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!)

Dec 022013
 

2014 Watchlist
Perhaps the thing I’m most glad about when looking at this iteration is that the M*A*S*H category could very well be ditched in favor of breaking up the DSLers into arms and bats (yes, design does have an influence). There’s a certain sardonic timbre to it as I take a step back and look at this first pass that’s just not as applicable as it was a year ago. But some of the point of this exercise is to share the thought process (hence the previous parenthetical) before changing the “Watchlist and Player Reports” tab above.

Thus, I can tell you that I’ve already changed my mind of some these selections and those of the previous post, which I prefer to treat like a print publication that’s already left the building rather than editing the previous post. That may seem quaint, but it’s a byproduct of my professional training and experience as a Journalist and a newspaperman, respectively. Too many other sites — news or gossip — have the “get it first, fix it later if we have to” mentality. I’d rather be honest and finish the list as if it were done all at once. Besides, I’ve already copped to splitting it into two to maximize traffic ;-).

As always, let me know what you think in the comments…

RHPs LHPs DSL Guys M*A*S*H Notables (Bats) Notables (Arms)
Karns Ray Corredor Garcia Hood Rosenbaum
Barrett Solis Gutierrez W. Estevez Oduber E. Davis
Cole Purke Ortiz Kieboom Keyes Holland
Schwartz Mooneyham Mota Anderson Ramsey Grace
P. Encarnacion Lee Florentino Manuel Rauh
C. Davis Orlan Sanchez Gunter Dickson
Mendez Silvestre Yrizarri Masters R. Pena
Johansen Ott Reyes Yezzo Bacus
Voth Torres Franco Spann
Pivetta Valerio
Giolito
Hollins
Simms
Suero
K. Rodriguez
P. Valdez
Nov 302013
 


I’m not sure why, but in assembling this first pass I had the distinct feeling that some of these names probably ought not to be listed, but are because either (A) I’m following the guidelines I’ve set up in years past (B) listing an established guy in a given position feels less disingenuous than slotting in a recent draft pick from a short-season simply because he’s new. I still believe that performance means something — though a lot less than most of us are willing to admit — and if he didn’t do well in Auburn or the GCL last summer, I need (want?) more evidence than merely being drafted.

Part of my ambivalence is knowing that I have two “Notable” categories in which to put such conundrums, though most of these guys are position players. As I wrote last year: They’re a means of acknowledging the ones that don’t quite merit full-fledged watchlist treatment, but are often discussed or mentioned. I guess the real question is whether that’s more appropriate for the “old” guys or the “new” guys. I’m open to a discussion of that, with the reminder that we’re talking about people here and the players, their families, and their agents are reading.

Now, let’s revisit 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. But when there’s a “tie,” I can either go alphabetical order or (for the most part) list the player that played more games at the position/level.

It’s (mostly) based on 2013 usage… I think folks can see that I’m playing a little fast and loose on this one this year… Jeff Kobernus actually played more outfield than infield, but second base has suddenly become a thin position in the minors, in large part because the Nats have been rotating IFs between 2B, 3B and/or SS

It’s preliminary… I like how Sickels takes feedback with his prospect lists, so part of the purpose of these posts is to listen to your comments (the other part is to keep the site fresh and visitors coming, duh).

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Leon Bloxom Kobernus Walters Skole E. Perez
Nieto Pleffner Hague Martinson Dykstra Goodwin
P. Severino Marmolejos-Diaz Renda Difo J.C. Valdez Souza
Reistetter D. Eusebio Mejia Abreu Ward Burns
Taylor
B. Miller
W. Ramos
E. Martinez
Wooten
Ballou
Lippincott
Zebrack
Bautista
R. Encarnacion
Nov 242013
 


While perhaps stealing the thunder from the next Baseball America transactions post, its primary author Matt Eddy relayed the following signings via the twitters yesterday:

  • RHP Daniel Stange
  • IF Melvin Dorta (re-sign)
  • RHP Chris Young (re-sign)
  • C Jeyner Baez
  • RHP Gabriel Alfaro

OK, now put down your beverage because Stange was originally drafted by… wait for it… the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 7th round of the 2006 Draft. He spent 2013 in the Angels organization, making 26 appearances for AAA Salt Lake with a record of 4-1 with five saves and an ERA of 5.06. He allowed 16 runs on 31 hits over 26⅔ innings while while walking 13 and striking out 30. He made three relief appearances for the Angels in his second MLB stint (the first was in 2010), and was hit hard in his first outing, walking a pair and giving up a walkoff blast in a 14-11 loss to Texas. His second and third outings were scoreless, pitching an inning in an 8-2 win and getting the last out in the top of the 9th in a 6-5 loss (both games vs. Toronto).

Dorta, like Sean McCauley last week, was a player-coach for the Senators in 2013 and looks to be re-upping for the same duty in 2014.

