The BA Prospect Handbook, Part One

If you’re thinking this is late, you’re right. Usually the book arrives in January, sometimes in early February.

For better or worse, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook is the Bible for prospect followers insofar as everyone refers to it. I’d say more but—to steal from Jeff Foxworthy—who needs grief from folks who flip you the bird when you obey their “honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker?

The brethren from Durham have deemed the Nationals as the 15th-best organization of the 30, despite midseason trades that cost them last year’s nos. 15, 17, and 27 prospects (see below) and a breakout southpaw (McKenzie Mills). That’s how much they valued the 2017 Draft, which is represented by seven pitchers in the Top 31.

New to the book this year are positional rankings for prospects across of all of baseball, of which Victor Robles was ranked the #2 centerfielder, Juan Soto, the #7 corner outfielder, and Carter Kieboom, the #15 shortstop.

Despite the Nats yo-yoing him like an Italian rapper between starting and relieving, Erick Fedde was still rated the 29th-best righthanded pitcher. (For those wondering, they ranked 10 for C, 1B, 2B, 3B, and COFs, 15 for LHP, 20 for SS and CF, and 40 for RHP.)

Without further ado, let’s review how last year’s Top 30 fared:

Graduated (4) – Wilmer Difo*, Koda Glover, A.J. Cole, Brian Goodwin,
Traded (3) – Jesus Luzardo, Sheldon Neuse, and Tyler Watson
Dropped out (3) – Edwin Lora, Matt Skole, Nick Banks
* had already surpassed service-time limits in 2016

That’s roughly a third of list, which is fairly normal. Seven of the nine newcomers are the aforementioned pitchers from the 2017 Draft. One you’ll see today, the other you’ll see tomorrow. They should be pretty obvious.

Unfortunately, none of them are teenagers, thus the Nats’ Top 31 according to BA still skews older: four players are or will be 25 before the season starts, two more will turn 25 during the season, and two more will turn 25 by the end of 2018. Some things never change.

So, as we’ve done in years past – a look at the Top 15 today, nos. 16-31 tomorrow. Last year’s ranking, if applicable, in parentheses:

1. Victor Robles (1) 6. Luis Garcia (7) 11. Blake Perkins (20)
2. Juan Soto (3) 7. Wil Crowe 12. Kelvin Gutierrez (16)
3. Erick Fedde (2) 8. Daniel Johnson 13. Andrew Stevenson (5)
4. Carter Kieboom (8) 9. Raudy Read (22) 14. Pedro Severino (9)
5. Seth Romero 10. Yasel Antuna (25) 15. Rafael Bautista (11)

Still Quiet on the Minor-League Front

It’s the final Sunday of a brutally slow and long January.

If you’re into helping publishers get their pageviews, then you probably noticed Top 100 posts from Baseball America, Keith Law, and That these came during the week between the NFL’s Conference Championships and the Super Bowl is just a coincidence*
* Narrator: It was not a coincidence

TL;DR – Victor Robles and Juan Soto made all three lists, Carter Kieboom was #90 on the list. Robles was ranked anywhere from #4 to #6, Soto was #29 (MLB), #42 (Law), and #56 (BA).

The BA 2018 Prospect Handbook is probably going to come in the mail this week, which will give us some discussion fodder (maybe) and enable me to finish up the 2018 Watchlist (probably). claims it will update its Top 30 Lists in February. Whether that’s Feb 1, remains to be seen.

Finally, MASN has announced another bloc of (woo-hoo!) Orioles-free Spring Training games for 2018:

Sun., Feb. 25 vs. Braves, 1 p.m. Tue., March 6 vs. Astros, 1 p.m. Sun., March 11 vs. Cardinals, 1 p.m. Tue., March 13 vs. Mets, 7 p.m.
Fri., March 16 vs. Cardinals, 1 p.m. Wed., March 21 vs. Astros, 1 p.m. Fri., March 23 vs. Astros, 6 p.m.  

