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.”

Dec 202011
 

I’ll expand on this later, but I wanted to put this up ASAP so folks can discuss in the comments. Here’s the summary:

A Bryce Harper
A- Anthony Rendon
B A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Brian Goodwin, Derek Norris, Alex Meyer
B- Matt Purke, Tom Milone, Steve Lombardozzi, Sammy Solis, Destin Hood, Robbie Ray
C+ Chris Marrero, Danny Rosenbaum, Michael Taylor, David Freitas
C Rich Hague, Matt Skole, Jason Martinson

That’s 13 of 20 prospects graded B- or better. Last year, it was 12 of 20 that were C+ or C. This is huge because Sickels is a notoriously tough grader.

I’ve bolded the 2010 Top 20 picks that improved their standing and italicized the prospects that played their way on to this year’s list. The point? This isn’t just Bryce Harper and the 2011 Draft — 40% of this list are guys that were already in the organization and got better.

UPDATE: As promised, some thoughts on the Sickels Top 20.

…Now I’m rooting for Rendon to make it to Potomac next summer. Sickels downgraded the likes of Purke, Solis, Hague due to injury concerns and while he undoubtedly did here, too, it’s clear that he fell from Harper heights, whereas I would have guessed dropping from a B+ to a B.

…Naturally, I am psyched that he has become a Milone believer and thinks Rosenbaum could be following the same path, with Dupra, Hill, and Turnbull the possible next wave

…Not surprised that Kobernus, Moore, or Perez didn’t make the cut. All three aren’t much for walking. Moore didn’t get filleted at AA, but his walk totals have fallen each of the past two seasons while the strikeouts have risen. Kobernus and Perez don’t have the power to make you look the other way, and while both have speed, Perez is still one of the system’s true CFs.

…Pay attention to the “needs to show skills higher than” caveat that keeps recurring; seems to apply to nearly all of the Suns contingent and Skole. Luckily, we do have some coverage at Potomac *rimshot!*

…Sickels still believes in Norris, but downgraded him from B+ to B. The comp to Mickey Tettleton and/or Mike Napoli seems to be de rigeur nowadays, though I think that underrates his throwing arm, not to mention that he’s athletic enough to transition to 1B or LF in a very short time.

…Cole is likely to get the bump up to B+ per Sickels himself in the comments to his article: “I’m about 90% sure Cole is going to get a B+ when all is said and done. I got some mixed reports about his changeup and some velocity fluctuations but overall I love the guy. I want to do some comparisons with other guys in the same grade range and see who I like better.”

…Last but not least, Sickels hinted that the system itself may be entering the Top 10 for all of MLB. I know some folks get pumped over that whereas I’m more likely to remember the #10 ranking from early 2008 by BA after the Detwiler/Smoker/McGeary draft that dropped right back to #21 in early 2009.

Dec 192011
 

Yesterday, John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list — a precursor to the release of his Top 20 list, which should come this week.

Since last year he released his preliminary list prior to the selection of our 2012 Watchlist, I’ll list the omissions instead of the overlap:

Paul Applebee Joel Barrientos Corey Brown
Paul Demny Wilmer Difo Diomedes Eusebio
Marcos Frias Matt Grace Junior Geraldo
Neil Holland Greg Holt Hendry Jimenez
Taylor Jordan Nathan Karns Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
Estarlin Martinez Gilberto Mendez Narciso Mesa
Christian Meza Justin Miller Adrian Nieto
Bryce Ortega “Fred” Ortega Arialdi Peguero
Ivan Pineyro Wander Ramos Caleb Ramsey
Manny Rodriguez Adrian Sanchez Steve Souza
Hector Silvestre Matt Swynenberg Jean Carlos Valdez

Not too difficult to see the pattern here: Too old for the level by his standards or players from the Dominican Republic that haven’t played north of Florida. Omission may also be too strong a word — if I were to slice our watchlist in half, I’d probably do the same, especially if I had to put a few hundred of them in a book that’s going on sale next month.

