Season Review: 2013 GCL Nationals

How good were the 2013 GCL Nationals?

It’s tempting to fall into the football mindset, where specious aphorisms such as “you are what your record says you are” come twelve for ten cents. This precise question was asked of Baseball America in a recent “Ask BA” column. After a breathless paragraph about Lucas Giolito, J.J. Cooper’s answer was:

Overall, the GCL Nationals impressed with a group of solid if not spectacular prospects having very good years. They had a deeper lineup and pitching staff than anyone else in the league. Many of these same players were on the Nationals’ Dominican Summer League club that went 38-32 in 2012, failing to make the playoffs. Seven of the nine regulars in the lineup came from that club, as did six of the club’s top nine pitchers. Given another chance to play together, they dominated the competition.

As I’ve written in the comments, the only thing we really do know is that the G-Nats were dramatically better than the other three teams in the GCL East. They probably would have still done very well in a more balanced schedule, but it’s hard to believe they would have won at the same clip. Ultimately, it’s a moot point. The schedule is primarily drawn up to minimize travel, not to determine who’s the best.

Cooper’s answer — aside from incorrectly implying that David Ramos was one of the the team’s best pitchers — correctly gets to what was brought up in the previous season review: It looks like the DSL Class of ’12 was pretty good, even if some of the guys were a little older. Given the organization’s poor record in developing talent from the DSL since 2006* (thus far: Eury Perez, Atahualpa Severino, and Sandy Leon have seen MLB playing time), this is the key takeaway from the 2013 edition.
* That’s the earliest roster available on

In keeping with the format, let’s take a look at how they compared to the average GCL team:

G-Nats 1881 319 528 15 184 392 .281 .359 .374 .255 110
Lg. Avg. 1921 251 467 18 194 447 .243 .323 .338 .230 63

* GPA = Gross Production Average

G-Nats 496 2.47 2.78 1.109 18 158 435 7.1 2.9 7.9 2.75
Lg. Avg. 508⅔ 3.55 4.20 1.299 18 194 447 8.3 3.4 7.9 2.30

If you’re looking for nits, the G-Nats didn’t lead the league in pitching strikeouts, fewest home runs allowed, fewest wild pitches thrown, doubles, triples & home runs hit, walks drawn, and total bases. They were first or second in the league in just about everything else. Ordinarily, this is where the highs and lows of the team in the aggregate are discussed, but it’s pointless in this case. There are only highs and mediums here.

Let’s drill down a little further, and take a look at the Top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, listing their position(s) in terms of games played. Players with an asterisk played in the DSL in 2012 or 2013; Players with a double asterisk are GCL repeats from 2012; the player with a carat(^) is an IFA; The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Rafael Bautista* 20 254 CF/RF/LF 41/11/1 .990 1 .287 .066
Drew Ward 18 199 3B 35 .950 4 .278 .095
Bryan Mejia* 19 179 2B/3B/SS/1B 35/7/2/1 .961 8 .228 .119
Osvaldo Abreu* 19 171 SS/2B 19/9 .945 10 .261 .095
Jose Marmolejos-Diaz* 20 158 1B 37 .993 2 .276 .121
Raudy Read* 19 158 C 31 .996 1 .211 .075
Hayden Jennings** 20 154 RF/CF/LF 21/17/7 1.000 0 .227 .095
Willie Medina 22 130 SS/2B/3B 19/18/1 .965 6 .201 .009
Randy Encarnacion* 18 126 RF/LF 16/5 .947 2 .327 .174
Luis Guzman^ 17 126 LF 33 1.000 0 .191 .056
Garrett Gordon 20 119 LF/RF/CF 17/9/1 .979 1 .239 .060
Diomedes Eusebio** 20 113 1B/3B/2B 26/9/1 .990 1 .284 .120

What stood out to me among this group — aside from the DSL connection — was the amount of continuity here. Injuries, promotions, demotions, bad food at Panera Bread — these are things that usually cut into playing time. Instead, nearly 87 percent of it went to the to the top 12, instead of the usual 79 to 82 percent. None of the top 12 was promoted. The two significant repeats received less playing time in 2013 than in 2012.

Drew Ward also sticks out like a sore thumb. Under Rizzo, the Nats haven’t drafted many teenagers. When they do, they usually don’t get this much playing time period, never mind at one position. As if all of that weren’t compelling enough, Ward outhit all but a couple of his teammates, both of whom were either significantly older (Bautista) or more experienced as a pro (Encarnacion). If you haven’t read Ryan Kelley’s 2013 draft post, which I also have in the right sidebar, then check it out. Not too often you see a kid live up to the hype, especially with a fair amount of doubters, thanks to the level of competition he faced as a schoolboy.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but I’m sure folks are wondering right now: “So how many of these guys will be challenged with Hagerstown in 2014?” I’d like to think at least half of them. Three reasons for this: 1) The Nats have been more aggressive lately 2) The Auburn guys were, by and large, disappointing 3) It’s been a long time since there’s been group this young that won so readily.