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospects List

John Sickels released his Top 20 Prospects for the Washington Nationals last night, roughly 30 hours after posting a preliminary post. Here’s the breakdown by letter grade:

A-/A Victor Robles
B+ Juan Soto, Carter Kieboom
B/B+ Erick Fedde
B Seth Romero
B/B- Wil Crowe, Daniel Johnson
B- Yasel Antuna, Luis Garcia
B-/C+ Raudy Read
C+ Andrew Stevenson, Blake Perkins, Austin L. Adams, Pedro Severino, Taylor Gushue, Jefry Rodriguez, Kelvin Gutierrez, Nick Raquet, Jackson Tetrault, Wander Suero

Bold = 2017 Top 20 player, higher grade
Bold = 2017 Top 20 player, same grade
Bold = 2017 Top 20 player, lower grade
Italics = Not on the 2017 list
Magenta = 2017 Draft pick

Thank you, John for posting before I had to finalize the 2018 Watchlist 😉

For the second straight year, half the list are C+ players but there are no “C” players. In fact, there were four “C+” guys who missed the cut; the total of 14 is the most since this site began in 2010.

Now for the commentary…

Robles has finally entered the “A” range, as he has risen from B/B+ to B+/A- to A-/A since 2016. Like most of us, Sickels believes he’ll be DC next summer.

Question for the Pollyanas: Will he make the jump in late April to avoid burning an option (e.g. Bryce Harper) or in early June (e.g. Stephen Strasburg) to avoid Super-Two status ? I personally wouldn’t offer an opinion until Adam Eaton plays in spring training.

Before adjusting your undergarments about Erick Fedde being downgraded (from B+ to B/B+), don’t forget that he finished the season on the DL and that he did not pitch more innings in 2017 than in 2016. To me, anyone should see that as a red signal for a pitchers who’s had surgery [insert Nationals’ elbow joke here].

However, if he’s healthy and the Nats stand pat on starting pitchers, Fedde should be the favorite to be the #5 starter.

The other “blue” player is Andrew Stevenson, who also only dropped one notch from last year (B-/C+ to C+). His “problem” is a rather common one – a fourth or fifth outfielder who’d be valuable as a defensive replacement, a pinch-runner, but lacks power and on-base skills.

Sickels is a believer in Daniel Johnson, entering the Top 20 at nearly a “B” and at #7 overall, though I think he’s understating his swing/miss and aggression tendencies. My worry is that the tailspin he took in the AFL after a hot start could happen again at AA; he did fade some in August at Potomac, too.

Four of the 2018 Top 20 are 2017 draft picks and all are pitchers, which combined with the recent influx of IFAs (Soto, Antuna, Garcia), helps explain the bevy of guys who dropped into “also-ran” territory (A.J. Cole and Wilmer Difo were the only two from last year’s Top 20 to graduate).

Finally, the injuries to Soto, Kieboom, and Gutierrez did not adversely affect their ratings. In fact, Sickels was explicit in his write-up for Juan Soto about the talent overwhelming the usual doubts of a shortened season (just 32 games):

[He] missed most of season with ankle, hamstring, and hamate injuries but hit the hell out of the ball when healthy. [A]lthough I am normally cautious about players with sample-size issues, in this case I believe what Soto did is a fair representation of his true ability.

Kieboom also improved his rating with just 48 games played. Gutierrez only played 68 games in the regular season, but it would appear that his strong showing in the AFL (or the scouts’ reports) offset his no longer qualifying for the Billy Rowell defense, having turned 23 in late August. Plus, this ought to sound to familiar to regular readers:

[A] superior defensive third baseman with above-average range and dramatically improved reliability over the last year; still learning to tap his power but has more sock than hitting just two homers implies.

Merry Christmas (or Happy Boxing Day for our readers across the pond)!

All Quiet on the Minor-League Front

Yes, we’re still here. It’s just really, really slow.

By now, you’ve probably seen that old favorite Tommy Milone has been re-signed. And perhaps you’ve seen how little discussion there is on John Sickels’s precursor post to his Top 20 post.

Just don’t tell Josh Jackson and, who’ve gone Lake Wobegon in calling the Nationals farm system “solid.” Because all “strong” farm systems have signed-as-free-agents as their best 1B, 2B, DH, and RHP and traded away their top 3B and LHP.

Clearly, Mr. Jackson is the kid we all knew in high school who had a $1,000 stereo (a.k.a. Victor Robles) in a $500 car, but thought it was a sweet ride.

