Vote for Your Favorite Arms

Favorite-Arms2
Well, thanks to an unusually busy December thus far (which could make for painfully longer January), we’re finally getting around to voting on Washington’s minor-league pitchers, a.k.a. the arms.

Like before, 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.

I’ll then tally the votes, weighting them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point) and then post the results along with the requisite comments and/or snark.

Now, one of the things that came out of Tuesday’s post was a lovely little exchange on Twitter between myself and his holiness John Manuel of Baseball America. In case he deletes his response (folks have been known to do that), BA ignores service time in favor of ABs for position players (130), IP for starting pitchers (50), and appearances for relievers (30).

I bring this up because there is one rather notable pitcher who has exceeded his rookie eligibility – A.J. Cole. If you were under the impression that all September activity does not count, that’s not quite accurate. September doesn’t count towards service time, but IPs and ABs do.

Now, to make matters worse, baseball-reference.com is listing players that I’m 99% sure have not exceeded either limit of service or playing time (like this guy). This may very well explain why BA ignores that loophole; it is easier to calculate.

However, I still think rookie-eligible is the standard because these kind of exceptions usually aren’t a big deal. Let’s be honest: Cole and Wilmer Difo are in the conversation primarily because the upper levels of the Nationals minors have been thinned (or aged) out.

So A.J. Cole is off the table with four other pitchers are gone via trades this month, so this ought to be a very interesting exercise. So vote early (но не часто, спасибо), and let’s see how this goes.

CORRECTION
I got the 50 and 45 mixed up in my head. Cole is eligible.

Baseball America Ranks The Top 10 Nats Prospects

Baseball America for NPP
Yesterday, Baseball America released its postseason Top 10, and as already discussed in the comments, it’s full of specious goodness (last year’s ranking):

  1. Victor Robles, OF (3)
  2. Erick Fedde, RHP (4)
  3. Juan Soto, OF (’16-’17 IFA)
  4. Wilmer Difo, IF (6)
  5. Andrew Stevenson, OF (8)
  6. Koda Glover, RHP (30)
  7. Luis Garcia, SS(’16-’17 IFA)
  8. Carter Kieboom, SS(’16 Draft Pick)
  9. Pedro Severino, C (11)
  10. Austin Voth, RHP (9)

As you can see, it’s not too hard to figure out the process: Nos. 1, 2, and 5 were traded… so bump up the next three guys two slots… then slide in two of the most expensive IFAs… add the top ’16 Draft pick. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out the last three spots.

Let’s choose from the guys who were on the 25-man roster in August!

One of them has his service time exhausted? No problem, we’ll haughtily proclaim that only at-bats matter in determining prospect status; who cares if most folks use rookie eligibility? We’re the phone company Baseball America, we don’t care.

OK, end rant.

Time’s running short this morning, so tomorrow I’ll update this space with any tidbits from the chat this afternoon. In the meantime, keep the conversation going… it’s going to be cold (for DC, at least) later this week, so we’ll need the hot stove.

UPDATE:
There were a couple of tidbits from the chat worth mentioning, which answer some questions that folks had. The first relates to the two shortstops:

Ryan (Abingdon, MD): Why is Luis Garcia ranked ahead of Carter Kieboom? I get that they’re ranked together, but is Garcia’s upside really that much greater than Kieboom’s to get him placed ahead even though I assume he’ll have a considerably later ETA.

Teddy Cahill: It was difficult to order Garcia and Kieboom. They have the same BA Grade and the difference between them is slim. I think Garcia’s ceiling is higher than Kieboom’s, partially because he has a chance to be better defensively. I hesitate to call Kieboom the safer of the pair because no teenager in the complex league is “safe”,[sic] but he might have the higher floor (though part of the attraction of Garcia is how advanced he is for a 16-year-old). I don’t think Kieboom’s ETA is much ahead of Garcia’s. He’s two years older and has made his pro debut already, but it’s not like he’s in line to play in the big leagues in 2018. It’s going to take them both some time to get to Washington, and it will be interesting to watch them develop.

The second is the Nats’ reigning, two-time Player of the Year, Jose “Orange” Marmolejos:

theaman (College Park, Md.): Jose Marmolejos seemed to come out of nowhere to win organizational player of the year and seemed like a surprise addition to the 40-man roster. What do the Nats have there? Enough pop to play 1B in the majors?