But I also can’t help but think that with so much youth there is time to err on the side of caution (so maybe just three, no more than four). It’s a lovely dilemma to have, and it’s part of what helps pass the offseason: wondering who moves, stays, and goes from the 2013 finish to the 2014 opener.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

Hector Silvestre* 20 13/8 7-0, 0 1.82 49⅓ 33 8 40 0.831 2 1
Wander Suero* 21 13/3 8-1, 0 1.65 49 27 13 46 0.816 2 7
Jefry Rodriguez* 19 12/12 3-0, 0 2.45 47⅔ 40 20 43 1.259 6 7
Phillips Valdez* 21 14/3 3-0, 2 1.95 32⅓ 16 12 27 0.866 2 4
Kelvin Rodriguez* 19 13/1 5-0, 0 3.07 29⅓ 31 6 15 1.261 8 3
Travis Ott 18 10/7 3-0, 0 4.03 29 24 12 32 1.241 4 2
Matt Derosier 18 7/0 2-1, 2 2.67 27 24 5 20 1.074 0 1
Lucas Giolito+ 18 8/8 1-1, 0 2.78 22⅔ 19 10 25 1.279 5 2
David Ramos* 21 14/0 5-3, 1 6.95 22 23 10 16 1.500 2 3
Jake Walsh+ 22 16/0 0-0, 8 1.40 19⅓ 10 5 17 0.776 1 1
Joey Webb 22 12/0 2-0, 2 1.89 19 13 6 25 1.000 0 0
Elliot Waterman- 22 12/0 0-2, 0 1.53 17⅔ 17 9 9 1.472 2 2

In 2013, there was quite a bit of movement in both directions between the GCL and Auburn — nine guys sent up, four sent down. Most of the guys that were reassigned upwards went fairly quickly: two after just one appearance and seven after pitching less than 13 innings. The most notable, aside from that Giolito kid, were Nick Pivetta, Ryan Ullmann, and Austin Voth as that trio would form the majority of the Auburn rotation for the season, with Voth getting a second bump to Hagerstown.

Some of this, no doubt was by plan: the trip to Auburn delayed, for example, for coaching purposes. Or there were some guys that the organization misjudged. In either case, with the exception of Deion Williams — who, as a conversion project was clearly given every opportunity to fail learn — the decision was made quickly and the demoted pitched fairly well. But only one pitched enough to crack the top 12 in terms of innings pitched.

There were no repeats from last year’s GCL squad who received significant innings. Like the batters, there were a significant contingent from the DSL. If there is any cause for concern, it’s this: four of those top five pitchers spent mutiple seasons in the DSL, with the three 21-year-olds all turning 22 before the end of this year. As with the batters, this may be nitpicking, but that’s part of the point of why I do a season review: to take a closer look and point out these things, which is important whether the team is the windshield (this year) or the bug (most other years).

Thankfully, it’s plural for a second straight year.

Top 5 Batters
1. Drew Ward
2. Rafael Bautista
3. Randy Encarnacion
4. Osvaldo Abreu
5. Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz
HM: Diomedes Eusebio, Bryan Mejia

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Lucas Giolito
2. Jefry Rodriguez
3. Hector Silvestre
4. Wander Suero
5. Kelvin Rodriguez
HM: Phillips Valdez, Travis Ott

Jake Johansen, BA’s #13 NYPL Prospect

Baseball America has issued its Top 20 prospects for the New York-Penn League and coming in at #13 is Jacob Johansen.

Thanks to the decision to sign a free-agent closer, which forfeited their 1st round pick, the Washington Nationals’ first pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft did not come until the 29th pick of the 2nd round, 68th overall. With it, the Nats chose Johansen out of Dallas Baptist — an under-the-radar pick who immediately begat comparisons to Nathan Karns, as both put up less-than-stellar numbers in college, pitched in high school and collegiately in Texas, and were power arms with control issues.

Obviously, the comparisons end with Johansen not suffering an injury and dominating the NYPL — holding opponents to a .147 BA, while hanging a 1.06/2.77/0.92 pitcher’s line (ERA/FIP/WHIP) over 10 starts. He finished the season in Hagerstown, where he was knocked around in his final two regular-season starts before tossing five shutout innings for the “W” in the Suns sole victory in the Sally League Finals against the league-champion Savannah Sand Gnats.

The knock on Johansen prior to the draft was on his mechanics and approach, which BA mentioned in the course of its writeup as such:

The Nationals got him to simplify his approach this summer, attacking hitters with power stuff rather than trying to trick them. Though his command and his secondary stuff remain works in progress, Johansen dominated this summer with a premium fastball that sat at 94-96 mph with heavy sink and topped out at 99.

The rest of his arsenal is described as CV, CH, and depending on whom you ask, a SL or CT. For a more detailed look at Johansen, check out Ryan Kelley’s take via District Sports Page from this past August.

Unlike Giolito, I don’t think Johansen will skip ahead to Potomac. With Giolito, repeating Auburn means waiting until June whereas Johansen can begin in Hagerstown and be moved up by mid-to-late May just like (aw, crap – sometimes comps just sneak up on you) Karns in 2012.