The only name that was on his list but not ours was Deion Williams, a.k.a. the lone HS position players signed from the Nats 2011 draft.

This year, you’ll recall, I made a conscious effort to be more exclusive than inclusive and one of the areas in which I thought that I was too “easy” last year was the three-letter leagues (DSL, GCL). It’s a balancing act between identifying guys that caught my eye while doing the season reviews and being a homer. So if I get kudos for picking out “For The Weekend,” I deserve the Red Foreman treatment on the likes of Nick Serino.

I did, however, make the case on his board for the Adrians (Nieto and Sanchez) and Taylor Jordan, with an honorable mention for Justin Bloxom. I’m sure most of you can make the case for others, and encourage you to comment both here and there.

Dec 022011
 

Fear not, seamheads. The list will be here before the weekend.

The turnout the second time around was a little less — 17 vs. 19 — and lot closer. Twenty different hurlers got a vote, with four named on every ballot. No perfect score this time, which was not a surprise. Without further ado, the results in reverse order with points in parentheses:

10. Rafael Martin (14)
9. Danny Rosenbaum (28)
8. Brad Meyers (44)
7. Robbie Ray (68)
6. Alex Meyer (90)
5. Matt Purke (106)
4. Tommy Milone (110)
3. Sammy Solis (114)
2. A.J. Cole (142)
1. Brad Peacock (166)

Others receiving votes: Kylin Turnbull (13), Wirkin Estevez (11), Taylor Jordan, Josh Smoker, Paul Demny, Taylor Hill, Atahualpa Severino, Marcos Frias, Cole Kimball, Pat Lehman

As you’ve probably already surmised — and the mathmetically inclined, deduced — Peacock, Cole, and Solis were the every-ballot picks; Ray was the fourth. Purke, Milone, and Alex Meyer were named on 16 of 17 ballots. After that, it’s scattershot.

Unlike the bats, I think this list shows our biases, Brad Meyers and Rafael Martin in particular. I called out the votes for Turnbull and Estevez because you can see that just one or two more votes would have put them in the list. I voted for “For The Weekend” because he’s one of the handful of Nats’ teenage pitchers that have pitched north of Viera, but didn’t for Turnbull because he’s thrown less than a 100 innings since H.S. and the guess is that he’ll be used as a reliever not a starter.

Unfortunately, the starter vs. reliever bias is probably hurting Josh Smoker the most, but like favoring youth, it’s prospect prejudice that’s right more often than it’s wrong. I’d have probably voted for Jordan if he’d finished the season at Hagerstown, but fair or not, my inclination is to hold injuries against a pitcher until he proves that he’s healthy. And I write that having had some of the problems (back, hip, knee) that come with the pitcher’s physique without any of the incipient stress (or talent) of actually throwing a baseball.

Have at it in the comments. The winter meetings start next week and finish with the Rule 5 draft. Yesterday, we got a little touch of the hot stove and let’s hope it burns steadily for the next two months.

Nov 292011
 

Last year, I wrote “The people have spoken,” referring to the poll for next steps regarding rankings and watchlists. This year, the sentiment’s the same but this time, it’s a little more literal.

That’s because this year’s list is based on the opinions of those that wrote in to my query for submissions, not just my own. Is it scientific? Hell, no — it’s subjective. But the theory is that a bunch of like-minded seamheads are going to produce a better list than this one did last year.

The methodology is pretty simple: I took the submissions, put ‘em in a spreadsheet and then added up the points in reverse (#1 vote = 10 points, #10 vote = 1 point). Top vote getter is #1, second-most is #2, etc. A couple of ballots mixed in pitchers and I tried to count them anyways but that actually produced a couple of ties, so I tossed ‘em and that worked to break the ties.

