Preliminary 2018 Watchlist

With the passing of Thanksgiving, it’s time to take a look at the next edition of the watchlist.

This is one of the most difficult/depressing exercises because I kept running into two scenarios:

  • The player had good numbers, but was (very) old for the level
  • The players was age-appropriate for the level, but had terrible numbers

Now, I realize in the case of the latter—and especially in short-season ball—the statistics are not meaningful. But in the case of the former, there are very, very few late bloomers.

This past season I spent more time covering the GCL since 2014, “thanks” to Syracuse being as unwatchable as daytime TV.* But I still got the distinct impression that the IFAs were the ones to watch, not the draft picks.
Remember I was hospitalized twice last year; at least there I could ask for painkillers (*rimshot!*)

Before I go any further, let’s lay out the caveats…

It’s not a depth chart. It’s ordered by the highest level played to date. The guys at the top of the column are not necessarily better than the guys at the bottom.

It’s (mostly) based on 2017 usage. The Nats have a history of rotating IFs between 2B, 3B, and SS and are usually not very strong at 1B or the corners of the OF.

It’s preliminary. This is no longer a side project that I hope might lead to bigger things, it’s now a hobby that I’ve figured out how to keep doing.

I’m expecting and depending on readers to write in with omissions, criticism, and/or suggestions. Doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily respond or react, but I will read them.

What this is are the players who I think are worth keeping an eye on for one reason or another… but hardly ever because of when he was drafted or how much Washington spent to acquire him. I’m all too aware of how that does lead to some guys getting far more chances than they may actually deserve.

Sometimes it’s based on what I see for myself at Potomac (or what people I trust see at Hagerstown) and sometimes it’s based on what I see from the statistics. I do take into account what the experts think at MLB Pipeline, Minorleagueball, and yes, even Baseball America, even if I have my qualms about its editorial independence.

This year I’m simplifying and not listing any “DSL Guys” or “Notables” – the former isn’t going to change, and the latter is most useful as a place to list the folks that people will bring up in the conversation that follows. About the only “rule” I have is to not list anyone in the “Notables” from one year to the next.

So let’s kick off the 2017-18 offseason, and take a look at what we got here:

C 1B 2B SS
Severino Marmolejos Davidson C. Kieboom
Read Corredor Noll Antuna
Gushue Shepard L. Garcia  
Reetz      
3B OF RHP LHP
Ward Stevenson Fedde Borne
Gutierrez Robles Valdez Howard
  Johnson Baez Braymer
  Soto Sharp Romero
  Perkins Bogucki Raquet
  Connell Crowe Stoeckinger
  Evangelista Klobosits Infante
    Tetrault Jimenez
    Alastre  
    Guillen  

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.

36 thoughts on “Preliminary 2018 Watchlist”

  1. OK, I’ll throw out several random thoughts, most of which are quibbles. The only seemingly significant omission would be J-Rod, since they thought enough of him to add him to the 40-man . . . for some reason. While on the subject of guys on the 40-man, are you considering Bautista too old?

    When most of my thoughts involve the GCL, there is indeed very much a hole in the middle of the organization. First of all, I’d probably consider Antuna at 3B and Garcia at SS. It’s hard to see Antuna staying at SS with all the errors.

    I’d think about adding Pineda to the C list. He more than held his own in the GCL at age 17. I don’t see much in Evangelista’s stats and would suggest exchanging him for Senior, although the latter barely played before getting hurt. Senior’s JUCO stats were great, and I’m hopeful he’s one of the sleepers of the organization.

    With pitchers, I’d suggest adding Brigham Hill, the 5th-round pick who was excellent at Auburn. Weston Davis and Steven Fuentes struggled at Hags, but they were only 20. I think/hope they’ve still got some upside.

    I would say that Agustin is still more of a “prospect” than Corredor. I have no idea what to think of Anderson Franco, who was still only in his age-19 season . . . during which he hit .201 . . . but with 11 HRs.

