Dec 052012
 

The pattern of a (near-)unanimous few then the biases of the many continues with the votes for the Nationals’ Top 10 Pitchers. Thirty different pitchers received votes, but only two appeared on each of the thirteen ballots cast (Lucas Giolito and Nathan Karns) while two more were named on all but one (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke).

1. Lucas Giolito
2. Nathan Karns
3. Matt Purke
4. Sammy Solis
5. Christian Garcia
6. Erik Davis
7. Danny Rosenbaum
8. Aaron Barrett
9. Brett Mooneyham
10. Robbie Ray

Others receiving votes: Rob Wort, Rafael Martin, Neil Holland, Paul Demny, Pedro Encarnacion, Taylor Jordan, Christian Meza, Jeff Mandel, Cole Kimball, Brad Meyers, Wirkin Estevez, Pat McCoy, Ryan Tatusko, Robert Benincasa, Derek Self, Hector Nelo, Josh Smoker, Jack McGeary, Nick Lee

Perhaps more disturbing is that we don’t see a pitcher who hasn’t had shoulder or elbow surgery until the #6 hurler, Erik Davis, who instead has had knee problems, according to MASN’s Byron Kerr.

Close behind is the realization that half of this list is 25 or older. Put another way: just 10 of these 30 pitchers voted for were born after 1990.

As I wrote back in September in discussing the Nationals farm, it’s pretty clear that the organization’s strength has shifted away from developing pitchers to position players. Perhaps more evident: surgery and long periods of rehab seem to be the gamble the Nats are willing to make — regardless of a pitcher’s age or ailment — to get pitching potential. What remains to be seen is whether this approach will pay off frequently enough to warrant the shifting of innings or roles away from healthier and/or lower-ceiling guys.

I hope folks enjoyed this experiment in crowdsourcing. Next up on the minor-league calendar is the Rule 5 draft. The Nats are nearly certain not to be takers in the MLB phase (thus, no preview this year), and may even have a player or two taken, though the odds are extremely short that any player taken will be gone for good.

Dec 022012
 

Compiling these was an interesting exercise this time around. The turnout was a little lighter, which is probably my fault for waiting so late on Friday to make a call for submissions, but I think there’s enough here to go on and make a post.

The No. 1 guy was unanimous: Anthony Rendon. Like fans of Gus Johnson, this was a no-brainer.

Our No. 2 was pretty close, too: Brian Goodwin was named on all the submissions and was #2 on all the ballots but one.

After that, things get fuzzy. No. 3 (Matt Skole) was significantly ahead of No. 4 (Eury Perez) in terms of weighting (74-53) but was left off one ballot. Perez was omitted from two. Leon, the No. 5 guy, was omitted from four.

In some ways, it’s a microcosm of the system itself: Most folks can agree on the top few, but after that, it’s a free-for-all. That’s why I decided to post now versus waiting one more day (well, that, and years of research that shows that sometimes you can cut through the noise by taking advantage of how slow it can be on a Sunday).

Without further ado, here’s the list:

1. Anthony Rendon
2. Brian Goodwin
3. Matt Skole
4. Eury Perez
5. Sandy Leon
6. Jason Martinson
7. Zach Walters
8. Chris Marrero
9. Corey Brown
10. Tony Renda

Others receiving votes: Michael Taylor, Estarlin Martinez, Destin Hood, Ricky Hague, Jeff Kobernus, Brandon Miller, Wander Ramos, Erik Komatsu, Steve Souza, Carlos Rivero, Spencer Kieboom, Jhonatan Solano

The list certainly tilts towards the upper minors, with the exception of Renda. A lot folks gave props to players on the verge — Nos. 7-9 in particular, Komatsu, Rivero, and Solano in the “Others” — but injuries were punished severely (Kobernus, Hood) and defense, aside from catcher, didn’t seem to carry much weight (Taylor, Hague).

