for the time being

Next steps? Building the new watchlist over the next few weeks (why, yes I am beginning with the Potomac players), as I await the BA and Sickels books to hit the streets (and in the case of the latter, e-mail — this year, he’s doing a PDF version.

C 1B 2B SS 3B
Derek Norris Chris Marrero Steve Lombardozzi Zach Walters Justin Bloxom
Sandy Leon Tyler Moore Jeff Kobernus Jason Martinson Blake Kelso
David Freitas Steve Souza Adrian Sanchez Rick Hague Anthony Rendon
Adrian Nieto Justin Miller Hendry Jimenez Bryce Ortega Matt Skole
Arialdi Peguero “Fred” Ortega Wilmer Difo Jean Carlos Valdez
Jose Marmolejos-Diaz Junior Geraldo Diomedes Eusebio
Corey Brown Brad Peacock Rafael Martin Tommy Milone Josh Smoker
Bryce Harper Paul Demny Pat Lehman Danny Rosenbaum Matt Purke
Eury Perez Alex Meyer Marcos Frias Sammy Solis Kylin Turnbull
Destin Hood A.J. Cole Neil Holland Robbie Ray Paul Applebee
Brian Goodwin Taylor Jordan Matt Swynenberg Matt Grace
Kevin Keyes Wirkin Estevez Greg Holt Christian Meza
Michael Taylor Taylor Hill Joel Barrientos
Billy Burns Brian Dupra Hector Silvestre
Randolph Oduber Nathan Karns
Caleb Ramsey Manny Rodriguez
Narciso Mesa Gilberto Mendez
Estarlin Martinez Ivan Pineyro
Wander Ramos
Dec 022011

Fear not, seamheads. The list will be here before the weekend.

The turnout the second time around was a little less — 17 vs. 19 — and lot closer. Twenty different hurlers got a vote, with four named on every ballot. No perfect score this time, which was not a surprise. Without further ado, the results in reverse order with points in parentheses:

10. Rafael Martin (14)
9. Danny Rosenbaum (28)
8. Brad Meyers (44)
7. Robbie Ray (68)
6. Alex Meyer (90)
5. Matt Purke (106)
4. Tommy Milone (110)
3. Sammy Solis (114)
2. A.J. Cole (142)
1. Brad Peacock (166)

Others receiving votes: Kylin Turnbull (13), Wirkin Estevez (11), Taylor Jordan, Josh Smoker, Paul Demny, Taylor Hill, Atahualpa Severino, Marcos Frias, Cole Kimball, Pat Lehman

As you’ve probably already surmised — and the mathmetically inclined, deduced — Peacock, Cole, and Solis were the every-ballot picks; Ray was the fourth. Purke, Milone, and Alex Meyer were named on 16 of 17 ballots. After that, it’s scattershot.

Unlike the bats, I think this list shows our biases, Brad Meyers and Rafael Martin in particular. I called out the votes for Turnbull and Estevez because you can see that just one or two more votes would have put them in the list. I voted for “For The Weekend” because he’s one of the handful of Nats’ teenage pitchers that have pitched north of Viera, but didn’t for Turnbull because he’s thrown less than a 100 innings since H.S. and the guess is that he’ll be used as a reliever not a starter.

Unfortunately, the starter vs. reliever bias is probably hurting Josh Smoker the most, but like favoring youth, it’s prospect prejudice that’s right more often than it’s wrong. I’d have probably voted for Jordan if he’d finished the season at Hagerstown, but fair or not, my inclination is to hold injuries against a pitcher until he proves that he’s healthy. And I write that having had some of the problems (back, hip, knee) that come with the pitcher’s physique without any of the incipient stress (or talent) of actually throwing a baseball.

Have at it in the comments. The winter meetings start next week and finish with the Rule 5 draft. Yesterday, we got a little touch of the hot stove and let’s hope it burns steadily for the next two months.

Dec 012011

What began with the promotion of Randy Knorr from Syracuse Chiefs manager to Washington Nationals bench last month continued with the promotions of Tony Beasley and Matt LeCroy today.

