Mar 182015
 

The whine for the longest time has been that the Nats don’t do enough in the International market. The 2011 CBA dramatically changed that avenue — read: spend your entire allotment *and* incur penalties for one (1) player — but the recent influx of Cuban players has brought that caterwauling back.

While it’s unlikely to appease the aforementioned folks, the Nats’ emphasis of scouting over spending is showing up on lists like Sickels’s. More than a A third of the seventeen 18 position players are from the Dominican Republic and obviously all of them have been acquired since the Rizzo regime began in 2009.

The distribution is better than last year, when nine of 15 were OFs, but still uneven: six OF’s, four C’s, two 2B’s, two 3B’s, one SS, one 3B, one 1B.

Before I list ’em out, a review of 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:

Michael Taylor – B+ (B-) Brian Goodwin – C+ (B) Isaac Ballou – C (C)
Trea Turner – B Spencer Kieboom – C+ Stephen Perez – C
Wilmer Difo – B- Raudy Read – C+ Anderson Franco – C
Drew Ward – B- (B-) Jakson Reetz – C+ Victor Robles – C
Rafael Bautista – C+ (C+) Tony Renda – C+ (B-) Matt Skole – C (B-)
Chris Bostick – C+ (C+) Pedro Severino – C+ (C) Drew Vettleson – C (C+)

Like yesterday, I’ve bolded the ones not listed in the BA Prospect Handbook. Unlike last year, just one of these outliers is a Dominican making noise in the GCL. Perez and Ballou are more widely known in our little bubble, so it’s always nice to see some exposure elsewhere.

Now for some tidbits from the book…

…Jakson Reetz is “HIGH CEILING ALERT” which is a new feature that Sickels is trying to denote guys who have “a conservative formal grade but who also have particularly high upside.” Less than two dozen players were given this tag.

…Most of the Turner writeup was devoted to his “weird case,” but if folks are wondering why he wasn’t graded higher, it’s because Sickels is considering the scouts’ opinion that the bat might not match the glove.

…This ought to be familiar to folks who know Michael Taylor is a favorite of mine: “Even with the progress he made last year Taylor is not the type of hitter who will win batting championships, but he should provide enough OBP, power, and speed to keep himself in the lineup. Add in the defensive ability and you have a fine player.”

…Sickels is losing faith, as others have here, in Brian Goodwin’s ability to overcome his weaknesses (strikeouts, handling offspeed pitches, keeping his swing mechanics in gear). No mention of the injury, which the gut feeling here is far worse than anyone is letting on.

…After explaining the difference in opinions on Renda’s draft position and catchet today (overdraft, o.g. respectively), Sickels remains optimistic but concedes that the drop in power (.405 to .377) merits the drop from B- to C+.

…Sickels still hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s pronounced “key-boom,” but was impressed with Kieboom’s surge in offense at Low-A Hagerstown, conceding that he was old for the level. Nevertheless, he put the tag of “SLEEPER ALERT” on him, as he did with Osvaldo Abreu (oops) and Rafael Bautista (yup) last year.

That concludes my review of the Sickels book, which you can buy online here.

Mar 172015
 

The John Sickels 2015 annual arrived last night in my inbox, which isn’t quite as satisfying as getting a package in the mailbox, but it’s faster and cheaper. As is my tradition, I’ll break up discussing the book into two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

For the second straight year, there are 18 pitchers ranked while the number of position players has risen to 17 18 (yes, including Trea Turner). As we’ll see shortly, more than half of them are Grade “C,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with Sickels. Just five pitchers earned an “A” in the 2015 book, for example.

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]

…However, when a low H/IP ratio is accompanied by a high K/IP, it’s a positive data point [and vice-versa]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

Here’s a look at the 18 pitchers that made this year’s book (2014 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A-) Austin Voth – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
A.J. Cole – B+ (B+) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Jake Johansen – C (C+)
Joe Ross – B (C+) Abel De Los Santos – C Gilberto Mendez – C
Erick Fedde – B- Robbie Dickey – C Nick Pivetta – C
Reynaldo Lopez – B- Matt Grace – C Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Felipe Rivero – C+ (B-) Taylor Hill – C Derek Self – C

The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America’s, and it’s the same number as last year (four). This overlap used to be less, which may mean many things. The two most obvious inferences: (1) Sickels is less likely to go out on a limb (2) Baseball America is getting better about incumbency based on draft position.

Some quick tidbits…

…Sickels is among those that believe that Lopez’s size may shift him to the ‘pen. While I’d agree he’s a “college” 6’/185 lbs., he also appears more solidly built than say Gilberto Mendez (listed at 6′ and 170).