    The MASH list seems to be gone, but there are some good arms looking to come back: Nick Lee, Andrew Lee, Ryan Williamson, and Bryan Harper, among others.

    1. I no longer believe that 40-man status is an automatic add to this list — just too many instances of guys who simply got on because it suited the Nats’ interests at the time and were dropped as soon as it wasn’t.

      1. Agreed. With Bautista, I thought it was very telling that even with the OF injuries with the big club last year, he got almost no MLB time. They signed retreads like Raburn and De Aza instead and vaulted Stevenson and Robles over him.

        With J-Rod, I don’t know. They must see something, or fear other teams see something, or something. He turns 25 next summer, so it really will be a make-or-break year for him at Harrisburg.

    2. Did not the Nats re-up with Nef Soto?
      Luke. The force compels me to say this so I am following in lieu of the Last Jedi
      I hope Phillips Valdez doesn’t spring a leak this coming year

  2. Hard to disagree too much with this list that seems to shrink from year to year but there are a few others who maybe deserve consideration. I would probably consider Suero a more deserving 25 yo than Valdez. It’s hard to separate all of last years pitching draftees at this point but in addition to the ones listed I like Troop (who pitched at 3 levels, was 20 and left handed), Hill (who was 21 and did well at Auburn and got promoted to Hagerstown), and Galindez (who was 18, left handed and pitched fairly well at GCL). While Ward and Franco have certainly been somewhat disappointing, it is worth remembering that Ward was only 22 at AA and Franco was only 19 at L-A. Agree with KW that Pineda should be considered since he was 17 and had a 764 OPS catching at GCL. Also agree with KW that Antuna will almost assuredly have to move to 3B; I think that Sanchez is a more likely SS (even though he didn’t hit well he was only 16 at GCL and is worth keeping an eye on). I still like Augustin who was only 20 at Hagerstown and Potomac. Even though their stats weren’t very good, I also still like Weston Davis and Yonathan Ramirez who were only 20 at Hagerstown. Jorge Pantoja seemed to pitch well in relief at both Hagerstown and Potomac. Don’t know that Shepard, Infante and Jimenez have shown enough promise for inclusion and would consider removing them along with Valdez.

    1. I second many of James’ proposals here, especially some of the lower-level talent.

      Starting from the bottom up:

      DSL:
      Alfonso Hernandez was both one of the best pitchers on the team, and one of the youngest. Also a LHP, which is a bonus.
      Luis Aquino, still only 18 and a signing bonus baby, batted a respectable .270/.330/.365, showing glimpses of all five tools, but still very rough. Think he’s still ‘watchlist-able’.

      GCL:
      Nelson Galindez – one of our few HS draftees. Still rough around the edges (needs to improve his control), but still an interesting piece.
      Pineda – extremely young (17), and was one of GCL’s best batters (.288/.323/.441), in a premium position (C), and a big reputation ($450k signing bonus). What’s not to like?
      Jose Sanchez – struggled in his first season (.209/.280/.247), but skipped DSL all together, and was 16 for most of the season. His reputation (20th best IFA last year) should keep him on the list.
      Ricardo Mendez – same story as Sanchez. Wasn’t overly impressive, but didn’t embarrass himself (252/.319/.338), same age, same reputation.

      Auburn:
      Gilberto Chu – if Guillen makes it, so should Chu, who is a year younger with almost identical stats and experience. He’s a LHP FWIW.
      Omar Meregildo – one of the few players in our system to display power of any sort. Hit 8 HR in 55 G. But the usual caveats apply (high Ks 70 in 210 AB), low average (batted .214). But he was only 19 for most of the season in Auburn, which says something.

