May 022014
 

You can dismiss it as a byproduct of injuries, but the fact remains: More than half of the position players on the current Washington 25-man roster are homegrown. This time five years ago, you could fit the number of homegrown position players on a unicycle.

Sure, I’m being melodramatic, but the larger, implied point is that the Nats have come a long way in terms of player development in a very short time. The trick will be maintaining that ratio while still remaining a contender.

There are just 15 bats in the 2014 book by Sickels — the least it’s been since 2010 (hey, that rhymes). What’s probably more troubling, though, is that nine (9) of those are outfielders. There’s just one 3B, two SS, one C, and one 2B. The other guy? Matt Skole, who’s probably going to be a 1B after all.

Before we break down the 15, let me pass along Sickels’s principles on hitters:

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 (which fielding percentage measures).

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

Brian Goodwin – B (B+) Drew Ward – B- Osvaldo Abreu – C
Tony Renda – B- (C+) Rafael Bautista – C+ Isaac Ballou – C
Matt Skole – B- (B) Eury Perez – C+ (C+) Randy Encarnacion – C
Steve Souza – B- (C+) Drew Vettleson – C+ (B-) Destin Hood – C (C+)
Michael Taylor – B- (C) Zach Walters – C+ (C+) Pedro Severino – C


As you’ve probably already deduced, the three bolded players are the ones not listed in the BA Prospect Handbook. Kids from the D.R. rarely register until they make some noise in the GCL, which they did and got them put on the site watchlist.

Now, for some tidbits from the book…

…As hinted in the previous post, Osvaldo Abreu is another “SLEEPER ALERT!!” as Sickels cites his speed and strike-zone judgment, which is similar to what I wrote this past offseason, though I had the built-in bias of having previously selected him as a “DSL Guy” in 2013.

…The final “SLEEPER ALERT!!” is Rafael Bautista (also a 2013 “DSL Guy”) but a stronger emphasis on his speed and defensive skills, and a little less enthusiasm for his K rate, which has increased thus far in 2014 with Hagerstown.

…Like many of us, Sickels is of two minds when it comes to Brian Goodwin — could be an All-Star in the National League… or the Atlantic League, but gives him the benefit of the doubt (and reverts his letter grade to “B”).

…Sickels, who predicted Renda’s increase in doubles in 2013, shares the belief that Tony Renda can continue to exceed the expectations of scouts, though he cautions that the true test will be AA and warns that he must stay healthy (this was written after his most recent injury) to do so.

…Ward has 70-grade power and cautioned folks to not get too caught up in the one (1) HR that Ward hit last year in the GCL, projecting the 19-y.o. to eventually be a 25+ HR guy. Since the book went to press, Ward has hit three HRs and boasts a .500+ SLG%

And with that, we conclude the annual review of John Sickels’s prospect book, which you can purchase here. My recommendation is to buy the PDF, which you can search and annotate.

May 012014
 

As I feared when I first heard his book would be delayed, the arrival of John Sickels’s Prospect Book has been buried with the season in full swing, the Potomac homestand, and the recent flurry of player moves. The rain has already slowed things down, the P-Nats are on the road, but aside from a few points in the year, predicting when transactions will occur is next-to-impossible.

In other words, this is my chance and I’m taking it!

For the third straight year, I’ll do two posts, starting with this one for the pitchers.

For the first time in a few years, the Nats have more pitchers (18) ranked than position players (15), which I think can be attributed to the natural ebb and flow as well as trades. I think some folks will be more concerned about the number of ranked prospects falling from 39 to 33, but whenever I look back at previous editions of Sickels’s book, it’s usually been in that range.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers, a.k.a. the

…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

In some circles, there’s an acronym known as TINSTAAPP, which stands for There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, which you’ll still hear every now and then (Jonah Keri includes it in this longform piece for Grantland in 2012 in which former National Edwin Jackson is the story peg). My personal belief is that it’s fallen out of favor because of the work of John Sickels and other baseball writers who have shown that TINSTAAP is a too-convenient excuse for “baseball men” to hide behind poor decisions (drafting or usage).

