Ten Stories From 2014

Top 10
In keeping with the new world order, I’m dropping back down to the more prototypical ten stories in the fifth annual edition of this piece. Naturally, they’re not ranked; I went through each month and started writing down ideas until I got there.

I’m sure I may have overlooked something or somebody; 2014 was a tough year for me personally, though I believe this site was something that helped distract from that fact, which is why I’m still holding on to it.

Without further vamping, here are ten stories that marked 2014 for the Washington Nationals minor leagues…

Long-Term Extensions For Syracuse, Harrisburg
I’m cheating a little here (Syracuse re-upped in December 2013), but instead of the usual two-year extensions, Washington doubled that with its AAA and AA affiliates. This will ensure an eight-year run for the top five rungs on the ladder after four switches in the first six seasons (two at AAA, one at Low-A, one at SS-A), which helps to offset the tiresome threat of relocation in Hagerstown and the tedious talk of a new stadium in Potomac.

Steven Souza
After years of tumult and torment, Souza put up a career year in 2014 and earned the International League’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards at the not-so-tender age of 25. However, with only a bench spot open for 2015, GM Mike Rizzo horned in on a three-way (trade) and sold high on Souza, who will be remembered for a good catch and not his 3-for-23 mark over 21 games last summer.

Michael Taylor
Taylor wasted no time making it known that his time had come, smacking the game-winning triple in the Grapefruit League opener and then putting together an amazing campaign at AA — a .313/.396/.539 line with 22 homers and 34 steals while racking up 10 assists in CF. However, it did come at a cost of 161 whiffs over 127 total games. With just 12 games of AAA experience, the smart money is on him returning to Syracuse for more seasoning.

Reynaldo Lopez
Perhaps I’m giving short shrift to fellow Dominican Wilmer Difo, or taking his teammate Lucas Giolito for granted, but the ascendance of Reynaldo Lopez in 2014 is simply a better story. He signed for just $17,000 in 2012 and missed most of 2013 with arm soreness, reportedly due to bone weakness. After two poor starts in late May for the Suns, Lopez dropped to Auburn and dominated the NYPL for a 3-2, 0.75 mark over seven starts before returning to Hagerstown and dominating (15H, 1ER in 39⅔ IP).

Hapless In Harrisburg
They barely escaped being the worst Senators team ever in terms of wins and losses, but considering that they opened the season with six Top 20 prospects according to Baseball America, a dead-last finish seemed rather unlikely. Obviously, injuries were a factor all summer long it felt like watching a demolition in slow motion with each boxscore.

Matthew Purke
After finally putting in a full season in 2013, the hopes were high for Purke to build upon it and start producing. Instead, his season ended in May after just eight starts. He joined the legion of Nationals pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery and was ultimately released in November to make room on the 40-man roster. While he re-signed and will perhaps make a handful of starts in 2015, thus far he represents a Mike Rizzo injury gamble that didn’t pan out.

John Simms, Austin Voth Rise From Low-A to AA
In general, 2014 saw the Nationals promote early and often. A lot of this was necessitated by injuries and ineffectiveness, but two pitchers who could have arguably been kept to just two levels made it from Hagerstown to Harrisburg with a stay at Potomac. John Simms spent April in the Suns bullpen but then started 10 games for Potomac before finishing up in Harrisburg. Voth, who is six months younger, stuck around longer in Hub City (13 starts), but blew through the Carolina League before joining Simms. Neither pitcher was effective at AA, which begs the question: were they pushed up too soon? How they do in 2015 could be the answer.

Potomac Wins The Mills Cup
After dominating wire-to-wire in 2013, Potomac matched the feat in 2014, taking the first half crown by 4½ games and the second by seven games. Still, their counterparts in the Southern Division, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans also won both halves and dominated them in their final two series, taking five of six games. Unlike 2013, the bats did not go dead and the team fired on all cylinders to win three straight after dropping Game One, 2-0.

Chiefs Make The Playoffs
For most of this site’s existence, Syracuse has been an also-ran with few homegrown players. In 2014, the Chiefs put up the league’s best record and made the playoffs with an 81-62 mark. Alas, the parent club called up six players including Souza and Blake Treinen while shutting down A.J. Cole as they were swept in the first round, losing 2-1 in 10 innings, 8-2, and 7-6.

