Morning Reading

Morning Reading 2As I get older, I’m convinced that Januaries are like watching your preferred gender walk on by… but in reverse. Each one seems uglier than the last.

Now that we’ve dispensed with the obligatory comment on the weather, here are a few items to pass along as we wait out this [expletive deleted].

Keith Law has ranked the Nationals farm system 18th this year, moving up from 21st last year despite the graduations of Anthony Rendon and Taylor Jordan and the trading away of Robbie Ray (hey, that rhymes!). As others have noted, the improved health of Lucas Giolito along with the rebound of A.J. Cole and the 2013 Draft class has boosted the system’s perceived depth. Giolito, Law revealed, was among his Top 50 due out today.

Baseball Prospectus ranked three Nationals in its Top 101, placing Giolito 13th, Cole 53rd, and Brian Goodwin 86th (Ray did not make this list). Jason Parks, who took over as the chief prospect guy when Kevin Goldstein was hired away by the Houston Astros (the #1 system according to Law), had ranked Giolito 70th and Goodwin 74th last year (Rendon was #35).

Finally, the Hagerstown Suns have announced the game times for this season with all 10 Sunday games scheduled for 5:05 p.m. and weekday games beginning at 6:35 p.m. in April, then moving back to 7:05 p.m. for Thursday and Friday games beginning in May. Clearly, the latter is a concession to the common complaint about the cold while the former addresses the problem with the heat in the summer, if not the traffic on the major highways that many teams choose to avoid with the twilight start time.

Breaking Down The Minor-Leaguers In Viera This Spring

2014 NRIs
With the announcement today of the full list of 2014 non-roster invitees (NRIs), we now have a good sense of the minor-leaguers who will begin spring training next month with the big boys.

Suffice it to write, the vast majority of these guys won’t make the Opening Day roster. But with a new field manager*, camp is going to be a bit bigger than under his predecessor, so it’s possible that a couple more minor-leaguers will be brought up.
* [rant] Can we please not call him Matty? The man is 48, not 15. It’s only three extra characters on Twitter and can shortened to Wms. [/rant]

For us, the X factor is how many of the first two groups will wait in Syracuse… or be offered the opportunity. Folks are already drawing up the full-season affiliates’ rosters in their heads, if not on paper (don’t worry, I’ll do the same next month when I review last year’s roster/staff predictions) but absent that information, we’re all just guessing.

Without further ado, here’s how it breaks down…

MLB VETERANS
IFs Jamey Carroll, Mike Fontenot, RHPs Chris Young, Clay Hensley, Manny Delcarmen

MiLB VETERANS
IFs Josh Johnson, Will Rhymes, RHPs Daniel Stange, 1B-OF Brock Peterson

40-MAN GUYS
OFs Steven Souza, Michael Taylor, Eury Perez, LHPs Sammy Solis, Matt Purke, RHPs Nathan Karns, Aaron Barrett, SS-3B Zach Walters, UT Jeff Kobernus

TOP PROSPECTS, NOT ON 40-MAN
RHP A.J. Cole, OF Brian Goodwin, 1B-3B Matt Skole

CATCHERS
Chris Snyder, Brian Jeroloman, Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano

AAA LHPs
Tyler Robertson, Danny Rosenbaum

AAA RHP
Blake Treinen

THAT GUY FROM THE MEXICAN LEAGUE
RHP Gabriel Alfaro

Giolito, Cole Make Mayo’s Top 100 Prospects List

Mayo 2Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has released the 2014 edition of his Top 100 prospects with two Nationals making the cut.

Coming in at #44, it’s a kid from Southern California, and the Nats’ #1 pick in the 2012 Draft, Lucas Giolito(sorry for the Casey Kasem lead-in; kids have been watching Scooby Doo a lot lately)
He was ranked #74 last year despite having thrown just two innings and was in recovery from Tommy John surgery. As reported by MASN’s Byron Kerr earlier this month, Giolito is expected to begin 2014 in Hagerstown, though it’s less clear that he’ll pitch immediately. Previous HS picks Robbie Ray and the next guy were held back until May at the same age/stage without having had surgery. Taylor Jordan did start his second season after TJ surgery in April 2013 though he was much older (24 vs. 19) and much more experienced (248⅔ IP vs. 38⅔ IP).

A.J. Cole moved up 22 spots from #91 to #69 after the Nationals re-acquired him a year ago in the Michael Morse trade. Cole had gotten lit like a sailor on leave (7.82/4.99/1.84) in the High-A California League the previous summer, forcing a demotion to Low-A Burlington (IA) where he rebounded to a 2.07/2.74/1.01 line and a 6-3 record. Cole fulfilled Washington GM Mike Rizzo’s assertion that the Nats “pitching people will straighten out his delivery” as the 22-y.o. made 18 starts for Potomac and seven for Harrisburg for a combined record of 10-5 with a line of 3.60/2.91/1.12 and peripherals of 2.1 BB/9 and 9.5 K/9. Cole will most likely return to Harrisburg for more seasoning, as scouts believe his secondary offerings (CH, CV) still need further development.