Unlike last year, there really aren’t any surprises about who missed the cut. Renda gets the benefit of the “new car smell,” while [troll]Taylor suffers from the gap between the offseason hype and the in-season performance, regardless of his age.[/troll]

Next up: The pitchers, which should be especially fun now that the best prospect without a sling in his wardrobe has been traded.

Nov 292012
 

The offseason Top 10, 11, 15, 20, 25 or 6 to 4 list season has begun, and it starts with Bullpen Banter’s Washington Nationals Top 15 List:

No. Player Pos.
1. Anthony Rendon 3B
2. Lucas Giolito RHP
3. Brian Goodwin CF
4. Alex Meyer RHP
5. Matt Skole 3B
6. Tony Renda 2B
7. Eury Pérez OF
8. Brett Mooneyham LHP
9. Brandon Miller OF
10. Matt Purke LHP
11. Michael Taylor OF
12. Stephen Perez SS
13. Sandy Leon C
14. Jason Martinson SS/3B
15. Cutter Dykstra IF

I strongly recommend that folks read their commentary (plus there’s scouting video) because it’s important to read the opinions outside the Natmosphere. Not to mention, these guys do good work.

As you’ll see in my comment there, I was glad to see them agree with my assessment that the system isn’t nearly as good as we keep hearing from the local media. Jeff Reese said precisely what I believe was first put out there by Brian Oliver; that the system is five or six strong prospects, and then it drops off with a razor-thin difference between the next 14-15 in a Top 20.

I’m intrigued, of course, by the inclusion of the likes of Stephen Perez and Cutter Dykstra — enough to reconsider their placement on the 2013 Watchlist. I’m not surprised by the exclusion of Nathan Karns, who made Reese’s Top 10 (sadly, the two lists are combined versus broken out as they did previously), as his age is going to be held against him, regardless of the injury/surgery situation.

This, of course, also reminds me that I need to get on the horse about soliciting votes for Top 10 position players (bats) and pitchers (arms), which will most likely be tomorrow’s post.

Jan 302012
 

With the 2012 editions of the Baseball Ameria and John Sickels prospect books received, read, and reviewed, I’ve completed the player reports for the the 2012 NationalsProspects.com Watchlist.

For the newcomers, a reminder: It’s not a depth chart, it’s based on 2011 usage, and it’s not a prediction of 2012 placement. Players are ordered by the highest level they’ve played, with some educated guesses regarding the 2011 draft picks. With the deadline to sign moved up from mid-August to mid-July, we’re unlikely to see this many guys not play at all the same year as they were drafted anytime soon.

Don’t worry, I’ll take a swag at who might end up where with the position players for the Suns and the P-Nats like I did last February (and I’ll point out my mistakes). But I tried to make fewer predictions in the capsules than in last year’s watchlist, especially with the pitchers. Generally speaking, it’s a level a year until AA under the Rizzo FO, but there’s an always an outlier or two.

As always, have at it in the comments as we wait for the calendar to match the weather…

Jan 292012
 

For the longest time, the knock on the Nats system was that they could develop pitchers, but not position players. Since the relocation from Montreal, there have been two — Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa. Even if you want to count Ian Desmond (drafted in 2004), that’s three. And how much credit can be taken for Zimmerman is questionable, given he was able to play in MLB the September after he was drafted.

As mentioned yesterday, there are 20 position players listed in this year’s book. It was 17 in 2011, 14 in 2010. But to illustrate my point about spreading the risk, nine of those 20 are 23 or older, and just three of those nine have played a full season of AA (Marrero, Moore, Lombardozzi). Just two of the remaining seven are expected to play in Harrisburg this season; both Justin Bloxom and Jeff Kobernus turn 24 during the season. Just something to think about.

Like the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

…Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1. Controlling the strike zone
2. Hitting for power
3. Hitting for average
4. Offensive speed
5. Fielding range
6. Fielding reliability
7. Throwing utility

…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. That may sound obvious, but recall how many people have used “offensive woes” in conjunction with Derek Norris the past two years, when he batted .210 and 235 but had secondary averages of .534 and .480 — higher than his teammate Tyler Moore both years (.515 in ’10, .424 last season).

