Dec 292013
 


It’s always interesting to me to do this piece and see what stories emerged from a given year. I look over the archives, letting chronology dictate a few of my choices, but by the end of the list it becomes thematic. Likewise, what begins as a list of names starts to morph into narratives, for which the name becomes emblematic (sorry, sometimes the rhyming thing just happens).

As I wrote after the (minor league) season’s end, the Nationals have reached a point where they can replace and reload on a regular basis, though it may not be quite the way folks want it to be. I’d explain further, but I think I’ve just written the segue for the first and last story of 2013…

The Re-Acquisition of A.J. Cole
Cole was dealt away in December 2011 in what was a shock then, but would become a shrug by the end of this year. For the casual fan, this was the trade of a favorite son (Mike Morse) for one GM Mike Rizzo’s former draft picks and a couple of roster-fillers. Instead, it was the classic value play as Morse suffered his worst year at the MLB level while Cole rebounded to match the hype, one of “other guys” started 20 games for AA Harrisburg, and the other made 32 appearances for the big club.

The Rule 5 Draft
What used to be an exercise in who the Nats would get has since changed to worry about who would be lost, despite the track record. Last year’s “losses” (Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus) were returned this year in spring training, which is the smart money for the fate of this year’s draftee, Adrian Nieto, in March.

Anthony Rendon Comes To Town
Twice, actually. The first time was as an injury replacement for Ryan Zimmerman, who by the way, was the last Nats position player in recent memory to spend less than 80 games in the minors before making it to “The Show.” The second time was to effectively replace the ineffective Danny Espinosa, begging the question of whether that was the plan all along — even if both players entered 2013 with significant health questions (shoulder for Espinosa, ankles for Rendon).

Taylor Jordan
A year ago, Jordan was a 23-y.o. who had yet to pitch above Low-A and one of several pitchers in the system that had had his UCL replaced. At best, he might replicate the 2012 season of Nathan Karns, who was drafted three rounds later in 2009. Instead, Jordan topped it, steamrolling the competition at High-A and AA with a line of 1.00/2.25/0.92 in 90⅓ innings and leapfrogging Karns as the proverbial #6 starter with a callup at the end of June.

Billy Burns
About the only award that escaped the pint-sized speedster was the Player of the Week as the 74-steal man garnered nods for midseason and postseason All-Star teams in the Carolina League and the Nationals Player of the Year award. The switch-hitting outfielder still led the Carolina League in steals despite only playing in 91 games. Alas, for all his accolades, he was traded to Oakland along with…

Robbie Ray
While he may have only been 20 during his disastrous 2012 season, the turnaround Ray made in 2013 was nevertheless impressive. He cut his ERA from 6.56 to 3.36, his WHIP from 1.62 to 1.25 and increased his K rate from 7.3 to 10.1. The walks and HRs weren’t lowered as sharply (only slightly), which is something his fans will have to watch for in 2014.

The GCL Nationals
Maybe they were simply beating on three weaklings over and over again, but the G-Nats set the standard for dominance that will be used as a measuring stick for the Gulf Coast League for years to come. More important is the inference that the Nats pipeline from the Dominican has recovered, if not improved, from the depths of the 2009 scandal that led to the ouster of the previous GM.

Outfield Depth
This was the year when the hype matched the production for Michael Taylor and Steve Souza Jr., just in time for both men to be added to the 40-man roster. Brian Goodwin held his own at AA, a year after skipping High-A, which gave the Nats enough depth to part with Burns and still have four OFs in the upper minors aged 24 or younger. It may be the only part of the farm where there is true depth, which if any beat writers are reading, includes catcher.

Hagerstown
On the field, the Suns made the playoffs for the second straight season by the thinnest margin possible — a 1/2 game, thanks to three cancellations. While they shorted the West Virginia Power by taking two of three in the semifinals, they were swept away in the Finals. Off the field, the franchise continued to suffer attendance losses as folks seem to be fed up with the constant threat of leaving while also campaigning for a new facility. Given that MiLB has yet to issue a waiver to allow a team to play in temporary facility, Fredericksburg may miss the boat, allowing for a third city to make a move.