Next up: BA will be ranking the Top 20 Sally League prospects, then a look at the 2013 GCL Nationals.

Season Review: 2013 DSL Nationals

They’re a little younger and a little better than they were in 2012.

Looking back over the previous three season reviews, it’s a bit an obsession, this thing with the age of the D-Nats. That’s because in the wake of the events of the spring of 2009 — when it was revealed that Smiley was a bit long in the tooth — the Nationals had to fill out an already-old roster with players who probably would have gone unsigned (e.g. for seven of the thirty-six players, 2009 was their only pro season) or been released (for nine others, it was their last), creating the league’s oldest and nearly its worst.

Since then, the average age of the bats has gone from 19.4 in 2009 to 18.1 in 2013, a figure it’s been at since 2011. The arms have gone from 19.7 to 18.1, though the trajectory has been more erratic: 19.2 in 2010, 18.9 in 2011, 19.0 in 2012. The success of the GCL team in 2013 is significantly due to the talent that came from the DSL — five bats, six arms — and the natural hope and inference is that the international pipeline is starting to produce… despite the scandal… despite the past parsimony… despite the new CBA that has codified limited spending for contenders.

Following the format of the past three seasons, let’s take a look at how the team did vs. league averages…

D-Nats 2205 287 503 12 262 457 .228 .320 .300 .219 67
Lg. Avg. 2265 312 534 17 271 500 .236 .329 .318 .228 93

* GPA = Gross Production Average

D-Nats 602.2 2.85 3.86 1.185 24 195 514 7.8 2.9 7.7 2.64
Lg. Avg. 610 3.40 4.45 1.320 17 271 500 7.9 4.0 7.4 1.84

The 2013 edition, which finished a half-game better than the 2012 team (38-31 vs. 38-32), scored at a below-average clip (23rd out of 35 teams) but won more than they lost because the pitching was in the upper third of league (boy, they sure do start The Nationals Way early, don’t they?). Defensively, they were right about the league average of a .954 fielding percentage while the catchers were significantly better at throwing out runners (43% vs. 37%).

While short on power, the batters struck out at well below the league average (sixth-fewest) while the pitchers issued the third-fewest walks per nine innings. Both of those are good signs to look forward to for next year’s GCL squad as well as the guys that the organization decides needs to repeat the DSL, given that contact and control are skills that feed into attributes like power and “stuff.”

Using 100PA as the cutoff, here’s how the 2013 DSL Nationals broke down, with the primary player at each position listed under “G” and total games played “GP” (e.g. Brayan Serrata played 47 of 49 games at catcher). Fielding percentage is for the primary position played for the starters while the bench and utility guys players have their numbers combined. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.

Position Name Age G/GP Fld% Err PA GPA
C Brayan Serrata 19 47/49 .980 7 164 .213
1B Oliver Ortiz 17 23/26 .985 3 102 .277
2B Edwin Lora 17 43/55 .940 15 208 .199
3B Younaifred Aguero 20 48/57 .893 17 195 .218
SS Kelvin Gutierrez 18 42/60 .921 18 235 .234
LF Aldrem Corredor 17 37/57 .950 3 228 .243
CF Darryl Florentino 17 56/58 .964 4 222 .226
RF Israel Mota 17 50/52 .945 4 180 .238
UT (2B/SS/CF) Thomas Alvarez 18 28, 20, 11 .975 6 253 .209
UT (LF/RF/1B/CF) Dionicio Rosario 19 20, 20, 3, 1 .953 4 216 .220
Bench (1B/C) Yermin Mercedes 20 16, 3 .990 1 128 .249

I think it’s interesting that the two names that I mentioned at the end of this section last year were the two guys that were used a lot, but not enough to be considered the starter for any one position. In both cases, this appears to be a good problem: more guys that can play than positions available. Alvarez, for example, appears to be the better shortstop than Gutierrez, who appears to be the better hitter.

I’d love to know what’s the deal with Rosario, who made the 2012 watchlist by posting a .229 GPA as a 17-y.o. in the 2011 DSL, then didn’t play last season. Like all things DSL, it’s a guess unless the player is high-profile (in which case there might be a story). His 2013 performance wasn’t as good, but he got lots of playing time (216PA is 5th most) and judging by his finish (.297/.352/.422 in 18G in August vs. .136/.190/.220 in 18G in July and .217/.357/.304 in 21G in June) it would appear that he may have been shaking off rust.

If you’re not intrigued by what 17-y.o. (born May 1996) Oliver Ortiz achieved in a very short period of time (July 19-August 24), you’re probably on the wrong site. Obviously, the caveats of small sample size apply — it does for everybody in the short-season leagues — but the closest performance for someone his age is Randy Encarnacion last year (when he used Novas as his last name), and that was a .257 GPA over 60 games and he turned 18 during the season. Encarnacion hung a .349/.437/.523 line in the GCL this year, so you can following the bouncing ball from there.

