Plugging Away at the Watchlist

Plugging AwayOne of the saddest things in the offseason is doing a search for when you last did a post and finding it was roughly this time a year ago. Sadder: About 80% of it I could reuse word for word.

As the headline says, I’ve begun writing the player reports for the 2018 Watchlist and have finished a couple of pages. It’s been a tough go because I can already feel the fan half of my brain fighting the analyst half and have keep reminding myself that the system is top-heavy (and has been for quite some time).

It’s also harder than in years past because I’m down a valuable resource. I used to be able to punt on a dozen or so guys in the hopes that John Sickels would write about them in his annual prospect book.

Now, I can look at the MLB Pipeline page and know that it’ll have about 25 of the 31 guys who will written up in the BA handbook. It also doesn’t help that the Pipeline page often has outdated scouting reports (pro tip to MLB: if you’re going to compete against BA, you need to do more than just poach a couple of its longtime writers).

Following up on a story from this post from last year, Seth Maness, who underwent an alternative to Tommy John surgery in August 2016, was able to pitch all of 2017, albeit for a new club (Kansas City), mostly at AAA, and not at his pre-surgery level of performance.

If he’s able to avoid a second surgery may be the true bellwether—and still pitch this season, natch—but I fear his inability to return to form quickly (or at all) will be how this procedure is judged, which would be a tragedy because it seems that this could be used instead of TJ for minor-leaguers (or, *ack* HS and collegiate pitchers) and have them miss less developmental time.

Until next time…

Changes Down on the Farm?

Over at, where I’ve been cross-posting to help drum up page views, there’s a story about how the Nationals will be changing things up with the minor-league coaching staffs.

The focus is on the realigning of the pitching coaches – Franklin Bravo to Auburn (from Potomac), Sam Narron to Potomac (from Hagerstown), and Tim Redding to Hagerstown (from Auburn). Presumably, this means Chris Michalak and Bob Milacki will still be the pitching coaches at Harrisburg and Syracuse, but that has not been confirmed.

According to this article, Randy Knorr will be replacing Billy Gardner as the manager of the Syracuse Chiefs, though in fairness, I don’t think his efforts (or lack thereof) were the cause for the Chiefs’ dreadful performances the past two seasons. One has to wonder if this is the Nationals throwing him a bone after passing him over twice now in the past three seasons.

My interpretation is that they’re looking to keep some continuity with the arms they had Auburn last summer and want a veteran pitching coach working with the 2018 Draft picks and 2017 GCL grads.

We can only hope that light may be dawning over Marblehead, that Nationals are realizing that they need the best teachers at the lowest levels and not vice-versa. It’s still back-asswards to have 17* coaches in DC instead of Florida or New York, but baby steps.* Sarcasm

I suspect we’ll see something from the beat writers soon, though a tip of the hat to Steve Mears for beating them to this – especially in the slowest baseball offseason in this decade… century… and maybe even since the strike of ’94-’95.

Morning Reading (Happy New Year)

It’s Day 17 since the kids were in school and it feels even longer than that since there’s been any real baseball news.

It’s so quiet that otherwise smart baseball writers are suggesting that a 28-y.o. LHP with 25⅓ IP (zero since 2016) of AAA experience might be the key to keeping Bryce Harper in Washington after this season. And it’s so slow that people are not chortling and mocking as much as they should.

The reason for this, we’re told, is the competitive balance tax, which is functioning like a soft salary cap. I’m not 100% sure why that would preclude the signing of minor-league free agents, but if you look at the latest BA transaction post, you’ll see less than 20 players who’ve changed teams. Best guess: teams are playing the waiting game with minor-leaguers, too.

Finally, the “three prospects to watch” on Sickels’s site has gotten to the Nationals, and it’s pretty disappointing. I thought the premise was to shine a light on unheralded guys with decent upside*. Instead, we got a selection from the last half-dozen slots on the 40-man roster. That this might interest the fantasy baseball crowd is just a coincidence, right?
* FWIW, I’d take three from this group: Gutierrez, Daniel Johnson, Blake Perkins, Justin Connell, Nick Raquet, Jackson Tetrault.