…Fedde’s grade is mostly due to conservatism, which I applaud. Yes, the success rate for TJ is high – but it ain’t 100 percent.

…Likewise, Pivetta is “only” a Grade C because of how wildly inconsistent his secondary pitches have been (“from poor to plus”).

…Sickels points to the improvement in K/IP and K/BB ratios for Joe Ross moving from a C+ to B.

….Finally, Voth is still “sleeper” material, but obviously now the word is out

Next up: the batters.

Mar 142015
 

With the release of his 2015 edition expected in the next day or so, John Sickels has released his Top 50 Batting and Pitching prospects, which included two Nationals pitchers and one Washington batter.

It should come as no shock that Lucas Giolito was ranked #1 with the Dodgers’ Julio Urias ranked #2. Giolito was ranked #12 in the 2014 book, which is pretty heady considering that the Nats 1st Rd. pick in the 2012 draft was coming off Tommy John surgery and had pitched just 36⅔ innings in 2013.

If you guessed that A.J. Cole was the second pitcher, ranked #31, congratulations. You can now collect your prize. Cole was #33 on the 2014 Top 50, #46 in 2013, and #23 in 2012. Cole, who turned 23 in January, was a 4th Rd. pick in the 2010 draft and has been traded twice — to Oakland in December 2011 and from Oakland in 2013.

A mild surprise, given his age and proclivity to whiff, is Michael Taylor, who was ranked as the #35 batting prospect. Taylor has long been a favorite here on this website, but his ascendance has been a long time coming as the almost-24-y.o. was drafted in the 6th Rd. in 2009.

Giolito and Cole will most likely begin 2015 in the minors — the former at either Potomac or Harrisburg, the latter in Syracuse. Until this week, Taylor seemed bound for upstate New York, too. But with healthy outfielders in short supply in Viera, the narrative has changed from “Well, maybe he might make the club as a 4th outfielder” (well, no, not really) to “He could be the Opening Day centerfielder” (yeah, more than maybe).

Jan 312015
 

Morning Reading 2If you’re here to find out which team Kim Kardashian’s favorite prospect thinks will win the Super Bowl, well then maybe the SEO ad partner I hired isn’t so bad after all.

As the post title and pic suggests, here are few items to stew on while the dreaded month of January comes to a close.

Keith Law has ranked the Nationals farm system 9th overall, up from No. 18 last year, and the highest he’s ever ranked the Nationals (H/T Todd Boss, who lays down some more Law in his latest post).

MLB.com, who seemed to know that its audience was probably home, unveiled its Top 100 prospects last night on the MLB Network. Lucas Giolito (6th), A.J. Cole (52nd) both moved up from last year’s rankings (44 and 69 respectively), while Michael Taylor debuted at No. 42 and “San Diego” shortstop Trea Turner came in at No. 62. Baseball Prospectus has yet to reveal its Top 101, while Law put six Nats in his Top 100.

In transaction news, Baseball America notes that the Nationals have signed former Reds OF Derrick Robinson, who missed 2014 due to shoulder surgery, and IF Grant DeBruin, who spent the past two seasons in the Frontier League after going undrafted in 2012 after playing for Div. II Univ. of Alabama-Huntsville.

Finally, MASN has announced there will be seven games broadcast this year (all times 1 p.m. except March 26, which is at 5 p.m.):

• Sat., March 7 vs. Cardinals • Mon., March 9 vs. Braves • Wed., March 11 vs. Tigers • Mon., March 16 vs. Astros
• Mon., March 23 vs. Yankees • Thu., March 26 vs. Mets • Sat., April 4 vs. Yankees  
Jan 102015
 

This morning John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 list. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
B+ Michael Taylor, A.J. Cole
B Trea Turner, Joe Ross
B- Wilmer Difo, Erick Fedde, Reynaldo Lopez, Drew Ward
C+ Brian Goodwin, Austin Voth, Rafael Bautista, Jakson Reetz, Felipe Rivero, Pedro Severino, Raudy Read, Spencer Kieboom, Tony Renda, Chris Bostick
C Nick Pivetta

Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

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, Michael Taylor is #2, A.J. Cole is #3… Chris Bostick is #19, Nick Pivetta 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 from 2014 are in bold while guys that played their way onto the list are in italics. Like last April, I chose not to italicize the players acquired by trade but did indicated if they improved (Joe Ross).

My apologies in advance if I misled anyone with the earlier post; I was unaware that Nick Melotte and Sickels were both doing Top 20 lists. That said, it is interesting to see, as others have noted, the differences between the two. Sickels is much higher on Goodwin while lower on Lopez. But you should click the link above to see for yourself as Sickels has a comment for each and every one.

