Feb 042011
 

Before I jump into the post about the pitchers, let me take a little side trip and point folks towards this item on yet another National minor-leaguer suspended for PEDs. Simply put, this is a black mark against the organization, no matter how you spin it. The cynical take is that “Yay, this means I’ll get to see David Freitas sooner,” but I also know that comes at the expense of a young man that, at the very least, will be knocked back to Auburn for the summer, and quite possibly could be released. I’d much rather see a prospect flame out by competition versus immolation.

Back to post…

Now that folks are familiar with the system, let’s take a look at which pitchers were written up, shall we?

A.J. Cole (19) – 9D

Sammy Solis (22) – 8C
Throws from low 3/4 slot without a slider and features a plus changeup

Brad Meyers (25) – 8C (7C)
Long, lean, and throws the classic arsenal (FB, SL, CV, CU) and works well in the lower third of the zone

Cole Kimball (25) – 8D
Decent three-pitch arsenal (FB, SL, CU) and made great strides, moving from A+ to AA with dominant numbers (12.3K/9 at AA)

Jack McGeary (22) – 8D

Robbie Ray (19) – 8D

Pat Lehman (24) – 7B (7B)
Like Holder, gave up the long ball and didn’t hurt himself with walks, but got more strikeouts (9.1/9) with a decent slider.

Brad Peacock (23) – 7C
Mastery of his changeup was the key to his breakthrough season, making his mid-90s FB even faster

Trevor Holder (24) – 7C (7D)
Cannot survive up in the zone, as evidenced by the 11HR’s given up at Potomac, but throws strikes and doesn’t give in to batters

Athualpa Severino (26) – 7C
Primarily listed due to the slim chance he has to make the club as a LOOGY

Josh Smoker (22) – 7C (8D)

Aaron Barrett (23) – 7D

Colton Willems (22) – 6E (8E)
Um, what part of “retire” did they not understand?

###

Now, as I pause for you to wipe off the coffee or soda that you just spit onto your screen…

This is indefensibly bad. Apparently neither retirement (Willems) nor in-season Tommy John surgery (McGeary) is enough to get you booted from the list. Missing nearly the entire year (Myers) can somehow improve your chances? Pat Lehman, who is shorter than I am, has apparently grown to 6′ 6″ and has a better chance of making it to the majors than a younger pitcher that finished the season at AA.

Suffice it to say, this is the last MLBA post and the final time I’ll be buying this book. My apologies if you were hoping for more than snark and comedy.

Feb 032011
 

Because it was suggested — but more because it gives us discussion fodder — I’m continuing with my posts derived from the Minor-League Baseball Analyst (MLBA). To keep folks posted on my previously promised endeavors (not only that, Skipper, what you said you’d do), the right-handed starters page is now complete.

First, a review of the system they use for grading prospects. It’s two parts, a number grade and then a letter grade. The number grade is the ceiling, the letter grade is the potential for reaching that ceiling.

10 = Hall of Famer A = 90% Probability
9 = Elite Player B = 70% Probability
8 = Solid Regular C = 50% Probability
7= Average Regular D = 30% Probability
6= Platoon Player E = 10% Probability

As I did last year, I’ve put my comments in itals if I’ve seen them in person (or simply have something to add).

Bryce Harper (18) – 10D
Some power, serviceable arm, can hit a little ;-)

Wilson Ramos (23) – 8B

Danny Espinosa (24) – 8B (8B)
Not much to add to what I wrote last year: “MLB-ready defense. Terrific batter’s eye. Power breakout in ’09, if legit, could get him to Washington by year’s end.” Obviously, folks question if he can keep the strikeouts down and the BA high enough to justify spot in everyday linep

Derek Norris (22) – 8B (9D)
Injuries diminished his power in 2010, but time to heal between regular season and the AFL seems to have brought it back.

Eury Perez (21) – 8C (8C)
Turned on the jets in the second half to finish with 64 steals and is the best young CF prospect in the system.

Chris Marrero (23) – 8C (9D)
Slowly working his way up to AAA, but the once-promising power potential remains somewhat diminished.

Corey Brown (25) – 8C

Tyler Moore (24) – 8D
Struggles with breaking pitches and can be jammed inside, but arguable the most pure power in the system.

Steve Lombardozzi (22) – 8D
No standout tool, but does the little things well and uses the whole field as switch-hitter. Can fill in at SS, but fringe-average arm will be exposed.