      Hagerstown:
      Yonathan Ramirez – struggled, but still think there’s a decent player there.
      Alex Troop – was very good and had a good reputation (think many were saying getting Troop in the 9th round was a bit of a coup), plus if Braymer (who is 2 years older and was way worse) makes the list, Troop should too.
      Brigham Hill- got roughed up at Hagerstown, but had a good reputation before the draft, and his peripherals still look good (39:8 K:BB, 4 HR allowed, in 43 IP).
      Anderson Franco – see Omar Meregildo’s explanation above.
      Telmito Agustin/Oliver Ortiz – both failed their respective promotions, but really strengthened their prospect status but putting up good seasons in their level-repeat seasons. I’m disappointed Agustin didn’t get a second chance in Potomac. Both strike out far too much and walk too little, but have interesting power (and Agustin is quite fast too) and are younger than average. Both merit a further look.

      Potomac:
      Steven Fuentes – unimpressive numbers, but when you factor in his age (started the season as a 19 year old), they look a lot better. Good control, solid strikeouts, but needs to cut down on long balls. Still has plenty of time, being several years ahead of ‘schedule’.
      Edwin Lora – extremely frustrating season, taking steps backward across the board (less power, lower average, fewer SBs), but still shows glimpses of potentially becoming a really good player: a plus defender with some speed and pop. Alas, it’s not looking good, but there’s still time, he’s only entering his age 22 season next year.

      Hagerstown:
      Osvaldo Abreu – see Lora’s description above.
      Yadiel Hernandez – not at all a ‘prospect’ but he ended the year with a bang. Over his last 50 games, he hit .354/.429/.549. Given he was out of baseball for a few years, it looks like the first few months may have been an extended spring training, and didn’t really hit his stride until July. Those sort of numbers are tantalizing. I’m not sure what his contract status is, but if he’s still on the Nats next season, I think he could be a really useful piece. Of all guys in our farm system, I think Hernandez is the one most likely to have an effect next season. And since he’d still qualify as a ‘rookie’, I think he’s worth including on the watchlist.

    2. Jefry-Rod has more mystery upside to him then Austen Williams.
      Would love to see Nats sign Cuban Jose Fernandez. My mind goes back to that expo
      farmhand with same name who played 3b.
      Intersting ledfty depth chart

  3. James/Will – There are some compelling arguments here, and I don’t want to respond to each one because I encourage this kind of thoughtful feedback.

    I’d been waiting for someone to make an argument for Lora/Abreu… I saw both for a full season so I have more than just numbers to go by.

    I felt stronger about Abreu this time last year than I do about Lora now — much, much more polished on defense. But I was disappointed with his production at AA this year, particularly how his walks dropped in half, which is a terrible sign.

    Lora has a strong arm and good range but makes Ian Desmond at the same stage look like Ozzie Smith. His career FA is .942 which is especially bad, considering how poor minor-league scorekeeping is. Yes, he’s shown some pop and speed but after his first four weeks at Potomac he was nearly an automatic out. The league adjusted to him and he had no answer.

    1. I completely agree here based on a much, much limited viewing of both at Potomac. Lora didn’t strike me as a “prospect” as all. He’s a very slight guy, maybe he grows into his body a bit more since he was young for the league, but he just looked like INF filler to me.

      Considering how little middle infield depth the Nats have, particularly in the upper minors, Abreu probably still qualifies as a “prospect.” He was a significantly better player when I saw him at Potomac than Lora currently is. He wasn’t great there, though, and I wasn’t sure he was totally ready for Harrisburg, which his 2017 season seemed to prove. Most damning for him this year was that he lost his eye at the plate. He had 50 walks in 2015, 55 in 2016, but only 27 in 2017. Really, about the only thing that had separated his batting line from Mejia’s in 2016 was the walks, and now that OBP padding is gone.

  4. There’s merit to a number of the guys James and Will have mentioned, but the only one for whom I’d add a full-throated endorsement is Alex Troop. He was a Friday starter for a Power 5 conference team, and he advanced three levels after the draft. He’s also young-ish, with a July birthday, so 2018 will qualify only as his age-21 season. I think he has a higher ceiling than at least five of the LHP you’ve currently got on the list.

