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 MLB.com 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.

TOP FIVE FOR THE SECOND PICK AT #23 OVERALL

  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).

TOP FIVE FOR THE FIRST PICK AT #6 OVERALL

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…

All Quiet On The Minor-League Front

Some links to peruse while we wait for spring…

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post like this, but the usual “filler stories” have been wanting. The past two BA transaction updates have been wanting, either reporting no news or news that we already had reported. Given that it took nearly two full weeks for the J.D. Martin move to make room for Adam LaRoche, I’m not holding my breath to find out who else will be cut or outrighted (but props to SpringfieldFan to keeping the Big Board up to date).

Since we’re not quite at the point where I can jump into parent-club fray under the guise of spring training — in a more perfect world, I’d be going to Viera for a week, but the budget (both monetary and spousal tolerance) isn’t there — I thought I’d pass along a few links with some commentary.

All three books have been ordered, so the anticipated posts of what the experts think are forthcoming. But it’s useful to see what other online folks think outside our little bubble, even if it’s under the dreaded auspice of rankings.

Fangraphs listed its Top 10 Nats prospects, with only one real surprise: J.P. Ramirez as its #10 pick. Our spies will feel some validation when they read this:

His ticket to the Majors is definitely tied to his bat. He’s not a speedy player by any means, which hampers him on the base paths and in the field. His arm is also average-at-best and he’ll be limited to left field.

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Bryce Harper as the #2 OF prospect, which thus far has raised a couple of hackles, but is a good example of the hair-splitting that I can’t stand about rankings. Why wouldn’t you rank a five-tool guy with 800+ professional PAs ahead of a kid that has less than 40 (counting the AFL as official, which it isn’t)? I took that to mean: Wow, that must mean Mike Trout is pretty damn good.

Finally, the folks over at www.prospectjunkies.com have been making their Top 10’s, and guess what? They rank Harper the #1 OF prospect. Derek Norris comes in as their #7 catching prospect. (For those of you wondering, they’ve been sour on Ramos as a hitter, which is fair as you can see they value offense more than defense) while Danny Espinosa comes in as their #9 shortstop

Now, if history is any guide, now that I’ve done a post-to-keep-the-site-fresh, naturally something else will happen today…

Defending The Gorzelanny Trade

Why this trade is a good gamble

The early reaction to the trade was, of course, negative — “Seems like an awful lot to give up”, “We’re trading young for old?!” and my personal favorite “Two top four picks for a fifth starter?”

Some phrased it in the form of a question: “Would you trade John Lannan for Michael Burgess and A.J. Morris?” Let me repeat my answer:

Yes. Neither name so far has been a player that’s likely to play at Syracuse, much less Washington in 2011

This, of course, was written before we knew who the third player was (Graham Hicks) but all sources were indicating that the last player would be either very young or very old for a prospect. Now, I realize the Syracuse line seems a little harsh, but thus far Rizzo has not shown a proclivity to rush his pitchers, no matter how old or how promising (e.g. Adam Carr, Cole Kimball).

Since I have the resource of some astute commenters, let me quote Souldrummer at length before adding on:

To me, it’s a crapshoot between two GM’s prospect evaluation skills. Rizzo has to be shrewd enough to evaluate which of the many faces of Gorzelanny (real good Pirates pitcher, absolute disaster pitcher, replacement-level pitcher, serviceable swingman) will show up based on his scouts’ assessments. The Cubs have to assess whether there’s any juice in Morris and the two meh prospects. I think that we have a deep enough pool of C+ prospects where we can risk guys who won’t pan out before 2012.

One the constant complaints in the Natmosphere is how we can’t or won’t make trades unless it’s considered a cost-saving maneuver. As we saw from the Garza and Greinke postmortems, virtually every move seemed to involve the likes of the guys that we’re already counting on for 2011 and beyond — Zimmermann, Espinosa, Norris, etc. As I’ve stated before, we don’t have the depth in those areas to replace those prospects.

This trade, however, represents a trade in two places in the Nats where Washington does have some depth: outfielders and right-handed relievers (my apologies on the latter to the newbies, but I made the page live to make my point; it’ll be filled in later when the scouting books start to come in).