Destin Hood (21) – 8D (8D)

Jeff Kobernus (23) – 7C

Rick Hague (22) – 7C

Kevin Keyes (22) – 7C
Just passing this along, folks.

J.P. Ramirez (21) – 7C (7D)

Adrian Nieto (21) – 7D (8E)

Leonard Davis (27) – 6B (6B)
SDDY: Mistake hitter that can be neutralized by LHPs. Best positions are 3B and RF but can play LF and 2B.

Stephen King (23) – 6D
Has shown flashes of former five-tool status, but injuries and suspension have eaten into his development time

###

As you can see, there are some obvious faults to this list… a 4A utility guy… a 22-y.o. that was clearly overmatched at SS-A… a light-hitting catcher that’s still not hitting… It’s nice that there are more guys being ranked (16 vs. 15 last year), but I’d rather have something a little less suspect.

Tomorrow, a look at the pitchers and then we’ll work our way over the the likes of BA and Sickels while working on the watchlists.

Feb 022011
 

As the pic suggests, the other shoe has dropped on the Maxwell DFA and it’s a typographer’s nightmare Adam Olbrychowski, a 24-year-old reliever that went 3-2 with a save and 3.90 ERA in 32 games pitching at Hi-A Tampa and AA Trenton.

Olbrychowski was drafted in 5th round of the 2007 draft out of Pepperdine University and worked as a starter for his first two pro seasons but had below-average results and poor control. In 2009, he converted to relief but continued to give up free passes (40 in 58IP as a reliever). He repeated at Tampa in 2010, cutting down on the walks (27 in 59IP) and earning a late bump up to Trenton.

Like many Rizzo acquisitions, Olbrychowski has good size (6’3″, 200) and throws hard with late sink, thus keeping the ball in the yard (1HR in 67IP last year). Throughout his career, however, the knock has been the lack of polish on his secondary pitches. Like Rule 5 pickup Michael Allen, Olbrychowski appears to be a project but with more upside. He was not listed in any of the major 2011 prospect books.

UPDATE:

Shairon Martis has cleared waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse. He will be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, according to the Nationals PR.

Feb 022011
 

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

I may have walked away from NFA last September but I didn’t stop following the minor leagues, and Sue was nice enough to offer me a place here to dip my toe back into the prospect pool one more time.

As Sue has mentioned, it’s the time of year for the prospect guides and I happily received my copy of the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook last week. Fortunately for me (and my grading/lesson plans), there have been a couple of “snow” days and a pair of teacher workdays allowing me to dive into the BA Handbook.

The guys at BA do a tremendous job putting together a tome that discusses more than 900 of the top prospects in MLB, complete with scouting reports and projected ports of call to begin the 2011 season. As most who know my inclination is towards seeing how the Nationals are doing from a player-development point of view.

Back in 2005, BA ranked a threadbare Nationals system #26, led by the likes of Mike Hinckley and Larry Broadway. In 2006, Ryan Zimmerman allowed them to move up to #24, but aside from the anomaly of 2008 (BA was crazy to let the drafting of the left-handed firm of Detwiler, Smoker & McGeary cast that much influence on rankings [#10 overall]), the Nationals have been in the bottom third of the BA talent rankings for most of the last decade.

This year, the folks at BA have moved the Nationals to the top half of the class (#14 overall) and this time it’s with some merit. They have done a nice job of restocking and rebuilding a farm system torn apart by MLB ownership and mismanaged by Jim Bowden’s reign of error. Scanning the top 30 (or 31 if you ordered directly from BA… hello Sandy Leon), it has a nice balance of bats and arms, some close to the majors (Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos), some a year or two away (Derek Norris and perhaps Bryce Harper) and some (hopefully) a bit further out (A.J. Cole and Eury Perez).

Though, it is still a work in progress.

It’s that work in progress that I wanted to investigate. I scanned the Handbook with a focus on trying to uncover what makes the top organizations the top and where the Nationals fell in terms of that measuring stick. BA was kind enough to provide us with source of talent for all 30 organizations and it’s that I chose to compare.

They initially break out homegrown versus acquired. There’s really not much to surmise there (aside from Toronto making out well in the Roy Halladay trade). Most teams’ top prospects are homegrown and the Nationals are no exception with 28/31 prospects homegrown (not to mention nine of their top 10).