The 2018 Watchlist

Thanks to a lot of thoughtful comments last month—and more time spent following the GCL last summer—this was easier to put together than last year.

One thing I did do this time around vs. pervious years is let the “Notables” be a larger contingent than usual instead of agonizing over whether to put a guy into a positional column (sounds dirtier than what it really means).

I also broke form a little bit and did put one guy with zero AB’s as a professional (Freeman) and moved a guy that I knew in my heart was only there in the first place because the position is so thin (Davidson). And I’m already bracing myself for soap-opera name Chance Shepard to be the 2018 version of Connor Simonetti (a 1B that made the list because the Nats have so few and flamed out in Auburn).

Away we go with the eighth annual watchlist – the five dozen or so players that are worth watching a bit more than the rest.

Reminder: very few of these guys will actually make it to the majors for any organization. In fact, the majority won’t even make it past Potomac, which is roughly in the middle of the organizational ladder (three steps down from MLB, three steps up from the GCL).

Now for the obligatory caveats…

It’s not a depth chart – Players are listed primarily by the highest level they’ve played in the minors. Do not assume that the guy at the top of the column is better than the one at the bottom.

It’s not a prediction of usage – At times, I’ve broken apart the pitchers by starter or reliever, but it’s easier to go by dexterity. Many of the infielders have played three or more positions, especially at the GCL and the NYPL.

It’s not fair – A couple of names have been dropped, a few have been moved around since the preliminary list was released. Being lefthanded reduces your life expectancy in the real world, but on the diamond, it extends it. As I’ve already mentioned, some positions are very shallow, and power is in short supply almost everywhere.

I will soon add this to the sidebar on the right. I’m hoping that our expanded editorial department will be better than in years past.

The next few weeks will be spent writing the player capsules while I wait for the handbook(s) to arrive. I’ll hyperlink the category pages when I’m done and will keep you updated as usual.

In the meantime, feel free to discuss in the comments…

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Severino Marmolejos Freeman C.Kieboom Ward Stevenson
Read Corredor Noll Antuna Gutierrez Robles
Gushue Shepard L. Garcia Jo. Sanchez Franco Johnson
Reetz       Meregildo Soto
          Ri. Mendez
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms Notable Bats Notable Arms
Fedde Borne Perez A. Hernandez Bautista Adams
Suero Howard Liriano R. Gomez Abreu Valdez
J. Rodriguez Braymer L. Pena Adon Davidson W. Davis
Baez Troop Aquino N. Gomez Lora Y. Ramirez
Sharp Chu Sanfler P. Gonzalez Agustin B. Hill
Bogucki Romero     O. Ortiz Infante
Crowe Raquet     Barrera Jimenez
Klobosits Galindez     Pineda Stoeckinger

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospects List

John Sickels released his Top 20 Prospects for the Washington Nationals last night, roughly 30 hours after posting a preliminary post. Here’s the breakdown by letter grade:

A-/A Victor Robles
B+ Juan Soto, Carter Kieboom
B/B+ Erick Fedde
B Seth Romero
B/B- Wil Crowe, Daniel Johnson
B- Yasel Antuna, Luis Garcia
B-/C+ Raudy Read
C+ Andrew Stevenson, Blake Perkins, Austin L. Adams, Pedro Severino, Taylor Gushue, Jefry Rodriguez, Kelvin Gutierrez, Nick Raquet, Jackson Tetrault, Wander Suero

Bold = 2017 Top 20 player, higher grade
Bold = 2017 Top 20 player, same grade
Bold = 2017 Top 20 player, lower grade
Italics = Not on the 2017 list
Magenta = 2017 Draft pick

Thank you, John for posting before I had to finalize the 2018 Watchlist 😉

For the second straight year, half the list are C+ players but there are no “C” players. In fact, there were four “C+” guys who missed the cut; the total of 14 is the most since this site began in 2010.

Now for the commentary…

Robles has finally entered the “A” range, as he has risen from B/B+ to B+/A- to A-/A since 2016. Like most of us, Sickels believes he’ll be DC next summer.