…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.

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

Bryce Harper – A (A) Chris Marrero – C+ (C+) Jason Martinson – C (C)
Anthony Rendon – A- Michael Taylor – C+ Tyler Moore – C (C)
Brian Goodwin – B Justin Bloxom – C (C) Randolph Oduber – C (C)
Destin Hood – B- (C) Blake Kelso – C Eury Perez – C (C+)
Steve Lombardozzi – B- (C+) Kevin Keyes – C Matt Skole – C
David Freitas – C+ (C) Jeff Kobernus – C (C) Zach Walters – C (C)
Rick Hague – C+ (C+) Estarlin Martinez – C

Like yesterday, the bolded guys weren’t ranked by BA and all are on our watchlist. Sickels gave his “Sleeper” tag to David Freitas and Michael Taylor. This is significant because Sickels has a good track record for picking them. Brad Peacock, for example, was a “Sleeper” last year as was Danny Rosenbaum. For those wondering, Erik Komatsu was given a “C” grade and Sickels was not high on him: “Komatsu profiles as a reserve outfielder, with a line-drive bat, solid plate discipline, gap power, and slightly above-average speed.”

With the faster delivery, and one less book, that concludes the prospect book review this year — about 10 days sooner than last year. We can only hope that another trade is made that involves prospects, now that the Prince Fielder sweepstakes are over. I’m doubtful it will happen before Spring Training begins.

Unlike years past, it doesn’t appear that there will be a cattle call of 4A guys that might make the club. Absent a trade, the drama from the prospect angle might simply be whether or not Steve Lombardozzi and Corey Brown make the club as a reserves. Am I missing anyone else?

Naturally, I expect the uninformed and impatient fans (a redundancy, I know) to pound the drum for Bryce Harper. I’m sure there will be the “Davey Johnson and the kids” reminiscing from the 1984-85 era Mets, minus much discussion about his complicity in ruining the careers of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. I’m not saying he hasn’t learned his lesson (though it’s telling that no other team has ever trusted Johnson with a young team since) but glossing over that part of the story is like reviewing “Mad Men” and not mentioning the misogyny.

Anyway, I’ll try my best to find the minors angles that I can glean from the beat guys’ coverage of what’s happening in Florida. No “This Afternoon In Viera” — it’s just not in the budget. Besides, the staff here doesn’t tolerate the heat very well.

Jan 282012
 

It’s a little less satisfying than getting that package in the mail — not to go off on a tangent, but when I lived there, the mail truck going by was easily the highlight of the day — but the Sickels e-book came to my inbox overnight.

As I did last year, I’m breaking this up by pitchers and position players. I’m starting with the pitchers, but believe it or not, there are more position players than pitchers this year (20 vs 13). I can’t remember when that was before, if ever.

I’m also breaking this in two because Sickels doesn’t rank the prospects like BA does. Instead, he gives letter grades… and he doesn’t grade on a curve — he is very, very tough. As he himself puts it, a C+ grade is good praise, but he is careful to note that the grade is relative, i.e. a rookie-ball Grade C prospect could still end up becoming a star while a AAA Grade C is more likely to end up as a backup or long reliever.

When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principals…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers

…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

As you might have guessed, Sickels is a Bill James disciple in that he uses statistics to help identify trends and anomalies. But he most certainly believes in the value in scouting to identify the intangibles like effort, body language, kinetics, athleticism, etc.

Here’s a look at the 13 pitchers (2011 grade in parentheses)

Alex Meyer – B Brian Dupra – C Rafael Martin – C
Matt Purke – B- Wirkin Estevez – C Josh Smoker – C
Sammy Solis – B-(B) Taylor Hill – C Kylin Turnbull – C
Robbie Ray – B-(B-) Cole Kimball – C(C+)  
Danny Rosenbaum – C+(C) Pat Lehman – C  

The bolded names are those that weren’t ranked by BA, and all of them are on our 2012 Watchlist. Unlike last year, there are no sleeper alerts for the pitchers and Sickels didn’t do a cutting room floor this year (probably because of all the prospect trades in the offseason this year).

