Mar 262013
 

After a busy weekend of transaction news, here’s a few tidbits to tide folks over in case things really do slow down on the minors front.

• Adam Kilgore gives us updates on Sammy Solis, Nathan Karns, and a whole lot of info on Steve Souza. To be fair, Souza has long been a favorite of Nats management, which explains in part why he’s stuck around despite suspensions for PEDs and off-field incidents. The other part, of course, is that he’s also a five-tool talent, which is why yours truly has put him on the site’s watchlist all three times.

Chris Young has opted out of his contract but still might wind up in Syracuse. According to Ken Rosenthal, some eight teams were watching last night’s start. For most Nats fans, this means little, but for the minor-leaguers, this might mean the difference between starting and relieving, Harrisburg or Syracuse, or going north next week at all.

• Finally, part three of the Sean Nicol interview has been published by our friend Shawn in Hagerstown. Part one can be found here, and part two can be found here.

Feb 102013
 

Like a year ago, I’m anticipating a spring training that’s going to have very little drama in terms of the minor leaguers.

As for (melo)drama overall? Well, the heightened expectations coming off a 98-win season, Davey Johnson’s “World Series or Bust” proclamation, the revelation of Danny Espinosa playing with a torn rotator cuff, and of course, the whole cloud of suspicion hanging over Gio Gonzalez

Yeah, there might be a few instances in which the game played that day will be an afterthought.

So what does this mean for us?

Unlike last year, there’s no Bryce Harper madness. Oh, I’m sure if Anthony Rendon has a hot start there will be a drumbeat for him, perhaps even the suggestion of him replacing Espinosa as the incumbent second baseman, but I think the best that his fans can hope for is a ticket to Syracuse instead of Harrisburg. That is possible, of course, especially if Carlos Rivero is traded away (likely) or makes the 25-man roster as a reserve (less likely) because he is out of options.

There will be some interest, of course, in how and where Christian Garcia will pitch this year. Inside the Natmosphere, there’s been blather talk of him becoming a starter; outside of it, most folks seem to be aware that the track record for multiple-TJers is much more favorable towards relievers. In either case, someone might want to have a chat with him:

I have no idea. Wherever they want to put me to play I am okay with it. Whatever I can help the team, any spot they need help with I would love to help in any way I can. So if it is starting, relieving, whatever it is.

Unfortunately for Garcia, he has options left (three) which could lead to something perverse like being him sent down in favor of Henry “What’s That White Thing In Front of the Catcher?” Rodriguez. Likewise for Erik Davis (three), Cole Kimball (two) and as we discovered last November, Ryan Perry still has one option left. Obviously, much of the excitement for 2013 stems from how strong and deep the Nationals pitching staff looks like on paper, never mind the whole Stephen whatshisname thing.

Corey Brown and Eury Perez are going to have a tough time beating out Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore for an OF spot, unless Chad Tracy gets hurt or shows sign of decline. Given his support from Johnson, his status as a Rizzo draftee, and his contract, it’s probably safe to bet Tracy won’t get cut in March. Still, with his multiple sports hernias, Brown and Perez do have youth and health on their side.

The signing of Chris Snyder as an insurance policy for Wilson Ramos does not bode well for Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano. While Snyder reportedly has an “out” clause if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, he’s also an Article XX-B free agent — essentially, he has enough MLB service time to qualify for a $100,000 roster bonus if he begins the season with Syracuse and can still opt out June 1st.

Translation: If Ramos needs more time, the Nats are not going to start 2013 with a rookie as the backup.

Finally, whither Chris Marrero? There’s been chatter that he’ll be traded in Spring Training. With Tyler Moore ahead of him, and Marrero’s defensive limitations, it’s certainly possible that an American League club might be interested. There are contingencies at AAA if Marrero leaves (Mike Costanzo). But what kind of return he’d net for the Nats seems negligible at this point. Seems more likely that Marrero will start in Syracuse in the hopes of proving his health and productivity.

As always, my spring training focus is to post from the minors point of view for as long as it seems reasonable. Your mileage may vary ;-)

Feb 082013
 

In the final installment of “Guess The Rosters,” we have the Harrisburg Senators. This is just the second time I’ve taken a swag at AA, and it’s highly doubtful I’ll expand this to Syracuse anytime soon.