What is clear to me is that the Nats need to improve their performance internationally if they want to run with the top organizations in MLB. Only four of the top 31 Nats are homegrown and international compared to the top 10 franchises (Kansas City, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Toronto, New York [AL], Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago [NL], San Diego & Colorado). With the exception of the Cubs, none of the top organizations have less than seven international prospects.

While the focus the Nationals have had internationally has restarted after Smiley-gate, they still have a long way to go to establish a healthy and steady international pipeline. Mike Rizzo and company stepped up in 2010 signing Yunesky Maya, but that needs to be replicated and amplified from this point forward. They really need to crank up their presence internationally.

This does not mean they need to throw millions of dollars at one player. What it means is they need to do is invest the cost of one season of Jason Marquis ($7.5 million) into getting their Dominican academy up and running, set up a presence in the Pacific Rim, and look to get quality from quantity. Sign a couple of dozen players in the $20-100K range and see who they can develop. This is critical to long-term success because there are only a finite number of draft picks each season while the number of international free agents is only capped by roster space.

Additionally, the Nats are casting their lot with college players in the draft. While a more known commodity when it comes to projection, this normally comes with a reduced ceiling of what they can become. It’s a choice between an older player who may max out as a slightly above replacement level player versus a younger player who could turn into a key part of a winning organization. Yes, the risk of flameout increases with younger players, but this is where top organizations show faith and trust in their player identification — and more importantly, their player-development personnel.

The jury is still out on the Nats’ player development. Guys drafted in the top 10 picks out of college should make the majors for at least a cup of coffee. The Nats need to show us that they can turn on a pipeline that will continually crank out guys for the 25-man roster, and not just #5 starters, middle relievers and bench guys. The Nats need to get a pipeline in place that develops starters consistently… not just for Nats Park but also to move in deals to address weaknesses.

Let me close with this: It’s fantastic to see the Lerners write the big checks for the draft. Please keep that up and understand that the best way to put the Nats in a position to compete on a regular basis is to continue that investment and increase it internationally. Keep exploiting the First Year Player Draft by drafting and signing the AJ Coles and Robbie Rays of the world. It’s a system that can be used to replenish a farm system.

Next, show consistency and results in the player development process. I’m happy to see the Espinosas and Desmonds succeed, but it doesn’t stop there; there needs to be a steady stream of bats and arms at the ready. Rizzo, Doug Harris and their staff have done a solid job of standing up a minor-league organization over the last couple of seasons but there is much more work to do.

Jan 292011
 

Remember the last two snowstorms? Well, this week’s came too early to fulfill my private prediction that we’d get another just in time to preempt our third attempt to visit family in New England. So, as you might imagine, posts will slow (though it was a busy week this week wasn’t it?).

My Baseball America book came in the mail on Thursday. After the flurry of Keith Law posts, I chose to put my time into working on the player watchlists, as previously posted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve updated the page for lefthanded starters and published the page for righthanded starters, leaving unfinished the guys that I hope may be included in the Sickels book, which I hope to have in my hands upon my return.

And though his site is now officially gone, NFA Brian still lives on Twitter and I have to pass along two tweets combined into one quote regarding the BA book:

[Ten] of the 30 #Nationals were acquired in the last year — Harper (1), Cole (4), Ramos (5), Solis (6), Maya (11), Hague (14), Ray (15), ElvRamirez (20), Martinson (22), & Tatusko (26)

Add in the 2009 draft picks that are still in the system — Kobernus (21), Rosenbaum (23), Holder (28) — and that’s 13 out of 30 from the Rizzo era. This is not to say we’ll be the next Kansas City (let’s face it: that many high-risk/high-reward picks panning out does require a certain amount of luck), but we’re getting there… maybe not as fast as folks want, but it’s progress.

Jan 272011
 

As posted earlier, Keith Law has released his Top 10 Prospect List for each of the 30 MLB teams as well as his Top 100 prospects overall. Three Nationals made the latter. Most of you will guess that Bryce Harper (#2) and Derek Norris (#33) made the cut, but the surprise? Wilson Ramos (#95) made it over Danny Espinosa.