Beasley was named the Syracuse manager after a single season at Harrisburg, one in which the 44-year-old led the Senators to the Eastern League’s best record at 80-62. This will be Beasley’s first stint at the AAA level. According to Patriot-News beat writer Geoff Morrow, he will be joined by longtime Harrisburg hitting coach Troy Gingrich.

Taking Beasley’s place will be Matt LeCroy, who also managed just a single season at Potomac while guiding his club to a second-half playoff berth. The almost-36-year-old LeCroy will be joined by longtime Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart, who will replace Randy Tomlin as the Senators pitching coach (Tomlin has left the organization voluntarily for personal reasons, see first link for more details).

Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore is reporting that replacements for the Potomac coaching staff will be made within a few days.

Nov 292011

Last year, I wrote “The people have spoken,” referring to the poll for next steps regarding rankings and watchlists. This year, the sentiment’s the same but this time, it’s a little more literal.

That’s because this year’s list is based on the opinions of those that wrote in to my query for submissions, not just my own. Is it scientific? Hell, no — it’s subjective. But the theory is that a bunch of like-minded seamheads are going to produce a better list than this one did last year.

The methodology is pretty simple: I took the submissions, put ‘em in a spreadsheet and then added up the points in reverse (#1 vote = 10 points, #10 vote = 1 point). Top vote getter is #1, second-most is #2, etc. A couple of ballots mixed in pitchers and I tried to count them anyways but that actually produced a couple of ties, so I tossed ‘em and that worked to break the ties.

The sample size isn’t terribly big (19) but it was about what I was hoping for (20). So here are the results, in reverse order with points in parentheses. A perfect score was 190 and I’m sure you’ll be *shocked* to learn that it was achieved.

10. Eury Perez (28)
9. Michael Taylor (33)
8. Tyler Moore (56)
7. Chris Marrero (74)
6. Destin Hood (87)
5. Steve Lombardozzi (95)
4. Brian Goodwin (103)
3. Derek Norris (150)
2. Anthony Rendon (152)
1. Bryce Harper (190)

Others receiving votes: Zach Walters, Jeff Kobernus, Rick Hague, Kevin Keyes, Jason Martinson, Jhonatan Solano, Matt Skole, Chris Curran, David Freitas, Corey Brown, Erik Komatsu, Blake Kelso

That’s 22 players receiving votes. You’ll note that I used “position players” instead of “bats” this year in the headline. Some folks took that to mean strictly hitting prowess, even though I tend to use it as a synonym like “arms” for pitchers. But I stuck with bats because I like the picture, opting against a visual pun (this time; I’ve been saving that one since last winter).

I think you can see from this variety of names that some folks are factoring in defense (e.g. Curran) some give props to knocking on the MLB door (Solano) and some give props to raw tools (Keyes). Three players appeared on all ballots: Harper, Rendon, and Norris. Goodwin was left off one; Moore, two; Lombardozzi, Hood, and Marrero: three; Perez, eight; Taylor, ten. The others receiving votes are in order of points, but it wasn’t close: Walters received 15 points.

The two names that missed that kind of surprised me were David Freitas and Rick Hague. Say what you will about his defense, but an .858 OPS over two years might have gotten a little more respect. Conversely, a season-ending shoulder injury didn’t dissuade folks from voting for Hague, even though as the votes for Martinson and Walters attest, he’s no longer the shortstop in waiting that he was this time last year.

Ultimately, like all things hot stove, this is an exercise that mainly serves to pass the time and the winter. But that’s going to stop me from soliciting votes for the pitchers as my next project ;-)

Editor’s Note: This was largely written prior to the news that Chris Marrero had torn his hamstring. Clearly this is a blow to both the prospect and the organization. It may also open the door for Tyler Moore. But one has to also wonder if this makes Lombardozzi the trade chip in lieu of Marrero, given the interest in Mark DeRosa.