Now for the pre-emptive strikes…

…Tommy Milone was rated a B- and his writeup began: “At some point, you just have to put the radar guns away. Tom Milone is a pitcher.”

…Brad Peacock was rated a B with the following admonition: “I think he could have adjustment issues if he is pushed too quickly, and an apprenticeship in the major league bullpen, or another 15 starts in Triple-A, seems like a good idea to me. He can be a number three starter, perhaps something more, if he continues to progress with his changeup and command.”

…A.J. Cole was rated a B+ with this caveat: “His changeup still needs work and his command wobbles at times, but he held his peak velocities more consistently last year. If the change comes around and he builds his stamina and strength, he can develop into a number two starter… perhaps more.”

…Brad Meyers made the book and got rated a C, with the caveat: “You don’t see Meyers on many top prospect lists due to a marginal 87-91 MPH fastball, but his secondary stuff (curve, slider, change) is workable and his location within the strike zone is superior. At age 26 he isn’t a hot prospect, and I don’t see how he easily fits into the Yankees pitching staff, but for many teams he would deserve a look as a fifth starter or relief option.”

I’d give more detail (as I did two years ago, but that was *after* the printed run had sold out and before he began selling this as a PDF), but knowing that Sickels is basically a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri), I’d strongly recommend folks purchase the book and support who I consider to be the best in the business.

A post on the hitters next, and I’ll be updating/finishing the Player Reports as well.

Jan 252012
 


Leading up to his annual book, John Sickels has released his Top 50 batters and Top 50 pitchers to the folks that pre-ordered it.

For the second straight year, Bryce Harper ranked #1. Coming in at #2 was Mike Trout, who I would have not have been surprised or upset if he had ranked #1 (OK, maybe that second qualification is akin to my giving up skydiving for Lent). Sickels ranked just five batters with a Grade A, with four others getting the Grade of A-.

The last of those four, coming in at #9 overall, was Anthony Rendon. That’s mighty high praise when you consider that there are a few dozen more than 2,000 batters in the minors. For those wondering, Derek Norris still made the list, but dropped from #25 to #45 and in letter grade from B+ to B.

As you might have guessed, there are no Nationals pitchers in the Top 50. Former farmhands A.J. Cole (#23) and Brad Peacock (#39) made the list for Oakland, which was one of the top organizations in terms of total players making the two lists:
BATTERS

Zero Arizona, Chicago (A), Los Angeles (N), Milwaukee, Philadelphia,
One Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, New York (A), New York (N), San Francisco
Two Baltimore, Chicago (N), Cincinnati, Houston, Los Angeles (A), Oakland, Pittsburgh, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Texas, Washington
Three Boston, Colorado, Kansas City, Minnesota, Toronto
Four San Diego

PITCHERS

Zero Cleveland, Chicago (N), Cincinnati, Houston, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, Washington
One Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles (A), Texas
Two Chicago (A), Colorado, Los Angeles (N), Milwaukee, New York (A), Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
Three Arizona, Atlanta, New York (N), San Diego, Seattle
Four Oakland, St. Louis
Five Toronto

Double-crunching it, the Toronto Blue Jays are this year’s “it” organization with eight players on the two lists, followed by San Diego with seven, and Oakland and St. Louis (six apiece). Unlike last year, no organization was shut out, but Cleveland, Miami, and San Francisco each had but one player on either list. Washington is one of nine organizations with two players on either list.

Jan 242012
 


Iconoclastic prospect guru Kevin Goldstein has weighed in on the Nationals system as part of his regular “Future Shock” series. In addition to ranking the Top 11, he breaks them down into the more aesthetic star system (two-star, three-star, etc.), then names nine more. In short, the four- and five-star guys are like Sickels’s Grade-B or better. Without further ado:

1. Harper *****
2. Rendon *****
3. Purke ****
4. Goodwin ***
5. Meyer ***
6. Hood ***
7. Taylor ***
8. Lombardozzi ***
9. Ray ***
10. Solis ***
11. T. Moore **
12. Marrero
13. E. Perez
14. Walters
15. Jordan+
16. Smoker
17. Martinson
18. Skole
19. Leon
20. Freitas
+I asked him via Twitter regarding Jordan and he replied that pre-surgery, Jordan might have been #11.

