2012 Watchlist Updated

I’ve updated the 2012 Watchlist since the Gio Gonzalez trade, and upon learning that Taylor Jordan has undergone TJ surgery, paring the list down to 65 players. As mentioned previously, and in the comments, I didn’t add on players. That makes sense for a Top 50 list, but there’s not a set number here we’re shooting for.

I also decided to treat the traded away players just as I did last offseason: a slash-through line. I like to think of the watchlist as a snapshot in time — here are the guys that are on our radar, if you will.

I didn’t add any of the Rule 5ers or the throw-in from the Gonzalez trade, as all three I believe to be inventory more than end-cap. To placate the Purke Posse©, I’ve moved him into the starter column and moved Joel Barrientos in the to LH reliever column.

Otherwise, I’ll be updating the player reports as best as I can until the books come in from BA and Sickels (technically, an e-mail), commenting on the players I’ve seen, creating an amalgam from external sources whenever I can, or simply some notes on the ones that fall into neither category (typically the DSLers).

My apologies in advance for any “Report Not Yet Written,” which is a placeholder for any player that I haven’t seen extensively and will need the aforementioned books to write a decent summary.

Eleven From ’11

We’re at the end of Year Two of NationalsProspects.com; time for the obligatory “Year In Review” piece.

Oh, I know that sounds curt and cynical. News slows down during the holidays, but it doesn’t stop. So these kinds of pieces are trotted out to fill the void.

Looking over the storylines that I decided to revisit, there does seems to be a theme of transition. The minors are still a source of hope, but it’s a different kind of hope. As the depth of the system has improved, the eggs aren’t all in one basket anymore.

Sure, we used to think that in the abstract with certain players — Chris Marrero especially and in particular — but as we saw last week, it’s become apparent that tagging a prospect as the next X in Washington is no longer a given.

(Before you say “Bryce Harper,” consider that he might end up in left field rather than right field.
What?! I’m just sayin’…)

Of course, that won’t stop anyone from trying. People will still get attached to certain players, hoping they make The Show in DC, but now the farm has improved to the point where it can produce players for both the long-term (replacements) and the short-term (trade bait).

This, I think, is progress — much the way we’re seeing a whole lot less of the Natmosphere praising players for their production (e.g. Tyler Clippard) rather than their personality (e.g. Chad Cordero).

So without further ado, let’s delve into the 11 stories to remember from 2011…

The Rain
Every year I ask for a drought that lasts roughly five-and-a-half months: second week of April to third week of September*. It would be one thing if I were merely referring to the poor drainage at the Pfitz, but this also includes the flooding at Metro Bank Park, and fallen light tower at Hagerstown. The four full-season affiliates averaged nearly a dozen rainouts apiece, the three short-season teams averaged nearly a half-dozen postponements each.
*Maybe I got too spoiled by my time in the Pacific Northwest, where there are two seasons — Rain (Oct-Apr) and Not Rain (May-Sep)

The Gorzelanny Trade
Eleven months later, and with the benefit of hindsight, this trade doesn’t look nearly so bad. Prior to this, however, most of the Rizzo trades were of the MLB for prospects instead of vice-versa. I liked the trade immediately, in part because it affirmed what I had long suspected: Michael Burgess was never going to figure it out (2011 saw him revert to the mean, posting a .225/.323/.427 line in his third A+ season).

The Jonny Gomes Trade
This one, however, still stings. Unlike the Gorzelanny trade, even Stevie Wonder could see this was a short-sighted trade designed to snag a sandwich pick. Thankfully, the new CBA will make this debacle less likely to recur. Maybe we’ll be proven wrong on this eventually, but watching a hard-throwing, left-handed strikeout machine (Chris Manno) move up a level and into a hitter’s league and still mow ’em down was not fun, especially when the system is sorely lacking age-appropriate left-handed relief prospects.

The Gio Gonzalez Trade
Unlike the previous two trades, this trade got the attention of more than just the seamheads. The initial reaction was mostly sour, but I think a lot of that is simply that the trade involved four names that casual fans would know (imagine if it had been Demny/Rosenbaum/Freitas/Estevez) because all were in the most recent Top 10. I think Mark Zuckerman’s effort today expands/riffs on what I wrote in the comments to my story on the trade: “You can count me among the folks that feel a little disheartened that the farm has been weakened, but at the same time the parent club has been strengthened. Sometimes we need a little reminding that that’s *always* the endgame.”

Bryce Harper
There’s not much left that hasn’t been written about Harper. I think I’ve been fairly consistent in my ambivalence because I am professionally trained to be cynical and will instinctually gravitate towards the contrarian position to the hyperbole that has surrounded him since he was put on the cover of SI as a 16-year-old. But it’s also true that he’s met those expectations and impressed nearly every prospect guru along the way (yes, even Keith Law). Maybe the Nats will shock us and put Harper on the Opening Day roster, much like the Braves did with Jason Heyward in 2010. Maybe they’ll decide he needs to work on his fielding at Syracuse. But he will undoubtedly dominate Spring Training 2012’s headlines

Stephen Strasburg
We knew he was just visiting the minors in 2010. But in 2011, the road back from Tommy John surgery gave the 2009 #1 overall draft pick a six-game tour through the full-season minors. Three of those came in Hagerstown. And on a hot August night Brother Strasburg’s Travelling Salvation Show came to Woodbridge. Ordinarily, rehab starts are wildly overrated. But this was the exception, as the 23-year-old took just 33 pitches to retire 12 batters. No batted ball left the infield in fair territory.