Maybe something else will break in the next couple of days, but I doubt it. Until then, please continue to keep the hot stove going in the comments…

Mesa Loses AFL Title Game, 8-2

The game started with so much promise for Mesa, with Victor Robles (pictured above, greeting the Braves’ Ronald Acuna) leading a salvo of back-to-back-to-back singles to open the game and take a 2-0 lead early.

But it was all Peoria after that as the Javelinas scored eight unanswered runs to win the 2017 Arizona Fall Championship game, 8-2.

Robles singled again in the 8th to finish the game at 2-for-4 and go 12-for-45 in 14 AFL games. He was joined in the lineup by Kelvin Gutierrez, who once again played 1B to make room for former Nats farmhand Sheldon Neuse. Gutierrez went hitless, but still had a much stronger fall (10-for-44, 7BB, 9RBI in 14G) than most would have expected after an injury-shortened 2017.

Dakota Bacus also appeared in the game but retired just one of three batters faced and was charged with the final two Peoria runs.

# # #

Sad-SpicklesAnd that’s a wrap on the 2017 minor-league season, No. 8 for this space, and the sixth for which Lee Magehenim has added pictures far better than the one- or two-hundred word summaries on how the Nats did in Arizona.

AFL Update: Nov. 7, 2017

Kelvin Gutierrez drew a leadoff walk in the 4th and scored ahead of A.J. Simcox’s two-run HR that gave the Solar Sox a 2-1 lead en route to a 5-2 win over the Scorpions.

Kyle McGowin (pictured) won for third time in five starts with one run let in on a home run and five hits total over four innings. He walked none, struck out five, and threw 55 pitches, 37 for strikes.

Jimmy Cordero also pitched but saw his scoreless inning streak end at 8⅓ innings as he gave up a run in his second inning of work on two hits and a walk. He struck out four and earned a hold.

Gutierrez also drove in a run in the 7th with an RBI single. The Mesa DH finished with a line 1-for-2 with a run scored and two walks and is now 7-for-16 in the six games he’s played with six runs scored and five RBI.
And of course, there was that Victor Robles guy… he led off and played center field, where he made two putouts. He only went 1-for-5 but stayed upright and scored on a steal of third (pictured) that coincided with a wild pitch.

Mesa returns to action this afternoon as they host Peoria. The two teams are both in first place, by 1½ and 4 games respectively, with eight games left to play.

AFL Update: Nov. 1, 2017

Mesa got two in the bottom of the 5th to take a 2-0 lead but it was all Scottsdale after that as they scored six in the 6th en route to an 8-2 win.

Just one National saw game action – Daniel Johnson, who drew a walk in four PA’s as the Solar Sox DH. Johnson, who got off to a 10-for-27 start in his first six games, has cooled down to a .277 BA with 1-for-16 spell since.

The loss dropped Mesa to 10-8 in the AFL East, which is a ½ game better than 9-8-1 Scottsdale. They’ll take on the Surprise Saguaros today and tomorrow before finishing up Week 4 on Friday in Scottsdale.

# # #

As noted in the comments, the AFL did not bother to pretend the Fall Stars game rosters were related to this season as they named Victor Robles to the East team as the sole Washington player on the roster. The game will be televised on MLB Network. There is no word on which announcers you will have to suffer through if you’re unwilling to mute your TV and/or put on closed captions.

AFL Update: Oct. 24, 2017

The Nationals’ top prospect returned to action with a bang last night, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored, two strikeouts, a walk, and a stolen base in a 5-2 Mesa win over Scottsdale.

Robles, the only National to appear in the game, was not hit by a pitch. Defensively, he made two putouts and fielded a double and a triple in center field.

The Solar Sox return home to rematch against the Scorpions this afternoon. Kyle McGowin is expected to start.

AFL/Offseason Update: Oct. 21, 2017

Daniel Johnson’s third hit in as many at-bats started the Solar Sox’s four-run rally to erase a 6-2 deficit to and walk off with a 7-6 win over the Saguaros.

Johnson also doubled in the 6th and singled in the 7th to finish 3-for-5 and raise expectations and scored twice. Defensively, he made just a single putout in left field.

