Nationals Trade Maxwell To Yankees

Nats pick up AA reliever for Justin Maxwell

As the pic suggests, the other shoe has dropped on the Maxwell DFA and it’s a typographer’s nightmare Adam Olbrychowski, a 24-year-old reliever that went 3-2 with a save and 3.90 ERA in 32 games pitching at Hi-A Tampa and AA Trenton.

Olbrychowski was drafted in 5th round of the 2007 draft out of Pepperdine University and worked as a starter for his first two pro seasons but had below-average results and poor control. In 2009, he converted to relief but continued to give up free passes (40 in 58IP as a reliever). He repeated at Tampa in 2010, cutting down on the walks (27 in 59IP) and earning a late bump up to Trenton.

Like many Rizzo acquisitions, Olbrychowski has good size (6’3″, 200) and throws hard with late sink, thus keeping the ball in the yard (1HR in 67IP last year). Throughout his career, however, the knock has been the lack of polish on his secondary pitches. Like Rule 5 pickup Michael Allen, Olbrychowski appears to be a project but with more upside. He was not listed in any of the major 2011 prospect books.


Shairon Martis has cleared waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse. He will be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, according to the Nationals PR.

Like a Bad Penny

Brian Oliver weighs in on the Nationals farm system

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

I may have walked away from NFA last September but I didn’t stop following the minor leagues, and Sue was nice enough to offer me a place here to dip my toe back into the prospect pool one more time.

As Sue has mentioned, it’s the time of year for the prospect guides and I happily received my copy of the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook last week. Fortunately for me (and my grading/lesson plans), there have been a couple of “snow” days and a pair of teacher workdays allowing me to dive into the BA Handbook.

The guys at BA do a tremendous job putting together a tome that discusses more than 900 of the top prospects in MLB, complete with scouting reports and projected ports of call to begin the 2011 season. As most who know my inclination is towards seeing how the Nationals are doing from a player-development point of view.

Back in 2005, BA ranked a threadbare Nationals system #26, led by the likes of Mike Hinckley and Larry Broadway. In 2006, Ryan Zimmerman allowed them to move up to #24, but aside from the anomaly of 2008 (BA was crazy to let the drafting of the left-handed firm of Detwiler, Smoker & McGeary cast that much influence on rankings [#10 overall]), the Nationals have been in the bottom third of the BA talent rankings for most of the last decade.

This year, the folks at BA have moved the Nationals to the top half of the class (#14 overall) and this time it’s with some merit. They have done a nice job of restocking and rebuilding a farm system torn apart by MLB ownership and mismanaged by Jim Bowden’s reign of error. Scanning the top 30 (or 31 if you ordered directly from BA… hello Sandy Leon), it has a nice balance of bats and arms, some close to the majors (Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos), some a year or two away (Derek Norris and perhaps Bryce Harper) and some (hopefully) a bit further out (A.J. Cole and Eury Perez).

Though, it is still a work in progress.

It’s that work in progress that I wanted to investigate. I scanned the Handbook with a focus on trying to uncover what makes the top organizations the top and where the Nationals fell in terms of that measuring stick. BA was kind enough to provide us with source of talent for all 30 organizations and it’s that I chose to compare.

They initially break out homegrown versus acquired. There’s really not much to surmise there (aside from Toronto making out well in the Roy Halladay trade). Most teams’ top prospects are homegrown and the Nationals are no exception with 28/31 prospects homegrown (not to mention nine of their top 10).

What is clear to me is that the Nats need to improve their performance internationally if they want to run with the top organizations in MLB. Only four of the top 31 Nats are homegrown and international compared to the top 10 franchises (Kansas City, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Toronto, New York [AL], Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago [NL], San Diego & Colorado). With the exception of the Cubs, none of the top organizations have less than seven international prospects.

While the focus the Nationals have had internationally has restarted after Smiley-gate, they still have a long way to go to establish a healthy and steady international pipeline. Mike Rizzo and company stepped up in 2010 signing Yunesky Maya, but that needs to be replicated and amplified from this point forward. They really need to crank up their presence internationally.