A Twitter follower asked if the lack of fluidity at the major-league level makes this easier or harder. I replied it was the latter because the organization seems to be more active with minor-league free agents nowadays, and lot less likely to re-up with players it originally drafted — though I have a feeling that might change, given the treatment afforded to Garrett Mock and Matt Chico early on and more recently, signees such as Matt Torra, Ray Kruml, and Micah Owings.

Let’s review my guess for the Sens in ’12:
CA – Sandy Leon
1B – Steve Souza
2B – Jeff Kobernus
SS – Chris McConnell
3B – Carlos Rivero
DH – Justin Bloxom
OF – Eury Perez
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Chris Rahl
BIF – Francisco Soriano or Tim Pahuta
BIF – Stephen King
BCA – Devin Ivany or Beau Seabury
BOF – J.R. Higley

Because it was my first crack at it, I hedged my bets on the bench, and clearly, with good reason. Souza threw me for a loop and I’ll have to admit that I very nearly put him on the 2013 roster… until I considered that Bloxom (another miss) didn’t get the bump, either (and both were/are 23-about-to-turn-24).

Rivero is easy to explain: He had played all of seven (7) games at AAA prior to 2012, and with more experienced infielders on that roster (McConnell, Jarrett Hoffpauir, Mark Teahen) it seemed unlikely for him to go to Syracuse. As for McConnell getting the nod over Josh Johnson (though the two would swap places two weeks later)? I got nuthin’

Whether or not you count my hedges as half-right (7-for-13) or half-wrong (8-for-15), my success rate is still (only) slightly better than 50/50. I guess that makes me more like Jim Cramer than Warren Buffett?!

On to this year’s SWAG:

CA – Jeff Howell
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Ricky Hague
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Anthony Rendon
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Brian Goodwin
OF – Chris Rahl
DH/BIF – Justin Bloxom
BCA – Kris Watts
BIF – Sean Nicol
BIF – Francisco Soriano
BOF – Jimmy Van Ostrand

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m probably being too optimistic that Skole, Hague, and Martinson will all get promoted. Perhaps Francisco Soriano won’t follow in the footsteps of Jose Lozada. Maybe Stephen King will return for a third season. Last year, a lot of guys were stashed on the disabled list (e.g. Potomac, which had eight (8) on the 2012 Opening Day Roster) and/or extended spring training and I suspect (know) that will happen again.

Hope folks enjoyed this little exercise… certainly helped fill up the week. Spring Training is next week, the accelerated minors camp starts the week after, but if last year is any guide, I suspect my spring-training coverage will be another week shorter as the odds of a minor-leaguer making the “Big Nats” seem a little longer.

Feb 072013
 

Picking up from yesterday, let’s take a look at what I thought the 2012 Potomac Nationals position players would be:

CA – David Freitas
1B – Brett Newsome
2B – Adrian Sanchez
SS – Zach Walters
3B – Jason Martinson
OF – Michael Taylor
OF – Kevin Keyes
OF – Randolph Oduber
DH – Blake Kelso
BCA – Cole Leonida
BIF – Sean Nicol
BIF – Cutter Dykstra
BOF – J.P. Ramirez

Roughly the same as Hagerstown: 7-for-13, with a couple of positions wrong. Walters opened the season on the DL but was playing SS by the end of the month. We now know this was because he had a hamate-bone surgery. Kelso ended up playing 3B for roughly half the season, but this isn’t the American League, either.
The prediction of DH is one you can’t really get right or wrong in the minors because it’s not used the same way (e.g. Wade Moore was the DH on Opening Day for the P-Nats; Kevin Keyes was the LF).

Some mistakes flow from the misses I made with the Suns (Martinson instead of Rendon) but most were that I did not anticipate so many guys getting dropped down (Ramirez, Dykstra, Souza) and overestimated a couple of Hagerstown guys getting moved up (Leonida, Newsome). Nice to know now, but not sure if I’m not going to repeat those mistakes with this crew:

CA – Nieto
1B – Keyes
2B – Dykstra
SS – Ortega
3B – Sanchez
OF – Burns
OF – Taylor
OF – Souza
DH – Ramsey
BCA – Leonida
BIF – J. Miller
BIF – Kelso
BOF – Oduber

What makes this roster tough to call is that it’s the last one to get filled out. That might not make sense to the casual fan, but think of it this way: Low-A is for the draft picks in Auburn (mostly) and the GCL (rarely) that progressed as hoped the summer before. Triple-A is for the major-league replacements and the experienced prospects (some elite, some not). Double-A is for the medium-experience prospects (ideally, guys in their second full year of pro ball). High-A is something of a dog’s breakfast: the occasional elite first-year prospect, some second-year collegiate players, a lot of guys in their third year of pro ball, etc.

