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.

Jan 102013
 

Big In JapanUnfortunately, he’s an American returning back to affiliated baseball for the first time in three years. Sorry.

Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com has reported that LHP Brandon Mann has signed a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals. The deal also includes an invite to spring training.

The 28-year-old southpaw has spent the past two seasons in Japan with the Yokohama BayStars, going 1-1 with a 1.16 ERA in 12 relief appearances in 2011, but just 2-8 with a 5.32 ERA (though a decent 1.357 WHIP) in 15 starts in 2012. He was originally drafted by Tampa Bay in the 27th Rd. of the 2002 draft as a HS pick from Des Moines, WA.

Mann reached as high as AA in 2009 when he went 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 27 appearances (21 starts) with Montgomery. As a MLFA, he hooked on with the L.A. Dodgers in 2010 but was dropped down to High-A and released after 37 games in relief, going 3-0 but posting a 4.12 ERA and a 1.833 WHIP. He was picked up by the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs later that season and made five starts for a 1-2 record and a 5.14 ERA, 1.643 WHIP.

Jan 092013
 

As the previous post indicated, I’ve been working on the player reports for the 2013 Watchlist and have completed the “first draft,” if you will. After the book from Baseball America and the .PDF from John Sickels are received and reviewed, I’ll fill in the “Report Not Yet Written” entries and revise/rewrite the others as needed.

With the signing of Adam LaRoche, we can hope that the dominoes will begin to fall elsewhere in baseball, eventually rippling down to the AAA and AA levels. Invariably, folks are talking trade for Michael Morse, which GM Mike Rizzo can deny isn’t inevitable with all the sincerity of a college basketball coach.
Personally, I’d much rather write a story about “the new guys” than run another pic of Spike forlornly looking out the back window, but I digress.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments while we wait out the winter.

Jan 062013
 

Plugging AwayAs mentioned previously, we’re in a slow stretch here… typical of this time of year, but still a bit painful.

I know the casual fans are dying for new on if/when/whether Adam LaRoche will re-sign, a drama which is playing out elsewhere in MLB — most notably in St. Louis, where Kyle Lohse must wonder if he’s a convertible in an Alaskan used-car lot. For those confused by the bad metaphor, Lohse is one of a handful of free agents, along with LaRoche, who received a qualifying offer that requires the signing team to lose a draft pick and a share of their 2013 Draft bonus purse.

Confused? Well, there’s a reason why front offices can have more law degrees than baseball pedigrees. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold outlines the added cost of signing such a free agent, which might explain this tortoise fight.

As the headline says, I’ve finished the final two essays — DSL Guys and M*A*S*H — and have done what I can (sans the prospect books for the guys I haven’t seen) for the catchers, first basemen, LHPs, and RHPs.

Jan 022013
 

It’s back to work and back to school for most folks today, as the too-long-for-parents winter break is finally over. As the headline says, I’ve completed the essays for the Notable Arms and Notable Bats and will be working on the other portions of the list that can be done without the books by John Sickels and Baseball America.

This, of course, is a tough time for the minor-league baseball blogger fan. Beyond one more winter-league update and the next transactions post from BA, which could very well only contain the signings from last weekend, it’s a waiting game.

As always, I’ll do my best to keep the site fresh, even it means, um, well, a post like this. Happy New Year!

Dec 292012
 

minor leagues signs 2The estimable Bill “The Rocket” Ladson has passed along news that the Nationals have signed two more minor-league free agents.

Both are of the veteran variety, likely to fill out the Syracuse roster.

Mike “Don’t Call Me George” Constanzo is a corner infielder who was originally drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the 2005 draft. He has also spent time in the Baltimore and Cincinnati organizations, making his MLB debut last May with the Reds but was an abysmal 1-for-18 in 17 games. For his career, the 29-year-old has a .258/.349/.430 line and has played 682 of his 848 minor-league games at 3B, compiling a .928 fielding percentage.

Matt Torra is a RHSP who was originally taken by Arizona (*shock!*) in the supplemental round of the ’05 draft out of UMass, where he posted a 1.14 ERA in his senior season (albeit in the A-10). Shoulder woes (*another shock!*) delayed his full-season debut until 2007, where he struggled to a 6.01 ERA albeit in the Nintendo California League. Torra split time between AA and AAA from ’08 to ’10 before the Diamondbacks released him after 15 starts in 2011. He was picked up by the Rays and finished the ’11 season and pitched all of 2012 with Durham, going 16-9 with a 3.97 ERA in 34 starts.

The 28-year-old Torra features a high-80s sinker (previously low-90s, touching 95), an 11-5 curveball and a changeup but fits the moniker of “pitching to contact” with career marks of 10.3 H/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 5.6 K/9. While he’s improved since this article was written, the conclusion is still apt.