Teddy Cahill: Jose Marmolejos has been a fascinating player to evaluate for the ranking, especially after the Nationals added him to the 40-man roster last month. He has really performed the last two years, winning org player of the year twice. But he doesn’t really profile as a first baseman because he doesn’t have that kind of power. But as a lefthanded hitter that a good, disciplined approach at the plate, I think he can find a way to help a team off the bench or maybe as a platoon option. The bottom line is if he keeps hitting as he advances in the minor leagues, they’ll find a way to use him.

Finally, Cahill mentioned back problems for Anderson Franco to explain his limited playing time last summer. This, as we all know, is par for the course with the Nationals when it comes to injuries (say little, reveal less). Not necessarily the wrong thing to do, especially given the spate of trades lately, but still annoying.

Nats Make Second Annual Spare IF Trade to Angels for Two Pitchers

Pognophiles weep, N.L. infields a little less breezy in 2017

strictly-businessIn a move that seems a little too neatly timed, Nats Winter Fest no-show Danny Espinosa was traded to the L.A. Angels for two minor-league RHPs.

Kidding aside, as the headline suggests, it’s the second time in as many years the two teams have swapped an IF for a pair of “northpaws.” And it would appear to be the same return: one marginally major-league ready reliever, one roster-filler for AA/AAA.

Austin L. Adams is the former, and much will be made of his K rate (12.8 in ’16, 11.6 career) and velocity (95-97), while his BB rate (4.9, 6.4) gets overlooked, his age (turns 26 in May) is ignored, and inexperience (3⅔ career IP at AAA) is downplayed. He was just added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule 5 draft last month, so no space cleared on the 40-man.

Kyle McGowin is the latter, and likewise, folks will immediately gasp at the pitcher’s slashes in the PCL (6.11/5.09/1.62) but even if you’re inclined to write that off as the league, he’s had similarly subpar production at AA and lower (4.77 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, no FIPs lower than 3.53).

As folks smarter than I am about trades have noted, trading Espinosa after he had been replaced took away some leverage (counterargument: such a trade might have given opposing GMs a hint that the Eaton trade was in the works), and now leaves Wilmer Difo as the primary MI backup.

Next up (barring another trade, natch): BA will unveil its Top 10 Nats prospects, then we’ll vote on the Top 10 Nats arms.

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospect List

As noted in the comments, John Sickels released his Top 20 Prospects for the Washington Nationals last night. Here’s the breakdown by letter grade:

B+/A- Victor Robles
B+ Erick Fedde
B Juan Soto
B- Carter Kieboom, Koda Glover, Austin Voth, Sheldon Neuse
B-/C+ A.J. Cole, Andrew Stevenson
C+ Drew Ward, Wilmer Difo*, Pedro Severino, Brian Goodwin, Tyler Watson, Rafael Bautista, Kelvin Gutierrez, Osvaldo Abreu, Joan Baez, Yasel Antuna  *Not a prospect by the usual definition (exceeded MLB service time limit), but Sickels is taking the “I get a lot of questions about him” copout
C+/C Rhett Wiseman

Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, higher grade
Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, same grade
Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, lower grade
Italics = Not on the 2016 list
Green = 2016 Draft pick
Purple = 2016-17 International Free Agent

I simplified the explanation with a key so I can get to the commentary…

What struck me the most is that the clump of “a notch better than average” players continues to be a hallmark of these Top 20’s. This time, it’s half the list, same as it was in Year 1 of this website. There’s some consolation in that there are no “C” players to crack the Top 20, as three did that year (2010) and as recently as 2014, there were four.

Conversely, this is the first list since 2012 that has no A- or better players, which I think is fair. Yes, we love our Victor Robles, but let’s be honest: He is injury prone, the arm isn’t quite as good as initially advertised (Sickels does acknowledge this), and there’s some doubt he’ll develop home-run power. Remember, there is significant value in considering the opinions outside our little bubble.

I am a little surprised that Andrew Stevenson didn’t bump up to at least a straight-up B-minus. Before folks start howling about he was the hit leader of the 2016 AFL, remember it’s a SSS and the pitching isn’t as consistent as it is in AA or AAA. Sickels is citing questions in Stevenson’s swing mechanics, which I’d infer comes from a scout or two.