This does not mean they need to throw millions of dollars at one player. What it means is they need to do is invest the cost of one season of Jason Marquis ($7.5 million) into getting their Dominican academy up and running, set up a presence in the Pacific Rim, and look to get quality from quantity. Sign a couple of dozen players in the $20-100K range and see who they can develop. This is critical to long-term success because there are only a finite number of draft picks each season while the number of international free agents is only capped by roster space.

Additionally, the Nats are casting their lot with college players in the draft. While a more known commodity when it comes to projection, this normally comes with a reduced ceiling of what they can become. It’s a choice between an older player who may max out as a slightly above replacement level player versus a younger player who could turn into a key part of a winning organization. Yes, the risk of flameout increases with younger players, but this is where top organizations show faith and trust in their player identification — and more importantly, their player-development personnel.

The jury is still out on the Nats’ player development. Guys drafted in the top 10 picks out of college should make the majors for at least a cup of coffee. The Nats need to show us that they can turn on a pipeline that will continually crank out guys for the 25-man roster, and not just #5 starters, middle relievers and bench guys. The Nats need to get a pipeline in place that develops starters consistently… not just for Nats Park but also to move in deals to address weaknesses.

Let me close with this: It’s fantastic to see the Lerners write the big checks for the draft. Please keep that up and understand that the best way to put the Nats in a position to compete on a regular basis is to continue that investment and increase it internationally. Keep exploiting the First Year Player Draft by drafting and signing the AJ Coles and Robbie Rays of the world. It’s a system that can be used to replenish a farm system.

Next, show consistency and results in the player development process. I’m happy to see the Espinosas and Desmonds succeed, but it doesn’t stop there; there needs to be a steady stream of bats and arms at the ready. Rizzo, Doug Harris and their staff have done a solid job of standing up a minor-league organization over the last couple of seasons but there is much more work to do.

MLBA Ranks The Top 14 Nationals Prospects

The books are in…

As mentioned in my previous post, the hope was that by the time I got back from my trip, I’d have at least two of the three books I’d ordered for this season. As the pic shows, I’ve got ’em all.

You’ll forgive me for going for the lowest-hanging fruit, but I figure I’d start with Rob Gordon and Jeremy DeLoney’s 2011 Minor League Baseball Analyst and their Top 15 14 Prospects overall. Why 14? Well, as you might have already guessed, the list includes the traded-away Michael Burgess. (Last year’s ranking for the Nationals in parentheses where applicable).

1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Danny Espinosa, SS (5)
3. Wilson Ramos, C
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
5. Derek Norris, C (3)
6. Michael Burgess, OF (7)
7. Chris Marrero, 1B (4)
8. Sammy Solis, LHP
9. Eury Perez, OF
10. Destin Hood, OF
11. Tyler Moore, 1B
12. Brad Meyers, RHP (14)
13. Rick Hague, SS
14. Jeff Kobernus, 2B (11)
15. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

If you’re a bit puzzled by these picks… you’re not alone. For starters, it’s a bit odd to me that a 25-year-old that was hurt most of the year can move up in the rankings. This is the second year that these two have done the book (Deric McKamey did the first four before being going to work for the St. Louis Cardinals) but after looking over the some of the player capsules, it’s evident that the emphasis on stats is stronger than the scouting, which appears to be secondary, if not secondhand.

Programming Note

Hitting the road to visit family…

Remember the last two snowstorms? Well, this week’s came too early to fulfill my private prediction that we’d get another just in time to preempt our third attempt to visit family in New England. So, as you might imagine, posts will slow (though it was a busy week this week wasn’t it?).

My Baseball America book came in the mail on Thursday. After the flurry of Keith Law posts, I chose to put my time into working on the player watchlists, as previously posted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve updated the page for lefthanded starters and published the page for righthanded starters, leaving unfinished the guys that I hope may be included in the Sickels book, which I hope to have in my hands upon my return.

And though his site is now officially gone, NFA Brian still lives on Twitter and I have to pass along two tweets combined into one quote regarding the BA book:

[Ten] of the 30 #Nationals were acquired in the last year — Harper (1), Cole (4), Ramos (5), Solis (6), Maya (11), Hague (14), Ray (15), ElvRamirez (20), Martinson (22), & Tatusko (26)

Add in the 2009 draft picks that are still in the system — Kobernus (21), Rosenbaum (23), Holder (28) — and that’s 13 out of 30 from the Rizzo era. This is not to say we’ll be the next Kansas City (let’s face it: that many high-risk/high-reward picks panning out does require a certain amount of luck), but we’re getting there… maybe not as fast as folks want, but it’s progress.