Dec 282012
 

Late yesterday afternoon, John Sickels released his Top 20 list for the Washington Nationals. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by grade:

B+ Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin
B Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole
B- Nathan Karns, Christian Garcia, Sammy Solis
C+ Matt Purke, Eury Perez, Tony Renda, Zach Walters, Destin Hood, Steven Souza, Brett Mooneyham, Estarlin Martinez, Carlos Rivero
C Sandy Leon, Michael Taylor, Brandon Miller, Corey Brown

Left to right is by number, i.e. Rendon is #1, Goodwin is #2… Miller is #19, Brown is #20. In bold are last year’s Top 20 guys, red = they ranked higher, blue = they ranked lower. Italics = played their way onto the list.

The good news and bad news are both two-fold. For the second straight year, eight guys played their way onto the list… and nine of the 20 are C+ guys, meaning they’re a notch above the average so-called prospect (remember Sickels is a tough grader). Unfortunately, after having a baker’s dozen guys rated B- or better last year it’s just seven this year… and five of the eight repeats fell in their letter grade.

I think it’s important to repeat what Sickels wrote about the Nationals system as a whole:

The system has thinned out massively, but that’s understandable: much of the major league roster is home-grown, and farm system products were important in key trades. So while the current list is not impressive, it should not be taken as an indictment of the farm system…

As I did a year ago, here are few of my thoughts on the list…

…While perhaps true, Sickels may have done Rendon no favors by suggesting he can play 2B because now the drumbeat for Rendon to replace Espinosa will only get louder.

…Like Baseball America, I’m intrigued as to why Solis gets a pass despite having had surgery and not mastering A+ yet. Sickels seems to talking out of both sides of his mouth (and I know how hard that is to do, because I’ve caught myself doing many a time) by dropping Giolito from an A grade to a B grade.

…Thankfully, Sickels is on board with the idea that Skole should be switched to 1B and the jump from a C to a B grade is quite the vote of confidence.

…Interesting to see Hood and Souza ranked back-to-back because Hood’s 2011 was much like Souza’s 2012. The difference, of course, is that they’re roughly a year apart in age (23 vs. 24) but Sickels seems to hinting that Souza could be a sleeper.

…Other sleepers: Erik Davis and Carlos Rivero, though the wording in his blurb (“Could be nice utility guy for someone.”) seems to suggest he’ll be back in Syracuse and groomed as trade bait.

…The list of “others,” akin to an honorable mention, effectively mirrors the 2013 Watchlist with the exceptions of Kylin Turnbull, Robert Benincasa, and Derek Self. But that also includes “old guys” like Davis and Pat Lehman, along with mostly-discussed-just-here guys like Neil Holland and Christian Meza.

Dec 222012
 

reindogs-2012As I take a break from humiliating training the new staff, let me pass along a few small news items while wait out the offseason.

The new ballpark saga in Hagerstown meanders on, despite some rather ominous signs that it’s going to fade away, like most ballpark proposals do.

In upstate New York, the mood is a little different. To borrow from Henny Youngman, it’s take our ballpark… please, as the county government seems eager to rid itself of the maintenance expense, which is typically a battle between governments and teams — especially when things break or degrade unexpectedly.

Finally, minor-league baseball wrapped up its organizational all-stars with Washington, choosing the best at each position (“regardless of age or prospect status”) with few surprises — I might have chosen Jeff Kobernus over Cutter Dykstra, but like the BA awards, we don’t know when the selections were made — as the accolades for the likes of Nathan Karns, Brian Goodwin, and Matt Skole continue.

Dec 192012
 

Yes, things have slowed to a crawl in the minor-league front. Hence, a post about an upcoming post to keep the site fresh.

As the headline says, Baseball America is expected to release its Top 10 list for 2013. Mark Zuckerman remarks that it’s been roughly a year since the Nats had their on-paper #1 ranking, which vanished with the trade of Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, and Derek Norris for Gio Gonzalez and Rob Gilliam.

We won’t know where the Nats will rank relative to the rest of major-league baseball for another few weeks, but it’s likely going to be a wee bit lower than #1. Probably around 25, if I had to guess. Speaking of which… I’ll take a swag at what that Top 10 list will be while we await the official release:

1. Anthony Rendon
2. Lucas Giolito
3. Brian Goodwin
4. Matt Purke
5. Eury Perez
6. Brett Mooneyham
7. Tony Renda
8. Matt Skole
9. Nathan Karns
10. Sammy Solis

As I’ve written in the comments, there’s likely to be some angst in the general Natmosphere about the drop from 1 to 20-something. Thing is, that’s how the system is supposed to work: also-rans get first crack at the top amateur talent to improve the parent club, contenders have to work harder to keep the younger talent coming, which is what we hope the farm is transitioning towards: a model of developing major-league players on a regular basis, some of which will play in D.C. while others will not.