Suns Fall Short In Sally League Finals
Hagerstown and Greensboro tied each other in wins and losses over both halves, with the Grasshoppers winning the first half and the Suns taking the second. After rallying for three in the 9th in Game One of the semis, Hagerstown took the series with a 6-2 win in Game Two. In the finals, the Suns were pounded 16-7 in Game One but battled back to tie the series twice before falling 4-1 in Game Five, the second straight year Hagerstown lost the Sally League Championship.

Happy Holidays

Xmas-2014-SpikeNo, really — we wish you the best for whatever holiday tradition you observe, be it religious or secular (and if you’re American, it’s probably both). More importantly, my hope is that by the time you read this, you’re at your desired destination and spending time with who you want to be with, or who wants to be with you.

Remember that the rituals and traditions that you do this time of year are what those who love you will remember you by. Like getting pizza on Christmas Eve, which was a big deal because we rarely got takeout food. Yet what I wouldn’t give to have one of my Mom’s semi-homemade efforts.

Anyway, be safe and be happy today, tomorrow, and always.

The 2015 NationalsProspects.com Watchlist

2015 Watchlist
As alluded previously, when I’m at a loss for what to post, I take a look at what I did around this time last year and follow my digital footsteps. We can only hope that GM Mike Rizzo will hold at 30 trades for a few days and not require any more edits this week.

Thus, I present to you the fifth annual NationalsProspects.com Watchlist — this is a selection of Washington’s minor-leaguers that we’ve got our eye on. Most are prospects to some degree or another, be it by age, tool(s), or dexterity. Some have lost their luster, or have gotten hurt, but are talked or written about often enough to merit their own category.

Now, for the obligatory caveats…

It’s not a depth chart — Players are listed primarily by the highest level at which they played significant time. This mostly applies to the pitchers and outfielders, but folks should not infer that the player at the top of the list is necessarily better than the guy at the bottom.

It’s not a prediction of usage — In the early iterations, I was dumb bold enough to list starters and relievers. Now, I simply list them by their handedness. Some of the IFs could be listed elsewhere, but I’ve done my best to balance aesthetics against projections.

It’s not fair — You may have noticed some names have been dropped and shuffled around since the preliminary list was unveiled. In the case of the former, it’s because the depth has increased. In the case of the latter, It’s because I’ve been influenced to change my mind (it happens).

Given the new world order, it’s a little daunting to think of the next steps, but my gut feeling is that I’ll do it, but I’ll stretch the work out over a longer period of time.

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

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Severino Skole Renda S. Perez
Ward Taylor
Kieboom Wooten Bostick Difo Gunter Goodwin
Read Yezzo Davidson Turner* Gutierrez Vettleson
Reetz Marmolejos-Diaz T. Alvarez
Lora Aguero Ballou
Bautista
Carey
Corredor
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms M*A*S*H Notables
Hill Grace Pimentel Baez Rosenbaum Kobernus
Cole Br. Harper
Agustin Fuentes F. Rivero Dykstra
Ross Spann Robles Cespedes Purke Benincasa
Voth Silvestre Mota Y. Ramirez
Solis Self
Simms Thomas A. Martinez
Bermudez J. Rodriguez
Pleffner
Dickson Walsh Fedde Turnbull
Mendez Reynoso Johansen
De Los Santos
Suero
Giolito
Pivetta
R. Lopez
Dickey
Je. Ramirez

* Will not play for Washington until June 2015 due to MLB Draft rules

Baseball America Ranks The Top 10 Nats Prospects

Baseball America for NPP
Having confirmed the new list via Twitter, here’s the new-and-improved Washington Nationals Top 10 list from Baseball America (Last year’s ranking in parentheses):

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP (1)
2. Michael Taylor, OF (7)
3. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP (–)
4. Erick Fedde, RHP (’14 Draft Pick)
5. A.J. Cole, RHP (2)
6. Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS (–)
7. Drew Ward, 3B (17)
8. Brian Goodwin, OF (3)
9. Nick Pivetta, RHP (22)
10. Austin Voth, RHP (15)

If you’re a TCU an A.J. Cole fan, you’re probably wondering what he did to drop three slots, but I think the better way to look at it is that the three guys ahead of him simply have either more upside (Fedde) or were in stratosphere this past summer (Taylor, Lopez).