Keith Law Ranks Nats’ Top 10 Prospects

Three Nats make the overall Top 100

As posted earlier, Keith Law has released his Top 10 Prospect List for each of the 30 MLB teams as well as his Top 100 prospects overall. Three Nationals made the latter. Most of you will guess that Bryce Harper (#2) and Derek Norris (#33) made the cut, but the surprise? Wilson Ramos (#95) made it over Danny Espinosa.

Without further ado, here’s the Law list:

  1. Bryce Harper, RF
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Wilson Ramos, C
  4. A.J. Cole, RHP
  5. Danny Espinosa, SS
  6. Sammy Solis, LHP
  7. Eury Perez, OF
  8. Robbie Ray, LHP
  9. Chris Marrero, 1B
  10. Destin Hood, OF

The inclusion of Ramos appears to be a function of Law’s belief that the number of legitimate catching prospects is scarce. He cites his throwing arm and bat (for average) as above-average tools but questions how much Ivan Rodriguez will be able to help him in the art of game-calling.

Law believes that Norris’s defensive reputation is undeserved, believing that he can work himself into becoming an average receiver while citing his above-average arm and adequate release (Derek does have a habit of fumbling sometimes). Naturally, he sides with the obvious assessment that Norris’s hitting skills will return 2009 form and his power will continue to develop.

Finally, while there’s not much to say about Bryce Harper that hasn’t already been said, it’s interesting to note that Law believes that CF is not necessarily out of the question, if for no other reason than it eliminates the need for him to learn the angles necessary to play RF. Like most, Law believes his ascent will be timed by how quickly he adjusts to better breaking pitches.

The Pipeline To The Majors

Some thoughts on what it takes to build a successful farm

There was another great article that was put up yesterday on ESPN Insider (yes, it’s a paid subscription, but well worth it) written by’s Jason Churchill.

As the pic suggests, it’s about the minor leagues and what it takes to build a good farm system, a.k.a. the talent pipeline. But it also bears repeating that there is no one right way to do this. Tampa Bay (#2 this year per Keith Law), for example, leans heavily on the U.S. for its talent; Texas (#1 last year) has been aggressive with international signings and/or trading for international talent.

As we’ve already seen in the comments from yesterday, there are philosophical debates as to when and how high to draft high schoolers… and there are teams that have had success (Kansas City) and teams that have not (*ahem*).

Among the highlights from Churchill’s article…

Recycling Talent — Which means developing players for both the parent club and trade fodder. It’s common for folks to remark about how it’s tough for a third baseman with Zimmerman at the top. But that also handicaps Washington if he were to get hurt, decline, or demand a trade. Having the next Ryan Zimmerman ready gives the team options that right now it doesn’t have.

Balancing The Draft Against The International Market — This is a bit of a third rail for Nationals fans, but Churchill points out that while the domestic draft is considered safer, some teams have been successful leaning heavily on IFAs. His overall point? Any team that doesn’t go outside the U.S. is at a disadvantage. My personal opinion is that folks obsess too much about the high-dollar IFAs, when the evidence is ample that spreading that money out over more players is a better value play. Doesn’t mean I’m right, of course.

Spending — Teams that go over slot tend to get better talent. In a related story, being tall is conducive to playing basketball. But Churchill points out how a “rich” team like the Mets (#26 per Law), which has not been a big spender, is languishing while a team like Cincinnati (#8) has been both spending and getting results. Unfortunately, there are teams like Philadelphia (#5) that seem be able to spend conservatively and still get good results, which contradicts Churchill, too.

The Right Kind Of Depth — I’m going to quote Churchill directly: “The kind of depth that matters means having a true abundance of a particular position or skill, such as starting pitching. Having a good player is nice, being able to spare one is better.” (The italics are mine because it echoes my sentiments exactly). The whiners Folks wrung their hands over not being able to trade for Zach Greinke and Matt Garza, but that’s primarily because such a move would have been almost literally betting the farm (which is basically what Milwaukee did, coming in at #30 per Law and not having a single Top-100 prospect).

