Nats Add (Just) Two to the 40-Man Roster

For the first time in five years, the Washington Nationals added just two players—IF Kelvin Gutierrez and RHP Jefry Rodriguez—to its 40-man roster ahead of the deadline to protect players from the the Rule 5 draft. I suppose you could count Wander Suero, but he was about to become a free agent so that’s really accurate to lump him together with these two, unless you happen to have noticed that none of these players were 2014 or 2013 draft picks.

Don’t get me wrong — that they’re all IFAs doesn’t bother me aside from the fact that foreign-born players are subjected to different level of exploitation by major-league baseball. So in that sense, I’m happy that these two (three) have taken one step closer to The Show because they’ve sacrificed more.

Kelvin Gutierrez is one of my current favorites and while I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Rodriguez in the past, it’s hard for me to look past his drug suspension, which begs the question why are the Nats doing so, too?

But to return to my original point… aside from Erick Fedde, which is nearly a given for a 1st-Rd pick, the 2014 draft has produced zero players on the 40-man roster and neither of the 2013 draft‘s two (2) HS picks were protected, either.

Explain to me again why Mike Rizzo, et al are supposed draft gurus?

I’ve been hearing/reading/seeing this for years, that the Nats have the knack for finding talent in the draft despite picking lower and lower. Well, perhaps they’re more like The Knack with two big hits early and not much since.

Supposedly, it takes five years to truly judge a draft, but 2012 doesn’t look much better and I’m not even going by the number of major-leaguers. I see far too many that barely made it to High-A and few that were truly good at that level, never mind AA or AAA.

So can we please just acknowledge that Washington isn’t better than anyone else when picking low? Thank you.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of NationalsProspects.com. Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

20 thoughts on “Nats Add (Just) Two to the 40-Man Roster”

  1. Luke, by and large I don’t disagree with the vast majority of your rant. I will add a few points:

    — The Nats’ “knack” has rarely extended beyond the first round. Their history of second-round picks is almost laughable, other than Solis a long, long time ago.

    — The ultimate responsibility lies with Rizzo, but the real draft guru during this period we’re discussing that has become such a black hole was supposed to be Roy Clark. Thank goodness he took his banjo and headed for Dodgerland a couple of years ago.

    — In general I’m not a fan of HS picks, but some of the higher recent college picks aren’t looking that great, either, including guys like Wiseman and Banks . . . who seemed to have good pedigrees. Stevenson moved through the system well but still seems to have the same limitations he did when he was drafted (surprise, surprise).

    One of the problems with HS picks is that it takes so long to know what you’ve got. Ward is the same age as guys just playing their first full pro season out of college as a junior draftee. For frame of reference, Ward is a week younger than Banks. Reetz is 14 months younger than those two. At the more elite level, Giolito was drafted in 2012, and people still aren’t sure of his caliber. Same with Buxton, who is half a year older than Giolito. Among Nat HS picks who have blossomed, neither Taylor nor Souza really turned in on until they were older than Ward is now. In fact, Souza “quit” during his age-22 season.

  2. Counterpoint: the 2012-2014 draft classes were just really poor beyond the top 10 or so players.

    2014 has produced very little in big league talent from pick #1 onward. In fact, the best player from that draft is currently on our team.
    1st round: https://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?draft_round=1&year_ID=2014&draft_type=junreg&query_type=year_round
    2nd round: https://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?draft_round=2&year_ID=2014&draft_type=junreg&query_type=year_round
    3rd round: https://www.baseball-reference.com/draft/?draft_round=3&year_ID=2014&draft_type=junreg&query_type=year_round

    In 2013, the best player to come after the Nats first round pick (forfeited to the Yanks at #33) was Cory Knebel, Sean Manaea or Ryon Healy. Not really big misses, when I’m not mentioning the other 100 players to either post pretty poor MLB numbers or never feature in the first 3 rounds.

    2012 is a bit of a different story, but I certainly don’t regret taking Giolito. Yes, Corey Seager and Marcus Stroman went after him, but Giolito turned into Adam Eaton. Then I challenge you to find anyone of note after the first round. Alex Wood and Jake Lamb are the only noteworthy players to come out of that draft, and it took me all the way until the 6th round to find Lamb. The rest is scattered with replacement level pitchers and utility players. We didn’t exactly ‘miss’ out on anyone.

    Rizzo’s strengths don’t come from drafting, but from using his assets well and turning them into better assets, usually by trading them. Flipping Souza into Turner and Ross was brilliant. Giolito and Lopez into Eaton should have been brilliant. Etc. We do have a lot of room to improve our drafting, especially with extremely risk-averse strategy of relying heavily on college products, and avoiding HSers at all costs.

    1. Rizzo’s strengths don’t come from drafting, but from using his assets well and turning them into better assets, usually by trading them. Flipping Souza into Turner and Ross was brilliant. Giolito and Lopez into Eaton should have been brilliant. Etc.