Like most of the prospect gurus, Goldstein points to the Gio Gonzalez trade as “thinning” to the system but believes the ’11 Draft could eventually replace the players lost. As many of you have noted in the comments, the GG trade has knocked the system back, but perhaps only to where it was a year ago.

Still, let’s not forget that as the parent club improves, the job of reloading becomes more difficult. The new CBA also will be a factor, though I think a lot of the early “Omigod, we’ll never get another Bubba Starling!” screeching analysis was overwrought.

Click through on the link above to read his quick takes on the “Nine More” and for you Harper fanboys, Goldstein included the writeup on him. The rest, alas, is for the paid subs (sorry).

Jan 202012
 

Three days after releasing his initial Top 20 list, the Nationals traded four of their Top 10 to the A’s for Gio Gonzalez. Today, Sickels has revised the list.

Thankfully, this is in print, so I don’t have to channel my bad Casey Kasem impersonation (click for a better one), but with everybody moving up four spots on the countdown, here are the four new names on his Top 20:

20) Justin Bloxom — C

19) Jeff Kobernus — C

18) Eury Perez — C

17) Tyler Moore — C

Moore, of course, has gotten some attention lately with Byron Kerr’s profile that has him being tried in the OF during Spring Training. This is, of course, being tried to give the Nats options besides DH if/when both he and Chris Marrero are in the same lineup at Syracuse.

Kobernus and Perez could easily be flip-flopped, but I, too, would rate Perez ahead of Kobernus because he can hidden on a bench as a defensive replacement/pinch-runner, not to mention he’s two years younger. Both have the same impediment for the long haul: impatience at the plate (4.0 and 4.7% BB rates, respectively).

Bloxom was one of the overlooked that I listed when Sickels put the call out to the community (first comment), but it’s still a bit of a surprise to see him get the nod when you look at the list of “Others” — folks that most likely will make the book, which is due out next weekend.
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And for today’s copyeditor’s nightmare (and non-sequitur?)… the sole signing last week by the Nationals was for Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a candidate for the Syracuse staff. He turns 27 in April and another Venezuelan League signee. One might also think, given this article, that he’s a project for the coaches to make a mechanical adjustment.

Jan 092012
 

I’ll spare you guys a NKOTB pun for a pic and pass along the following Top 15 list from Bullpen Banter:

Jeff Reese Al Skorupa
1. Bryce Harper, OF 1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B 2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brian Goodwin, CF 3. Brian Goodwin, CF
4. Alex Meyer, RHP 4. Alex Meyer, RHP
5. Sammy Solis, LHP 5. Matt Purke, LHP
6. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/SS 6. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/SS
7. Matt Purke, LHP 7. Sammy Solis, LHP
8. Destin Hood, COF 8. Destin Hood, COF
9. Michael Taylor, CF 9. Matt Skole, 3B
10. Chris Marrero, 1B 10. Michael Taylor, CF
11. Tyler Moore, 1B 11. Robbie Ray, LHP
12. Robbie Ray, LHP 12. Eury Perez, CF
13. Matt Skole, 3B/1B 13. Cole Kimball, RHR
14. Eury Perez, CF 14. Dan Rosenbaum, LHP
15. Kylin Turnbull, LHP 15. Tyler Moore, 1B

I’m not gonna say much more except to go and take a look at their commentary. I think you’ll find their comments on Steve Lombardozzi particularly interesting, as well as their thoughts on Rendon, Ray, and Solis. As frequent commenter SoulDrummer is fond of remarking: “It’s important to pay attention to how folks outside our little bubble are viewing the guys.”