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.

Jan 282013
 

no25John Sickels has released his second annual farm system rankings, and if you haven’t guessed where the Nats came in by now… have I got some real estate in Florida for you!

All kidding aside, you can tell from his lengthy intro that this is something he’s doing mostly to appease his readers, but also to make the point that things change rapidly — the James Shields trade for Kansas City and Justin Upton trade for Atlanta, for example, dropped them from Top 10 systems in 2012 to No. 21 and 27 respectively. It’s nice to have a top-ranked farm system, but it’s not as important as developing talent that can play for your major-league team — now and in the future.

From that perspective, the Nationals have obviously succeeded, which I’ve mentioned before.

Sickels ranked the Nationals #14 last year. They’re now ranked #25, right about where I would have guessed, even if the recent Baseball America book had them at #16. No sense paraphrasing his short comment, as this will sound awful familiar:

Strengths: Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin have star potential. Considerable raw material for a pitching staff. Weaknesses: They are banking a lot on injured pitchers recovering well. Many prospects are too old for their levels.

Rankings like these are by their very nature subjective — some folks put a premium on having multiple prospects with high ceilings, others prefer a system to have both depth and diversification. Never mind the philosophical differences about when and how to draft and/or develop pitchers vs. position players.

Take it for what it’s worth — something to talk about for a while in late January that most folks will forget by mid-February.

Jan 262013
 

Picking up from our last post, here are nos. 16 through 31 in the 2013 BA Prospect Handbook…

16. Ricky Hague, SS/2B (15)
17. Destin Hood, OF (11)
18. Robbie Ray, LHP (17)
19. Brett Mooneyham, LHP
20. Corey Brown, OF
21. Estarlin Martinez, OF
22. Brandon Miller, OF
23. Chris Marrero, 1B (12)
24. Carlos Rivero, 3B/SS
25. Steven Souza, OF
26. Billy Burns, OF
27. Ivan Pineyro, RHP
28. Paul Demny, RHP (29)
29. Wirkin Estevez, RHP
30. Jhonatan Solano, C
31. Shawn Pleffner, 1B

As mentioned previously, a sizable portion of this list is what prospect followers would call “old” — others might call them 4A, some folks would have an entirely different opinion — which is what happens with the draft tilting so heavily towards collegiate players. Drafting last in the Rule 4 draft, in a year that is considered one of the weakest in recent memory (insert “Girlwatching” joke here), one has to wonder if this is when Nationals GM Mike Rizzo finally starts to roll the dice on some HS guys.

Let’s take a look at how the newcomers to the BA list were acquired:

2012 Draft — Lucas Giolito (2), Tony Renda (12), Brett Mooneyham (19), Brandon Miller (22)

2011 Draft — Billy Burns (26), Shawn Pleffner (31)

2009 Draft — Nathan Karns (5)

2007 Draft — Steven Souza (25)

Int’l Free Agents — Estarlin Martinez (21), Ivan Pineyro (27), Wirkin Estevez (29), Jhonatan Solano (30)

Domestic Free Agent — Christian Garcia (6)

Waiver Claim — Carlos Rivero (24)

Trade — Corey Brown (20)

That’s quite a hodge-podge, with two of the team’s Top 10 coming out of nowhere to the casual fan. I’m tempted to lump in “fantasy” with “casual,” but I’m aware that there’s a subset of folks that are into prospects for the purposes of getting a Christian Garcia or Nathan Karns onto their team. If only there were a way to make a buck off ‘em the way BA can…

The better news, of course, is that 27 of these 31 are homegrown. In addition to spending big and taking risks, I believe BA rewards this in terms of ranking the organizations (#1 St. Louis is 30 of 31). Four more tidbits before we close out with a look at the 2016 Nationals…

…Taylor Jordan is their breakout prospect for 2013, citing the return of his 96 mph heater. Having seen him in 2010, I can understand the hype if indeed he’s fully recovered from TJ surgery and progressed accordingly.