The three 17-y.o. OFs (Corredor, Florentino, Mota) also should engender some excitement, with two producing offensively above league average and the third just a shade shy of it. The guess here and now is that no more than two of them will get sent stateside, for much the same reason why Rosario and Alvarez were used elsewhere: there’s only so much playing time to go around.

On to the pitchers, listing the top 12 in terms of innings pitched…

Deibi Yrizarri 18 14/13 5-3, 0 1.99 68 59 16 50 1.103 5 4
Maximo Valerio 17 14/13 3-4, 0 2.86 63 55 17 56 1.143 3 8
Mario Sanchez 18 18/5 2-3, 0 2.33 58 46 14 54 1.034 1 8
Jose Morales 18 16/8 4-3, 0 1.13 55⅔ 35 5 37 0.719 7 1
Luis Reyes 18 12/12 5-3, 0 2.82 54⅓ 38 20 65 1.067 11 10
Luis Torres 19 13/9 1-3, 0 3.91 53 54 17 51 1.340 3 7
John Feliz 19 20/0 4-2, 1 2.54 39 33 5 33 0.974 6 3
Yefri Pena 18 17/2 2-1, 2 3.62 37⅓ 37 15 29 1.393 3 5
Yorlin Reynoso 17 19/1 1-1, 0 2.70 36⅔ 27 13 31 1.091 2 7
Jean Ramirez 18 14/4 1-1, 0 3.71 34 32 16 27 1.412 3 3
Melvi Salazar 18 22/0 4-0, 13 0.98 27⅔ 21 10 21 1.120 2 1
Ramses Rosario 17 7/2 1-3, 0 3.54 20⅓ 22 6 15 1.377 2 1

Last year’s pitching was subpar, yet five pitchers moved up to the GCL and did well. And I thought only a couple would be bumped. Granted, three of them were no longer teenagers, but the point I’m trying to make is that when you go strictly by numbers, you’re gonna be wrong. Still, it’s encouraging to see almost all of these guys with more innings pitched than hits allowed and none of them will be 21 at the beginning of the 2014 season.

Two pitchers I feel relatively confident in projecting going to the GCL are Maximo Valerio and Luis Reyes. Valerio has spent two seasons in the DSL now and made improvements year-to-year. Reyes was called up to make an additional start after the DSL season ended and was invited to Instrux — either is generally a sign that the org will move him up the following year. Beyond that, you can make a case any of the other 10 pitchers; that’s how good the pitching was.

As mentioned in the 2013 Watchlist review (and elsewhere), the DSL is where I’ve made a lot of mistakes in picking players to watch — hence the new category — but that won’t stop me from making…

All five of the batters I picked last year made it to the GCL this year. Two of the top five pitchers made it, too… and two were released. As written above, I don’t think I’ll be so lucky prescient with the batters, but I’m also hoping that my streak of picking guys that end up getting released ends, if for no other reason than these kids are too young to not repeat.

Top 5 Batters
1. Aldrem Corredor
2. Kelvin Gutierrez
3. Oliver Ortiz
4. Israel Mota
5. Darryl Florentino
Honorable Mentions: Dionicio Rosario, Thomas Alvarez

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Mario Sanchez
2. Deibi Yrizarri
3. Luis Reyes
4. Luis Torres
5. Maximo Valerio
Honorable Mentions: John Feliz, Jose Morales

Next up is the 2013 GCL Nationals, which I have a feeling is going to spark some debate as I’ll be incorporating some of the thoughts I’ve already made in the comments.

Lucas Giolito, BA’s #2 GCL Prospect

For the first time since 2009 (Destin Hood), a Nationals player has been named the Baseball America Top 20 prospect list for the Gulf Coast League… 2012 1st Rd. pick, Lucas Giolito.

The 19-year-old entered 2013 with the twin burdens of being the team’s top draft pick and proving himself to be healthy after UCL-replacement surgery. Early on, he exhibited the most common side effect of pitchers coming back from TJ: shaky command, which was so bad he was lifted in the first inning. Twice.

However, after allowing nearly two baserunners per inning in his first five appearances, Giolito hit his stride over the next three, as he earned his first win and began hitting the five-inning mark instead of his pitch limit. He was promoted to the New York-Penn League in mid-August and continued to give out donuts for a total of 20 consecutive scoreless innings before giving up a home run in his final start vs. Mahoning Valley.

Scouts clocked the SoCal native in the mid-90s, with some claims of triple-digit velo, with mid-80s speed on his curve that seems to vary between 12-6 and 11-5 action but late bite that earns the “plus-plus” in scout lingo. had this to say about his mechanics:

Has present stuff, but needs to clean up arm action. His delivery has some effort to it with a long arm circle and pronounced stab. He gets caught with his arm behind his body and arm will drag.

There’s also some disagreement about whether his changeup is back to where it was pre-surgery, but odds are pretty good that it varied from start to start (see above, command).