Steve Souza was originally the #5 prospect on this list, though I think most most folks already knew this as the top 10 list was leaked (tweeted) earlier this week.

I’m a bit curious as to why Brian Goodwin remains ranked so high, given this tidbit (italics added):

They pushed him to Double-A Harrisburg by the second half of 2012, but he followed a lackluster 2013 with a horrific 2014 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse that ended on July 1 when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder sliding into second base.

Granted, Goodwin throws righthanded, but injury experts have long held that the torn labrum is baseball’s most fearsome injury, not to mention the conventional wisdom that shoulder injuries in general are what ends or alters baseball careers.

Unfortunately, BA did not weigh in on Difo’s defensive prowess so the SS vs. 2B debate will have to wait until the book is released or perhaps John Sickels’s book is released. They did, however, note that Drew Ward may outgrow 3B, pointing to his size-16 cleats and describing his footwork as merely adequate while noting his arm was strong and accurate.

BA’s projections for 2015 were as follows:

AAA –Taylor, Cole, Goodwin
High-A — Giolito, Lopez, Difo, Ward, Pivetta
Not specified — Fedde, Voth

I still believe Giolito will be jumped to AA (and would love to be wrong) because the Nats have not been keen on letting high-profile prospects play at Potomac (see: Strasburg, Harper, Goodwin). Voth is a near-lock to return to Harrisburg, while I’d expect Fedde to follow the track of Giolito and start out at the GCL and perhaps make an appearance with Auburn late in the year.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Pitchers


As I expected, participation would be robust on this one — 15 ballots — and the top dog was the unanimous choice. A total of 24 pitchers were named, with four of the top five named on every ballot.

Before I continue, here’s the list:

                              1. Lucas Giolito
                              2. A.J. Cole
                              3. Reynaldo Lopez
                              4. Austin Voth
                              5. Erick Fedde
                              6. Matt Grace
                              7. Taylor Hill
                              8. Jefry Rodriguez
                              9. Felipe Rivero
                              10. Jake Johansen

Others receiving votes: Sammy Soilis, Nick Pivetta, Travis Ott, Rafael Martin, John Simms, Gilberto Mendez, Jake Walsh, Robert Benincasa, Wander Suero, Robbie Dickey, Luis Torres, Matt Spann, Matt Purke, Eric Fornataro

Now, the thoughts…

• This is the third straight year Giolito has been named the #1 pitcher, so no pressure to come to DC in 2015, right?

• Cole was also #2 for the second straight year, but turns 23 next month and we’re already seeing speculation as to when he’ll make his MLB debut. I’ll be the jerk who will note that he’d be an awfully good trade chip (see: Karns, Nathan).

• Lopez went from zero ballots in 2013 to the #3 pitcher in 2014. Saw him twice this past summer and this kid can deal. He got my #2 vote, one of two that Cole did not get.

• The other went to Fedde, who makes the list despite being in recovery from UCL replacement surgery. I’d scoff but Giolito is the knee-jerk “Yeah, but” and being the Nats top draft pick is going to carry some weight no matter what.

• As some of you noted, the list breaks down rather quickly after the first five or so names. The gap between #7 and #12 was just seven points. Until the last three or four ballots came in, there was basically a five-way tie for the last three slots.

• Grace’s addition to the 40-man is being read by quite a few of you as the lefthanded analog to Aaron Barrett from a year ago (OK, fine maybe that’s just me)

• Hill made the list despite getting hammered in two MLB starts and giving up five HR in his last 10 starts at Syracuse. He and Grace will be 26 in 2015, thus continuing the tradition of the old-guy skew

With the close of the winter meetings, which also saw the Nats go Yukon Cornelius on the Rule 5 draft, we’re now at the point where we wait for trades and transactions. In between, and as always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Nats Trade Detwiler For Pair of Rangers

PairofRangers
Guess it wouldn’t be December without a trade by the Nationals.

Multiple online sources are reporting that the Washington Nationals have traded LHP Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers for a pair of minor-leaguers, 2B Chris Bostick and RHP Abel de los Santos.

Bostick is a (*spoiler alert*) former Oakland A’s farmhand who has now been traded twice in two offseasons, going to Texas last year as part of the Choice-for-Gentry swap. He spent 2014 in the Carolina League with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans where he posted a line of .251/.322/.412 with 11HR and 62RBI, but alas, 116 whiffs in 130 games.

