Nationals Announce Signing Of 16 IFAs

Three Venezuelans and Thirteen Dominicans Join The Nationals Organization

This morning the Washington Nationals announced the signings of 16 International Free Agents, highlighted by catcher Raudy Read and outfielder Randy Novas; both are 17 years old and are right-handed batters.

Read and Novas were previously mentioned in Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore’s profile of the Nats’ Dominican Republic Baseball Academy earlier this month.

Here’s what the official press release had to say about Read and Novas:

Read was signed out of the Dominican Republic and has great instincts behind the plate, including exceptional hands, feet and arm strength. The 17-year-old right-handed batter has demonstrated a powerful bat with superior plate discipline. Novas, a 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic, possesses advanced tools. His speed and instincts translate to superior range in the outfield, and the right-handed batter has consistently demonstrated power to all fields.

Eleven of the other 14 signings were also from the Dominican Republic. Here’s a look at them by position, age in parentheses:

LHP – Joel Barrientos (17), Brian Escolastico (18) and Hector Silvestre (18)
RHP – Gilberto Mendez (18) and Felix Moscat (20)
CA – Pedro Severino (17)
1B – Arialdi Peguero (18)
SS – Yewri Guillen (18)
3B – Diomedes Eusebio (18)
OF – Wilman Rodriguez (19) and Dioncio Rosario (17)

The three remaining signings were from Venezuela:

RHP – Anderson Martinez (18)
CA – Jorge Tillero (17)
OF – Juan De Los Santos (17)

Updates to come if I am able to find anything else about these players.

Unlikely. Thus far, searching on the names has been like the Grinch in his lair.

Bryce Harper Tops The 2011 BA Top 100 Prospects List

Four Nats Make The List Altogether

Yes, I know you’re shocked, but the 18-year-old Bryce Harper, the #1 overall pick in the 2010 First Year Player draft, has topped the 2011 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects.

Joining Mr. Harper on the list are Danny Espinosa (#66), Derek Norris (#72),  and Wilson Ramos (#96).

Harper, who has had the Natmosphere atwitter since his arrival earlier this week, is expected to come off the bench in the first Spring Training game against the Mets this coming Monday, according to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson.

Last year, the Nationals planted three farmhands onto the Top 10o, with Stephen Strasburg (#2), Norris (#38), and Drew Storen (#92) in 2010 while in 2009, Jordan Zimmermann was the sole National on the list at #41 overall. Previous Top-100’s include Collin Balester (#95, 2007; #86, 2008), Ross Detwiler (#51, 2007), Chris Marrero (#27, 2008), Ryan Zimmerman (#15, 2006) and Mike Hinckley (#29, 2005).

Harper is expected by most to begin 2011 in Low-A Hagerstown; Norris is expected to be the backstop in AA Harrisburg; Espinosa is expected to be the team’s starting second baseman and Wilson Ramos is reportedly competing with the Nats’ 2006 Rule 5 pick Jesus Flores for the backup catcher’s job behind incumbent Pudge Rodriguez.

Guessing The Rosters, Part Two

A look at which prospects will fill the Potomac roster in ’11

So let’s get it out of the way, shall we? The Nats brass has been hinting at Hagerstown for Bryce Harper’s regular-season debut since last fall, but I’m not buying it. Why? Because the same thing was said about Strasburg last year and Potomac, but also because it will make for a move that’s part PR, part psychological ploy.

What I believe will happen is that Harper will play much like he did in the AFL and he’ll “earn” his first promotion right out of Spring Training. The spin will be that “He proved to us that it would just be a waste of time,” or something to that effect. But the reality is if they want him to “pay his dues,” slotting him one level below where he belongs instead of two will suffice.

Now before folks accuse me of self-interest, let me remind you that I was actually relieved that Strasburg didn’t come to Potomac last year. Sure, I missed out on seeing one of the great ones up close, but I also missed the throngs of overgrown fanboys. If you infer any animus, it’s to those folks, not young Mr. Harper.

Now enough waxing Oblio, let’s get back to the point. Here’s my take on the position players that will begin in Potomac this year:

CA – Sandy Leon
1B – Justin Bloxom
2B – Jeff Kobernus
SS – Rick Hague
3B – Steven Souza
OF – Destin Hood
OF – Eury Perez
OF – Bryce Harper
DH – J.P. Ramirez
BCA – Sean Rooney
BIF – Francisco Soriano
BIF – Stephen King
BOF – Chris Curran
BOF – Brett Newsome

I’m much less confident about this group versus yesterday’s. Kobernus and Hague could just as easily start at Hagerstown, but I’m slotting them here because of their age. Organizational guys like Sean Rooney and Brett Newsome may not break camp… or even go. Ramirez and Hood both need playing time in the OF, but I’m projecting that they’ll split time until Harper is promoted. This is generally the last roster to be set, but I anticipate very few holdovers from last season.

