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.

Dec 162012
 

RestockingThe latest transactions have been released from Baseball America, and as predicted following the Rule 5 draft, the Washington Nationals have signed three minor-league pitchers:

• LHP Francis Castro

• RHP Tyler Herron

• RHP Paterson Segura

Given the likelihood that 29-year-old Francisco Castro has come out of retirement, the logical deduction is that Castro is an IFA.

Herron, however, appears to have done just that after skipping the 2011 season and pitching 2012 for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the independent American Association, where he compiled a 12-3 record in 23 games (17 starts) with a 3.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.163.

The 26-year-old was a sandwich pick (46th overall) for St. Louis in the 2005 draft but was released midway through the 2009 season with the Cardinals citing performance issues despite the then-22-year-old’s 2-4, 4.34, 1.533 marks at AA Springfield. He was picked up by the Pittsburgh organization and released following the season. He spent 2010 with the Kalamazoo Kings of the Frontier League, where he was 1-3 with 3 saves in 14 appearances.

I was unable to find any mention of surgery for Herron, only speculation from websites such as Future Redbirds that the specificity of on-field performance was code for off-the-field issues.

The 16-year-old Segura (turns 17 on January 1) was signed last weekend by the Nationals from the Dominican Prospect League. He’s said to feature a FB-CV-CH arsenal with a 88-91 velocity and a high 3/4 arm slot with an unorthodox “pie throwing motion.”

Best guesses: Castro and Segura will be assigned to the DSL while Herron goes to Woodbridge (the AAPBL is roughly equivalent to Low-A).

Dec 142012
 

International SignWith a H/T to Marcus for bringing this to my attention, the Nationals have signed a 16-year-old third baseman Neivy Pilier for $225,000 — the second-largest spend since the infamous 2006 signing of 16-year-old Esmailyn Gonzalez 20-year-old Carlos Alvarez.
(Centerfielder Luis Guzman was signed this past July for $385K).

Baseball America broke the news first, describing him as:

At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Pilier has a quick bat with lift and occasional power in his righthanded swing, though he’s at his best when he stays with a line-drive approach and uses the middle of the field. He has a strong arm that fits well at third base, though with his youth and size he’s still trying to improve his footwork.

Pilier reportedly turned 16 on August 1st, and according to Adam Kilgore’s post, must still undergo MLB’s vetting for age and indentity.

In other news, the Nationals continue to stockpile minor-league veterans with the signing of 27-year-old Brian Bocock, who is most likely going to see time in Syracuse next summer.

Dec 112012
 

Now that the Rule 5 draft is over, it’s time to finalize the 2013 NationalsProspects.com Watchlist.

Most of the changes I made from when we discussed this a couple weeks ago are fairly obvious — players lost to the Rule 5, Denard Span trade have been removed; a couple of switches from one column to the next based on the comments that persuaded me. There were no major changes to the position/pitcher categories; I was not convinced to make a change.

So what’s next?

Well, I’m in the process of cleaning up the original 2011 watchlist — when I was forced to switch WordPress themes last summer, I never got around to reformatting the player reports — and renaming pages to make it easier to navigate. Just a heads up in case you’re searching through the player reports, which of course, a post like this may inspire. (Typos will still be blamed on the either the current copyeditor or the previous one)

Once that’s done, I’ll start to write the player reports that I can (i.e. the Potomac players) while I await the Baseball America and John Sickels books to hit the streets and/or e-mail in January.

In the meantime, I’d recommend folks take a peek at the idea I will steal from him next year excellent work Todd Boss has done aggregating Sickels’ opinions on the Nats’ 2012 draft along with his own work detailing how the entire class did in their first pro season.

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Leon Marrero Sanchez Walters Rivero E. Perez
Kieboom Bloxom Renda Hague Rendon Goodwin
Manuel Keyes Foat Martinson Skole Hood
P. Severino Pleffner Lippincott Difo D. Eusebio Taylor
Oduber
Souza
Burns
McQuillan
B. Miller
E. Martinez
W. Ramos
Piwinica-Worms
RHPs LHPs DSL Guys M*A*S*H Notables (Bats) Notables (Arms)
Garcia Ray O. Abreu Meyers Brown Lehman
E. Davis Grace Bautista Komatsu Solano Kimball
Demny Meza Diaz Selik Dykstra W. Estevez
Karns Lee E. Gomez Solis Ramsey Schwartz
Wort Mooneyham Novas Applebee Nieto Pineyro
Holland Barrientos Read Purke Mesa C. Davis
Barrett Je. Rodriguez Jordan S. Perez I. Heredia
Rauh Ruiz Anderson Jennings Williams
Encarnacion Silvestre M. Rodriguez
Hudgins Valerio Giolito
Mendez
Vasquez