Defensively, he’s considered a project despite being a former shortstop, committing 55 errors 305 games at 2B, though scouts believe his range is decent and his arm strength adequate. As Sickels pointed out in his most recent prospect book, this is hardly unusual for someone his age (turns 22 in March). Between Wilmer Difo and Tony Renda, the most logical deductions are that Bostick may be forced to repeat High-A or change positions for 2015.

De Los Santos is a 22-y.o. Dominican just finishing up his fifth professional season. The 6’2″, 180-lb “northpaw” converted to relief in 2013, and has averaged 10.4K/9IP the past two seasons with 113K in 97⅔ IP. Scouting reports are scarce as he was not profiled by either Sickels or Baseball American in their 2014 editions (it also doesn’t help that Texas has a Miguel de Los Santos and Cincinnati has a RHP by the same name, too).

De Los Santos went 5-2 with eight saves in 33 appearances with High-A Myrtle Beach and one would think that the Nationals would like to pair him with Gilberto Mendez in the back end of the Harrisubrg bullpen in 2015.

Vote For Your Favorite Arms


Let’s hope the participation is better for this one… I had to make the call because I’m trying to still follow in my digital size 13’s from last December as best as I can, plus if I give this three days, it’ll fall right into my (new) normal publishing timeframe (Saturday or Sunday).

As in previous polls, 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.

Same methodology… I’ll compile the selections, weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point) and then post the results along with my observations and snark.

I don’t think I’m going to need to get pre-emptively medieval on anyone’s buttocks by pointing out who’s on the older side or ineligible this year, as I did last year with the likes of Davis, Garcia, Jordan, and Karns. I only ask that if you name a pitcher who’s two of the three archetypes — old, young, and hurt — that you side towards the arm with less mileage and more upside.

Next up — barring a trade with the A’s — the Rule 5 draft.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Position Players


While the participation wasn’t what I hoped it would be, it was enough to assemble a semi-decent Top 10 list.

One interesting trend is that youth seems to be getting served by virtue of Jakson Reetz as well as Dominican imports Wilmer Difo and Rafael Bautista, both of whom had breakout seasons with Hagerstown, with the former being added to the Nats 40-man roster.

Of course, some of that is attributable to three of last year’s Top 10 bats being traded away (Billy Burns, Zach Walters) or taken in the Rule 5 Draft (Adrian Nieto). And some of that is attributable to the “girl-watching” nature of prospect following (the prettiest one is the one that just walked by).

Anyway, a total of 15 players were named on the eight ballots received or submitted, which does include mine. I don’t find the 15 number all that disturbing since, as some put it, the bottom part of the list isn’t as clear-cut as the top, which was a near tie (77 points to 75 points) with Steve Souza the top pick on five.

And with that “said,” I present the list:

                              1. Steve Souza
                              2. Michael Taylor
                              3. Wilmer Difo
                              4. Drew Ward
                              5. Jakson Reetz
                              6. Brian Goodwin
                              7. Matt Skole
                              8. Spencer Kieboom
                              9. Rafael Bautista
                              10. Pedro Severino

Others receiving votes: Tony Renda, Drew Vettleson, John Wooten, Stephen Perez, Raudy Read

I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that half of these names won’t be on this list next year, given proximity to the majors, age, or “trade baitiness.” It’s tempting to conclude that that means we’re about to swing Broadway backward, but if past is prologue, those that move on will be replaced with players who had breakout seasons.

Next up: The pitchers, which always leads to much more discussion (dissension?)…

Vote For Your Favorite Bats


Since this is a popular feature — and it’s rather quiet on the minor-league front, unless you’re into start times and hot stove guests — let’s do this again.

For those unfamiliar with the drill (and obviously good at brushing and flossing), 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.

After I get enough submissions to work with, I’ll update this post to close the polls and weight the lists in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points, yada yada yada, #10 = 1 point).

Then, I’ll present the fifth annual NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Bats. Now, bear in mind that I use the term “bat” as a shorthand for a position player. As we all know too well, some folks will make it to the majors despite being poor on defense. Nevertheless, I would like you to consider both offense and defense in your selections, if for no other reason than the National League still does not have the designated hitter [insert troll remark here].