As always, let’s discuss in the comments.

Guessing The Rosters, Part One

Which position players are playing where in the low minors?

Now that we know who’s in the best shape of their life, who’s reported early, and who’s having visa problems, we can start to think about the minors and who’s going to end up where.

There’s an interesting dichotomy early in the 2011 Washingtion Nationals Spring Training — plenty of competition for pitchers, but supposedly less so for position players, with only LF and possibly CF up for grabs. While I’m not sure if I agree with that (particularly with Riggleman’s proclamation that Pudge Rodriguez is the starting catcher), I’ll reserve judgment until they actually play some games.

As folks have noted in the comments, the high minors (Harrisburg and Syracuse) are going to be very difficult to guess. It’s nearly a given that predicting pitchers is a fool’s errand, and looking over our watchlist, I can only honestly place six position players at Syracuse and Harrisburg. That’s Chris Marrero and Corey Brown (sorry, Peric) in New York and Steve Lombardozzi, Josh Johnson, Tyler Moore, and Derek Norris in Pennsylvania.

But I do think we can throw darts in terms of the position players in the low, full-season minors.

With that in mind, here’s my preseason gander at the Hagerstown, starters first (“B” before traditional positional abbreviations = Bench):

CA – David Freitas
1B – Mills Rogers
2B – Adrian Sanchez
SS – Jason Martinson
3B – Blake Kelso
OF – Randloph Oduber
OF – J.R. Higley
OF – Wade Moore
DH – Russell Moldenhauer
BCA – Wilfri Pena
BIF – Justino Cuevas
BIF – Michael Taylor
BOF – Justin Miller
BOF – J.R. Higley

Are there arguments to be made here? Of course there are. Moldenhauer might finally be put at 1B and Rogers could be used as a super-sub. Higley might not lose his job. Taylor might go to XST to get a little more seasoning (he turns 20 late in March). And of course the bluster about Bryce Harper opening the season in Rome on April could actually turn out to be true, but as you can see, I’m not fiddling nor is Georgia on my mind.

As always, discuss in the comments. Next up, a guess at Potomac.

40-Man Moves: Atilano Designated For Assignment

Luis Atilano is dropped from the 40-man roster

Today, the Washington Nationals designated RHP Luis Atilano for assignment. The NationalsPR twitter feed is claiming this is directly related to the signing of Adam LaRoche.

Atilano was 6-7 with an ERA of 5.15 in 16 starts from May to July before being placed on the DL with bone chips in his elbow on July 23, 2010. He was originally drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the 2003 draft and acquired by Washington in a 2006 trade for Daryle Ward.

Atilano spent the 2007 season recovering from Tommy John surgery before pitching for three Nats affiliates in 2008 (Hagerstown, Potomac, Harrisburg), which earned him a spot on the 40-man roster. With two surgeries on the same elbow, he is unlikely to be claimed despite turning just 26 in May.

UPDATE – Sunday, February 20

Like Martis before him, Atilano has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Syracuse. He will report to the major-league spring training camp as a non-roster invitee.

Morning Reading

A few stories to look at after you’ve read about who’s in the best shape of their life

Today, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training for the Washington Nationals. Instead of linking you to an obligatory “those are the greatest four words” (apparently not considering “tests came back negative” or “s/he’s not pressing charges”) column, take a look at this take, which manages to have it both ways in terms of insight and sentimentality.

January and February are all about Top 10/20/50/100 lists in the Prospect World (believe it or not, I didn’t post about every one I came across). Yesterday, I came across an interesting analysis about the correlation between Success and Failure Rates of Top MLB Prospects. There’s a lot to look at but kudos has to go to Scott McKinney for putting in the time to do this. My favorite conclusion, BTW:

The success rate of prospects (both position player and pitchers) is nearly flat and relatively undifferentiated for players ranked 41-100, and especially those ranked 61-100

Why do I like that so much? Because it supports my belief that any idiot can pick the Top 50, but the real test is beyond the cream of the crop.

My last pick for something to read comes from a blog in New York. As lawyer-turned-blogger Craig Calcaterra puts it: “There’s so much stuff written about the Yankees, but much of it is either insane hype or unwarranted pessimism.” This blog, he goes on to say, is one of the few that doesn’t veer in either direction.

It’s the latter part of that quote that I can relate to, because it reminds me of something that I was told about complaints back when I was a graduate teaching fellow in J-school: It’s a reverse Bell curve, the A-minuses campaigning for A’s or F’s campaigning for a D-minus. Reading this column, I’m starting to wonder if that theory may also apply about the fans of teams as they approach 100 wins or 100 losses.