    I like Galindez, the only HS pitcher the Nats took in 2017, and a BIG kid, but I could also see waiting a year before he’s Watch List-worthy, which could be said of a number of the other very young Latin players as well. Yonathan Ramirez–meh. He’s always been undersized. He’ll be age-21 in 2018 and in danger of getting passed by a big wave of college arms from the 2017 draft class. I hold out more hope for Weston Davis primarily because he’s significantly bigger than Ramirez and getting more Ks.

    I hold out more hope for Agustin than I do Ortiz.

    1. My biggest factor in compiling my list was admittedly age. Take Steven Souza for example. He had, to put it nicely, an extremely unimpressive start to his minor league career. After the 2011 season, after 5 complete seasons, he appeared to have hit his ceiling in Potomac. His line .228/.360/.367 likely didn’t merit watch-list status in 2011. However, he was still only 22 years old, and still had the ability to flounder around for 4 seasons before establishing himself as a good major leaguer. They’ve got that built in ‘failure-buffer’. As a result, I prefer to see a player struggle at a level or two higher than what is ‘age-appropriate’.

      Thus, to me, it’s much more impressive to see Ramirez or Chu struggle in Auburn or Hagerstown than to see a guy like Stoeckinger or Crowe dominate in the GCL, while being 2-3 years older than the competition. Crowe is a full 3 years older than Ramirez, while being a year behind developmentally. That definitely counts for something.

      On a completely unrelated note, I realized we’ve all overlooked another player: Cole Freeman. I don’t have any idea what his story is, and why he didn’t appear in 2017, but he’s a ‘polished’ 2B that should rise fast. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressive the Nats are with his 2018 placement (Potomac?).

      1. Yes, I completely forgot about Freeman. Him totally not playing was bizarre, unless he had minor surgery or something. You want a senior draftee to get his feet wet as soon as possible.

        I would think that Noll would be back at Potomac, with Freeman starting at Hags. Considering the struggles “polished college bats” like Wiseman and Banks have had at Hags over the last couple of years, I’d start him at that level. Frankly, I don’t see a very high ceiling for Freeman and thought he was an overdraft, but there’s certainly a need for polished middle infielders in the system. You would also hope he could be a mentor for guys like Antuna and Garcia in the minor-league camp and if one or both get pushed to Hagerstown.

        Yes, the clock will be ticking faster for Crowe since he’s older. He’s already grown, though. Ramirez is into his 20s and still pretty slight. I hold more hope for Weston Davis over Ramirez simply because of Davis’s build.

        1. Everything I’ve seen seems to indicate Freeman had some sort of injury, enough to keep him from even playing in the GCL.

          1. Which is very strange, given he played in both College World Series championship games (even played pretty well going 3/7). It couldn’t have been that serious if it allowed him to play through it…

          2. [Insert obligatory reminder that colleges abuse their players] The only thing that doesn’t surprise me is that the big club hasn’t said anything one way or the other.

    1. Voth took a serious step backwards in 2017 and there are concerns that his velocity has fallen off, perhaps due to an injury. McGowin is 26 and has been lingering at AA for four seasons now. While he had some good outings in the AFL, the sample sizes are small and outings short (4IP or less). I get that some people want to totally dismiss minor-league stats, but it’s hard to explain away more hits allowed than innings pitched over five seasons (474 IP). I actually did see him pitch at Potomac and he wasn’t all that impressive; usually a AA or AAA guy looks like a major-leaguer against High-A hitters.

  5. How about Jose Sanchez? Looks to me like your Big Board has him starting at short for the GCL … as it should given he seems to have the best/highest ceiling defensively at shortstop?