Steve Lombardozzi
For the second time in two seasons, a middle infielder made his way from AA to the majors, as Steve Lombardozzi went from Harrisburg to Syracuse to Washington. While the odds of him making the 2012 lineup are slimmer than his predecessor, Danny Espinosa, it was still fun to watch and track from afar one season removed from seeing him day-in and day-out. As we head in 2012, the question is whether or not Lombardozzi is asked to man the bench or be sent to Syracuse to wait.

Danny Rosenbaum
Sammy Solis gets the press, but Rosenbaum simply produces: 171⅓ innings over 26 games, 25 of them starts. That’s nearly six and two-thirds innings every time out. The 24-year-old has been constantly compared to Tom Milone**, which is a double-edged sword like any comparison because it frequently assumes too much. Rosenbaum doesn’t have pinpoint control. But he can break a pane of glass, throwing in the low-90s. That jump in speed from 2010 (high-80s) to 2011 seemed come at the cost of his control and seemed like most of his time at 2011 was spent regaining it. But you’d never have known it if you simply followed the box scores. He has that rare knack of being able to get guys out without having all his pitches working. Now what remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be the 2012 version of Brad Peacock**.
**I purposely decided not to include Milone and Peacock in the “11” because I wanted this piece to still be as forward-looking as possible.

Destin Hood
Earlier, I’d referenced Michael Burgess, a “toolsy outfielder” that sputtered. Destin Hood may be that rare bird that doesn’t. Going into 2011, there was a low level of frustration: When he is ever going to tap that raw talent and turn it into skill? Well, this was the year. He nearly doubled his walk total (33 to 58), nearly tripled his HR total (5 to 13), and despite some knee troubles, swipe some bases (5 to 21). He’ll turn 22 just before the 2012 season, so the expectation that he can make another quantum leap will be there, fair or not.

Auburn Goes To The NYPL Finals
A year after watching the short-season A Vermont Lake Monsters start strong, then fade late had to lead some to wonder if history would repeat in ’11. It didn’t, as they managed to mash their way into the finals, leading the league in runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. It’s probably true that a lot of this is attributable to the Nats’ tendency to draft college seniors, but it made for a fun pennant race to cover in August as part of the daily “News & Notes.”

Potomac Rallies To Make The Playoffs
After a 29-40 first half — the worst in recent memory — the idea of a second straight second-half surge seemed far-fetched. But that’s exactly what happened. Unlike 2010, there was no Tyler Moore having a monster half-season, or Hagerstown sending up its top two pitchers. It was the more traditional, stabilize the pitching (veteran reliever into the rotation) and improve the offense just a little, enough to stop losing 5-4 and start winning 4-3. Sure, it ended with a playoff exit instead of a Mills Cup hoisting, but it was quite an unexpected turn of events.

Winter League Update

Our semi weekly look at the Nationals players in the Winter Leagues, with all statistics as of 1:40 a.m. on December 23, 2011.







As you might have guessed, this feature got bumped with the slew o’ news this week. The Dominican Winter League regular season ended this week, the Venezuelan League wraps up next Friday, and the Mexican League finishes the first week of January.

Hope this finds everyone well as they hide from their families take a break from their holiday festivities.

Nats Trade Four Farmhands For Gio Gonzalez

Multiple online sources are reporting that the Nationals have traded four prospects for LHP Gio Gonzalez, a package that’s said to include RHPs Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, LHP Tommy Milone and C Derek Norris.

While you might think that my initial reaction might be that we gave away the farm (hence the pic), I am personally pleased for Milone and Norris, both of whom will now be in a better position to make the majors. The American League has long rewarded lefties with good control and sharp breaking stuff (see Wells, David; Pettitte, Andrew). Norris now can be used as a DH if need be (Scott Hatteberg comparisons in 3… 2… 1…).

Both Milone and Norris were blocked to some extent by Wilson Ramos and/or Jesus Flores and Ross Detwiler and/or John Lannan. Note those “and/or’s” because Rizzo may not be done dealing, especially since Detwiler is out of options. As we saw earlier this month with the Perry-for-Balester trade, Rizzo is quite willing to make a trade to get that roster flexibility (insert Garrett Mock joke here) he covets.

So it’s Peacock and Cole for Gio, essentially, with Norris and Milone as insurance. If Gio does indeed improve his control while maintaining his GB rate and K rates, then this could be a trade that works out for both organizations.

I now return you to the howling on Twitter.