In addition to being an exercise that reinforces our sense of community on this site, I think it also produces a better list than if I were to pick it myself, which I did the first year. While there are some obvious exceptions, this is based on the “Wisdom of Crowds” theory that the collective opinions of many is usually more accurate than the opinion of one, which is an old idea (think Aristotle) that’s been given new life by a 2004 business book by James Surowiecki.

If nothing else, it’ll give us something to discuss until the Winter Meetings begin tomorrow.

UPDATE: I’m calling it and writing the next post.

The Preliminary 2015 Watchlist


Welcome to the first pass on what will become the fifth watchlist in this site’s history. For folks unfamiliar with what we’re trying to do here, here’s a quick reminder. I can’t stand Top 10/15/25/6/4 lists (I get that they drive traffic, but so do cheesecake pics, a.k.a. “The Other Rule 5”) because I feel they just lead to pointless arguments over whether Prospect A should be ranked above or below Prospect B.

So I created a list of prospects, broken down by position, that were worth keeping an eye on — a watchlist. It’s not a list of guys that are on the verge on becoming major-leaguers. It’s a list of players that have shown some promise. That’s it.

The watchlist used to be quite large — nearly 90 players, but I’ve since learned to be less inclusive as I’ve become more experienced in prospect following. While I see most of these guys for at least part of one season as a season-ticket holder to Potomac, Washington’s High-A affiliate, until then I have to scout by boxscore or extrapolate from other first-person accounts, which ranges in quality from amateur to semi-pro.

I don’t put very much credence into draft position. That’s like expecting honesty in personal ads*. Certain names get brought up ad nauseum because of when they were drafted or how large their bonus was. I don’t care. I understand that a higher draft pick will get more chances and lower one will not. How players are acquired is beast unto itself that I understand is an art; it just doesn’t interest me and I’ll defer to those that do. Don’t make me paraphrase Eddie Murphy’s drunken father (NSFW).
* Still waiting for “Gold Digger Seeks Sugar Daddy”
Before I go any further… let’s review the caveats:

It’s not a depth chart… Obviously, when you arrange it the way I have — by the highest level played to date — it’s going to look like it at first glance. That also doesn’t mean that the guys near the top of a column are “better” than the guys at the bottom; it just means they’ve played at higher level.

It’s (mostly) based on 2014 usage… The Nats have a habit of rotating guys between 2B, 3B, and SS which makes it a little difficult to slot guys, especially at the short-season levels (DSL, GCL, NYPL). So sometimes I have to be arbitrary and pick the slot based on usage or aesthetics.

It’s preliminary… I like prospect gurus like John Sickels who solicit comments and feedback. While I’m aware that will include some complaints, it’s worth it if that’s what it takes to get some thoughtful feedback and/or suggestions.

Sadly, the M*A*S*H category has returned. I had hoped it wouldn’t, and as you might expect, it’s mostly pitchers. I had thought about putting both Brian Goodwin and Drew Vettleson there, but opted not to because the list of outfielders is already pretty short (maybe an overcorrection to last year’s list of OFs).

Consequently, I have combined the notables into a single column for layout purposes. As aforementioned, I was more judicious (or capricious) this time, choosing just 10 names versus 18 a year ago and 16 two years ago. It’s worth noting that very few of the notables have reappeared in subsequent watchlists — just six, not counting guys that have reappeared via the M*A*S*H category.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments… just keep it civil. The players, their families, and their agents are reading, too. 😉

C 1B 2B SS 3B OF
Severino Skole Renda S. Perez
Ward Souza
Kieboom Wooten Davidson Difo Gunter Taylor
Read Yezzo Mejia Abreu Gutierrez Goodwin
Reetz Marmolejos-Diaz T. Alvarez
Lora Aguero Vettleson
Ballou
Bautista
Carey
Corredor
RHPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms M*A*S*H Notables
Hill Grace Pimentel Baez Rosenbaum Kobernus
Cole Br. Harper
Agustin Fuentes F. Rivero Leon
Voth Spann Robles Cespedes Purke Dykstra
Simms Silvestre Mota Y. Ramirez
Solis Benincasa
Dickson Thomas A. Martinez
Bermudez J. Rodriguez
Self
Mendez Walsh Fedde Pleffner
Giolito Ott Turnbull
Suero Reynoso Johansen
R. Lopez
Pivetta
Dickey
M. Sanchez
McDowell
Je. Ramirez
L. Reyes
Valerio
Morales