Before folks get a case of the Mondays, Sickels is high on Soto:

I normally take a wait-and-see approach with guys like this but in my opinion Soto is definitely for real; features bat speed, raw power, sound swing mechanics, and a good batting eye; has the tools to be an excellent hitter and the skills to make those tools work are advanced; mediocre speed is the main weakness but he can handle a corner and I strongly believe in the bat. ETA: late 2020

He’s also a believer in both Glover and Voth, which is good news because the big club can use them this upcoming season. And for those wondering, LHP Tyler Watson is Sickels’s “SLEEPER ALERT” again.

Unlike MASN, I encourage you to click through to the link above—Sickels is no longer doing the BPB, so let’s give him some traffic, shall we?—and then comment below.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Position Players

There are four players we can agree on: Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Drew Ward, and Carter Kieboom. They’re the only ones named on every ballot. This is actually pretty normal, since the Nats aren’t typically deep in position players.

Twenty different players were named on 12 ballots (including mine), down one from last year. Robles was the clear #1 player, named #1 on eleven ballots. Juan Soto got the most second-place votes, but finished third behind Stevenson, who was in everybody’s Top 5.

Without further ado, ze list:

  1. Victor Robles
  2. Andrew Stevenson
  3. Juan Soto
  4. Drew Ward
  5. Carter Kieboom
  6. Pedro Severino
  7. Jose Marmolejos
  8. Brian Goodwin
  9. Anderson Franco
  10. Rafael Bautista

Others receiving votes: Osvaldo Abreu, Nick Banks, Kelvin Gutierrez, Yasel Antnua, Sheldon Neuse, Jakson Reetz, Raudy Read, Austin Davidson, Rhett Wiseman, Blake Perkins, Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

For those wondering, that’s five names carrying over from 2015, same as last year from 2014. Two players graduated (Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo), one was traded (Christopher Bostick), and the other two (Osvaldo Abreu and Spencer Kieboom) dropped out.

The Dominican presence also remains strong with six of the Top 10, ten of the 20 nominees being born in the D.R. or to Dominican parents. This ought not to be a shock to the mindful watchers of the Nationals minors (a.k.a. the regulars), but given the reaction to Washington refusing to overpay for a “closer,” I feel obligated to point this out for the folks who are new (and welcome) here.

Next up: The pitchers, which just got a whole less interesting (or more difficult to pick) with four would-be nominees traded in the last week.

Nats Go All in for Eaton

For those of you who work the third shift, aren’t on the Twitters, or had a date last night (hey, it could happen), Washington traded Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning for Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton.

This is hard for us as prospect followers because we become (or have become) enamored with the exploits of “our guys” and envision their future with the big club, which we saw briefly last summer with Giolito and Lopez, and were looking forward to with Dunning in 2-3 years. I’ll be the first to admit that my first thought was: “Just Adam Eaton? No PTBNL?”

That’s because I’ve become used to the consolation prize that Mike Rizzo seems to find with his trades: Joe Ross… Blake Treinen… Tanner Roark, etc.

Nope. Three maybes, two of them pretty strong, for one proven, in-his-prime major leaguer.

As the pic suggests, Rizzo appears to be going all-in for this season; at least that’s the knee-jerk narrative. But if you look more closely, and think about it a little more deeply, he’s got an OF option secured for the next five seasons at a reasonable price. This is critical because at least one of the two guys who’ll play next to him next summer won’t be here in 2019.

That’s not being Chicken Little – Jayson Werth’s skills are in decline, Bryce Harper may leave. If you’re a Pollyanna, then you look at this trade as freeing up the Cayman Island that it’ll take—and if he reverts to 2015 form, deserves—to keep Harper in DC.

If you’re bitter, or cynical, then you wonder if the Nats have soured on at least one of these three prospects and are dealing them because they’ve reached their peak and/or will get hurt. I certainly hope not because if a pattern like this emerges it will be harder for Rizzo to make trades in the future.

It’s worth paraphrasing what one scout tweeted yesterday: Prospects have three purposes (1) play for the parent club (2) use to trade for other players (3) fill out the rosters in the minors. Number one is obviously top of mind for us, but this is yet another reminder that number two may actually be number one in the minds of the Washington front office.

Last call for the Top 10 Nats Bats while we brace for the Rule 5 Draft.