Potomac Bats Go Dead In The Finals
Perhaps that’s not giving either the Hillcats or the Red Sox pitchers enough credit, but it left a sour taste in the mouths of fans (*ahem*) who watched the team obliterate the Carolina League during the regular season. Indeed, they would set franchise records for wins and attendance while winning both halves handily. They had the league’s best pitching and second-best offense, which was built upon on speed but not overly reliant on the longball, walks, or avoiding strikeouts.

Harrisburg Makes The Eastern League Finals
After making a similar run in the summer of 2011, the 2013 Senators made it past the first hurdle with a 3-1 semifinals win against the Seawolves but like the P-Nats and Suns, ran into a buzzsaw in the finals. Developmentally, the team was a resounding winner — sending Rendon, Jordan, and Krol up to D.C. to stay while further polishing Karns, Aaron Barrett, Goodwin, and Souza.

Promotions
After conservative promotions in 2010 and 2011, 2013 continued the 2012 trend of more aggressive promotions, particularly the pitchers between High-A and AA as 4/5ths of the P-Nats April rotation were given the bump. No doubt some of this was by design with the activation of two pitchers (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke) who were coming off surgery. But it’s enough to no longer summarily dismiss the idea of someone moving up sooner rather than later.

Trades
Jokes about A’s aside, GM Mike Rizzo has no qualms about trading to get the players he wants (Fister, Blevins) or recoup value on players he doesn’t intend to keep (Morse, DeJesus). As alluded earlier, A.J. Cole has been involved in both types of trades, which serves as a reminder that the notion of any player being the next X in Washington is far from certain. Even though this has been true for quite some time, I get the sense that many folks still aren’t used to it.

Dec 202013
 

With the exhaustive search for a trading partner to move Corey Brown completed, the Washington Nationals announced the 2014 lineup for their affiliates’ coaching staffs today (new hires in red, returnees in blue):

SYRACUSE
Manager – Billy Gardner, Jr. (new hire)
Pitching Coach – Paul Menhart (promoted from Harrisburg)
Hitting Coach – Joe Dillon (new hire)

HARRISBURG
Manager – Brian Daubach (promoted from Potomac)
Pitching Coach – Chris Michalak (promoted from Potomac)
Hitting Coach – Mark Harris (promoted from Potomac)

POTOMAC
Manager – Tripp Keister (promoted from Hagerstown)
Pitching Coach – Franklin Bravo (promoted from Hagerstown)
Hitting Coach – Brian Rupp (promoted from Hagerstown)

HAGERSTOWN
Manager – Patrick Anderson (promoted from GCL)
Pitching Coach – Sam Narron (promoted from Auburn)
Hitting Coach – Luis Ordaz (promoted from Auburn)

AUBURN
Manager – Gary Cathcart (returning)
Pitching Coach – Tim Redding (new hire)
Hitting Coach – Amaury Garcia (promoted from GCL)

GCL
Manager – Michael Barrett (new hire)
Pitching coach – Michael Tejera (returning)
Hitting coach -Jorge Mejia (promoted from DSL)

DSL
Manager – Sandy Martinez (returning)
Pitching Coach – Pablo Frias (returning)
Hitting Coach – Jose Herrera (new hire)

Byron Kerr has the skinny on the new hires in his article today. Otherwise, it’s as surmised in the comments: with the reassignments of Matt LeCroy (Washington bullpen coach), Tony Beasley (co-field coordinator), and Troy Gingrich (hitting coordinator), the Nationals have promoted en masse — 12 of the coaches listed here, including the entire staffs of Hagerstown and Potomac to the next level.

Dec 192013
 

Photo Credit: TVtropes.org

With the completion of the Rule 5 draft, what we hope to be a break in the trades, it’s time to unveil the fourth edition of our look at the Nationals prospects that we’re keeping an eye on, a.k.a. watching. This is my alternative to doing a large mixed list, which, like cable news, may generate a lot of viewers and discussion but serves little purpose otherwise.

My apologies to the longtime readers, but a few caveats for the folks who are unfamiliar with how this works…

It’s not a depth chart — Players are listed first by the highest level at which they played significant time, then alphabetically. This mostly applies to the pitchers and outfielder nowadays, but folks should not infer that the player at the top of the list is necessarily better than the guy at the bottom.