A Couple Of Broadcast News Items

MASN to televise five games, Nats get an FM radio partner

It hasn’t been formally announced yet, but MASN will televise five Nationals game and for the second year in a row, not one of them will be a Nationals-Orioles game!

Circle your calendar for these five dates:

Sunday, March 6th vs. Atlanta

Friday, March 11th vs. Houston*

Saturday, March 12th vs. New York Yankees

Sunday, March 20th vs. Detroit

Friday, March 25th vs. St. Louis

* Split-squad = Best chance to see prospects

ESPN, as you might imagine, is not planning to broadcast any Nationals games. MLB Network has not announced its slate for March yet, but best bets would be for one of the Nats-Mets matchups on March 8th and 15th.

The second item probably only matters to you if you don’t live within 10 miles of DC or if you’re not an XM Radio subscriber, but in all likelihood the Nationals’ new broadcast partner will be 106.7FM. For those of you who insist on listening to a crappy AM signal, you’ll be glad to know that WFED 1500AM will be retained for broadcasting to North of DC, and gives the Nationals an alternative for whenever there’s a conflict with (regular-season, obviously) Wizards broadcasts.

Dan Steinberg also notes that non-holiday midweek day games will be broadcast on 1580 AM, the CBS-owned sister station to WJFK, noteworthy to those who don’t subscribe or cannot access Gameday Audio.

Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler are expected to return for their sixth season together.

Sickels On The Hitters

A look at the Nationals batters profiled in the John Sickels 2011 prospect book

As with the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

…Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1. Controlling the strike zone
2. Hitting for power
3. Hitting for average
4. Offensive speed
5. Fielding range
6. Fielding reliability
7. Throwing utility

…Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

…Sickels likes to look at OPS and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power. That may sound obvious, but recall how many people have used “offensive woes” to describe a .235 hitter that had a .534 secondary average last season (Derek Norris).

…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

…Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability.

Bryce Harper – A Steve Lombardozzi – C+ (C) Randolph Oduber – C
Derek Norris – B+ (B+) Chris Marrero – C+ (B-) David Freitas – C
Danny Espinosa – B (B) Rick Hague – C+ Jeff Kobernus – C (C+)
Wilson Ramos – B- (B) Corey Brown – C+ Justin Bloxom – C
Eury Perez – C+ Destin Hood – C (C+) Tyler Moore – C
J.P. Ramirez – C+ (C)

As before, the bolded guys are the ones that didn’t appear on the BA list and all of them are on our watchlist. Unlike the pitchers, there’s not so much pride in picking these guys out of the crowd because they were either an All-Star or an MVP in their leagues. Like Rob Wort, Vermont IFs Jason Martinson and Blake Kelso were left on the cutting-room floor as Grade-C guys.

And that completes my review of the prospect books, bringing us pretty damn near the start of spring training. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a “This Afternoon In Viera” or anything like that. As the snark in the tags suggests, there won’t be a Bryce Harper love-fest, just as there wasn’t a Stephen Strasburg slobbering last spring. Instead, I’ll be working on the periphery, focusing on the minor-league angles that I see [insert comparison to dating in high school here] from the (paid) beat guys as they cover the goings-on in Florida.

So the flow of posts is probably going to slow while the attention turns to the big club, but I hope folks will keep checking back here over occasionally over the next few weeks. I always post a link on Twitter when I publish, and for those that prefer the vinyl to the MP3 in terms of Internet communication technology, WordPress creates an RSS feed, too.

Sickels On The Pitchers

A look at the Nationals pitchers profiled in John Sickels 2011 prospect book

Shortly after Thanksgiving, John Sickels revealed his Top 20 for the Nationals. A little more than three weeks ago, we learned that three Nationals made his Top 50 batters list. Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the players.

I decided to break this up by batters and pitchers, since Sickels doesn’t rank them like BA. Instead he gives letter grades… and he doesn’t grade on a curve — he is very, very tough. As he himself puts it, a C+ grade is good praise, but he is careful to note that the grade is relative, i.e. a Rookie-ball Grade C prospect could end up a star while a AAA grade C is likely to end up as a backup or long reliever.

When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principals…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

As you might have guessed, Sickels is a Bill James disciple in that he uses statistics to help identify trends and anomalies (see below with Brad Peacock). But he most certainly believes in the value in scouting to identify the intangibles like effort, body language, kinetics, athleticism, etc.