Nov 262011

Of course, the events of the past 24-36 hours belie the idea that there is such a thing as the wisdom of crowds. But since we have an interesting convergence of both a lull before the winter meetings and only one major prospect ranking thus far this offseason, I think there’s an opportunity to tap into our own community of seamheads to do this year’s Top 10 lists and see how we do when the big boys weigh in next month.

So here’s the deal. We’ll try the position players first. Send your Top 10 position players to natsprospects[at]gmail[dot]com (Link opens your preferred email client).

I’ll compile them, weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point) and we’ll have fodder for discussion. When I hit a sizable number of submissions, I’ll update this post to let people know we’ve hit a critical mass.

Like the headline says, it’s an experiment. I’m intrigued to see how we rank them vs. the others. If it goes smoothly, I’ll repeat the process for the pitchers. I’m hoping to do the results post early next week.

I’m declaring victory and tabulating the votes. Thanks to all that participated. Your punishment reward is that you’ll be asked to do it again ;-)

Nov 232011

Yesterday, we looked at the infielders and the catchers. Today, the pitchers and the outfielders. The same caveats apply.

When I reviewed the 2011 watchlist a little more than two months ago, I made a vow to be a little tougher this year. Eighty-nine names made it last year, as of this writing, it’s 72 — nearly 20 percent fewer. There are still some names here that I’m fence on — mostly near the top, which invariably makes them fan favorites and, by definition, a case can be made for them if they’ve risen to AAA.

I’m quite well aware that there are some names from last year’s list that are still “young enough” but had mediocre to subpar years, or were hurt. As I mentioned in the 2011 watchlist review, they’re going to have to play their way back onto the 2013 list, just as they’re going to have to outplay the next wave of players making their way up the ladder.

So when you make your case for someone’s inclusion and/or exclusion, bear these things in mind. I’ve already cut some slack for some older guys at the expense of leaving off a couple of names from the DSL, a decision I can justify given my own track record about picking names from the DSL (of the two “Top 5’s” in the 2010 DSL Review, five repeated the level, four were promoted, and one was released) as well as my decision to only rank five names total from the GCL.

Corey Brown Brad Peacock Rafael Martin Tommy Milone Josh Smoker
Bryce Harper Brad Meyers Pat Lehman Danny Rosenbaum Matt Purke
Eury Perez Paul Demny Marcos Frias Sammy Solis Kylin Turnbull
Destin Hood Alex Meyer Neil Holland Robbie Ray Paul Applebee
Brian Goodwin A.J. Cole Matt Swynenberg Matt Grace
Kevin Keyes Taylor Jordan Greg Holt Christian Meza
Michael Taylor Wirkin Estevez Joel Barrientos
Billy Burns Taylor Hill Hector Silvestre
Randolph Oduber Brian Dupra
Caleb Ramsey Nathan Karns
Narciso Mesa Manny Rodriguez
Estarlin Martinez Gilberto Mendez
Wander Ramos Ivan Pineyro
Nov 222011

Now that the season reviews are done and the Top 10 (or 11, or 15, or 20) lists are around the corner, I’ve decided it’s time to start looking towards building the 2012 Watchlist. I’ve gone through this year’s season reviews, the Florida Instructional League invitees, and put them in a format similar to last year’s.

A few caveats…

It’s not a depth chart — I’ve arranged this by the highest level played thus far, with some exceptions (Anthony Rendon, who may not even stick at the position). Clearly you can see some gaps, but the point here is to list the players we’ve got our eye on — organizing it by position is just a logical extension.

It’s based on 2011 usage — We’ve already begun speculating about position changes, but until they actually occur, we default to how they were last used. I don’t think, for example, that Justin Bloxom will be the starting third baseman for the Senators, but I do think he’ll be on the roster.

It’s preliminary — Before John Sickels finalizes his lists, he takes feedback from his followers and I’m no different. I’ll listen to pitches for and against inclusion before I finalize it, but I also want to keep the list a manageable size (though easier than last year, I’m still going to have write reports for everybody).

It’s broken into two parts — So I can get in two posts before the Thanksgiving throngs hit the roads, the malls, and the liquor cabinet (preferably in that order). It’s infielders and catchers today, pitchers and outfielders tomorrow.