Of course, the million-dollar question for 2014 is where will Giolito start? The Nats have been careful with healthy HS arms and holding them back from full-season ball until early May, which they did with Robbie Ray in 2011 and 2012. Pitchers coming off surgery or shoulder problems, it’s been more towards Memorial Day (see: Purke, Matthew in 2012 and 2013).

A year ago, I probably would have written — they’ll be conservative and hold him in Viera until the NYPL starts up; he’s only had 14 innings at the level. Now, after a year of semi-aggressive promotions, I’m inclined to think he may actually be challenged to go to Low-A, perhaps even starting up as soon as the third week of April (i.e. the Suns first road trip south of Maryland).

Next possible BA Top 20 mention: Friday, when they rank the NYPL, though I’m not holding my breath…

Reviewing The 2013 Watchlist

First off, the point of this post is not to report on the players per se but the list itself. Now, a little background. The watchlist is something I created in 2010, the first year the site was in operation. I knew I didn’t want to rank the players from 1 to 50 (or, as it turned out that first year, 89) in part because it’s specious to compare pitchers to position players but mostly because that kind of stuff leads to pointless arguments about who was ranked too high/low, or at all.

So I created something that listed the players by position and usage, ordering them from high to low (i.e. AAA to DSL). The intent was not to create a depth chart, but that’s how it turned out [insert quote about luck being the residue of design here]. I got more selective in the next iteration, cutting it down from 89 to 69 names, but kept the original categories.

For 2013, I decided to strike a balance by condensing the pitchers into dexterity (ending the carping about whether X was a starter or a reliever, natch) and creating four new categories:
     • DSL Guys
     • M*A*S*H
     • Notable Arms
     • Notable Bats

Are these guys full-fledged members of watchlist? Yes and no. Yes, in that we have an eye on them; no, in that these categories, by definition, are caveats. The first two categories are self-explanatory. The second two aren’t, but as I put it last November: they’re a means of acknowledging the ones that don’t quite merit full-fledged watchlist treatment, but are often discussed or mentioned.

I’m keeping these categories for 2014 because in a couple of months I’m gonna have some ‘splaining to do. [Here’s where we kind of get to the player performance part]. As is always the case, there are some players that hit their ceiling or underperformed in 2013. So long as they’re not old, it’s pretty easy to stash them in the notables if I decide they’re not up to snuff. When they’re not, well, then it gets difficult.

I’m leaning towards a no-repeat principle for the notables. If a player wasn’t hurt (in which case, he could be a M*A*S*H), he either played his way on or off the list. Otherwise, it feels like I’d be playing favorites. Maybe I’ll call it the Billy Rowell rule (who, if you’re not familiar with, was invariably tagged with a reference to his youth when his chances of making it out of A ball were assessed).

Graduating from the 2013 list are Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jordan, and Chris Marrero. All three have surpassed the limits for rookie status (plate appearances, innings pitched, or time spent on the 25-man roster), which is the standard that I and a lot of folks use for prospecthood because it’s objective. Who else comes off the list in 2014? Sorry, not going to single anybody out because it doesn’t serve much purpose, plus the list is something I create in the course of doing the affiliate reviews, which I still hope to start publishing in early October.

Otherwise, I feel like the 2013 Watchlist achieved its mission — to list the most prominent names primarily by virtue of their performance or progression in the year prior, not their bonus or draft status.

Instructional League Rosters — Final Thoughts

For me, looking at the instrux rosters is often a thumbnail sketch on the past draft and the GCL, which of course, until this year was usually a whole lotta “meh.” The last winning season was in 2009, which probably comes as no surprise since there was a sizable contingent from the 2008 DSL champions.

It bears repeating, so I will. The invites can be broken down into three categories:

1. Young
2. Changing roles or position
3. Working on a specific skill/pitch

Unlike years past, #1 is less relative and more actual. A year ago, there were nine that were 21 or younger; this year, nine of them are teenagers. Not much has been heard about any possible #2 scenarios, which at this point, is only noted for position players. Given that first base isn’t a deep position for the Nats (or anyone else, really, as scouts have been complaining about the lack of true 1B lately) don’t be surprised if any of the 3B or LF-types become converts.

No. 3 of course is arguably the most important and obviously the most nebulous. It’s also why scouts hate instrux. For example, a pitcher with a FB-CV-CH repertoire might not throw his curve at all because he’s working on his change. A small-ball guy might be told not to bunt at all (“We know you can do that, let’s work on what you gotta do when the bunt is off”). Thus, what they see is not a complete picture and not entirely accurate.

Getting an invite used to mean that player was definitely moving up. That, of course, was more true in the previous front office and when the parent club had major-leaguers that would be on the bench or on the AAA squad of most, if not all of the other 29 teams. Now, you can count on roughly half a dozen of these guys returning to where they left off.

That’s about it. To steal from another prospect follower, instrux is a lot like Vegas: what happens there, stays there. Last year, we were fortunate enough to get a couple of dispatches, which you can read here and here if you find yourself getting the shakes or anything like that.