Austen Williams was the only other National to appear in the game. He was the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen but after a scoreless 5th, he was dinged for a 430’ shot to left-center in the 6th and another solo shot in the 7th before he was lifted with two outs.

Williams gave up three hits total but struck out four over his two and 2/3rds innings of work.

Mesa returns to action with a Monday night game against Scottsdale.

                          #                          #                          #

While this may not concern us for much longer, it is interesting to note what the Mets have offered for the Syracuse Chiefs: $18 million, which works out to about $1,400 per share. Not bad for some of the folks who bought them at $10 per. The upshot is that it’s difficult to believe that the Potomac Nationals, who do not have a lease for an NAPBL-compliant facility, are worth $20 million as was claimed during the latest windmill tilt this past summer.

Most of the drama was off the field—for those wondering, the resolution is yet another waiver—as the P-Nats on the field were, to be blunt, a disappointment.

Even with Victor Robles and Daniel Johnson atop the lineup, the team had difficulty scoring (4.07 R/G) because there were lots of hot streaks but few of them were concurrent. Taylor Gushue, Kelvin Gutierrez, and Edwin Lora were all scorching the ball in April but then cooled considerably by mid-May, with Lora the most extreme flash-freeze as he went from a .362/.451/.551 April to .186/.226/.237 August. Only Gutierrez ever showed any signs of breaking out of his funk, but his roll was slowed by an ankle injury that took him out of the lineup from June 9 to August 21.

On the mound, the team boasted of an all-Dominican rotation that purported to boast of the team’s post-Smiley success but quickly turned into an MBA-like exercise of trying to squeeze some ROI out of a sunk cost. There were flashes of brilliance from Joan Baez and Jefry Rodriguez, which turned out to be chemically aided in the latter, and Wirkin Estevez did make the jump to AA (as he should have at the age of 25), but watching Luis Reyes and Hector Silvestre pitch was like watching Sisyphus and the boulder.

Perhaps more maddening was the organization’s insistence on signing washed-up pitchers to plug the holes caused by injuries. It’s one thing to go for a free agent to avoid having to make a social promotion from Hagerstown, but quite another to get a pitcher who is out of work after mid-May (read: not even good enough for the independent leagues). It’s what detectives might call a clue.

Thanks in large part to semi-decent relief pitching and older southpaws (Matt Crownover, Grant Borne) the team actually had slightly better than league-average pitching (4.21 vs. 4.26 R/G).

Like Auburn, it’s just a single, unranked list of players instead of a Top 5 list…

Joan Baez, RHSP 3-1, 1.88 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in August
Grant Borne, LHSP 2.50/3.01/1.10 in 14G, 10GS
Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B .288/.347/.414, 2HR, 3SB in 58G
Jakson Reetz, C .236/.327/.371, .986 FA, 39%CS rate
Victor Robles, CF .289/.377/.495, 17HBP, 16SB in 77G

…but I’m reasonably certain there’s no debate as to who would be #1.

As always, folks who would like to see the full team stats can find them here.

Offseason Update: Sept. 23, 2017

Fall arrived yesterday afternoon but we’ve yet to see the chill rains come. The big Nats are lurching towards the postseason, the drama reduced to who will make the postseason roster (a.k.a. who’s healthy enough to play) and how he’ll be used.

100 wins? Home-field advantage? Both possible but not probable. Even Stevie Wonder can see that Dusty Baker has been managing the club to minimize fatigue, which has prompted the knee-jerk comparisons to spring training.

But we’re here to talk/read about the minor-leaguers….

As noted in the comments, the Nats were near the bottom of the collective standings with a .456 winning percentage, tied with the Mets. While it’s tempting to put that all on the Syracuse Chiefs, the worst team in AAA at 54-87, the Harrisburg Senators (60-80), Auburn Doubledays (30-45), and DSL Nationals (28-43) also “contributed.”

Unlike a year ago, we can’t point to the breakthrough of a new starter or position player or even a key reliever. It was supplying the “next man up” (my apologies, but DC is still a football town) for the bevy of injuries that have dogged this team/organization like they were wearing Milk-Bone underwear even more than last season, which was a lot.