    1. Throw a dart with him — 18G at SS, 15G at 3B, 14G at 2B, hence “The Nats have a history of rotating IFs between 2B, 3B, and SS…”

  6. Agree with Will on Yadiel Hernandez. His numbers look the same as those he generated whilst in Cuba with a bit more power and stolen bases … after a 2 year hiatus he seems to have shaken off the rust enough to look to me like a pretty decent and perhaps even better replacement for Adam Lind. Hernandez is younger than Lind yet perhaps still constitutes a potential, reliable, veteran left-handed bat? And he won’t affect the payroll … something I guess we have to take into consideration given the current state of the payroll and the pending loss of key free agents after next season … without coming up with $$$.

    1. I thought I saw some that seemed to indicate that Yadiel Hernandez would be a minor-league free agent if the Nats didn’t add him to the 40-man. I could be wrong about that, though.

      Hernandez took about half a season to find his stroke and get acclimated to the new country, but he had a strong second half. Is he a legit possibility to make the big club? I doubt it, at least not out of spring training. This is an all-in season for the Nats, and I fully expect them to come up with a veteran bench bat, possibly bring Kendrick back. If Hernandez continues to hit at AAA, there’s certainly a chance he could get a look eventually, although the Nats have already re-signed Raburn and likely will have Stevenson and some kid named Robles at AAA as well.

      1. You are probably right … but right now I think payroll is an issue. Yadiel Hernandez I deem less a risk in a bench role as a left-handed bat than say Marmolejos who seems like he should be ready. Ward is still only 23 so patience is required. But they seem to need to save money … and leverage bonuses already paid? Have to figure Rizzo et al have a plan on how to pay Harper and then Rendon. Zim will be up in the booth with Carpy after 2019 … so I think I see the glimmerings of a plan … I guess we’ll see …

          1. At some point, I think right before Souza was traded, I went in search of recent comps of guys who had “made it” in the majors as above-average players after age 25. There weren’t many. The one I remember off the top of my head was Josh Willingham, who didn’t stick as an MLB regular until age 27. Souza became a regular with the Rays at age 26 but didn’t really blossom until last season at age 28 in his 11th season of pro ball. That’s exceedingly rare. Taylor was 26 in 2017 when he finally sort of made it, although I’m still not convinced that he’s going to be “above average.” However, the light bulb had come on for him in the minors at age 23. It was the same for Souza — age 23 — and it was still a slog for both of them after that to actually make the majors, stick, and then elevate their production.

            So . . . guys who are going to be good in the majors generally start showing well before age 23. Age 23 seems to be about as late as it gets for hitters before organizations lose interest. They tend to give pitchers a couple of additional years, though.

            This is totally unscientific, and I’m sure folks can cite examples to the contrary, but I think it probably still holds as a general rule.

            (Yes, to the person shouting “Clint Robinson” from the back of the room, he hit like a monster in rookie ball at age 22. He was just always blocked in the KC organization.)

          2. On Drew Ward specifically, he was hitting quite well at Potomac in 2016 at age 21, what was sort of looking to be his “light bulb” season. The Nats promoted him mid-season, and he hit a wall at Harrisburg, which continued in 2017. Did he hit the wall because the Nats rushed him, or because he’s really no better than a AA player? The proof will be in the pudding in 2018, I guess.

          3. Sure, Ward could start hitting for power, taking walks, and not striking out every four PAs, but he’s only done two of those three things in one half of one season in his second year at the level. Since then, he hasn’t. I’d love to be wrong but 174 games isn’t a small sample. Both Souza and Taylor showed signs of breaking out in their age-22 seasons… I just don’t see anything comparable.

          4. I don’t disagree. I was just trying to give him a little benefit of the doubt. Ward’s walk rate has always been pretty decent. His K% has always been dangerously high, though. What brief power surge he showed the second time around at Potomac has disappeared, and without it, he’s really not a prospect. His 2016 ISO at Harrisburg was .090, bumping just barely to .121 this year. You can’t play a corner position in any league with that little power.

            Of course Gutierrez’s ISO at Potomac was .126 this year, .105 last year . . . and he’s three months older than Ward. These are two strapping guys who can’t figure out how to drive the ball. Hello, Kevin Long?

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