It’s not a prediction of usage — As noted during the preliminary posts, there are players that have played multiple positions and could be easily placed in more than one column. Naturally, I’m exploiting that for aesthetic purposes, but not to fantasy-baseball extent (e.g. he played one game at the position there).

It’s not fair — There are players here that I wouldn’t list otherwise were it not for lack of position depth or dexterity. We’ve already seen that there’s a bias towards established players, though I’ve made a couple of changes that may very well be overcorrections to offset that.

I did indeed scrap the M*A*S*H category in favor of breaking apart the DSL bats and arms (which sounds more painful than what I mean) to keep the design intact. I created the category to acknowledge that the DSL is purely a scouting-by-box-score exercise. Truth be told, this is also true of the GCL and NYPL, too, but I’ve resisted the very tempting idea (from a workload perspective) of dropping coverage of one or more of the short-season leagues because I want to be as extensive as possible with this site.

Without further ado…

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Leon Skole Kobernus Walters Dykstra E. Perez
P. Severino Pleffner Hague Difo J.C. Valdez Goodwin
Reistetter Marmolejos-Diaz Renda Masters Gunter Souza
Read D. Eusebio Mejia Abreu Ward Taylor
B. Miller
W. Ramos
E. Martinez
Wooten
Ballou
Lippincott
Zebrack
Bautista
R. Encarnacion
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms
Notable Bats Notable Arms
Karns Solis Corredor M. Sanchez Bloxom Garcia
Barrett Purke Gutierrez Yrizarri Hood E. Davis
Hill Mooneyham Ortiz Reyes Martinson Rosenbaum
Cole Lee Mota Torres Oduber Holland
Mirowski Orlan Florentino Valerio Keyes Grace
Schwartz Napoli Ramsey Rauh
Benincasa Silvestre Manuel Dickson
P. Encarnacion Ott Kieboom R. Pena
C. Davis Walsh Yezzo Bacus
Mendez Franco Spann
Johansen
Voth
Hollins
Simms
Pivetta
Giolito
Suero
J. Rodriguez
P. Valdez
Dec 172013
 

Top prospect lists are the filler essence of the offseason and today the folks at Bullpen Banter have released their latest estimation of the top of the Nats crop (last year’s ranking, where applicable, in parentheses):

No. Player Pos.
1. Lucas Giolito (2) RHP
2. A.J. Cole RHP
3. Brian Goodwin (3) CF
4. Jake Johansen RHP
5. Nathan Karns RHP
6. Steve Souza OF
7. Matt Skole (5) 1B/3B
8. Sammy Solis LHP
9. Michael Taylor (11) OF
10. Taylor Jordan RHP


This is the third time I’ve featured BB’s work because (A) I believe it’s important to see what folks outside our usual haunts have to say about the Nats (B) like fertilizer salesmen, they know their sh… stuff. As such, you should click through to see their commentary and check out the scouting video.

Al Skorupa (@alskor on Twitter) and Jeff Reese (@Ioffridus) maintain their position that the Nats have become a system of a few premiere prospects supplemented by bevy of projects, most of which are drawn from the collegiate ranks. This, of course, is old news to us, but bear in mind that they’re writing for a different audience, one that’s arguably more interested in the players themselves since their readers’ favorite team may actually be a composite (if you know what I mean).

Aside from including Taylor Jordan, which if you’re not using the 50IP limit is a fine selection, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises here. It does seem to me that the three “Other Prospects of Note” (Tony Renda, Brett Mooneyham, and Drew Ward) get the benefit from being scouts’ favorites, but as we saw a couple of weeks ago when I released the preliminary 2014 Watchlists, “notable” is often in the eye of the beholder.

Dec 122013
 

For the third consecutive December, the Nationals have had a player taken in the MLB phase, as the Chicago White Sox selected catcher Adrian Nieto with the No. 3 pick.

The selection is the classic gamble with that the Nationals were able to pull off with Jesus Flores in 2006, as the White Sox will have carry the 24-y.o. as a backup on their 25-man roster for the duration of the season, unless the two teams can work out a trade.

Nieto has yet to play above High-A during the regular season and has only had one year with more than 80 games played (2013), so it’s also a gamble that Nieto’s development won’t be thwarted should he not be returned before the minor-league season begins, which was the case for both of last year’s selections (Danny Rosenbaum, Jeff Kobernus).