The sample size isn’t terribly big (19) but it was about what I was hoping for (20). So here are the results, in reverse order with points in parentheses. A perfect score was 190 and I’m sure you’ll be *shocked* to learn that it was achieved.

10. Eury Perez (28)
9. Michael Taylor (33)
8. Tyler Moore (56)
7. Chris Marrero (74)
6. Destin Hood (87)
5. Steve Lombardozzi (95)
4. Brian Goodwin (103)
3. Derek Norris (150)
2. Anthony Rendon (152)
1. Bryce Harper (190)

Others receiving votes: Zach Walters, Jeff Kobernus, Rick Hague, Kevin Keyes, Jason Martinson, Jhonatan Solano, Matt Skole, Chris Curran, David Freitas, Corey Brown, Erik Komatsu, Blake Kelso

That’s 22 players receiving votes. You’ll note that I used “position players” instead of “bats” this year in the headline. Some folks took that to mean strictly hitting prowess, even though I tend to use it as a synonym like “arms” for pitchers. But I stuck with bats because I like the picture, opting against a visual pun (this time; I’ve been saving that one since last winter).

I think you can see from this variety of names that some folks are factoring in defense (e.g. Curran) some give props to knocking on the MLB door (Solano) and some give props to raw tools (Keyes). Three players appeared on all ballots: Harper, Rendon, and Norris. Goodwin was left off one; Moore, two; Lombardozzi, Hood, and Marrero: three; Perez, eight; Taylor, ten. The others receiving votes are in order of points, but it wasn’t close: Walters received 15 points.

The two names that missed that kind of surprised me were David Freitas and Rick Hague. Say what you will about his defense, but an .858 OPS over two years might have gotten a little more respect. Conversely, a season-ending shoulder injury didn’t dissuade folks from voting for Hague, even though as the votes for Martinson and Walters attest, he’s no longer the shortstop in waiting that he was this time last year.

Ultimately, like all things hot stove, this is an exercise that mainly serves to pass the time and the winter. But that’s going to stop me from soliciting votes for the pitchers as my next project ;-)

Editor’s Note: This was largely written prior to the news that Chris Marrero had torn his hamstring. Clearly this is a blow to both the prospect and the organization. It may also open the door for Tyler Moore. But one has to also wonder if this makes Lombardozzi the trade chip in lieu of Marrero, given the interest in Mark DeRosa.

Oct 082010
 

Not surprisingly, just one Nationals farmhand made the cut for Baseball America’s Top 20 Prospects of the Eastern League: Danny Espinosa.

What did surprise me was this characterization of Espinosa’s defense in the scouting report:

Though Espinosa played exclusively shortstop at Double-A, scouts and managers agree he fits better at second base, where he mostly played in the majors. His infield actions aren’t quite good enough for a big league [sic] shortstop, but he has a chance to be a plus defender with a strong arm at second.

Whether this is kowtowing to the Nats’ decision to play the superior shortstop out of position or not is subject to debate. What’s more pleasing to read is that while the scouts still believe he’s a candidate to strike out frequently, they’re liking the power that first came on the scene in ’09, surprising nearly everyone.

Going into 2010, Espinosa’s task was to prove his power surge at Potomac was not a fluke, and clearly he’s succeeded. Now the scouts are predicting that he’s capable of hitting .260 to .270 with 15-20 HRs. Fun fact: Espinosa was one of three 20/20 players in the minors this past season.

As always, I’ll pass along any Nats-related comments I spot in the BA chat.

UPDATE: Here’s the lone Nat question in the BA chat…

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did Chris Marrero and Michael Burgess make your short list? Your thoughts on both at this point?

John Manuel: I asked one scout who’s better defensively at 1B, Adam Dunn or Marrero, and he answered Marrero, but he had to think about it. That tells you what you need to know on Marrero’s defense. As my son would say, he’s a 5 for strat-o-matic purposes. Burgess didn’t qualify, but I’d be leery of his big hack-no contact approach anyway.