There’s still some guys to be excited about, but the vast majority of them are in the lower minors, which means a lot of the buzz is based on things that are constant variables like their age or their draft position. And if we’re honest, there are roughly half a dozen guys that wouldn’t make a Top 30 list in most other organizations.

I can’t say that the organization isn’t still meeting the bare minimum requirements of developing talent that can be useful to the big club, albeit mostly in depth and trading chips. But I can say it’s not doing much else.

I’m sure you’ve gotten over the shock of not a single Chief making the International League Top 20 for Baseball America, but you may be a little surprised that two Nationals farmhands made BA’s Eastern League Top 20 – Victor Robles and Erick Fedde.

About the only argument you can make against Robles is that he didn’t play enough, though BA – as it usually does – sets the bar very low: just one PA or ⅓ IP per team game for position players and starting pitchers (20 appearances for relievers). Personally, I’d set it at about twice those marks, except for the relievers; that does seem about right.

Fedde, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly dominant at any level this season. Yes, I know it’s not all about stats but I do believe the two are not mutually exclusive. I’d also have to question his placement since he split time between starting and relieving for Harrisburg. But incumbency is also a BA hallmark…

I’d expect Robles to make the Carolina League Top 20, and FWIW, Carter Kieboom does have the necessary number of PAs for the Sally Lg. so stay tuned this week.

As noted a year ago, these have become more difficult to do. The system isn’t as deep as it used to be (or seemed to be) and all the losing tends not to produce the kind of numbers or streaks that are “G-worthy.” I had forgotten about my “note to self” to drop the GBI from every three weeks to monthly. That seems about right these days, and that’ll be the goal in 2018.

As for the watchlist, it may get shorter, but it’s a core part of the offseason ritual, and it’s how I get caught up on the short-season guys, so I don’t see it going away.

We’re now in the re-signing season, where would-be FAs opt to stick around rather than try their luck elsewhere:
• RHP Brady Dragmire
• LHP Hector Silvestre
• IF-OF Khayyan Norfork

No huge surprises here. Dragmire was (finally) starting to pitch well at the end of the season. Silvestre turns 25 in December and has yet to pitch above High-A, but between Washington’s pitching-starved upper minors, and it’s “sunk-cost” approach to Dominican prospects, he might get that chance in 2018. Norfork has made a career thus far on his versatility, and let’s face it: He could be the next Adrian Sanchez.

Despite having a handful of players in their third DSL season, the team actually had a fairly normal blend of players in terms of age. Like a year ago, the batters were a shade older than league average (18.2 vs. 18.1) while the pitchers were slightly younger (18.4 vs. 18.7).

The offense was right around league average (4.65 R/G vs. 4.60) but the pitching was 35th in the 40-team DSL and nearly a run worse (5.49) per game. The defense was also right around league average (.955 FA vs. .956). All of this is sight-unseen, strictly numbers-based observation, so take it with a fistful of salt.

Without further comment, here are the obligatory Top 5’s, excluding “three-timers” and players who were old for the level…

1. Wilmer Perez, C/1B/DH
.288 GPA, 17-2B, 4-3B, 3HR
1. Alfonso Hernandez, LHSP
2.10/2.53/1.17, 9.86 K/9IP
2. Adrian Liriano, SS/2B
.242 GPA, 15BB
2. Rafael Gomez, RHSP
4.09/2.88/1.27, 1HR in 55IP
3. Landerson Pena, RF/LF
.244 GPA, 13SB
3. Joan Adon, RHRP
3.54/3.12/0.96, 9.96 K/9IP
4. Luis Aquino, SS/LF
.240 GPA, 19SB
4. Niomar Gomez, RHSP
4.07/3.17/1.27, 2.52 K:BB ratio
5. Caldioli Sanfler, CF
.237 GPA, 58 of 60G at CF, .984 FA
5. Pedro Gonzalez, RHSP
5.30/3.51/1.63, 12GS, 52⅔ IP, turned 17 in July

An honorable mention goes to Geraldi Diaz, the analog to Pedro Gonzalez. He also turned 17 in July and appeared in 41 games behind the plate with a .989 fielding percentage while hitting .001 below the .232 league-average GPA. Folks interested in seeing the entire team’s stats can find them here.