UPDATE — The trade also included 24-year-old RHP Robert Gilliam, who is not in the upper echelons of Oakland’s prospects. The best that I could find on him came from a fantasy baseball site, Razzball.com:

Pitched well in an extreme hitting environment – High-A Stockton (California League). In 164⅓ innings, Gilliam had the following ratios: 8.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.3 Hr/9, 4.30 FIP, .307 BABIP, 1.30 WHIP. Those aren’t fantastic numbers, but they are noteworthy due to the environment. Could receive a late season call-up if he continues to pitch this well.

Considering that Cole was nearly a lock to move up to Potomac, it would appear that Rizzo has lined up his replacement.

Nats Claim Carlos Rivero On Waivers

The Washington Nationals have claimed SS-3B Carlos Rivero on waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Like Baltimore’s Billy Rowell, Rivero has been stuck at AA for the past three seasons with the obligatory “but he’s still young” caveat attached to him. This past season Rivero finally did well enough (.270/.326/.440) to get a cup of coffee at AAA where hit hit just .185/.233/.444 in seven games.

The knock on Rivero is that his defense has been suspect (.949FA in 497G as a SS) despite having a strong throwing arm. The shift to 3B has been unsuccessful (.908FA in 142G) and to paraphrase the pholks at Phuture Phillies: “It’s a loss after a good rebound season, but he remains a deeply flawed prospect.”

Rivero coincidentally was the subject for PhuturePhillies.com’s look at the flip side of drafting international talent.

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospects List

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.

Nationals Announce 2012 Farm Managers, Coaches

Yesterday, the Nationals finally announced the 2012 lineup for their affiliates’ coaching staffs:

Manager – Tony Beasley (promoted from Harrisburg)
Pitching Coach – Greg Booker (returning)
Hitting Coach – Troy Gingrich (promoted from Harrisburg)

Manager – Matt LeCroy (promoted from Potomac)
Pitching Coach – Paul Menhart (promoted from Potomac)
Hitting Coach – Eric Fox (new hire)

Manager – Brian Rupp (new hire; managed Wilmington ’09-’11)
Pitching Coach – Chris Michalak (promoted from Hagerstown)
Hitting Coach – Marlon Anderson (promoted from Hagerstown)

Manager – Brian Daubach (returning)
Pitching Coach – Franklin Bravo (promoted from Auburn)
Hitting Coach – Mark Harris (reassigned from Potomac)

Manager – Gary Cathcart (returning)
Pitching Coach – TBD
Hitting Coach – Luis Ordaz (returning)

Manager – Tripp Keister (new hire; previously coached at Wesley College)
Pitching coach – Michael Tejera (returning)
Hitting coach – Amaury Garcia (promoted from DSL)

Manager – Sandy Martinez (returning)
Pitching Coach – Pablo Frias (returning)
Hitting Coach – Jorge Mejia (new hire)

The coordinators are nearly all the same with the exception of Calvin Minasian, who replaces John Mullin as the Clubhouse and Equipment Manager. The most significant changes come at Potomac, where Brian Rupp was lured away from the Kansas City organization to become the P-Nats field boss and Mark Harris was sent to Maryland to assume the hitting-coach duties for Hagerstown. Most of the other moves are promotions from within.

As was the case last year, most of this was not a mystery, given the early news on the AA and AAA staffs last month, and a commenter in the know (Get 42 Off 1st) informing us in September of the removals of Jerry Browne (AAA hitting coach), Bobby Williams (DSL manager), and Sergio Mendes (DSL hitting coach). I’m sure we’ll get some opinions as to why Harris and Anderson swapped spots, though my first inference is that they wanted to keep him and Michalak together.

Sickels Releases Preliminary Prospect List

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.

More Minor League Signings

It’s mostly quiet on the minor-league front, but since our last post there have a been a few signings:

  • UT Andres Blanco (Texas)
  • RHP Jeff Fulchino (Houston/San Diego)
  • 2B Manny Mayorson (Toronto)
  • OF Jason Michaels (Houston)
  • 1B/3B Tim Pahuta (re-signed)
  • RHP Luis Chirinos (McAllen, NAL)
  • RHP Marcel Prado (Margarita, VWL)
  • IF-OF Chad Tracy (Japan, ’11; Cubs/Marlins, ’10)
  • OF Xavier Paul (L.A. Dodgers, Pittsburgh)

As you can see, most of these moves fall into either the category of roster-filling or spring-training competition. Unfortunately, I am also awaiting the inevitable BA transaction post in which we’ll learn about some of the releases and retirements.

In other news…

Byron Kerr has tweeted that he expects an announcement regarding the minor-league coaching staffs early next week. I’ve heard nothing definitive elsewhere.

Lastly, there are rumblings from Hagerstown about upgrading Municipal Stadium (or else). Our favorite Hagerstown blogger makes some very good points in his latest post (and open letter) to the county officials.

UPDATE: Baseball America has issued its latest transaction update, and in red are two names that were added. Both pitched in the Venezuela Winter League on the same pitching staff as Ryan Tatusko this offseason. Chirinos pitched in the independent North American League this past summer, while Prado pitched in the Golden Baseball League in 2010.

UPDATE #2: A few more minor-league signings in blue, with the requisite invite to spring training (plus Brett Carroll), which was also extended to Sandy Leon, Cory Brown, and Rafael Martin.