      +1000

    2. Will, I ran into some of the same things a while ago when debating what makes a “good” draft in the comments on Todd Boss’s site. It’s hard to set out criteria that can carry from draft to draft because some drafts as a whole just aren’t very good. Some drafts also have strengths in some areas that others don’t. For example, we were told that the strength of the 2016 draft was high schoolers, so we were supposed to be happy with two of them in the top three rounds. In 2017, the supposed strength was college arms, and the Nats took, uh, nine of them across the first 10 rounds.

      But in general, if you go back to 2008-09-10, to drafts that should have fully paid off by now, and look at the hit rate beyond the first round, it’s very, very low.

      Even the concept of “first round” is problematic, of course, because the length has varied so much over the years because of comp picks, Bud’s idiotic “competitive balance” picks, etc. It’s not like the NFL, where you know that the first round means 32 picks every year. In just eyeballing things, it struck me at one point that the MLB draft results break down pretty well into groups of 15, with a very high success rate in the first 15 picks and then a fairly regular falloff in each subsequent grouping of 15.

      For 2014 specifically, I wasn’t a particular fan of the Fedde pick, and I’ve watched the progress of the next three college hitters who came off the board, Gillaspie, Zimmer, and Chapman. The latter two in particular turned into significant prospects. We’re still waiting to see what we’ve got in Fedde . . . unless Rizzo flips him, too.

    3. Will, I ran into some of the same things a while ago when debating what makes a “good” draft in the comments on Todd Boss’s Nats Arms site. It’s hard to set out criteria that can carry from draft to draft because some drafts as a whole just aren’t very good. Some drafts also have strengths in some areas that others don’t. For example, we were told that the strength of the 2016 draft was high schoolers, so we were supposed to be happy with two of them in the top three rounds. In 2017, the supposed strength was college arms, and the Nats took, uh, nine of them across the first 10 rounds.

      But in general, if you go back to 2008-09-10, to drafts that should have fully paid off by now, and look at the hit rate beyond the first round, it’s very, very low.

      Even the concept of “first round” is problematic, of course, because the length has varied so much over the years because of comp picks, Bud’s idiotic “competitive balance” picks, etc. It’s not like the NFL, where you know that the first round means 32 picks every year. In just eyeballing things, it struck me at one point that the MLB draft results break down pretty well into groups of 15, with a very high success rate in the first 15 picks and then a fairly regular falloff in each subsequent grouping of 15.

      For 2014 specifically, I wasn’t a particular fan of the Fedde pick, and I’ve watched the progress of the next three college hitters who came off the board, Gillaspie, Zimmer, and Chapman. The latter two in particular turned into significant prospects. We’re still waiting to see what we’ve got in Fedde . . . unless Rizzo flips him, too.

  3. Luke, here are a couple of Gutierrez questions. First of all, what do like about him so much? Second, is he too big to suggest a move to 2B, where his lack of HR power wouldn’t be such an impediment? The few times I’ve seen him at Potomac, he’s looked bigger than his listed size. Correa is playing SS at about the same size, though.

    Part of the reason I ask is that it seems hard to make a good case for the Nats to keep Murphy as his never-great defense declines even further into his 30s. There’s no obvious replacement in the system, though. I can’t see Difo as a regular on a contender. It would be super-optimistic — practically unrealistic — to think that Kieboom could sprint through A+/AA/AFL in 2018 and be ready for a mid-season call-up in 2019. Gutierrez is the only guy on the nearer horizon who might be a possibility.

    1. 2019 actually has a solid 2B class. In addition to Murphy, Kinsler, LeMahieu and Dozier will be free agents. Then Logan Forsythe and Jed Lowrie a cut below as decent short term options.

      Also, don’t forget that Rendon played more-than-adequate 2B not too long ago. Could he stick there? Machado and Donaldson will be FAs in 2019 and available to play 3B, if Rendon could shift over (or permanently fill in, if we don’t think we’ll be able to re-sign Rendon in 2020.

      1. A viable internal option would be a lot cheaper, though, as I’m sure you know. (An idea I’ve floated on other sites is that the Nats consider signing Cozart now, as a super-utility guy for 2018 and Murphy’s replacement thereafter.)

        I have a hard time seeing the Nats moving Rendon off of 3B. He was the best defender there in baseball by a lot of metrics, despite what the Gold Glove voters decided. (By the overall Fangraphs defensive metric, Rendon was the second-best defender at any position, behind only Andrelton Simmons.) I do think the Nats will make a strong effort to keep Rendon beyond 2019, but between the Boras factor and Rendon’s enigma personality, it’s hard to bank on anything. Kieboom should be a more viable thought by 2020, though, and maybe even someone like Antuna.

    2. I like how he’s progressed as a fielder and his approach at the plate. He’s definitely too big to play 2B as he’s a legit 6’3” and I’d argue over 200 lbs, unless he’s like 4% body fat.

    3. The Nats consider Difo as a potential regular on a contender. In fact, given that Murphy is recovering from micro-fracture surgery, the Nats realize that there is a very real possibility that Difo will be a regular for a substantial part of the 2018 on a contender — the Nats. FWIW, last year, due to Turner’s injuries Difo was a regular and contributor to a contender last year at SS and often batting at the top of the lineup. Difo can run and field; his bat came alive this past year. Would not discount him as regular going forward.