Without further ado, here’s the Law list:

  1. Bryce Harper, RF
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Wilson Ramos, C
  4. A.J. Cole, RHP
  5. Danny Espinosa, SS
  6. Sammy Solis, LHP
  7. Eury Perez, OF
  8. Robbie Ray, LHP
  9. Chris Marrero, 1B
  10. Destin Hood, OF

The inclusion of Ramos appears to be a function of Law’s belief that the number of legitimate catching prospects is scarce. He cites his throwing arm and bat (for average) as above-average tools but questions how much Ivan Rodriguez will be able to help him in the art of game-calling.

Law believes that Norris’s defensive reputation is undeserved, believing that he can work himself into becoming an average receiver while citing his above-average arm and adequate release (Derek does have a habit of fumbling sometimes). Naturally, he sides with the obvious assessment that Norris’s hitting skills will return 2009 form and his power will continue to develop.

Finally, while there’s not much to say about Bryce Harper that hasn’t already been said, it’s interesting to note that Law believes that CF is not necessarily out of the question, if for no other reason than it eliminates the need for him to learn the angles necessary to play RF. Like most, Law believes his ascent will be timed by how quickly he adjusts to better breaking pitches.

Jan 272011
 

There was another great article that was put up yesterday on ESPN Insider (yes, it’s a paid subscription, but well worth it) written by ProspectInsider.com’s Jason Churchill.

As the pic suggests, it’s about the minor leagues and what it takes to build a good farm system, a.k.a. the talent pipeline. But it also bears repeating that there is no one right way to do this. Tampa Bay (#2 this year per Keith Law), for example, leans heavily on the U.S. for its talent; Texas (#1 last year) has been aggressive with international signings and/or trading for international talent.

As we’ve already seen in the comments from yesterday, there are philosophical debates as to when and how high to draft high schoolers… and there are teams that have had success (Kansas City) and teams that have not (*ahem*).

Among the highlights from Churchill’s article…

Recycling Talent — Which means developing players for both the parent club and trade fodder. It’s common for folks to remark about how it’s tough for a third baseman with Zimmerman at the top. But that also handicaps Washington if he were to get hurt, decline, or demand a trade. Having the next Ryan Zimmerman ready gives the team options that right now it doesn’t have.

Balancing The Draft Against The International Market — This is a bit of a third rail for Nationals fans, but Churchill points out that while the domestic draft is considered safer, some teams have been successful leaning heavily on IFAs. His overall point? Any team that doesn’t go outside the U.S. is at a disadvantage. My personal opinion is that folks obsess too much about the high-dollar IFAs, when the evidence is ample that spreading that money out over more players is a better value play. Doesn’t mean I’m right, of course.

Spending — Teams that go over slot tend to get better talent. In a related story, being tall is conducive to playing basketball. But Churchill points out how a “rich” team like the Mets (#26 per Law), which has not been a big spender, is languishing while a team like Cincinnati (#8) has been both spending and getting results. Unfortunately, there are teams like Philadelphia (#5) that seem be able to spend conservatively and still get good results, which contradicts Churchill, too.

The Right Kind Of Depth — I’m going to quote Churchill directly: “The kind of depth that matters means having a true abundance of a particular position or skill, such as starting pitching. Having a good player is nice, being able to spare one is better.” (The italics are mine because it echoes my sentiments exactly). The whiners Folks wrung their hands over not being able to trade for Zach Greinke and Matt Garza, but that’s primarily because such a move would have been almost literally betting the farm (which is basically what Milwaukee did, coming in at #30 per Law and not having a single Top-100 prospect).

Today might just be another multiple-post day, but I thought I’d give the snowbound folks a little some to read and discuss while we wait for the thaw.

Jan 262011
 

As the pic suggests, that would be #19, like Paul Hardcastle’s sole U.S. hit single. Maybe that’s not something to get all that excited about… until you consider that just two years ago Mr. Law had Washington at #29 and last year, it was #23.

Law describes this as “a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM,” pointing to spending beyond the top pick, as our guest columnist Marcus Wyche wrote yesterday. My point in dedicating a post to this is that the folks that believe Law “has it in for the Nats” — much like the Lieutenant Dans — need to reconsider their prejudices.

Tomorrow, Law ranks his Top 100 prospects, which may get some play here tomorrow. Bryce Harper getting ranked #3 by MLB.com for its Top 50 didn’t because quite frankly it felt like I’d done a post like that recently.

Jan 212011
 

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post like this, but the usual “filler stories” have been wanting. The past two BA transaction updates have been wanting, either reporting no news or news that we already had reported. Given that it took nearly two full weeks for the J.D. Martin move to make room for Adam LaRoche, I’m not holding my breath to find out who else will be cut or outrighted (but props to SpringfieldFan to keeping the Big Board up to date).