Young, who was signed to a similar deal last offseason, made seven starts for Syracuse and was pounded like a drum to the tune of 31 runs on 50 hits (including nine HR) over 32 innings before going on the DL for most of the season (he made one appearance in the GCL and one in the NYPL in August and September respectively). He reportedly has had surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which nerves and/or blood vessels become compressed in the space between the collarbone and the first (thoracic) rib and causes pain and weakness in the shoulder.

Finally, as noted by Eddy first, the Nationals have released RHP Yunesky Maya after four less-than-stellar seasons. Signed as an IFA in July 2010 to a four-year/$6M contract, Maya made just 16 appearances in the major leagues, 15 of which came in 2010 and 2011. He made 76 of his 79 starts in the minors for Syracuse over the past four seasons and went 24-28 with an ERA of 4.13 over 453⅓ innings with 456 hits and 44 HRs allowed.

UPDATE:
The latest BA transaction post was published on Monday. Additions are in blue

…The presumption is that Baez is an IFA, given the surname and the lack of an entry on baseball-reference.com.

…WaPo Nats beat writer Adam Kilgore had the story on Alfaro last week, along with details on the Young contract.

Nov 202013
 

The deadline for teams to file their reserve lists, a.k.a. the day the 40-man rosters have to be set for the Rule 5 draft, is today. This, of course, means it’s time for the annual gnashing our metaphorical teeth over the infinitesmal chance of a “losing” someone significant to another organization (never mind that may actually be better for the player).

Quotes, of course, because nearly every player the Nationals have had selected in the MLB phase since the rules changed in 2007  has been returned and vice-versa. For example, last year Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus were selected and both were eventually returned. Two years ago, it was Erik Komatsu and Brad Meyers who were taken and ultimately returned, though both had surgery, which usually happens before the draft.

The rules are pretty simple: Players that signed at age 19 or older and have been in the organization for four years or players that signed at 18 or younger and have been in the organization for five years — if they’re not on the 40-man by tonight, they’re eligible. This basically boils down to 2010 college picks and 2009 high-schoolers and IFAs, though as noted in the comments, the age 19 thing is as of June 5th of the player’s draft year, so there are some exceptions (e.g. HS pick who was an “academic redshirt”).

ELIGIBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME

Aaron Barrett* Colin Bates Matt Grace* Ricky Hague* Neil Holland
Kevin Keyes* Cole Leonida Jason Martinson Estarlin Martinez Silvio Medina
Christian Meza Randolph Oduber Wander Ramos Adderling Ruiz Cameron Selik
Sammy Solis* Michael Taylor*


The asterisks are 2013 watchlist players, the italics for the pitcher who was hurt. I focus on the first-timers because subsequently eligible players are rarely taken. In fact nearly a quarter of last year’s first-timers are no longer with the organization.

Folks perhaps more obsessed with the Draft than I am may look at this group of players as something of an indictment of the Class of 2010, given that so few of these players have touched AA, never mind AAA. There is still hope for this class to produce more than just one major-leaguer (Harper) with A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray and Solis still in striking distance.

Indeed, it would seem that Solis may be the only player here placed on the 40-man to be protected. You could make the case for Aaron Barrett, too, citing the example of Erik Davis a year ago. What will be more interesting is who will eventually be moved off, though I’ll defer to the folks more versed in roster manuevering to speculate about that.

Nov 082013
 

For the second straight summer, Syracuse admirably achieved its primary mission of providing the Washington Nationals with replacements for injured or underperforming players. They also fulfilled a secondary function of providing a place for the latter to either get back on track (Tyler Moore) or get reps to try to work through their injuries issues (Danny Espinosa).

From that point of view, the 2013 Chiefs were successful. Like it or not, that’s the role for AAA nowadays — a place to play for “inventory” to stay active and a “finishing school” of sorts for certain prospects (typically, but not exclusively position players). That the Nationals have fielded also-rans for three straight seasons is irrelevant in this philosophy.

With that “said,” we embark on the final 2013 season review with the usual comparison against the league, then a focus on the Top 10 who were 27-and-under (i.e. league-average age) and had significant playing time, which this year works out to 17 or more innings pitched for pitchers, 111 or more plate appearances.

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Syracuse 4824 600 1256 114 395 1094 .260 .320 .395 .243 123
Lg. Avg. 4792 609 1223 107 485 1087 .255 .328 .384 .244 111

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Syracuse 1251⅔ 4.10 4.56 1.391 104 444 999 9.3 3.2 7.2 2.25
Lg. Avg. 1261 3.86 4.23 1.355 107 485 1087 8.7 3.5 7.8 2.24


At first glance, it looks like this team should have done better than a last-place finish, albeit in a strong division. The Chiefs were better than the league in average, HRs, slugging on offense, walks issued, HRs surrendered. Sure, the ERA was a notch below, but… oh wait: 143 errors in 144 games (tied with Indianapolis)? The worst fielding percentage in the I.L. (.974)? The most unearned runs (86)? Never mind.

Obviously, poor defense aside, the two most glaring exceptions to the around-the-league-average theme are batting walks (tied for 12th fewest) and pitching strikeouts (tied for 11th fewest). Not taking walks is always going to help out the opposing pitchers. Likewise, not getting K’s increases the odds of contact, which was a double handicap because the team was not adept at converting batted balls into outs.