Without further ado, here’s a look at the 18 pitchers (2013 grade, if available, in parentheses):

Lucas Giolito – A- (B) Dakota Bacus – C (C) Nick Pivetta – C
A.J. Cole – B+ (B) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Matt Purke – C (C+)
Felipe Rivero – B- (B-) Christian Garcia – C (B-)
Jefry Rodriguez – C
Aaron Barrett – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
Blake Schwartz – C
Jake Johansen – C+ Richie Mirowski – C
Blake Treinen – C
Sammy Solis – C+ (B-) B. Mooneyham – C (C+)
Austin Voth – C

Names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America. Not much of a shock that there are so few, given the 33 in one book vs. 30 in other. Now, for some tidbits…

…Giolito was ranked #12, Cole #33 in his Top 50 Pitching Prospects List.

…Sickels moved Cole up from a B and now puts his ceiling as a No. 3 starter

…Holland’s lack of plus velocity shouldn’t impede him from possibly becoming a ROOGY at the MLB level

…Add Sickels to the “haters” who think Johansen may eventually become a reliever

…Likewise for Solis and Mooneyham

…Purke is the analog to Giolito in terms of drafting and rehabbing a hurt pitcher

…Voth is one of three “SLEEPER ALERT!!” Nationals in 2014 which is a tag applied to Blake Treinen a year ago.

Up Next: The Batters.

Apr 162014
 

Late this morning, John Sickels released the last of his Top 20 lists, which was the Washington Nationals. As I’ve done the past couple of years, here’s a look at how it breaks down by letter grade:

A- Lucas Giolito
B A.J. Cole, Brian Goodwin
B- Matt Skole, Drew Ward, Michael Taylor, Steve Souza, Felipe Rivero, Tony Renda
C+ Drew Vettleson, Jake Johansen, Eury Perez, Zach Walters, Aaron Barrett, Rafael Bautista, Sammy Solis
C Blake Treinen, Jefry Rodriguez, Randy Encarnacion, Osvaldo Abreu


I realize some of you may be making a face like this when trying to decipher this, so let me try to do a better job than I did last year in explaining this…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, A.J. Cole is #2, Brian Goodwin is #3… Randy Encarnacion is #19, Osvaldo Abreu is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. Because Sickels only ranks Grade C or better, that means becoming a C+ or better guy after being previously identified as a Grade C.

Top 20 guys (for the Nationals) from 2013 are in bold while guys that played their way onto the list are in italics. Because it would be specious, I chose to neither bold nor italicize Vettleson and Rivero, though I did indicate whether or not they improved.

Now that that’s out of the way, time for a few quick thoughts…

…The sea of red shows what most of us already know: there were several guys that truly improved in 2013.

…With only eight repeats, there were also quite a few guys that took a step back — most notably, RHP Christian Garcia and LHPs Sammy Solis and Matt Purke.

…After falling to seven players graded at B- or better (and none A or A-), the system has rebounded to nine, though that does include one acquired by trade and one drafted.

Rather than summarize Sickels any further, I highly recommend folks click through and read his thoughts on the system, which begins after the list of players outside of the Top 20.

Apr 152014
 

John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list for the Washington Nationals this morning, and yours truly made the first comment.

All of the names Sickels listed are on the 2014 Watchlist, so as I’ve done for the past two years, it’s easier to note the omissions from the primary categories:

Sandy Leon Raudy Read Matt Reistetter Jose Marmolejos-Diaz Shawn Pleffner
Ricky Hague Bryan Mejia Wilmer Difo David Masters Cutter Dykstra
J.C. Valdez Estarlin Martinez John Wooten Bryan Lippincott Greg Zebrack
Cody Davis Gilberto Mendez L.J. Hollins John Simms Wander Suero
Nick Lee R.C. Orlan David Napoli Jake Walsh  


Not too hard to spot the pattern here: Sickels is looking for the Top 30-something guys, regardless of position, role, or usage, whereas I’ve got some built-in biases based on the how the list is constructed (Top 5′s from each affiliate) as well as the inescapable prejudice of fanhood, which isn’t necessarily inclusive.