The net result is that there is something of a “pushdown” effect (though it tends to affect the “OGs” more than the prospects). Frequently it goes something like this: A triple-A free agent blocks a guy at AA that might have gotten a shot, who in turn, blocks a High-A guy from making the jump, etc., etc.

There are more repeats here than in Hagerstown, which may have been a mistake in and of itself, but I also went out on a limb with the trio of Matt Skole, Martinson, and Ricky Hague (spoiler alert for the next post). Odds are very good that I’m going to miss one or two there, but I’d rather skew too optimistic in this case, even if I probably ought to be more like Det. Sherman than the Littles (1:36 to 2:04).

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments. And don’t forget that the players, their families, and their agents are reading, too ;-)

Feb 062013
 

As threaten…er, promised: Time to take a guess at how the “middle minors” (A, A+ , AA) rosters will shake out in a couple of months.

First, let’s take a look at what I thought would be the 2012 Hagerstown lineup:

CA – Adrian Nieto
1B – Matt Skole
2B – Anthony Rendon
SS – Rick Hague
3B – Bryce Ortega
DH – Justin Miller
OF – Caleb Ramsey
OF – Brian Goodwin
OF – Angel Montilla
BCA – Jeremy Mayo
BIF – Justino Cuevas
BIF – Khayyan Norfork
BOF – Billy Burns

Well, there’s a reason why I use the word “guess” instead of “forecast” or “prediction” — just seven of the 13 were on the Opening Day roster (misses in red), and just four of the seven were in the right position/role (mistakes are in blue).

Where’d I go wrong? Easy. I underestimated the Nats’ insistence on keeping Skole at third, guessed wrong that Rendon wouldn’t crack the Potomac IF (might have helped if I knew Walters was hurt) and that his shoulder was well enough to handle 3B. I did not anticipate Hague, coming off an injury, would be slotted above Martinson.

I don’t agonize as much about the backups because it’s difficult to know (1) how the organization values Player A vs. Player B (2) who’s going to be put in extended spring training (3) who’s going to pack it in. The only surefire sign is being released or placed on the restricted list.

Without further ado, here’s my guess at the 2013 Suns:
CA – Kieboom
1B – Pleffner
2B – Renda
SS – S. Perez
3B – C. Lopez
OF – E. Martinez
OF – Ramos
OF – Mesa
DH – B. Miller
BCA – Manuel
BIF – Norfork
UT – McQuillan
BOF – Ramirez

I’m not terribly confident that I’ll do much better this time, especially with the injuries to Brandon Miller and Stephen Perez. The outfielders are a tough call, especially when I’m already sending up most of the Auburn OFs already and picking from a pool of guys like J.P. Ramirez, J.R. Higley, and Justin Miller.

It never seems to add up in early February, which perhaps is why I’m nonplussed.

Next up: Potomac. As always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Feb 052013
 

minor leagues signs 2After a couple of uneventful weeks on the signing front, the Nationals have started back up, announcing the signing of a pitcher and a catcher with an invite to spring training this afternoon.

Former Toronto fireman Jeremy Accardo is the pitcher. The 31-year-old Accardo split time between both AAA and MLB and Cleveland and Oakland in 2012, making 27 appearances in the majors with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.554 WHIP, and posting marks of 2.25 ERA and 1.208 WHIP in 20 appearances in the minors.

Former Houston backstop Chris Snyder is the catcher. The almost-32-year-old spent 2012 as the Astros backup, slicing through National League pitching like (warm) butter with a triple-slash of .176/.295/.308 in 76 games.

Last week, the Nationals signed veteran AAA outfielder Jerad Head to a minor-league deal. The 30-year-old former Cleveland farmhand hit .268/.353/.451 in 85 games for AAA Columbus last summer. He is a career .276/.343/.495 hitter in four AAA seasons, and got a cup of coffee with the Indians with 10 games in late August/early September 2011.