Morris had been seventh on our watchlist for right-handed relievers, which isn’t a depth chart per se, but note that there are also seven more relievers behind him. It nearly goes without saying that Bryce Harper had been breathing down Burgess’s neck after outshining him in the AFL. Hicks had been sixth on our watchlist for left-handed starters but with fewer behind him and only one younger. He may very well be the hidden gem in this trade, but as Souldrummer said, he was not on the immediate horizon.

Left unsaid until now was what this trade represents: insurance. Rizzo has acquired a serviceable left-handed pitcher without significant injury or performance issues — unlike Jordan Zimmermann, Chien-Mien Wang, Ross Detwiler, Jason Marquis and Yunesky Maya. Trading three prospects with significant questions is not too much to give, not when you have it to spare.

Report: Two Pitchers And An Outfielder Traded For Gorzelanny

Watching the wires to see who’s gone

Multiple sources are reporting that the Nationals have traded three prospects to the Cubs for journeyman Tom Gorzelanny. Bill Ladson has tweeted that none of the players given up (reported to be two pitchers and an outfielder) are of major significance. Gorzelanny is expected to compete for a spot in the Washington rotation after going 7-9 with a 4.09ERA for Chicago last season.

More details to come as the new breaks…

UPDATE #1: Foxsports.com is reporting that Michael Burgess is among the three prospects.

UPDATE #2: Ben Goessling is confirming that report via his contacts.

UPDATE #3: Mark Zuckerman is speculating that the two pitchers will be already on the 40-man.

UPDATE #4: Bill Ladson is reporting that A.J. Morris is among the three.

UPDATE #5: Jim Callis of Baseball America says the other pitcher is not in their Top 30.

UPDATE #6: Ladson has tracked down the last pitcher. It’s Graham Hicks.

Three Nats Make The Sickels Top 50 Batters For 2011

Harper is one, but who are the other two?

Yes, it’s been slow on the prospect news front. It’s less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to Viera, but that’s little consolation to the seamheads. As the headline says, John Sickels has released his Top 50 batters and Top 50 pitchers to the folks that have pre-ordered his annual book.

Coming in at #1 is Bryce Harper — not much of a shock, with Philadelphia farmhand Domonic Brown coming in at #2. Harper is one of seven Grade A batters this year, with four others getting the A- grade. That’s 11 out of roughly 2500 hitters, so it gives you an idea as to how tough a grader he is… and what that means.

Admittedly, there’s a bit of drop to the next slot. At #25 is Derek Norris, who gets a B+ from Sickels, which is the same grade as last year. Clearly Sickels believes that the AFL Norris is the one we’ll see in ’11 and likes the progress he made on defense this year. Norris is the lowest-ranked B+ grade, behind Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis and ahead of Seattle’s Nick Franklin.

The final National is Danny Espinosa, coming in at #38 with a Grade B score, also the same grade as last year. Sickels was one of the few that believed in Espinosa coming into the 2010; most were like I was — suspicious about his power breakout in ’09. Espinosa comes in ahead of the Dodgers’ Jerry Sands and behind Minnesota’s Miguel Sano.

Suffice it to say, there were no Nationals pitchers in the Top 50. This is not a shock since it appears that Sickels prefers to wait a year before grading anybody. If I’m wrong about that, then it could also mean that Sammy Solis earned a B- grade, as all 50 pitchers were Grade B or higher (Jeremy Hellickson was #1 of six Grade A’s; there were four A- pitchers). I’ll have more to report once the book comes in.

UPDATE
In response to the first comment, here’s a breakdown of the number of Sickels’s Top 50 Batters & Pitchers by organization:

BATTERS

Zero Florida, Houston, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Arizona
One Baltimore, Boston, White Sox, Cubs, Detroit, Mets, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Texas
Two Atlanta, Cleveland, Colorado, Angels, Minnesota, Yankees, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle, Toronto
Three Dodgers, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Washington
Four Cincinnati
Five Kansas City

PITCHERS

Zero Florida, Milwaukee, Oakland, San Francisco, Washington
One Arizona, Baltimore, Boston, Cubs, White Sox, Cincinnati, Colorado, Houston, Mets, Seattle, St. Louis
Two Cleveland, Detroit, Dodgers, Minnesota, Yankees, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Texas
Three Angels, Toronto
Four Atlanta
Five Tampa Bay
Six Kansas City

I can double-crunch it, but I’ll save both myself and everyone else the time: KC has the most Top 50 picks with 11 out of 100, followed by Tampa Bay with seven and then Atlanta with six. Florida and Milwaukee have no Top-50 prospects while Arizona, Houston, San Francisco, and St. Louis have just one. Washington is one of seven organizations with three Top-50 picks, which is about what you’d expect for a club that will probably rank in the middle third on most lists.