If there is something I’m glad to be wrong about, it’s that the Nationals haven’t gotten older at this level as I thought they might a year ago. Even with the likes of 32-y.o. Yunesky Maya (who pitched the second-most innings), the team’s pitchers were only slightly older than the league average (27.6 vs. 27.3) and the hitters were actually younger (26.6 vs. 26.9), thanks to a pair of 23-year-olds (Zach Walters, Eury Perez) playing nearly every day.

Which brings us to those age-appropriate bats… (Full statistics for the team can be found here.)
here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Zach Walters 23 521 SS/3B 104/27 .981 38 .258 .264
Chris Marrero 24 450 1B 97 .990 9 .249 .132
Corey Brown 27 438 CF/LF/RF 61/22/21 .973 6 .265 .208
Eury Perez 23 433 CF/LF/RF 69/15/9 .979 4 .257 .122
Jeff Kobernus 25 412 LF/2B/CF/3B/RF 50/15/12/11/8 .992 2 .262 .070
Danny Espinosa 26 313 2B/SS 41/35 .965 12 .198 .070
Carlos Rivero 25 239 3B/1B/SS/LF/RF 42/10/6/5/1 .950 12 .208 .048
Tyler Moore 26 200 LF/1B 21/19 .987 3 .324 .266
Jhonatan Solano 27 148 C 38 .997 1 .180 .065
Josh Johnson 27 111 3B/2B/LF/RF 16/9/8/1 .975 2 .323 .125


The good news is that seven of these ten are home-grown. The bad news is that just two of them aren’t repeating the level. Those two, of course, are Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters, who will be competing in 2014 to achieve what Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi did in 2012: establish themselves as MLB bench/role players.

Unfortunately, that path seems blocked for Corey Brown (who’s now out of options) while Eury Perez has languished at AAA and has but one option left and would seem destined to follow in Brown’s footsteps. Time ran out for Chris Marrero, who was removed from the 40-man last month, and became a free agent earlier this week. Likewise for Carlos Rivero, who went from nearly making the club out of spring training to getting demoted to AA after his production dropped dramatically (.783 OPS in ’12 to .588)

On to the pitchers…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Danny Rosenbaum 25 28/28 7-11, 0 3.87 158⅓ 167 67 102 1.478 10 8 8
Tanner Roark 26 33/11 9-3, 2 3.15 105⅔ 85 20 84 0.994 6 3 2
Caleb Clay 25 14/13 5-2, 0 2.49 83 68 14 51 0.988 5 3 3
Erik Davis 25 45/0 3-7, 15 3.10 52⅓ 55 20 54 1.433 4 0 2
Ryan Perry 26 12/8 1-4, 0 7.93 42 54 23 27 1.833 9 1 3
Xavier Cedeno 26 39/0 2-0, 4 1.31 34⅓ 23 16 45 1.136 2 1 5
Tyler Robertson 25 26/1 2-7, 0 3.04 26⅔ 33 8 24 1.538 2 0 2
Cole Kimball 27 23/0 0-0, 1 8.06 25⅔ 31 14 25 1.753 4 0 6
Michael Broadway 26 18/0 1-1, 6 2.28 23⅔ 16 7 26 0.972 2 0 1
Fernando Abad 27 17/0 1-0, 0 1.06 17 17 2 12 1.118 0 0 0


Here is where you see how AAA has become the place to “house inventory” — even with an age-28 cutoff, a significant number of innings went to guys that were acquired, signed, or claimed since last November. And it’s not hard to see what the parent club was looking for in reserve: left-handed relievers.

Danny Rosenbaum, who was taken then returned by Colorado in the Rule 5 draft, was the only lefthanded starter all season long and one has to wonder: If he sticks around next year, is there any chance he’ll be converted to relief to increase his chances of pitching in DC? Or will he be given the Corey Brown treatment and continue to start, with neither the hamburger or the pay on Tuesday?

Methinks the latter will be the case and the example of Tanner Roark will be the justification, as he too was asked to eat innings in 2012 (147⅔ in 26 starts) started 2013 in the Chiefs ‘pen, then shifted back to starting and did both for the parent club, winning seven of his first eight decisions and logging 53⅔ innings for a team that was chasing a playoff spot.

As I did a year ago, I expect the Nationals to promote a handful of the Harrisburg pitchers and use FAs to plug the gaps at both AA and AAA until the prospects are ready. It’s WAY too early to say much more than that, esepcially in light of the trades that have been made over the past couple of offseasons.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
That four of these five are already on the 40-man makes this easy. Justifying the two pitchers is a little harder, given that they turned 26 and 27 last month. But this is what I have to pick from, and the guy not on the 40-man could very well be added to somebody’s 40-man next month (again). Plus, as the old saw goes, he is lefthanded and throws strikes, so…

1. Zach Walters
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Danny Rosenbaum
5. Erik Davis