In the minor-league phases, the Nationals had no players taken but instead selected two during the AAA phase: OF Theo Bowe from the Reds and RHP Martires Arias from the Mets.

Bowe’s calling card is his speed, as the 23-y.o. rivaled Billy Hamilton for the designation of Fastest in the Organization, winning the title in 2009 when both players turned 19 late in the season. The 23-y.o. Delaware native stole 70 bases between Low-A and High-A in 2012, but posted an anemic .206/.260/.307 line with 13 swipes in 99 games for AA Pensacola.

As Doug Gray of RedsMinorsLeagues.com wrote:

Bowe found himself in a crowded Pensacola outfield and despite hitting very well in the 2012 season, he didn’t get consistent playing time and never really got going in 2013.

Very little can be found on Arias, aside from his statistics from five years in short-season ball — two in the DSL, one in the GCL, two in the Appy League, which is considered a half-step below the likes of the NYPL and the NWL — and his vitals of 6’7″ and 207 lbs and a November 10, 1990 birth date in the Dominican Republic.

Dec 112013
 

For the fourth time this year — and the sixth time since 2011 — Washington and Oakland have consummated a trade. This time, it’s 2013 Minor League Player of the Year Billy Burns headed for the Left Coast in favor of lefthanded reliever Jerry Blevins.

It’s hardly been a secret that the Nats have been pursuing a major-league southpaw for more than a year now, signing the likes of Fernando Abad and Bobby Bramhall last offseason, trading for and promoting Ian Krol, and claiming Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson on waivers during the season. Only Cedeno and Robertson remain from that quintet (sextet, if you want to include the midseason dalliance with J.C. Romero).

As is common with Rizzo trades, Blevins remains under team control for another two seasons — like Doug Fister, who was acquired less than three weeks ago, he’s arbitration-eligible — as the A’s seemed willing to part with the 30-y.o. veteran as a cost-savings measure, despite having made 281 appearances over the past seven seasons for Oakland.

While it may appear that Rizzo has gotten his man, I wouldn’t rule out Washington acquiring one or more southpaws in tomorrow’s Rule 5 draft (don’t forget the PTBNL in the David DeJesus flip was a LHP), even if neither Matt Grace nor Danny Rosenbaum are taken.

Dec 112013
 

Like the bats, folks were overwhelmingly in agreement about the top three arms in the Washington Nationals minors. Unlike a year ago, though, the range was smaller — just 22 different pitchers versus 30 — and there were four guys that were named on every ballot.

OK, enough vamping. Let’s rock this, pitch:

                              1. Lucas Giolito
                              2. A.J. Cole
                              3. Sammy Solis
                              4. Nathan Karns
                              5. Jake Johansen
                              6. Aaron Barrett
                              7. Matt Purke
                              8. Austin Voth
                              9. Christian Garcia
                              10. Richie Mirowski

Others receiving votes: Blake Schwartz, Jefry Rodriguez, Taylor Hill, Hector Silvestre, Travis Ott, Erik Davis, Pedro Encarnacion, Brett Mooneyham, Wander Suero, Nick Lee, Neil Holland, Blake Treinen

Now the observations…

• Giolito was the top dog on 12 of the 13 ballots, with Cole getting the other first-place vote. Giolito was the #1 last year, too, despite coming off UCL-replacement surgery in August 2012.

• Cole was the Mary Ann to Ging, er… Giolito on 11 of the possible 12 second-place votes. It would have been interesting to see if that would have been true had Robbie Ray not been traded away.

• Voth and Garcia tied in raw points, but I broke the tie by the pitcher who was named on more ballots (nine vs. seven).

• Two of the top three old maids (i.e. the near misses) were righthanded control artists who don’t throw in the mid-90s. Not sure if the bias is against the lower velocity, the low K rate, or the soap-opera first name (just kidding).

The list continues to skews older (five are 25+) and upper minors (also five), which has been a consistent bias since this experiment in crowdsourcing began in 2011. But like all things hot stove, the point is to pass the time — none of this is really significant, statistically or otherwise — while winter sets its claws in and local schools overreact to snowfall that wouldn’t get a chihuahua’s belly wet.

Next up: The Rule 5 draft, which for the Nationals, has become an exercise of wondering who’s going versus who’s arriving.