The next planned post is a review of the 2013 Watchlist. As always, the goal at this point in the offseason is to periodically update the site as time (and content) allows until the AFL starts up. It’s one of the dead times of the year for us, but not unwelcome after the 12-week marathon when all seven affiliates are playing, not to mention a couple weeks’ worth of playoffs.

The PTBNL: Matthew Spann

Other Shoe DroppedOne month after the strange saga of David DeJesus, the Nationals announced today that 22-y.o. LHP Matthew Spann is the “player to be named later.”

Spann was drafted in the 25th round out of Central High School in Columbia, TN (that’s roughly 40 miles south of Brentwood, hometown of Robbie Ray) and was eased into starting his first year in the GCL (2010) before spending another short season as a starter (2011) and a full season at Low-A (2012).

As you might imagine with a low-round draft pick, scouting reports are few and far between. The most recent is this one from Robbie Knopf at where the upshot was this:

Right now, Spann lives and dies off the late movement on his fastball, with the remainder of his pitches showing flashes but no consistency. Spann throws from a high three-quarters arm slot and has trouble at times getting the finish on his pitches to keep them down in the zone, but when he does, he can be effective even though his arsenal is a long ways away.

That was, of course, last summer and a lot could have (and probably did) changed since then, as the Rays decided to move him to the ‘pen for 2013, where he had some good numbers (2.87 ERA, 3.2 BB/9) and some not so good (1.475 WHIP, 5.3 K/9). According to Baseball America’s Jim Callis, Spann is less of a beanpole — 220 lbs. vs. 185 — and pegged his velo at 86-90 m.p.h.

Best guess is that Spann will be in Woodbridge next summer. If used as a setup man, he’ll be mentioned in conjunction with several bridge puns, though my gut feeling is that we’ll see him used in long relief until he’s ready to start. Considering the dearth of age-appropriate-to-level pitchers in the Nats system, this is quite a return for waiver-claim pickup.

Instructional League Roster Notes – Position Players

Continuing where we left off on Tuesday, here’s the rundown of the position players that have been announced as participating in the Florida Instructional League, a.k.a. “Instrux”:

Player Pos. Age 2013 Team(s) 2012 Invite Notes
Spencer Kieboom C 22 GCL Y Missed most of 2013 due to TJ surgery on his throwing elbow.
Geoffrey Perrott C 22 AUB N 17th rd. pick out of Rice, where he was a backup to Craig Manuel
for three years, and a similar profile: glove-first, not much power.
Cole Leonida C 24 POT N Made decent gains across the board offensively, but seems
destined to be a backup unless he repeats Potomac.
Matt Reistetter C 21 AUB N Usually NDFAs are placeholders that rarely make it another
season, so this is quite an accomplishment.
Pedro Severino C 20 HAG Y Challenged with full-season ball at 19-going-on-20, the raw
defensive talent showed some signs of life on offense.
Osvaldo Abreu SS 19 GCL N Handled the GCL well while cutting his errors down. Having
played SS nearly exclusively, the gut says he may make it to
Low-A ahead of the Auburn guys…
Wilmer Difo SS 21 GCL, AUB,
Y …which includes Wilmer Difo, who played at three levels of A
ball plus the GCL. Showed flashes of brilliance w/ Potomac,
so his invite may mean he’s not topped out yet.
Anderson Franco 3B 16 N/A N Franco was the big fish the Nats caught in the 2013 IFA derby.
Defense and power are his hallmarks so the big what-if is
whether he can hit. At 16 and a $900K bonus, he’ll get LOTS
of chances.
Cody Gunter 3B 19 AUB N 6th rd. JuCo pick out of TX with a strong arm, raw power and
a patient plate approach, but 20E’s in 59G, subpar range
and speed could ticket him to 1B sooner rather than later.
Jason Martinson SS 24 POT, HBG N Still an intriguing combination of athleticism and power but
time is running out (turns 25 next month).
David Masters SS 20 AUB N 14th rd. JuCo pick out of AZ, he’s said to have above-avg.
range and a strong arm (on a SS? how novel) but is below-
avg. on the basepaths and at the plate.
Bryan Mejia 2B 19 GCL N Like Abreu, Mejia has played almost exclusively at 2B and
adjusted well going from the DSL to the GCL.
Stephen Perez SS 22 HAG Y First full, healthy season since 2011. If he’s made the strides
developmentally, he’ll be the SS for Potomac in 2014.
Shawn Pleffner 1B 24 HAG Y Injuries have dogged Pleffner from Day 1 (missed all of ’11), but
when healthy he has produced.
Tony Renda 2B 22 HAG Y 2nd Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Univ. of California, Renda put up
another strong season and, along with Pleffner and Perez,
seems ticketed for Woodbridge next summer.
Drew Ward 3B 18 GCL N 3rd rd. pick out of Leedey, HS (Leedey, OK, pop. 440), Ward
transitioned from the preps to pros without skipping a beat.
James Yezzo 1B 21 AUB N 7th rd. pick from Univ. of Delaware, Yezzo is a 1B-only
lefthanded slugger with power and patience that the Nats
hope to develop to offset his lack of speed/range.
Isaac Ballou OF 23 AUB, HAG N 15th rd. pick out of Marshall, Ballou was the sole first-year
position player to earn a promotion from Auburn to Hagerstown.
Rafael Bautista OF 20 GCL N One of the “DSL Guys” on the 2013 Watchlist, Bautista was a force
on the GCL squad with a 26 SB’s and a .791 OPS
Billy Burns OF 24 POT, HBG Y Nats 2013 POTY who’s gotten a lot of press early in the offseason.
Randy Encarnacion OF 19 GCL N Played sparingly on a very talented GCL squad, but had tremendous
rate statistics of .349/.437/.523 while turning 19 in July.
Destin Hood OF 23 HBG Y Another injury-shortened season that fell short of expectations.
Hayden Jennings OF 20 GCL Y Improved his nos. across the board from 2012 to 2013, most
notably in cutting his K rate from ~40% to ~30%.
Brandon Miller OF 23 HAG, POT Y Struck out 164 times in 2013, but hit 20 HR, second to Walters (29).
Still learning the nuances of playing OF and isn’t the fleetest of foot.
Michael Taylor OF 22 POT Y The brilliance that was only sporadic in ’12 became nearly everyday,
in ’13 — especially on defense, where he’s become an elite defender
with a cannon arm (21 assists easily led the Carolina League).