All three guys are most likely destined to see time at Syracuse, presuming that neither non-roster invitee is released outright during spring training.

My apologies to anyone who might have been trying to access the site this afternoon — like Alois Bell and Applebee’s, we were having server issues. *rimshot!*

Feb 042013
 

With this year’s editions of both Baseball America and John Sickels’s prospect books received, read, and reviewed, I’ve finished the player reports for the 2013 NationalsProspects.com Watchlist.

For the newcomers, this is a list of the players that are on our radar for 2013. It’s built upon the guys that catch my eye in the course of doing the season reviews, and it’s something that I’ve been tweaking each year, making some major changes this year, which you can read about here and here.

I’m not big on prospect-ranking, but I do compile a pair of Top 10 lists, one each for the position players and the pitchers.

It’s not a depth chart or a prediction of how, when, and where guys will be used this year — though I’ll make some guesses like I did last year for the rosters of Hagerstown, Potomac, and Harrisburg. I may even take a swag at the pitchers again, especially since this upcoming spring training appears to be mostly an exercise of rounding out the bench and the bullpen, with very little prospect drama — much like last year when it was limited to whether or not Steve Lombardozzi and/or Corey Brown could make the bench (don’t make me ruin a future post!).

Ten days ’til pitchers and catchers report…

Feb 032013
 

It’s been a theme that the worm has turned when it comes to player development and the Washington Nationals. Once upon a time, it seemed like they could only develop pitchers and even then, it was back-of-the-rotation guys* and middle relievers. Before Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina ascended in 2010, it was pretty sparse — basically Ryan Zimmerman, who spent a grand total of 67 games in the minors in 2005. *Let’s face it: John Lannan may have been an Opening Day starter, but only on a 100+ loss team.

Since then, it’s been more steady… Danny Espinosa in 2011, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi in 2012, not to mention a couple of catchers that are on the verge, albeit most likely as backups (Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano). I suppose some credit is due for that Bryce Harper kid, too.

This is not to say Washington has become the Cleveland of the 1990s, but to paraphrase Terry Byrom — the organization sure has come a long way since the days of Larry Broadway.

Like 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.
…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.

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Brian Goodwin – B+ (B) Steven Souza – C+ Chris Marrero – C (C+)
Anthony Rendon – B+ (A-) Zach Walters – C+ (C) Jason Martinson – C (C)
Matt Skole – B (C) Corey Brown – C Brandon Miller – C
Destin Hood – C+ (B-) Billy Burns – C Randolph Oduber – C (C)
Estarlin Martinez – C+ (C) Ricky Hague – C (C+) Wander Ramos – C
Eury Perez – C+ (C) Spencer Kieboom – C Caleb Ramsey – C
Tony Renda – C+ Sandy Leon – C Michael Taylor – C (C+)
Carlos Rivero – C+

The four guys that are bolded weren’t on the BA Top 31, but all are on the 2013 Watchlist (yes, I do take a small measure of pride in that). Blake Kelso, Kevin Keyes, and Justin Bloxom were dropped from this year’s while Harper, Lombardozzi and Moore graduated.

Of the nine guys that weren’t in the 2012 book, three were drafted last June (Renda, Kieboom, Miller). Two others (Burns and Ramsey) were drafted in 2011. For those wondering, David Freitas was graded a C+ while Jeff Kobernus was graded a C — both grades are the same as last year’s.

This year, the sole “sleeper” pick is Estarlin Martinez, a bat in search of a position, which seems to be LF after 30+ games at 2B, 3B, 1B, and RF. Martinez turns 21 in March and Sickels believes he’s primed for a breakout year, which will most likely begin in Hagerstown.

Most of the “bolded” guys are covered in the watchlist, which I’ll be finishing up soon, but I gotta give props for Sickels’s nickname of Spencer “Where’s The Earth Shattering?” Kieboom (link for those unfortunate enough to miss the reference), even though it’s pronounced Key-boom.

And with that, the annual review of the prospect books is complete. Two weeks to go until the full squad is due to report at Viera.

Feb 022013
 

It’s a week later than last year, but the PDF of the John Sickels prospect hit the inbox early this morning, affirming my decision to paperless since the recent ice storms in the midwest are delaying shipment of the books.