Question for the Pollyanas: Will he make the jump in late April to avoid burning an option (e.g. Bryce Harper) or in early June (e.g. Stephen Strasburg) to avoid Super-Two status ? I personally wouldn’t offer an opinion until Adam Eaton plays in spring training.

Before adjusting your undergarments about Erick Fedde being downgraded (from B+ to B/B+), don’t forget that he finished the season on the DL and that he did not pitch more innings in 2017 than in 2016. To me, anyone should see that as a red signal for a pitchers who’s had surgery [insert Nationals’ elbow joke here].

However, if he’s healthy and the Nats stand pat on starting pitchers, Fedde should be the favorite to be the #5 starter.

The other “blue” player is Andrew Stevenson, who also only dropped one notch from last year (B-/C+ to C+). His “problem” is a rather common one – a fourth or fifth outfielder who’d be valuable as a defensive replacement, a pinch-runner, but lacks power and on-base skills.

Sickels is a believer in Daniel Johnson, entering the Top 20 at nearly a “B” and at #7 overall, though I think he’s understating his swing/miss and aggression tendencies. My worry is that the tailspin he took in the AFL after a hot start could happen again at AA; he did fade some in August at Potomac, too.

Four of the 2018 Top 20 are 2017 draft picks and all are pitchers, which combined with the recent influx of IFAs (Soto, Antuna, Garcia), helps explain the bevy of guys who dropped into “also-ran” territory (A.J. Cole and Wilmer Difo were the only two from last year’s Top 20 to graduate).

Finally, the injuries to Soto, Kieboom, and Gutierrez did not adversely affect their ratings. In fact, Sickels was explicit in his write-up for Juan Soto about the talent overwhelming the usual doubts of a shortened season (just 32 games):

[He] missed most of season with ankle, hamstring, and hamate injuries but hit the hell out of the ball when healthy. [A]lthough I am normally cautious about players with sample-size issues, in this case I believe what Soto did is a fair representation of his true ability.

Kieboom also improved his rating with just 48 games played. Gutierrez only played 68 games in the regular season, but it would appear that his strong showing in the AFL (or the scouts’ reports) offset his no longer qualifying for the Billy Rowell defense, having turned 23 in late August. Plus, this ought to sound to familiar to regular readers:

[A] superior defensive third baseman with above-average range and dramatically improved reliability over the last year; still learning to tap his power but has more sock than hitting just two homers implies.

Merry Christmas (or Happy Boxing Day for our readers across the pond)!

Happy Holidays

While it may be Festivus for some, for many it’s the final weekend before Christmas, so I figured I’d better get this post in today vs. tomorrow. Because I’ve done time in retail, I know that some of you still aren’t done shopping. (These men are much more sober than the ones I remember in the ’80s)

Still, it is the weekend and even if your creed’s holiday has just passed or if you have none, you can still take advantage of the slowdown that comes with the end of Q4 the year.

Take a walk, spend some time with your friends, family, and/or loved ones, and do something that makes you happy (but safely and in moderation).

All Quiet on the Minor-League Front

Yes, we’re still here. It’s just really, really slow.

By now, you’ve probably seen that old favorite Tommy Milone has been re-signed. And perhaps you’ve seen how little discussion there is on John Sickels’s precursor post to his Top 20 post.

Just don’t tell Josh Jackson and, who’ve gone Lake Wobegon in calling the Nationals farm system “solid.” Because all “strong” farm systems have signed-as-free-agents as their best 1B, 2B, DH, and RHP and traded away their top 3B and LHP.

Clearly, Mr. Jackson is the kid we all knew in high school who had a $1,000 stereo (a.k.a. Victor Robles) in a $500 car, but thought it was a sweet ride.

Maybe something else will break in the next couple of days, but I doubt it. Until then, please continue to keep the hot stove going in the comments…

Nats Lose One, Pick Up Two in Rule 5 Draft

All in the AAA phase; no player taken or selected in the MLB phase for the fourth straight year

A year after picking up the immortal Philip Walby, and two years after snagging the inimitable Zach Cox, the Washington Nationals went hog-wild in the AAA phase and selected two (2) players to round out the organization’s rosters in AA and AAA.