Rerun: Hitting The Road…

Some tips for planning a baseball roadtrip this summer

Originally Posted on January 5, 2010, with some, um, minor edits

One of the joys of following minor-league baseball is going to see your favorite team on the road. As a fan of the Potomac Nationals, I’ve been to the stadiums of all seven opposing teams in the Carolina League over the past five seasons (that’s Grainger Stadium in Kinston, NC above), and have visited Nationals affiliates in Hagerstown, Harrisburg, and Vermont.

With the recent snowfall in the D.C. area, I thought I’d share some of my tips for taking and making the most of a baseball road trip, to help ease the time until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Take The Interstate
There’s nothing wrong with taking the secondary route to get there, especially if you want to see the countryside. But the Interstates are your best bet because they’re faster, there are more places to stop for food and fuel, and should you have car trouble, you’re a better position to get the help you need quickly. Also, quite a few teams are situated close to the freeway anyway (e.g. The Frederick Keys).

Consider The Dominant Travel Pattern
My favorite night to shoot for is a Saturday night. People that are going to the beach or the mountains are likely already there, so you’re not fighting them. If you must travel on a Friday, try to leave either mid-morning or mid-afternoon, i.e. after rush hour or after lunch. Likewise for Sundays, watch out for afternoon games that will have you on the road between 5 and 8pm, a.k.a. when the weekend throngs are coming back. This is why some teams have opted for a start time of 4 or 5 pm — it’s not quite as harsh on the players, and enables the opposing team to leave with some daylight.

Parking
It’s an overlooked detail, so do your homework — especially with clubs in older ballparks or teams that are very popular. If you’re able to walk, think about the money you’ll save if you park a few blocks away or more importantly, the time you’ll save as you walk past the folks jockeying to get out. I like to look for libraries and schools for this strategy. One notable exception is…

Promotions
…Fireworks night. They’re great for packing them in, and most people stay. Translation: While the masses ooh and ahh, you can make a break for your car and get out ahead of them. You can use the promotions calendar two ways: To get the freebies you want, or avoid the folks that care more about the giveaway than the game (e.g. bobbleheads).

Midweek Day Games
These are big moneymakers for minor-league clubs. They’re often dominated by schools and/or daycares, but they almost always sit in the cheap seats. Despite the crowds, it seems that most venues are shorthanded, relying on the groups’ chaperones for crowd control. This also makes it harder to get concessions and nearly guarantees long lines. But if you don’t mind eating before or after the game, you can generally get great seats up close.

Don’t Forget To Wear Sunscreen…
…and drink plenty of fluids, by which I mean water and soda. One of the unfortunate things I’ve noticed is that minor-league stadiums with a roof aren’t being built anymore. To me, that’s penny-wise and pound-foolish because a roof provides cover from both the sun and the rain. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I love the WPA-era parks (see above) so much, but I can’t help but notice that in the places where there is a roof, people tend to stick around when the elements aren’t favorable. For everywhere else, it’s a good idea to notice where the shadows fall and try to get those seats when the weather will be a factor.

Watchlist With Player Reports Added

More details on the guys we’re watching for ’11

As mentioned last week, I’ve been building some pages to give more detail on our Watchlist players.

If you’ll look to your right, you’ll see a link for Watchlist and Player Reports under “Resources” (here’s the link if you’re viewing this on a mobile device). I decided on “player reports” so as not to oversell what I’ve done here. If there’s a recent scouting report available, I’ve condensed it and added my opinions. If there isn’t, I’ve written a summary about the player and how he made it onto our “radar.”

I’ve built the pitcher pages, but an holding back on them until the 2011 books come out. There are 49 pitchers on our list and I can probably “scout” about 10 of them from this past season. My hope is to put the best (and latest) info available, since pitchers are often the most volatile players and the most anticipated as well.

Sorry for the slowdown, but it’s mother[loving] January.