As I’ve done the past two years, I’m breaking this into two posts and starting with the pitchers. For the second straight year, there are more position players listed than pitchers (22 vs. 17), but there are also six more players overall listed (39 vs. 33). Not sure if the former is good, but I’m pleased with the latter because it gives me more material to work with, especially as I finish off the player reports on the 2013 Watchlist.

A reminder: Sickels gives letter grades for the players and is extremely tough. How tough? There are close to 1,000 players in the book. Sickels gave out eight (8) A’s and sixteen (16) A-‘s. Among his Top 50 Batters and Top 50 Pitchers, there are twenty-four B’s.

Also, it’s important to remember that the grade is relative to the level — a C-grade guy in the Appy League could end up a superstar, but a C in the International League is probably going to ride the pine or pitch in blowouts if he ever makes it to The Show.

Let’s dig in. When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principles…

…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

Sickels is a Bill James disciple in that he uses statistics to help identify trends and anomalies. But he also believes in the value in scouting to identify the intangibles like effort, body language, kinetics, athleticism, etc.

Here’s a look at the 17 pitchers (2012 grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – B Aaron Barrett – C Ivan Pineyro – C
Christian Garcia – B- Robert Benincasa – C Robbie Ray – C (B-)
Nathan Karns – B- Erik Davis – C Derek Self – C
Sammy Solis – B- (B-) Neil Holland – C Kylin Turnbull – C (C)
Brett Mooneyham – C+ Pat Lehman – C (C)  
Matt Purke – C+ (B-) Christian Meza – C  

Those that are bolded are ranked by Sickels but not Baseball America. All but three (Benincasa, Self, Turnbull) are on the 2013 Watchlist, which I’ll modify by adding them to the “Notables.” Now, for some tidbits…

…Like everyone else outside the Natmosphere, Sickels believes Garcia will work in relief, perhaps even as a closer.

…Giolito’s Grade B is based purely on potential and he was excluded from the Top 50 because of the TJ surgery.

…Scouts aren’t convinced yet that Karns will stick as a starter at the higher levels, pointing to his control issues and an uneven changeup (before you jump to the comments, remember that one of the key differences between High-A and AA is hitters being able to lay off certain pitches).

…Sickels tabbed Lehman as a sleeper a few years back, but still has faith that he might have a shot as a middle reliever in MLB (unfortunately, he said much the same thing about Josh Wilkie).

…Unlike everyone else, Sickels is skeptical that Purke will regain the velocity he showed in 2010 as a freshman at TCU.

…Oddly enough, Sickels still believes in Sammy Solis’s chances coming off TJ surgery, perhaps because he has more of a track record than Purke.

For those wishing more detail, let me remind you that Sickels is a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri) so you should buy the book (seriously, go for the PDF — you can search and annotate).

Up next: a post on the hitters, and I’ll be updating/finishing the Player Reports as well.

Jan 302013
 

Mayo 2Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has released his 2013 Top 100 list and four Nationals farmhands were among the spread.

At #28, third baseman Anthony Rendon was the highest ranked Washington prospect. He actually moved up from #33 on last year’s list despite an abbreviated 2012 campaign. The 22-year-old is expected to begin the season for AA Harrisburg, but as a member of the team’s 40-man roster, Rendon will being spring training with the big boys in Viera.

Next on the list at #52 is centerfielder Brian Goodwin, who is also due to begin ’13 for the Senators. Such is the capriciousness of prospect ranking that Goodwin, who missed five weeks early in the season but was still jumped from Low-A to AA last July, rose from a #67 ranking in 2012.

The Nationals top pick in the 2012 draft, Lucas Giolito, was ranked #74 but is unlikely to pitch in a competitive game this season, thanks to having Tommy John surgery last August. Prior to suffering an elbow injury in the spring, Giolito was on track to be a “one-one” with a triple-digit fastball and a pair of plus breaking pitches.

Finally, recently re-acquired A.J. Cole was #91, dropping a spot from the 2012 list. While it’s possible for Cole to join Rendon and Goodwin on the AA squad, the smarter money is on Cole beginning ’13 with Potomac, given his struggles in High-A last season as well as Rizzo’s more conservative tendencies. Cole effectively replaces Alex Meyer (ranked #40), who went to Minnesota to acquire CF Denard Span.