Instructional League Roster Notes – Pitchers

In the midst of the minors playoff hubbub, MASN’s Byron Kerr published the 2013 Florida Instructional League rosters. With the end of the season, there’s now time to take a closer look, beginning with the pitchers:

Player Pos. Age 2013 Team(s) 2012 Invite Notes
A.J. Cole RHSP 21 POT, HBG N A breakthrough year for twice-coveted (’10 draft, ’13 trade)
starter, who may have had a better year developmentally
than Taylor Jordan.
Pedro Encarnacion RHSP 22 HAG Y Stayed put in Low-A for the whole season and made serious
improvements in his peripherals (HR, BB, K rates) from 2012
Lucas Giolito RHSP 19 GCL, AUB N Started slowly in GCL but found his stride. Don’t be surprised
if he’s held back in XST like Cole, Ray, Purke in ’14
Jacob Johansen RHSP 22 AUB, HAG N The Nats top draft pick in ’13, he’s the big-bodied, hard-
thrower that the Nats lust for and were not scared off by poor
college nos. or command issues.
Nick Lee LHSP 22 AUB Y Has moved up slowly and steadily, with much ado about the
jump in K’s (10.1) but not as much attention paid to the
corresponding rise in BB’s (3.0 to 4.3)
Brett Mooneyham LHSP 23 HAG, POT Y Still a work in progress but will get plenty of chances
because he’s still relatively young, still lefthanded, and
can still break 90 m.p.h. without max effort
R.C. Orlan LHSP 22 AUB N Missed 2012 with TJ surgery, put up decent numbers in his
first pro season, better when viewed through post-surgery
Travis Ott LHSP 18 GCL N 25th Rd. pick out of (*gasp*) a PA high school, turned 18
in late June. Tall, lean (6’4″, 170) but reportedly tops out
around 90 m.p.h.
Ronald Pena RHRP 21 HAG Y Began the year as a starter, but was shifted to the
bullpen where he had much better ratios and success.
Nick Pivetta RHSP 20 GCL, AUB N 4th. Rd. JuCo pick out of New Mexico, one of a handful
of multi-level pitchers, which is generally a good sign.
Robbie Ray LHSP 21 POT, HBG Y Like Cole, Ray rebounded from a horrific 2012 and got the
bump to AA where he adjusted well and actually improved his
control nos.
Luis Reyes RHP 18 DSL N Got promoted from the DSL to the GCL for one final start,
so clearly the Nats are interested in a longer look.
Jefry Rodriguez RHSP 20 GCL Y Three DSL guys were invited last year, but J-Rod (oh, hell no)
um, Rodriguez was the only one to make the leap stateside,
where he was a key cog in the GCL rotation.
Derek Self RHRP 23 POT, HAG Y Challenged with leap from AUB to POT but failed, and
was dropped down in the 2nd half. Hard-thrower that the
Nats seem determined to make into a late-inning option.
Hector Silvestre LHP 20 POT, GCL N Silvestre had something of a comeback year, finishing #2
for the G-Nats to Wander Suero in several categories, after
repeating the DSL in 2012.
John Simms RHP 21 GCL, AUB N 11th Rd. pick out of Rice, previous drafted by the Nats
in 2010 (39th). Used mostly in relief, but made two spot
starts late in the season for Auburn.
Wander Suero RHP 22 GCL N Just turned 22 (Sunday), but even 21 is a little old
for the GCL, where he dominated (1.65 ERA, 0.82 WHIP)
after spending three years in the DSL.
Blake Treinen RHSP 25 HBG, AUB N This year’s “old guy,” who’s coming off a late-season
injury and is probably just in attendance to check on
his mechanics and health, like Rob Gilliam a year ago.
Kylin Turnbull LHSP 24 POT, AUB, HAG Y Still tweaking the mechanics, Turnbull struggled early and had
to take two steps back (POT to AUB) before settling in and
finishing strong in Aug/Sep for Hagerstown.
Phillips Valdez RHRP 21 GCL N Got the bump to the GCL despite subpar nos. in the DSL in
2012, but performed well. Turns 22 in November, so…
Austin Voth RHRP 21 GCL, AUB, HAG N 5th Rd. pick out of the Univ. of Washington. Named to the
FIL prior to his last outing during the playoffs, which
reportedly ended due to injury.
Deion Williams RHSP 20 AUB, GCL Y Converted to pitching late last season, the former shortstop
is a (classic) project, plain and simple.