…Perhaps not coincidentally, Karns is listed second and Jordan third in the RHSP depth chart behind, of course, Giolito

…Shawn Pleffner is their sleeper for 2013, noting that 2011 was lost to injury (sports hernia), which somewhat validates my decision to include him on the watchlist.

…With Matt Skole still not officially recognized as a 1B, Chris Marrero is still the top-rated 1B in the organization (which in part is why I included Pleffner and Kevin Keyes)

The 2016 Nationals (pay no attention to injuries, trades, or free agents)
C – Wilson Ramos
1B – Ryan Zimmerman
2B – Danny Espinosa
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Anthony Rendon
LF – Brian Goodwin
CF – Denard Span
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Lucas Giolito
#3P – Gio Gonzalez
#4P – Jordan Zimmermann
#5P – Ross Detwiler
CL – Drew Storen

Like your rural pothead, BA likes ‘em homegrown — 12 of those 14 to be exact. I can buy Giolito’s ceiling, but the #2 SP after what will undoubtedly be two innings-limited seasons? Sure, and that’s just a lamp…

Jan 252013
 

2013-BA-Prospect-HandbookThe 2013 Baseball America Prospects book is here and the staff is reviewing it. As much as I like to bash BA, I can’t ignore them, either. Like it or not, when it comes to prospects, the conversation starts with them. Fine by me, because I think the recent anointing of the Brothers Upton is proof positive that baseball fans are desperate for winter to end (that, and lately, narrative in sportswriting has been cheap and easy).

Like last year, I’m doing multiple posts to spread out the material and have fodder for discussion.

As mentioned in the comments, I was shocked to see that the system came in at #16 — I was expecting somewhere in the mid-20s. And this does not include the return of A.J. Cole. Much like 2011, the folks in Durham really approved of the gamble taken with the drafting of Lucas Giolito.

Let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 26 (remember, the Gio Gonzalez trade happened after the book went to press).

Graduated (3) — Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore

Rule 5 Draft, Taken (2) — Jeff Kobernus, Danny Rosenbaum

Traded (2) — Alex Meyer, David Freitas

Dropped Out (4) — Kylin Turnbull, Cole Kimball, Kevin Keyes, Adrian Sanchez

So a little more than than half (15/26) of last year’s list is the same. Half of it has been signed since GM Mike Rizzo has become GM. One-fifth (6) are IFAs signed by the Nationals. A bit more of a mild surprise: six of the thirty will be 25 or older by midseason, which is somewhat of an indictment of Washington’s collegiate drafting bias, but one would have thought that more these guys would have been passed over in favor of 2012 draftees.

Today, I’ll leave you with the Top 15 Prospects listed in the book, then pass along 16-30 in Part Two. Where applicable, last year’s ranking is in parentheses:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (2)
2. Lucas Giolito, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF (5)
4. Matt Skole, 3B (21)
5. Nathan Karns, RHP
6. Christian Garcia, RHP
7. Eury Perez, OF (22)
8. Sammy Solis, LHP (8)
9. Matt Purke, LHP (7)
10. Zach Walters, SS (19)
11. Michael Taylor, OF (14)
12. Tony Renda, 2B
13. Taylor Jordan, RHP (31)
14. Jason Martinson, SS/3B (25)
15. Sandy Leon, C (24)

Jan 222013
 

Morning ReadingYikes. Between the cold, the forecast of snow this week, and the dearth of news, it’s been a rough January.

For the newbies, when you see the kid with the newspaper, it means things are slow here and I’m just doing a post to keep the site fresh, passing a couple of baseball-related tidbits. It’s also a reference to my days as a small-town reporter (How small? Let’s just say the expression “Everybody knows what everybody does ’round here; we just read the paper to see who got caught” isn’t that far off).

Our friend Shawn in Hagerstown has been doing one of his winter staples: Interviewing some of his favorite ex-Suns, which unfortunately, at this time, is also an ex-Nat: Danny Rosenbaum. Check out the first(1) three(2) parts(3) of his interview. Part four should be coming soon.