Jan 072015
 

Yesterday, John Sickels’s protege Nick Melotte released his Top 20 Nationals Prospects.

Melotte does the star system — 2.5 to 5, which roughly equates to Sickels’s C to A rating, with a 2.5-star player being an organizational guy and an five-star being a future superstar. The hyperlinked article explains the gradations before getting into the list.

As I’ve done the past few years, I’ll break it down by the star (letter) system while noting the players who have improved (by grade, not numerical rank), declined, and the newcomers. It’s not a perfect translation — Melotte may have been higher/lower on a Prospect A than Sickels was in the first place, so he may not have actually improved/declined — but it’s what we have to work with.

★★★★★ Lucas Giolito
★★★★½ Michael Taylor, Reynaldo Lopez
★★★★ Trea Turner^, A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde+, Joe Ross^, Drew Ward, Austin Voth, Wilmer Difo, Jackson Reetz+
★★★½ Rafael Bautista, Tony Renda, Taylor Hill, Raudy Read, Felipe Rivero, Chris Bostick^, Robbie Dickey+, Abel De Los Santos^
★★★ Gilberto Mendez
Honorable mentions Derek Self, Brian Goodwin, Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom, Anderson Franco, John Simms, Steven Fuentes, Neil Holland

+ Newcomer by draft ^ Newcomer by trade

Now for some quick thoughts…

…There are only seven holdovers (bolded) from the 2014 list, and while we can’t assume the honorable mentions are nos. 21-28, it’s telling that of the 15 eligibles (four were traded, one graduated to MLB), just eight remain in the “Top 28.”

…According to the article, the honorable mentions are all three-star players; I separated from Mendez to make it easier for the list-obsessed folks to figure out who was #20 😉

…Just five guys played their way onto the list; the other eight were either traded for or drafted (hence the superscripts).

…Since B-/C+ guys aren’t delineated, it’s difficult to say that there are more “better than marginal” prospects, which was always something that I would look for; we’ll have to wait until next month to see how that pans out

…With the exception of Fedde, looks like Melotte takes the Weaver-esque approach (“I only deal with the living”) to prospects, which I actually prefer because the opposite leads to too much wishful thinking

As I did last year, I encourage folks to click through to read Melotte’s thoughts on Giolito, Taylor, and Lopez.

Dec 212014
 

2015 Watchlist
As alluded previously, when I’m at a loss for what to post, I take a look at what I did around this time last year and follow my digital footsteps. We can only hope that GM Mike Rizzo will hold at 30 trades for a few days and not require any more edits this week.

Thus, I present to you the fifth annual NationalsProspects.com Watchlist — this is a selection of Washington’s minor-leaguers that we’ve got our eye on. Most are prospects to some degree or another, be it by age, tool(s), or dexterity. Some have lost their luster, or have gotten hurt, but are talked or written about often enough to merit their own category.

Now, for the obligatory caveats…

It’s not a depth chart — Players are listed primarily by the highest level at which they played significant time. This mostly applies to the pitchers and outfielders, 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 — In the early iterations, I was dumb bold enough to list starters and relievers. Now, I simply list them by their handedness. Some of the IFs could be listed elsewhere, but I’ve done my best to balance aesthetics against projections.

It’s not fair — You may have noticed some names have been dropped and shuffled around since the preliminary list was unveiled. In the case of the former, it’s because the depth has increased. In the case of the latter, It’s because I’ve been influenced to change my mind (it happens).

Given the new world order, it’s a little daunting to think of the next steps, but my gut feeling is that I’ll do it, but I’ll stretch the work out over a longer period of time.

In the meantime, feel free to kvetch in the comments…

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Severino Skole Renda S. Perez
Ward Taylor
Kieboom Wooten Bostick Difo Gunter Goodwin
Read Yezzo Davidson Turner* Gutierrez Vettleson
Reetz Marmolejos-Diaz T. Alvarez
Lora Aguero Ballou
Bautista
Carey
Corredor
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms M*A*S*H Notables
Hill Grace Pimentel Baez Rosenbaum Kobernus
Cole Br. Harper
Agustin Fuentes F. Rivero Dykstra
Ross Spann Robles Cespedes Purke Benincasa
Voth Silvestre Mota Y. Ramirez
Solis Self
Simms Thomas A. Martinez
Bermudez J. Rodriguez
Pleffner
Dickson Walsh Fedde Turnbull
Mendez Reynoso Johansen
De Los Santos
Suero
Giolito
Pivetta
R. Lopez
Dickey
Je. Ramirez

* Will not play for Washington until June 2015 due to MLB Draft rules

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.