A couple final reminders: One, I tend to favor performance and a track record over reputation and youth. Two, remember that players’ families and friends are reading here and most are not like Dirk Hayhurst’s grandma*. You don’t have to be relentlessly positive, but try not to be needlessly negative (yeah, yeah: pot, kettle).
*I finished my master’s degree while renting out a room from a retired IRS agent just like her; I’m fairly certain he’s not exaggerating.

C 1B 2B SS 3B
Derek Norris Chris Marrero Steve Lombardozzi Zach Walters Justin Bloxom
Sandy Leon Tyler Moore Jeff Kobernus Jason Martinson Blake Kelso
David Freitas Steve Souza Adrian Sanchez Rick Hague Anthony Rendon
Adrian Nieto Justin Miller Hendry Jimenez Bryce Ortega Matt Skole
  Arialdi Peguero “Fred” Ortega Wilmer Difo Jean Carlos Valdez
Jose Marmolejos-Diaz Junior Geraldo Diomedes Eusebio
Feb 102011

As with 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” to describe a .235 hitter that had a .534 secondary average last season (Derek Norris).

…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.

Bryce Harper – A Steve Lombardozzi – C+ (C) Randolph Oduber – C
Derek Norris – B+ (B+) Chris Marrero – C+ (B-) David Freitas – C
Danny Espinosa – B (B) Rick Hague – C+ Jeff Kobernus – C (C+)
Wilson Ramos – B- (B) Corey Brown – C+ Justin Bloxom – C
Eury Perez – C+ Destin Hood – C (C+) Tyler Moore – C
J.P. Ramirez – C+ (C)

As before, the bolded guys are the ones that didn’t appear on the BA list and all of them are on our watchlist. Unlike the pitchers, there’s not so much pride in picking these guys out of the crowd because they were either an All-Star or an MVP in their leagues. Like Rob Wort, Vermont IFs Jason Martinson and Blake Kelso were left on the cutting-room floor as Grade-C guys.

And that completes my review of the prospect books, bringing us pretty damn near the start of spring training. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a “This Afternoon In Viera” or anything like that. As the snark in the tags suggests, there won’t be a Bryce Harper love-fest, just as there wasn’t a Stephen Strasburg slobbering last spring. Instead, I’ll be working on the periphery, focusing on the minor-league angles that I see [insert comparison to dating in high school here] from the (paid) beat guys as they cover the goings-on in Florida.

So the flow of posts is probably going to slow while the attention turns to the big club, but I hope folks will keep checking back here over occasionally over the next few weeks. I always post a link on Twitter when I publish, and for those that prefer the vinyl to the MP3 in terms of Internet communication technology, WordPress creates an RSS feed, too.

Feb 092011

Shortly after Thanksgiving, John Sickels revealed his Top 20 for the Nationals. A little more than three weeks ago, we learned that three Nationals made his Top 50 batters list. Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the players.

I decided to break this up by batters and pitchers, since Sickels doesn’t rank them like BA. 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 end up a star while a AAA grade C is 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 (see below with Brad Peacock). 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 21 pitchers that Sickels graded (2010 grade in parentheses)…

A.J. Cole – B Tyler Hanks – C Tanner Roark – C
Sammy Solis – B Taylor Jordan – C Brian Broderick – C
Robby Ray – B- Josh Smoker – C (C) Atahualpa Severino – C (C)
Brad Peacock – C+ (C) Paul Demny – C (C) Josh Wilkie – C (C)
Henry Rodriguez – C+ (B-) Elvin Ramirez – C Adam Carr – C (B- in ’08)
Brad Meyers – C+ (C+) Danny Rosenbaum – C Adrian Alaniz – C (C)
Cole Kimball – C+ Tom Milone – C (C) Yunesky Maya – C

So why are some of those guys bolded? Glad you asked. These are the guys that weren’t listed in the BA book, and I take a great deal of pride that nearly all of them made our watchlist.

A couple of other notes…
…Rob Wort was one of three Nationals to make the manuscript but not the book — which Sickels calls his “cutting room floor” — and would have been listed as a Grade-C prospect.