As I put it a year ago, it doesn’t concern me that there are so many omissions; it’s just math. Sickels is looking at/for the top 15 percent of 30 organizations, my list covers the about third of one.

Hopefully, I’ll get home before Sickels releases his Top 20 list.

Feb 212014
 

Well, if you insist…

With eight days to go before spring training games begin, I’ll pass along couple more top prospect lists that were issued this week to help pass the time.

The first comes from MLB Draft Insider, a site run by Chris Crawford, who also writes for ESPN:

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
2. A.J. Cole, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF
4. Pedro Severino, C
5. Sammy Solis, LHP
6. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
7. Michael Taylor, OF
8. Drew Vettleson, OF
9. Steve Souza, OF
10. Austin Voth, RHP
11. Eury Perez, OF
12. Felipe Rivero, LHP
13. Jake Johansen, RHP
14. Drew Ward, 3B

Frequent commenter Todd Boss nailed it when he wrote that Severino and Jefry Rodriguez were daring picks (1st comment on the article), but it turns out that Crawford’s admiration is not unique. This morning, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus unveiled his Top 10 (warning- paid content):

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
2. A.J. Cole, RHP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF
4. Michael Taylor, OF
5. Jake Johansen, RHP
6. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
7. Matt Skole, 1B
8. Pedro Severino, C
9. Drew Vettleson, OF
10. Drew Ward, 3B

It’s no secret that Taylor is one of my favorites, but even I have my doubts that the bat will ever catch up to his glove or his legs. Still, Taylor is another prospect that’s getting a lot of attention this offseason.

What’s also interesting is who’s not on these lists: Skole on Crawford’s, Solis on Parks’s. A clue may be found in the fantasy angle that Parks includes in his article from Bret Sayre, BP’s fantasy guy (nah, too easy):

Skole is far more interesting from a fantasy perspective than in real life because if he is able to be a .270 hitter with 20-25 homers, he’ll be owned in nearly all leagues, regardless of eligibility.

The exclusion of Solis can be inferred by extension: He’s not likely to be a starter or a closer for Washington anytime soon, and fantasy baseball — to be blunt — doesn’t give a s!@# about relievers who don’t get saves (if you’re new here, then you know I’m with the late Dick Radatz when it comes relief pitching).

I strongly encourage folks to read Crawford’s article because it’s useful to see how folks view the Nats from outside our little bubble, particularly for his take on their drafting since I don’t write much about the draft before it happens (and not much after, either).

Feb 182014
 

Having received word via e-mail from Jeri Sickels, wife of John, that his 2014 Baseball Prospect Book remains behind schedule due to a concussion he suffered this offseason, I decided to finish off the player reports rather than wait. The hope is that I can still revise some of the player reports on guys that I was hoping Sickels might write about that BA didn’t.

But my fear is that once spring training games begin, it’ll slide… not to mention get lost in the shuffle as all eyes (and some drones) are focused on Viera. The watchlist is conceived while doing the season reviews in October-November, set after the Rule 5 draft in December, with the writing begun in early January with a focus on the guys I’ve seen (and the ones I’m sure won’t be written up), and usually finished in late January after I’ve received and reviewed the major prospect books.

So if you’ve got some extra time — say, because you’re at home with your kids because schools have been delayed a couple hours by less than a centimeter of snow — take another gander and feel free to discuss in the comments here or on the player pages.

Jan 292014
 

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.

Jan 242014
 

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.

Dec 192013
 

Photo Credit: TVtropes.org

With the completion of the Rule 5 draft, what we hope to be a break in the trades, it’s time to unveil the fourth edition of our look at the Nationals prospects that we’re keeping an eye on, a.k.a. watching. This is my alternative to doing a large mixed list, which, like cable news, may generate a lot of viewers and discussion but serves little purpose otherwise.