The subject of attendance came in the comments, specifically to Syracuse most recently, but a staple of discussion from time to time. Someone with too much time on his hands (no word on the bar stool), David Kronheim of NumberTamer.com, has released his annual minor-league attendance analysis. A few of things I found interesting:

  • 2012 was the best year ever for the Carolina League in terms of total attendance and average per date (though all of that is attributable to Carolina replacing Kinston; the other seven teams had a net decline of 1.5%)
  • Attendance in the International League fell the most (159,620) continuing a three-year trend since breaking 7M in ’09
  • Harrisburg topped 200,000 for the 25th time in 26 seasons, posting its 3rd best season since 1991
  • Hagerstown’s attendance was its lowest since 1981, dropping 36,164 total and 565 per date.
  • Auburn’s attendance increased 15.2% from 2011, begging the question (not answered) — how much of that was attributable to winning (unlikely) vs. the economy (likely)

Last, but not least, in my quest to find a worthy competitor to Rutt’s Hut or The Root Beer Stand there is a new quest: The Big League Hotdog Company.

Jan 152013
 

More ST cutsIt’s a weird world we live in when a mere tweet can be the peg for a news story.

Such was the case yesterday when Jake Skole, the younger sibling of Matt Skole, congratulated his brother on his invite to Washington Nationals spring training, prompting this story from Byron Kerr, who confirmed it independently. The younger Skole’s feelings were echoed by teammate Jason Martinson (both of which I retweeted).

Hours later, Ryan Tatusko gave out the props to his AAA teammate Zach Walters for the same honor. Neither invite has been officially confirmed as of this writing, with the Nationals PR Twitter account dark since Friday.

Like most non-roster invitees, Skole and Walters do not have a strong chance of making the parent club this spring, but the invite is significant nevertheless because it means more time spent in Viera with the major-league coaches.

The logical inference is that both will spend time working on their defense. Walters has been pegged by some as having a future as a utilityman, and if so, will need to refine his defense at the non-SS positions and learn the OF, a la Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore last year.

Skole spent time at 1B in the Arizona Fall League and it’s probably fair to deduce he’ll spend more time learning the position, given that No. 1 prospect Anthony Rendon also plays 3B (and some other guy in DC).

Finally, in keeping with the theme of news-by-Twitter, MLB.com beat reporter Bill Ladson is reporting that former Dodgers/Pirates UT Delwyn Young has been signed to minor-league deal with no invite. The 30-year-old Young, perhaps most famous in Nats lore for hitting a two-run HR in Stephen Strasburg’s MLB debut in 2010, played just 35 games in 2012 with the Camden Riversharks after failing to make the White Sox out of Spring Training.

UPDATE:
This afternoon the Nationals officially announced the spring-training invites of LHPs Fernando Abad, Bill Bray, Brandon Mann, RHP Ross Ohlendorf and IF Will Rhymes, which were previously reported here, here, there, and everywhere, along with the official announcements for Skole and Walters.

They also extended non-roster invitations to C Carlos Maldonado, LHP Pat McCoy, and RHP Tanner Roark and officially announced that pitchers and catchers are due to report on February 12, position players on February 15.

Jan 132013
 

As Spike used to say... mehPerhaps the most depressing thing is that this is the third time I’ve had to write this kind of post, thanks to the news slowdown. Today’s spring-like weather certainly won’t help because, like the first full week after a long weekend (or, say, a winter break), when it gets cold again (it is January, after all,) it’ll seem just a little worse.

Just like last January, there’s blather chatter from the “A” ball affiliates regarding new facilities. In Hagerstown, a grandstanding city councilman suggests putting out a bid for ballpark proposals, which sounds reasonable to folks unfamiliar with how minor-league baseball operates. Ballpark Digest explains why that’s a chimera.

Meanwhile, in Potomac, the filet mignon that’s going to be tomorrow night’s special at the diner is scheduled to be one of the highlights of the P-Nats’ Hot Stove Banquet next week. If that sounds familiar, well, perhaps that’s because you’ve seen it before. (For those wondering, the Senators’ event is on the 26th, the Chiefs hold theirs on February 1st, while Doubledays are on the 2nd.)

Not much else to report, unfortunately. Feel free to discuss in the comments.