Today might just be another multiple-post day, but I thought I’d give the snowbound folks a little some to read and discuss while we wait for the thaw.

Keith Law Ranks The Washington Farm In The Top 20

Up from #23 last year…

As the pic suggests, that would be #19, like Paul Hardcastle’s sole U.S. hit single. Maybe that’s not something to get all that excited about… until you consider that just two years ago Mr. Law had Washington at #29 and last year, it was #23.

Law describes this as “a ton of progress since Mike Rizzo took over as GM,” pointing to spending beyond the top pick, as our guest columnist Marcus Wyche wrote yesterday. My point in dedicating a post to this is that the folks that believe Law “has it in for the Nats” — much like the Lieutenant Dans — need to reconsider their prejudices.

Tomorrow, Law ranks his Top 100 prospects, which may get some play here tomorrow. Bryce Harper getting ranked #3 by for its Top 50 didn’t because quite frankly it felt like I’d done a post like that recently.

2011 Draft Preview: The Top 5 For No. 23

A look at who the Nats might take with their second first-round pick (#23 overall)

Picking up where we left off yesterday, guest columnist Marcus Wyche breaks down the Top 5 candidates for the Nationals second first-round pick at #23 overall. Without further ado…

By Marcus Wyche

As I mentioned yesterday, while Rizzo has been favoring big-body, power-arm pitchers, he’s also shown a tendency to hedge his bets by taking a risk pick along with a safe bet. With the #23 pick, I’m envisioning a bit of a gamble.


  1. Alex Meyer, RHP – Univ. of Kentucky
    Another big guy (6-8, 205) with a power arm. Based just upon stuff, he could be drafter much higher than #23 but he’s been inconsistent with control and he’d be a good pick at this spot.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  2. Archie Bradley, RHP – Broken Arrow H.S. (Oklahoma)
    Another great high school athlete that has already committed to play QB for Oklahoma. Based on potential, he could be drafted much higher than this but could also fall due to his commitment to Oklahoma. He’s a power arm from the right side with a big frame (6-4, 225). He’s already been clocked as high as 95 mph.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  3. Michael Kelly, RHP West Boca H.S. (Florida)
    High ceiling high school pitcher. Already sits in the low 90s. Also features a changeup and curve ball in his arsenal.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  4. Blake Swihart, C – Cleveland H.S. (New Mexico)
    Nationals have had some success lately developing and picking H.S. catchers. Derek Norris is the obvious name but Sandy Leon has done well so far, too. Swihart is a switch-hitting catcher with developing power and a good arm behind the plate.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  5. Travis Harrison, OF/IF – Tustin H.S. (California)
    Scouts argue on where to project him in the pros. I’ve seen him listed as an OF/3B/1B. No one doubts this guy’s power from the right side. He’s a high- risk, high-reward player in the first round but we lack young power prospects in our farm system and he’d be a great addition, no matter where he plays.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2

Other Names to Watch: Dillon Maples, RHP – Pinecrest H.S. (North Carolina) HS; Jack Armstrong, RHP – Vanderbilt; Charlie Tilson, OF – New Trier H.S. (Illinois); Noe Ramirez, RHP – Cal State Fullerton

My picks for the Nationals would be Jackie Bradley and Travis Harrison. Washington right now lacks a truly viable CF prospect aside from Eury Perez and we have few high-school power bats in our system. Bradley would be a safe pick with a solid ceiling attached to him and should be in the majors within a year or two of being drafted. Harrison will be more of a volatile prospect, and will take longer to develop, but I like his ceiling and he could add a legitimate H.S. corner IF prospect to our system.