Here’s a look at the 21 pitchers that Sickels graded (2010 grade in parentheses)…

A.J. Cole – B Tyler Hanks – C Tanner Roark – C
Sammy Solis – B Taylor Jordan – C Brian Broderick – C
Robby Ray – B- Josh Smoker – C (C) Atahualpa Severino – C (C)
Brad Peacock – C+ (C) Paul Demny – C (C) Josh Wilkie – C (C)
Henry Rodriguez – C+ (B-) Elvin Ramirez – C Adam Carr – C (B- in ’08)
Brad Meyers – C+ (C+) Danny Rosenbaum – C Adrian Alaniz – C (C)
Cole Kimball – C+ Tom Milone – C (C) Yunesky Maya – C

So why are some of those guys bolded? Glad you asked. These are the guys that weren’t listed in the BA book, and I take a great deal of pride that nearly all of them made our watchlist.

A couple of other notes…
…Rob Wort was one of three Nationals to make the manuscript but not the book — which Sickels calls his “cutting room floor” — and would have been listed as a Grade-C prospect.

…Brad Peacock and Danny Rosenbaum were both given Sickels’ “Sleeper Alert” tag. Peacock got the nod because there is a disconnect between his stuff and his results; he’s never had an ERA below 4.00 yet has a career W-L of 19-35 while his FIPs have been consistently lower than his ERAs (e.g. 3.14 vs. 4.44 at Potomac). With Rosenbaum, it’s more of a gut feel based on his strong GO/AO ratio (1.90) and perhaps, as he alluded back in November, he’s something of a Milone clone (hey, that rhymes).

I’d give more detail (as I did last year, but that was *after* the printed run had sold out), but knowing that Sickels is basically a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri), I’d strongly recommend folks purchase the book and support what I consider to be the best in the business.

[For those wondering, the pic is a nod to the “hanging fruit” metaphor in the comments. That’s what’s known as an orchard ladder, used for picking the fruit from the highest branches]

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part Two

The rest of the list and the projected 2014 lineup

Picking up where we left off yesterday, here’s 16 through 30 on the Baseball America Top 30 list for 2011…

16. Tom Milone, LHP
17. Adrian Sanchez, 2B/3B
18. A.J. Morris, RHP
19. Michael Burgess, OF
20. Elvin Ramirez, RHP
21. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
22. Jason Martinson, SS
23. Danny Rosenbaum, LHP
24. Tyler Moore, 1B
25. J.P. Ramirez, OF
26. Ryan Tatusko, RHP
27. Brad Meyers, RHP
28. Trevor Holder, RHP
29. Adam Carr, RHP
30. Hassan Pena, RHP

As mentioned yesterday, there were 14 holdovers — Norris, Espinosa, Marrero, Kobernus, Burgess, Hood, Perez, Meyers, Morris, Brad Peacock, Hassan Pena, Lombardozzi, J.P. Ramirez, and Rosenbaum. Burgess and Morris have since been traded, which means that there 16 newcomers to the list. Here’s the breakdown of they came into the system:

2010 Draft — Harper (1), Cole (4), Solis (6), Hague (14), Ray (15) , Martinson (22)

2010 Acquisitions — Ramos (5), Tatusko (26), Elvin Ramirez (20)

2010 IFA — Maya (11)

2009 Draft — Holder (28)

2008 Draft — Milone (16), Moore (24)

2007 IFA — Sanchez (17)

2006 Draft — Kimball (7), Carr (29)

As you can see, there’s a reason why the Nationals jumped from #24 to #14 and it’s not just Bryce Harper. Almost half of the Top 30 has been drafted or acquired under the Rizzo front office, and more than a third were brought in last year alone. That’s in quite stark contrast to Bowden’s Reign of Error, particularly the ’06 draft, which is has yet to produce a single major-leaguer (Marrero, Pena, and Brad Peacock join Kimball and Carr as ’06ers, so there’s still a little bit of hope). Thus, even without the #1 pick overall, there’s reason to believe that things can continue to improve with a deep draft this June and the Nationals possessing three of the first 34 picks.

As Brian Oliver pointed out last week, there are still reasons to be concerned. The list is roughly 50/50 in terms of pitchers and position players, but there are more relievers than starters. It tends to skew older, in part because the ’07-’08 drafts were more college-oriented, but also in part because the ’06 draft was such a perfect failure. Espinosa is poised to become just the second homegrown bat since the club set up shop in Washington — that’s two position players in six drafts, three in seven if you want to count Desmond. And until Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg pitches a full season, John Lannan remains the team’s best homegrown starter.

But if folks are looking for reason to hope, take a look at BA’s projected 2014 lineup for Washington. Now, a lot of things have to go right  (this is taking-the-tartar-sauce-while-you-go-after-the-whale optimism) for this to happen, but with a week to go until pitchers and catchers report, hope springs eternal, right?

C – Wlson Ramos
1B – Derek Norris
2B – Danny Espinosa
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Ryan Zimmerman
LF – Jayson Werth
CF – Eury Perez
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Jordan Zimmermann
#3P – A.J. Cole
#4P – Sammy Solis
#5P – John Lannan
CL – Drew Storen