As in years past, the group tilts toward youth and inexperience — roughly two-thirds spent 2013 in the short-season leagues, four of the seven full-season guys were 22 or younger. I think most folks are going to be interested in how the GCL guys do next season (this will be true for the position players as well), especially there’s that nagging question of whether they broke out or was it a factor of age/experience. Unfortunately, we’re going to know until more than six months than now.

Finally, don’t get too hung up on who didn’t get invited. You can take a gander at the some of the pitchers invited last year and see some names that you might not remember seeing much this year, or at least not in a positive sense. FIL is simply a chance for the organization to spend some extra time teaching, (hence the name and the bevy of young/short-season guys).

Next post: The FIL Hitters.

The State of the Nationals Farm

State of the Nationals
So here we are, a day removed from the last of three playoff teams to lose in their league championship series. Two of them were swept, the third may as well have been — limited to two runs in three losses after winning the first game. A fourth playoff team, which only garnered notice outside of our little bubble when they approached (and surpassed) the record for the winning percentage by a domestic-based* minor-league team, won the whole frickin’ thing.
* Am I the only one that finds that qualifier offensive? Sure, there’s lots of corruption in the D.R., but less than in the N.C.A.A.

A year ago, when I wrote the inaugural version of this column, I wondered what “Phase Two” would mean in terms of the minors…

There’s a lot of talk about Washington entering Phase Two, which really applies to the parent club more than the minors, in my opinion. I tend to look at the minors progression like this:

1) Go all-in on H.S. picks, start to clear out the system that had been put on autopilot in 2002
2) First-round picks are used to get “generational talents,” college picks are used heavily to fortify the ranks
3) Spend heavily on the final draft before the new CBA kicks in, cash in on some of the returns of #1 and #2 for a SP
4) ???

…and I think the answer is “Replace/Reload Mode.” In other words, I think the Nationals have gotten to where they’re supposed to be: drafting and developing players independent of current need.

The success of the GCL — which I’d like to say I predicted with the line “if the Nationals can continue their post-Smiley success with the likes of Wander Ramos and Estarlin Martinez” but I don’t work for ESPN — is one reason for that optimism. Signing eight high school and JuCo picks out of eighteen draft picks is another (an obligatory H/T to “Springfield Fan,” who maintains the Draft Tracker that makes citing these numbers easy). Having them succeed, especially the trio of Jake Johansen, Austin Voth, and Nick Pivetta — SPs that pitched at multiple levels — is yet another reason (for a statistical rundown of how the Draft Class of ’13 did, visit this post by Todd Boss).

As I write this, the “Big Nats” are coming off their latest disappointing loss — remember that column questioning whether Davey Johnson’s “World Series or Bust” proclamation for 2013 was perhaps ill-advised after clearly overachieving in 2012? Me neither — but they’ve made a run lately with replacements that were developed and/or acquired in the last four seasons. Tanner Roark is the latest hero to the Natmosphere at large, but he’s old news to the folks here. Ian Krol came up what turned out to be mostly for good, save for a procedural demotion in August, along with Anthony Rendon’s second callup to DC in early June. Unfortunately, we barely knew him, having been largely considered a throw-in as the PTBNL in the Michael Morse trade.

Rendon, of course, became the replacement for Danny Espinosa, which is an unfortunate turn of events that I can’t summarize much better than this. Taylor Jordan shocked all of us by going from Potomac to DC, which earned him the honor of the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Rendon, Krol and Taylor are this year’s most notable graduates from the farm. Some kid named Bryce Harper headlined the 2012 class. Espinosa and Wilson Ramos were the 2011 grads. Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg, got the nods in 2010.

That’s what’s meant by “replace/reload.” There are others in that sequence of events — Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Marrero, Roger Bernadina, Drew Storen off the top of my head; researching rookie status is not easy — which you can see are mostly bench players or relievers. But that’s okay. One of the purposes of the farm is to develop players that can be plugged in when and where they’re needed. Or in some cases, provide a place for them to play until they’re needed, like Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, and Xavier “Nah, I’ll Just Take A Carry On” Cedeno.

And with that, I close the book on the 2013 regular season and perhaps enjoy a short break from the grind. I’ll begin work on analyzing the Instructional League Rosters this week and pass along minors-related news as time permits until the AFL starts up in early October, which is also when I hope to start publishing the affiliate season reviews.