Nats Make Some Minor-League Signs

As noted yesterday, the latest BA transactions post—first in nearly two weeks—was published yesterday. Here are Washington’s signees:

• RHPs – Dustin Antolin, Derek Eitel
• LHPs – Yoan Aponte, Braulio Lara
• C’s – Brian Jeroloman, Adderling Ruiz
• 2B – Corban Joseph

Antolin, whose full name (Dustin Kamakana Mai Ku’u Makualani Antolin) makes for a difficult time at the DMV, Aponte and Eitel appear ticketed for Syracuse as inventory while little can be found on Aponte, which leads to the inference that he’s low-tier IFA.

Jeroloman and Ruiz are re-signs and will likely continue in their roles as player and player-coach, respectively. Jospeh spent 2016 with the Orioles organization as a stopgap at AA and AAA and will likely do the same for the Nationals in 2017

Vote for Your Favorite Bats

favbat2016Quick! Before they get traded!

It’s time to crowdsource our favorite position players in the Washington farm system as part of our annual offseason ritual to fill the void between when the Nats get eliminated in the playoffs and a season-ending injury in Spring Training the last pitch in September and the first pitch in April.

OK, so here’s how it works… Send me your Top 10 list of minor-league position players (40-man guys are eligible as long as they have rookie status) to enfieldmass-top10bats[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or submit them in comments.

I’ll compile the votes and weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). When it feels like I’ve got a sizable number of submissions, I’ll update this post to let people know I’ve ready to write the “Top 10” post.

This will create the seventh annual NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Bats list.

Now, let’s not forget that “Bat” is my shorthand for “position player” – obviously there are guys for whom the glove is something to wear to blend in when they’re out in the field, but try to take into account both offense and defense. The National League remains stuck in the 19th century when it comes to the DH, so we can’t overlook defense entirely.

The Winter Meetings start up today at the Gaylord in National Harbor, so there’ll be plenty o’ speculation (because speculation is always Irish?) about proposed trades, both actual and agent-planted. Baseball America hasn’t had a Transactions post since before Thanksgiving but one is expected this morning, so we may have back-to-back posts this week!

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments…

Nationals Trade Pedro Avila for Derek Norris

Derek Norris for NPPAs semi-predicted in the penultimate post, the Nats have begun the plug holes via the trade route with the acquisition of former farmhand C Derek Norris from San Diego for RHP Pedro Avila.

Norris, who was traded away nearly five years ago to Oakland, will most likely split time with Jose Lobaton while Pedro Severino becomes trade bait or insurance, given his age and option status.

Avila, 19, rose quickly through the Nationals farm system making the jump from the DSL in 2015 to Low-A in 2016. He went 5-5 with 2.91 ERA in the first half, but 2-2, 4.18 in the second half, which is not uncommon for young pitchers in their first full season. The Venezueln teenager had been rated as the #23 prospect in the most recent listing by the MLB.com.

The Next CBA

New CBAAs expected, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed upon before the deadline last night. As predicted, there will be no international draft.

BUT…
(There’s always a but, isn’t there?)

In this case, the scuttlebutt on the “but” is higher bonus pools – somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to $6M per team per year – in exchange for more severe penalties on teams that exceed the limits.

As Doug Gray pointed out over at Redminorleagues.com, this new limit of $150M to $180M is roughly 40-50% of what teams spent during the last full year of International Free Agency (2015-16), including penalties.

In essence, Gray says, the MLBPA gave away $120 to 150M from amateurs to the owners in exchange for not very much; slightly higher luxury tax thresholds, tweaks to the qualifying-offer system.

To me this is same shit, different CBA. The players’ union and the owners continue to negotiate over monies spent on (or to) people not at the table. Last time, it was the minor leaguers. This time it’s the foreign-born players.

Bottom line: the players we know and love to watch play are being attached to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis. (Translation).

Don’t even go down the path of what this means socioeconomically… in both cases, young men (or teenage boys) are being asked to trade their youth and/or postpone their education in exchange for a pittance and an infinitesimally small chance to make it to the major leagues.

The Americans at least have the threat of going to college; the (mostly) Dominicans and Venezuelans have nothing. And now they have less.

More details on the CBA are forthcoming, but I’m quite confident we’re not going to see anything that will be better for our guys.