      As for the limited return from the 2013 and 2014 drafts, after the first round, every team has far more misses in the baseball draft. In 2013, the Nats had no first round pick. Their first pick in the draft was at the end of round 2 — #68 (Jake Johannsen – bust, but most the players picked in round 2 that year have been busts), Ward was picked in the 3rd round (btw, the 2nd and 3rd round of that draft has produced no players that even have a moderate impact on the MLB level; of the 60 players taken in the 2nd and 3rd in that draft, the best player has been Chad Pinder a utility player that had 300 ABs this past year), and even though the Nats exposed Ward to the Rule 5 draft, the possibility still exists that he could reach MLB.

      Also, the Nats 4th round pick in the 2013 was Nick Pivetta who is now an MLB starter, and who the Nats traded to get their closer, Jon Papelbon; in addition, the Nats 5th round pick in the 2015 draft . In addition, the Nats 5th round pick in the 2013 draft, Austin Voth is on the Nats 40 man roster.

      In the 2014 draft, the Nats took Eric Fedde who has already started on the MLB level, and who is a top 100 prospect. They also drafted MacKenzie Mills who they turned into Howie Kendrick this past season.

      The vast majority of non-first round picks never sniff the MLB level; with that in mind, think the Nats have drafted better than most on the MLB level.

      1. While Difo took a nice step forward in 2017, his wRC+ of 76 is still a long way from being viable for a starter for a contender. I’m not totally dismissing the possibility of continued improvement, but I’m not counting on that much more, either.

      2. And that’s why they moved Sanchez to the 40-man? Because Difo was so great? I think not. He is definitely not that good batting left-handed in fact he is a detriment. His fielding isn’t that good.

  4. Absolutely agree with everything you said, Luke. One can’t even count Harp and Stras as good picks for obvious reasons. I liked the Rendon pick at 6 and the Giolito pick, but then …? And Fedde? I don’t think so.
    Overall, I don’t like Rizzo’s free agent picks (Scherser excepted), but I do like his trades.

    1. One can most definitely count Harper and Strasburg as good picks. Just because they were generally consensus #1 picks, we shouldn’t discount the value of Rizzo ‘doing the right thing’.

      Just look at the Orioles, who’ve repeatedly bucked conventional wisdom with their picks (Hobgood, Rowell). There’s a bunch of other examples of teams avoiding difficult signs/expensive players for financial reasons (Astros taking Correa over Buxton, for example. Though that worked out well for them), and Strasburg and Harper will forever go down as the by far the most expensive draft picks in MLB history.

      1. Conversely, however, we should not over-rate Rizzo for having the next Gooden/Strawberry fall into his lap, either. We’re actually closer to agreement than this discussion appears–I’ve also been exasperated at the strategy of drafting collegiate players to fill the rosters while using IFAs to compensate for the lack of HS players. I certainly appreciate the counter-argument that 2012-2014 were shallow draft pools. Nevertheless, I still feel like a draft ought to produce more than one 40-man candidate and more than one AA position player (Alec Keller) after FOUR years, especially if you’re drafting 21-23-y.o.’s.

      2. Not counting the Crow fiasco, the three times the Nats have had very high picks, they have nailed it with Stras, Harper, and Rendon. Perhaps the first two seemed like “duh” picks, but there’s really no such thing. Of the top 16 picks in 2009, only five of them have accumulated more than 5 bWAR, and Stras and Storen are two of them. In Bryce’s year, it’s only six of the top 22. Picks #2 and 4 were Jameson Taillon and Christian Colon. In 2011, two guys picked ahead of Rendon haven’t made the majors, and one is already out of baseball. Only eight players out of the top 60 in that draft have topped 5 bWAR.

        But yes, despite he hit-and-miss nature beyond the high picks, it still seems that the Nats should have been able to produce more guys who could at least move through the system to AA. Johanssen was a bad pick. He’s wasn’t good at a small college, but they picked him because he looked good in a uniform and threw hard. Renda was always going to be very limited, although he technically did make the majors. Guys like Hague, Mooneyham, Wisemen, and Banks had good careers at top college programs but hit the wall mid-minors. The Nats did totally blow it not signing #2 pick Andrew Suarez in 2014. He was solid AA-AAA in 2017 and probably bound for the majors.

  5. Bradley Peacock … 41st round pick key to a world series win … and not too shabby a spot/5th starter plus bullpen artist during the regular season … kind of hard to beat that pick don’t you think Luke?

  6. Oh and high school prep school picks Cole and Ray are both major league pitchers now … and Ray key to the Diamond Rag rotation …

    Honestly, doesn’t anyone think the new rules that restrict teams from over compensation with bonuses for talented HS types like Cole and Ray? The represent the last time the Nats were able to do that before the rules change? I think the new bonus restrictions and tiers have really hamstrung Rizzo. I am not sure how you get around it? Now, it seems, you either have a giant TV contract and bottomless pockets to pay the right free agents or you have to lose like the Phillies and Braves to get the better draft pick all throughout the draft or by combining the two? I don’t see Moneyball doing as well as he was earlier on with the A’s?

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