My apologies to the longtime readers, but a few caveats for the folks who are unfamiliar with how this works…

It’s not a depth chart — Players are listed first by the highest level at which they played significant time, then alphabetically. This mostly applies to the pitchers and outfielder nowadays, but folks should not infer that the player at the top of the list is necessarily better than the guy at the bottom.

It’s not a prediction of usage — As noted during the preliminary posts, there are players that have played multiple positions and could be easily placed in more than one column. Naturally, I’m exploiting that for aesthetic purposes, but not to fantasy-baseball extent (e.g. he played one game at the position there).

It’s not fair — There are players here that I wouldn’t list otherwise were it not for lack of position depth or dexterity. We’ve already seen that there’s a bias towards established players, though I’ve made a couple of changes that may very well be overcorrections to offset that.

I did indeed scrap the M*A*S*H category in favor of breaking apart the DSL bats and arms (which sounds more painful than what I mean) to keep the design intact. I created the category to acknowledge that the DSL is purely a scouting-by-box-score exercise. Truth be told, this is also true of the GCL and NYPL, too, but I’ve resisted the very tempting idea (from a workload perspective) of dropping coverage of one or more of the short-season leagues because I want to be as extensive as possible with this site.

Without further ado…

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Leon Skole Kobernus Walters Dykstra E. Perez
P. Severino Pleffner Hague Difo J.C. Valdez Goodwin
Reistetter Marmolejos-Diaz Renda Masters Gunter Souza
Read D. Eusebio Mejia Abreu Ward Taylor
B. Miller
W. Ramos
E. Martinez
Wooten
Ballou
Lippincott
Zebrack
Bautista
R. Encarnacion
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms
Notable Bats Notable Arms
Karns Solis Corredor M. Sanchez Bloxom Garcia
Barrett Purke Gutierrez Yrizarri Hood E. Davis
Hill Mooneyham Ortiz Reyes Martinson Rosenbaum
Cole Lee Mota Torres Oduber Holland
Mirowski Orlan Florentino Valerio Keyes Grace
Schwartz Napoli Ramsey Rauh
Benincasa Silvestre Manuel Dickson
P. Encarnacion Ott Kieboom R. Pena
C. Davis Walsh Yezzo Bacus
Mendez Franco Spann
Johansen
Voth
Hollins
Simms
Pivetta
Giolito
Suero
J. Rodriguez
P. Valdez
Dec 172013
 

Top prospect lists are the filler essence of the offseason and today the folks at Bullpen Banter have released their latest estimation of the top of the Nats crop (last year’s ranking, where applicable, in parentheses):

No. Player Pos.
1. Lucas Giolito (2) RHP
2. A.J. Cole RHP
3. Brian Goodwin (3) CF
4. Jake Johansen RHP
5. Nathan Karns RHP
6. Steve Souza OF
7. Matt Skole (5) 1B/3B
8. Sammy Solis LHP
9. Michael Taylor (11) OF
10. Taylor Jordan RHP


This is the third time I’ve featured BB’s work because (A) I believe it’s important to see what folks outside our usual haunts have to say about the Nats (B) like fertilizer salesmen, they know their sh… stuff. As such, you should click through to see their commentary and check out the scouting video.

Al Skorupa (@alskor on Twitter) and Jeff Reese (@Ioffridus) maintain their position that the Nats have become a system of a few premiere prospects supplemented by bevy of projects, most of which are drawn from the collegiate ranks. This, of course, is old news to us, but bear in mind that they’re writing for a different audience, one that’s arguably more interested in the players themselves since their readers’ favorite team may actually be a composite (if you know what I mean).

Aside from including Taylor Jordan, which if you’re not using the 50IP limit is a fine selection, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises here. It does seem to me that the three “Other Prospects of Note” (Tony Renda, Brett Mooneyham, and Drew Ward) get the benefit from being scouts’ favorites, but as we saw a couple of weeks ago when I released the preliminary 2014 Watchlists, “notable” is often in the eye of the beholder.