Since we’re not quite at the point where I can jump into parent-club fray under the guise of spring training — in a more perfect world, I’d be going to Viera for a week, but the budget (both monetary and spousal tolerance) isn’t there — I thought I’d pass along a few links with some commentary.

All three books have been ordered, so the anticipated posts of what the experts think are forthcoming. But it’s useful to see what other online folks think outside our little bubble, even if it’s under the dreaded auspice of rankings.

Fangraphs listed its Top 10 Nats prospects, with only one real surprise: J.P. Ramirez as its #10 pick. Our spies will feel some validation when they read this:

His ticket to the Majors is definitely tied to his bat. He’s not a speedy player by any means, which hampers him on the base paths and in the field. His arm is also average-at-best and he’ll be limited to left field.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Bryce Harper as the #2 OF prospect, which thus far has raised a couple of hackles, but is a good example of the hair-splitting that I can’t stand about rankings. Why wouldn’t you rank a five-tool guy with 800+ professional PAs ahead of a kid that has less than 40 (counting the AFL as official, which it isn’t)? I took that to mean: Wow, that must mean Mike Trout is pretty damn good.

Finally, the folks over at www.prospectjunkies.com have been making their Top 10′s, and guess what? They rank Harper the #1 OF prospect. Derek Norris comes in as their #7 catching prospect. (For those of you wondering, they’ve been sour on Ramos as a hitter, which is fair as you can see they value offense more than defense) while Danny Espinosa comes in as their #9 shortstop

Now, if history is any guide, now that I’ve done a post-to-keep-the-site-fresh, naturally something else will happen today…

Jan 182011
 

The early reaction to the trade was, of course, negative — “Seems like an awful lot to give up”, “We’re trading young for old?!” and my personal favorite “Two top four picks for a fifth starter?”

Some phrased it in the form of a question: “Would you trade John Lannan for Michael Burgess and A.J. Morris?” Let me repeat my answer:

Yes. Neither name so far has been a player that’s likely to play at Syracuse, much less Washington in 2011

This, of course, was written before we knew who the third player was (Graham Hicks) but all sources were indicating that the last player would be either very young or very old for a prospect. Now, I realize the Syracuse line seems a little harsh, but thus far Rizzo has not shown a proclivity to rush his pitchers, no matter how old or how promising (e.g. Adam Carr, Cole Kimball).

Since I have the resource of some astute commenters, let me quote Souldrummer at length before adding on:

To me, it’s a crapshoot between two GM’s prospect evaluation skills. Rizzo has to be shrewd enough to evaluate which of the many faces of Gorzelanny (real good Pirates pitcher, absolute disaster pitcher, replacement-level pitcher, serviceable swingman) will show up based on his scouts’ assessments. The Cubs have to assess whether there’s any juice in Morris and the two meh prospects. I think that we have a deep enough pool of C+ prospects where we can risk guys who won’t pan out before 2012.

One the constant complaints in the Natmosphere is how we can’t or won’t make trades unless it’s considered a cost-saving maneuver. As we saw from the Garza and Greinke postmortems, virtually every move seemed to involve the likes of the guys that we’re already counting on for 2011 and beyond — Zimmermann, Espinosa, Norris, etc. As I’ve stated before, we don’t have the depth in those areas to replace those prospects.

This trade, however, represents a trade in two places in the Nats where Washington does have some depth: outfielders and right-handed relievers (my apologies on the latter to the newbies, but I made the page live to make my point; it’ll be filled in later when the scouting books start to come in).

Morris had been seventh on our watchlist for right-handed relievers, which isn’t a depth chart per se, but note that there are also seven more relievers behind him. It nearly goes without saying that Bryce Harper had been breathing down Burgess’s neck after outshining him in the AFL. Hicks had been sixth on our watchlist for left-handed starters but with fewer behind him and only one younger. He may very well be the hidden gem in this trade, but as Souldrummer said, he was not on the immediate horizon.

Left unsaid until now was what this trade represents: insurance. Rizzo has acquired a serviceable left-handed pitcher without significant injury or performance issues — unlike Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Mien Wang, Ross Detwiler, Jason Marquis and Yunesky Maya. Trading three prospects with significant questions is not too much to give, not when you have it to spare.