…Brad Peacock and Danny Rosenbaum were both given Sickels’ “Sleeper Alert” tag. Peacock got the nod because there is a disconnect between his stuff and his results; he’s never had an ERA below 4.00 yet has a career W-L of 19-35 while his FIPs have been consistently lower than his ERAs (e.g. 3.14 vs. 4.44 at Potomac). With Rosenbaum, it’s more of a gut feel based on his strong GO/AO ratio (1.90) and perhaps, as he alluded back in November, he’s something of a Milone clone (hey, that rhymes).

I’d give more detail (as I did last year, but that was *after* the printed run had sold out), 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 what I consider to be the best in the business.

[For those wondering, the pic is a nod to the “hanging fruit” metaphor in the comments. That’s what’s known as an orchard ladder, used for picking the fruit from the highest branches]

Feb 082011

Picking up where we left off yesterday, here’s 16 through 30 on the Baseball America Top 30 list for 2011…

16. Tom Milone, LHP
17. Adrian Sanchez, 2B/3B
18. A.J. Morris, RHP
19. Michael Burgess, OF
20. Elvin Ramirez, RHP
21. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
22. Jason Martinson, SS
23. Danny Rosenbaum, LHP
24. Tyler Moore, 1B
25. J.P. Ramirez, OF
26. Ryan Tatusko, RHP
27. Brad Meyers, RHP
28. Trevor Holder, RHP
29. Adam Carr, RHP
30. Hassan Pena, RHP

As mentioned yesterday, there were 14 holdovers — Norris, Espinosa, Marrero, Kobernus, Burgess, Hood, Perez, Meyers, Morris, Brad Peacock, Hassan Pena, Lombardozzi, J.P. Ramirez, and Rosenbaum. Burgess and Morris have since been traded, which means that there 16 newcomers to the list. Here’s the breakdown of they came into the system:

2010 Draft — Harper (1), Cole (4), Solis (6), Hague (14), Ray (15) , Martinson (22)

2010 Acquisitions — Ramos (5), Tatusko (26), Elvin Ramirez (20)

2010 IFA — Maya (11)

2009 Draft — Holder (28)

2008 Draft — Milone (16), Moore (24)

2007 IFA — Sanchez (17)

2006 Draft — Kimball (7), Carr (29)

As you can see, there’s a reason why the Nationals jumped from #24 to #14 and it’s not just Bryce Harper. Almost half of the Top 30 has been drafted or acquired under the Rizzo front office, and more than a third were brought in last year alone. That’s in quite stark contrast to Bowden’s Reign of Error, particularly the ’06 draft, which is has yet to produce a single major-leaguer (Marrero, Pena, and Brad Peacock join Kimball and Carr as ’06ers, so there’s still a little bit of hope). Thus, even without the #1 pick overall, there’s reason to believe that things can continue to improve with a deep draft this June and the Nationals possessing three of the first 34 picks.

As Brian Oliver pointed out last week, there are still reasons to be concerned. The list is roughly 50/50 in terms of pitchers and position players, but there are more relievers than starters. It tends to skew older, in part because the ’07-’08 drafts were more college-oriented, but also in part because the ’06 draft was such a perfect failure. Espinosa is poised to become just the second homegrown bat since the club set up shop in Washington — that’s two position players in six drafts, three in seven if you want to count Desmond. And until Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg pitches a full season, John Lannan remains the team’s best homegrown starter.

But if folks are looking for reason to hope, take a look at BA’s projected 2014 lineup for Washington. Now, a lot of things have to go right  (this is taking-the-tartar-sauce-while-you-go-after-the-whale optimism) for this to happen, but with a week to go until pitchers and catchers report, hope springs eternal, right?

C – Wlson Ramos
1B – Derek Norris
2B – Danny Espinosa
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Ryan Zimmerman
LF – Jayson Werth
CF – Eury Perez
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Jordan Zimmermann
#3P – A.J. Cole
#4P – Sammy Solis
#5P – John Lannan
CL – Drew Storen