Jacob Wilson went in the first round, a 27-y.o. UT who was taken in the 10th round of the 2012 Draft by the Cardinals. Last summer, the 27-y.o. slashed the Texas League at a .248/.337/.417 clip in 127 games for St. Louis’s AA affiliate.

In the second round of the AAA phase, RHP Kaleb Fleck was selected from the Diamondbacks. The 28-y.o. (turns 29 in January) was signed as an NDFA after the 2011 season (and the requisite TJ surgery) and has logged 289⅔ IP as a reliever over the past six seasons, the last three at AAA. He’s averaged 10K and 4.2BB per 9IP but has also given up nearly a hit per inning (278).

As the headline notes, LHP R.C. Orlan was selected by Cleveland in the first round of the AAA phase. The Nats’ 2012 30th-Rd. pick out of UNC split time in 2017 between Potomac and Harrisburg, compiling a 3-4 record with five saves in 51IP (44 appearances).

The Top 10 Pitchers

Or, who the Nats might trade this week!

It looks like we’re not gonna get any more votes, so it’s time to call it and write it up.

If that sounds a little resigned, well, it’s because just four (4) points separate #8 from #12. Statistically speaking, all of these surveys have been the (dreaded) small sample size but when there are 23 pitchers across 10 ballots (which is actually identical to last year), there’s whole lot more noise than signal.

Before I continue, ze list:

  1. Erick Fedde
  2. Seth Romero
  3. Will Crowe
  4. Wander Suero
  5. Nick Raquet
  6. Jackson Tetrault
  7. Austin L. Adams
  8. Jefry Rodriguez
  9. Joan Baez
  10. Alex Troop

Others receiving votes: Grant Borne, Gabe Klobosits, Brigham Hill, Austin Voth, Tomas Alastre, Weston Davis, Kyle Johnston, Matt Crownover, Steven Fuentes, A.J. Bogucki, Matt DeRosier, John Simms, Jorge Pantoja

Eight of those names are new to the list, five are from last June’s draft. So my snarky “Erick Fedde and the 2017 Draft class” wasn’t that far off, was it?

Other thoughts…

• Fedde returns as #1 and is a near-lock to graduate in 2018, IF he’s healthy.

• Fedde, Romero, and Crowe were the only three pitchers named on every ballot.

• Voting was so close that nos. 11 and 12 might have made it with just one or two more votes or one or two positions higher, and no. 11 was only named on two (2) ballots.

• Austin Voth, who was an underdog and favorite here (some idiot actually thought he might get the nod ahead of Fedde), fell the farthest (last year’s #3) and hardest (two votes) and also has questions of his health due to his velocity slipping from fringe-average to “well, he’s usually around the plate.”

• It is, however, disturbing that two of these players are 26 years old (Adams will turn 27 in May) – it’s never a good sign when a prospect is no longer eligible for the Selective Service.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Vote for Your Favorite Arms

Well, the Shohei Otani sweepstakes are over (read—if you can—Lt. Dans: It wasn’t the highest bidder) and the Giancarlo Stanton drama continues, but otherwise the hot stove remains unlit.

Perhaps that will change when the Winter Meetings convene tomorrow in Orlando, but in the meantime, let’s use this downtime to vote on Washington’s minor-league pitchers and find out who will be #2. (If you don’t know who #1 will be, please do not operate machinery – heavy or light).

As always, send your Top 10 list to enfieldmass-top10arms[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or post them in the comments.

The votes will tallied with weighting in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). Once I feel like I’ve gotten enough votes, I’ll post the results along with the usual commentary and snark.

Thankfully, the Nats don’t have anyone on the 40-man who’s both on the cusp of exhausting his rookie eligibility and good enough to be considered, but for future reference, I’m cool with using BA’s simpler limits of 130AB, 50IP and/or 30 appearances for something like this.