Last year, four Nationals were ranked. Anthony Rendon (#28) graduated to the parent club while Brian Goodwin (#52) fell from the list, which saw 35 new names thanks to injuries, underperformance, and of course, the next wave of draftees.

Two Down, Three To Go (Maybe)

The Harrisburg Senators and Washington Nationals have announced a four-year extension of their player development contract through the 2018 season. This is the second affiliate to extend during this offseason, both months in advance of the September deadline to renew before open negotiations (typically the last two weeks of September).

The Senators have been a Nationals affiliate the longest of the five teams located north of Florida, having been an Expos affiliate since 1991, and should effectively quash any idle talk of the Nationals switching to the Richmond Squirrels, which is usually an indication that such folks have never been to both places for a game.

The PDCs of the Nationals’ “A” teams — Auburn (SS), Hagerstown (Low-A), and Potomac (High-A) — expire after the 2014 season. Two years ago, the Nationals extended three* affiliates during spring training, and renewed with Hagerstown in October 2012.
* or four; there’s conflicting information regarding whether the 2010 extension for Potomac was for two or four years

As passed along yesterday, there is turmoil in Hagerstown (plans to relocate to Fredericksburg) and Auburn (five GMs since 2010) which makes their PDC renewals less-than-certain. Potomac, which has been planning to build a new ballpark for more than since last decade, seems a little safer given its proximity to DC and strong attendance despite playing in one of the worst facilities in affiliated baseball.

All Quiet On The Minor-League Front

As Spike used to say... mehOK, so it’s less than a month until pitchers and catchers report… and it’s about 40 degrees warmer than it was a week ago… but this is the nadir of the offseason: holidays have come and gone, first pass at the player reports written, but the prospect books are still a couple weeks away from hitting the street/inbox.

In the spirit of keeping the site fresh and discussion going, a couple of news items…

• The death march in Western Maryland continues as the folks in Fredericksburg announce a spring groundbreaking while Ballparkdigest is reporting that another affiliated league is interested in moving into the vacated market. Given the NYPL’s intention to set up shop in Morgantown, WV (where ground has been broken and the stadium will be built regardless of housing a professional team), that could mean the league is looking for a travel partner. Batavia and Jamestown are generally considered the most likely candidates for relocation due to their attendance and/or financial woes as well as aging (pre-WW2) facilities.

• Meanwhile, the Doubledays announced yesterday that former Syracuse Chiefs assistant GM Michael Voutsinas will be the new Auburn GM — the fifth since 2010. Not coincidentally, attendance has fallen three times over that timeframe, perhaps making Auburn a third relocation candidate in either scenario listed above.

Initial 2014 Player Reports Completed


As reported earlier this week, I’ve been using the downtime afforded by the Fairfax County Public Schools weather to work on the first draft of the player reports for the 2014 Watchlist. The focus has been on the players that I’ve seen in the past season or so, the Top 10 guys per Baseball America (for which I have more up-to-date scouting reports), and the GCL and Auburn guys, who I don’t expect to get much attention from either BA or John Sickels.

Special thanks go to Ryan Kelley and Sean Hogan as their work on the 2013 draft picks (listed in the blogroll) was invaluable for this project (see previous parenthetical) as it made possible for me to write in more sooner than in years past. When the 2014 book and PDF arrive from BA and Sickels respectively, I’ll fill in “Report Not Written” entries and edit/rewrite the others.

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

Plugging Away At The Watchlist

Plugging Away
Yes, we’re in a slow stretch here, especially after a two-week holiday break (well, for the kids, maybe; for the parents, not so much). It also doesn’t help that it’s a both rainy day and a Monday, which I’ve heard gets many people down.

As the pic and the headline suggest, I’ve been working on the the 2014 Watchlist, beginning with the essays for the DSLers and the Notables (bats and arms for both) and the “first draft” for the catcher player reports. As with all the categories, the idea is to write up what I can until the prospect books arrive via e-mail (Sickels) and snail-mail (Baseball America).

Morning Reading

Morning ReadingPerhaps more accurately, a couple of site updates and a couple news items for folks to read/watch.

First, the site updates — in keeping with the odometer turning tonight from 2013 to 2014, the 2014 Watchlist is up, and the 2013 Watchlist has been archived. With the downtime afforded by the winter break, I’ve finally gotten around to adding in the 2013 ballpark visits to Winston-Salem, Kannapolis, Hickory, Greensboro and Durham. Previous visits can be found on the “Road Trips” tab above.

Now, a story to read and a video to watch:

• With the perennial promises of new facilities for the Nats’ Low-A and High-A affiliates, it’s also a reminder that the minor-league stadium boom has a dark side to it, one that perhaps explains why it’s slowed so much and why I’m so pessimistic about it.

• If you’ve got 18 minutes to kill and can stand baseball slang interspersed with biomechanical jargon, then watch Trevor Bauer’s Pitch Design video. If nothing else, you might gain an appreciation of how something can be made very simple or very complex.

The Baker’s Dozen of ’13


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.

Nationals Announce 2014 Farm Managers, Coaches

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.