More Links To Follow The MLB Draft

MLB Bonus Baby’s Mock Draft

Five Tool Talk’s Mock Draft

My MLB Draft’s Mock Draft

Minor League Ball’s Mock Draft #3

A Scout’s View

Prospect Junkies’ Mock Draft

2011 Draft Preview: The Top 5 For No. 6

A look at who the Nats might take with the #6 pick in the June draft

Today we have a guest column from Marcus Wyche, a student at George Mason University who’s been kind enough to take me up on my offer to write about the upcoming 2011 draft, which would otherwise get short shrift since I’m not a “draftnik.”  Today, Marcus breaks down the Top 5 candidates for the #6 pick. Tomorrow, we’ll see his Top 5 choices for the #23 pick. Without further ado…

By Marcus Wyche

Since we have two picks in the first round this year, I decided to do things a little differently. I’m going to list a Top 5 for our top two picks in the first round. I know, I know we have three first round picks but the last one is too far away to even guess. As a matter of fact, the players I’m listing for the second pick could be picked out of a draft-eligible hat and the odds are that the random guess is as good as mine.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has been preaching athleticism, pitching, and defense since he took over the team in 2009. In his first two drafts, the Nationals have favored big-frame, power-arm pitchers and have also avoided the super toolsy outfielders with little on-field results. Washington has spent more on the draft than any other team in MLB the past two years; obviously due in large part to #1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

Still, as the Nats continue rebuilding its farm system, I expect Washington to continue to spend a lot of money on the draft. A player’s “signability” should not be an issue. Nevertheless, I do believe Rizzo will also hedge his bets and pick one guy who is almost a sure thing to make it to the Majors (e.g. Sammy Solis, Drew Storen type) and another guy who is a high-risk/high-reward type(A.J. Cole).


Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, and Matt Purke are all but guaranteed to go in the top three. Even if one of them falls lower, I doubt they will fall to number six with Orioles and Royals still picking in front of the Nats. But if any of them do, expect that player to be chosen.

  1. Jackie Bradley, OF – USC
    Competing in the SEC, he managed a 1.061 OPS last year with a .368 BA and helped his team win the College World Series. He only had 13 HRs but even if his power doesn’t develop, he should still make it to the majors just based upon his defense in CF.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  2. George Springer, OF – UConn
    Has one of the highest ceilings in the draft. Has gone 45/50 in SB attempts in his college career with 34 HRs and a great arm. He has more than his fair share of strikeouts and his plate discipline will be put to the test against advanced competition. Potential five-tool talent.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  3. Taylor Jungmann, RHP – Univ. of Texas
    Big guy (6-6, 220), power arm — just the type of pitcher Rizzo likes. Struck out 129 batters, with a 1.08 WHIP and a 9.68 K/9 last year in the Big 12. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he’s been clocked in the 94-95 range as well. Also features a spike curve ball and changeup in his repertoire.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  4. Bubba Starling, OF/RHP – Gardner Edgerton H.S. (Kansas)
    He’s already committed to play QB at Nebraska, so it will definitely take an over-slot deal to sign him. Starling doesn’t have the showcase pedigree like some of the other talented two-way H.S. stars, but his ceiling is higher than any H.S. position player in the draft, making him an early first-round selection.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2
  5. Daniel Norris, LHP – Science Hill H.S. (Tennessee)
    Lefthanders with a plus fastball are not easy to come by, especially so young. Norris has been clocked as high as 96mph and generally pitches in the low 90s. He also has a changeup. Unfortunately, young pitching is very volatile and the Nationals don’t have the best track record developing H.S. starting pitchers. Brad Peacock has been the most successful thus far.
    Learn More #1 (Video) | Learn More #2

Other names to consider: Sonny Gray, RHP – Vanderbilt; Matt Barnes, RHP – UConn; Trevor Bauer, RHP – UCLA

40-Man Moves: Martis Designated For Assignment

The first of a few moves expected this week after last week’s acquisitions

As alluded to in my previous post, the signings of Adam LaRoche, Todd Coffey, Tom Gorzelanny, and Jerry Hairston Jr. will result in some folks being bumped off the 40-man roster.

Last week, J.D. Martin was released outright to make room for LaRoche. Today, we learned that Shairon Martis was designated for assignment to make room for Hairston. Martis had been acquired in 2006 from the San Francisco Giants in a July deadline deal for reliever Mike Stanton.

Martis spent all of 2010 with Syracuse, after starting 15 games for Washington in 2009, and four games as a September call-up in 2008. His time with the parent club was most noted for for his loss of command, which jumped from 2.2 BB/9 in Syracuse to 4.1 BB/9 in Washington, and a tendency to give up the gopher ball (11 in 85⅔ innings).

I’m sure folks will speculate in the comment about who’s next, as it appears there are still two more moves to go…