Dec 092013
 


I’m suspecting we’ll have better participation, as some of you may be off work, trapped at home with kids, or telecommuting thanks to last night’s snowstorm (our official opinion remains the same).

As before, 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. The plan is to write the post on Wednesday morning.

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.

The only restriction: You can’t vote for anyone who is not a prospect (defined as having a rookie status, which is less than 130AB, 50IP, or 45 days of service during the 25-man roster limit period). Sorry, but that means Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark aren’t eligible. Likewise for Xavier Cedeno, who has a low IP total but too much service time.

Nathan Karns, Erik Davis, and Christian Garcia are eligible, but are 26, 27, and 28 respectively. For some folks, their advanced age renders them non-prospects, though others will surely disagree. Not influence the results, but there were some much younger arms in the GCL that might merit your consideration.

Dec 072013
 

This seems to be a trend… for the second straight year, there was a consensus at the top of the list… then a free-for-all afterwards.

The two of the top three guys were each left off at least one ballot, while the number two guy was unanimously named, enabling him to garner the no. 2 spot without a single first-place vote.

A total of 24 players were named on 14 ballots, some of which had less than 10 names and/or an ineligible player. While I adjusted the points accordingly (e.g. #1 on a nine-player ballot = 9 pts vs. 10 pts. on a ten-player), it did not affect the rankings.

Without further ado, ze list:

                              1. Brian Goodwin
                              2. Matt Skole
                              3. Steve Souza
                              4. Billy Burns
                              5. Michael Taylor
                              6. Jeff Kobernus
                              7. Zach Walters
                              8. Drew Ward
                              9. Tony Renda
                              10. Adrian Nieto

Others receiving votes: Corey Brown, Eury Perez, Justin Bloxom, Randy Encarnacion, Narciso Mesa, Pedro Severino, Isaac Ballou, Brandon Miller, Cody Gunter, Rafael Bautista, Josh Johnson, Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, Bryan Mejia, Caleb Ramsey

Some observations:

• Goodwin received ten first-place votes, similar to how he was the near-consensus at #2 last year behind Anthony Rendon.

• This year’s #2 is a bit of a shock: Matt Skole was hurt all year long and struggled some in the Arizona Fall League, but moved up a spot from #3 to #2 nevertheless.

• Souza’s strong AFL campaign and addition to the 40-man roster seemed to stick out in many voter’s minds, vaulting him from an also-ran in 2012 to #3 with three first-place votes.

• Burns and Taylor nearly tied despite Taylor being left off two ballots, nearly closing the gap in points by receiving a pair of second-place votes (Burns’s highest was a third-place spot).

As it traditionally has, the list skews towards the upper minors; this year’s exception: Ward, who might have missed the cut — like Skole did in 2011 — were it not for the GCL Nationals’ championship run (likewise for his teammates that were in the “also-rans”). Still, I think a lot of this is simply the bias of familiarity, which also explains why a couple of players aged 27+ players received votes.

Next up: the pitchers, which is always contentious thanks to folks’ biases of starter vs. reliever, lefty vs. righty, fireballer vs. junkballer, floor wax or dessert topping, etc. Plus, with one less no-doubt pick (Robbie Ray), the last couple of spots ought to be closely contested.

Dec 052013
 


Since this has worked well for the past two years, I’m going to do it a third time and ask for folks to send me their votes for the Top 10 Position Players in the Nationals organization. Bear in mind that I use the term “Bats” as shorthand for non-pitchers, completely aware there can be a huge gap between a major-league hitter and a major-league defender [insert Adam Dunn reference here], but do please consider both offense and defense in your selections.

The deal is pretty simple: Send your Top 10 list to enfieldmass-top10bats[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client). I’ll compile the votes and weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). When I hit a sizable number of submissions, I’ll update this post to let people know I’ve got enough to write the “Top 10″ post.

For those unfamiliar, this solicitation for information is based on a famous book by financial writer James Surowiecki, who argued that the aggregation of information in groups produces a more accurate estimation or decision than any single individual within the group (naturally, there are some folks who might disagree).

If nothing else, it’ll help fill the time between either the next trade or the winter meetings next week.

UPDATE: I’ve got enough votes to write the post (hey, that rhymes!)