Maroon = Top 10 Position Player
Indigo = Top 10 Pitcher

Dec 072012
 

Of course, the big news this week in transactions were the signing of Dan Haren, pending a physical (best guess: announcement made tonight during the five o’clock hour for the benefit of talk-radio chatter) and the selection of four Nationals in yesterday’s Rule 5 draft.

A couple of, well, minor signs have also been made in the past couple weeks, which I’ve neglected to report in the hopes that this week’s transactions post from Baseball America would have more (it did not).

• LHP Bobby Bramhall — A former Miami Marlin (2012) and Milwaukee Brewers farmhand (2007-2010), who, of course, has had Tommy John surgery, which is why he did not pitch in 2011. According to this scouting report, he’s a soft tosser that’s best suited to becoming a LOOGY.

• LHP Bill Bray was brought back into the organization after he elected free agency in early November, refusing to report to the minors after injuries (groin, back) limited him to 14 appearances for the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. Bray was a first-round pick in the 2004 draft for Montreal and was traded away in July 2006 as part of an eight-player deal that brought journeyman Austin Kearns and the immortal Felipe Lopez to Washington.

As mentioned in the comments, the Nationals are very likely to sign more MLFA pitchers over the next few weeks, in part to replace those “lost” yesterday as well as what appears to be the modus operandi of the Nats this time of year.

Dec 062012
 

For the second straight year, two Nationals were selected during the MLB phase of the Rule 5 draft — LHP Danny Rosenbaum and 2B Jeff Kobernus.

Rosenbaum was selected third by the Colorado Rockies. Colorado Rockies blog Purple Row describes the selection:

Rosenbaum will compete for a bullpen job vacated by Matt Reynolds. Josh Outman had been penciled in as the second lefty in the bullpen, joining Rex Brothers, but this move allows Outman to start, or for Colorado to have three lefties in their pen.

Kobernus was taken seventh by the Boston Red Sox, then subsequently traded to the Detroit Tigers for 28-year-old AAA utilityman Justin Henry. Not coincidentally, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski was quoted via MLB.com’s Justin Beck:

We not only like his ability to play second, but we think that perhaps — and he hasn’t really done much of it — he could have some versatility where we might be able to move him to the outfield and get some playing time there

In the 1st round of the AAA phase, the Red Sox “struck” again by taking Boston native Jack McGeary, while Hector Nelo was taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second round. Unlike the MLB phase, these players do not have to be offered back to the original club.

McGeary had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and has only pitched 25⅓ innings in 2011 and 2012 — all but 7⅔ innings in the GCL. He was originally drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 draft.

Nelo was signed as a minor-league free agent in April 2011 after being released by the Texas Rangers. While capable of throwing in the triple digits, the 26-year-old Miami-born Floridian had a radar-gun strike zone, meaning the higher the number the more likely it was a ball if the batter did not swing.

As expected, the Nationals did not make any picks in the MLB phase. A slight surprise: They also passed in the AAA and AA phases as well.

The 2012 Watchlist
has been updated to reflect the selections.

Dec 062012
 

The Rule 5 Draft is this morning, the anticlimactic denouement to the 2012 Winter Meetings.

As written last month, it’s nearly certain that the Nationals will not be taking anybody in the major-league phase, which is rather typical for first-division/contenders. Instead, there’s a chance that a couple of farmhands may be taken as they were a year ago.

However, there’s a difference between players selected and actually being gone for good. Both picks last year — Brad Meyers and Erik Komatsu — were eventually returned.

Here’s another pass at who might get taken, filtered through the lens of the most common categories of players selected in the MLB phase:

Relievers 4th OF Utility IF
Pat Lehman Destin Hood Jeff Kobernus
Paul Demny    
Pat McCoy    
Rob Wort    

Of this group, only Lehman has AAA experience, which makes him the most likely to get selected, followed by Kobernus. But both are longshots in the big picture. There’s probably a better chance of the Nationals having players taken in the AAA and AA phases (and vice-versa), but as written previously, it’s impossible to even guess who because the protected lists are not publicly released.