Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospect List

As noted in the comments, John Sickels released his Top 20 Prospects for the Washington Nationals last night. Here’s the breakdown by letter grade:

B+/A- Victor Robles
B+ Erick Fedde
B Juan Soto
B- Carter Kieboom, Koda Glover, Austin Voth, Sheldon Neuse
B-/C+ A.J. Cole, Andrew Stevenson
C+ Drew Ward, Wilmer Difo*, Pedro Severino, Brian Goodwin, Tyler Watson, Rafael Bautista, Kelvin Gutierrez, Osvaldo Abreu, Joan Baez, Yasel Antuna  *Not a prospect by the usual definition (exceeded MLB service time limit), but Sickels is taking the “I get a lot of questions about him” copout
C+/C Rhett Wiseman

Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, higher grade
Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, same grade
Bold = 2016 Top 20 player, lower grade
Italics = Not on the 2016 list
Green = 2016 Draft pick
Purple = 2016-17 International Free Agent

I simplified the explanation with a key so I can get to the commentary…

What struck me the most is that the clump of “a notch better than average” players continues to be a hallmark of these Top 20’s. This time, it’s half the list, same as it was in Year 1 of this website. There’s some consolation in that there are no “C” players to crack the Top 20, as three did that year (2010) and as recently as 2014, there were four.

Conversely, this is the first list since 2012 that has no A- or better players, which I think is fair. Yes, we love our Victor Robles, but let’s be honest: He is injury prone, the arm isn’t quite as good as initially advertised (Sickels does acknowledge this), and there’s some doubt he’ll develop home-run power. Remember, there is significant value in considering the opinions outside our little bubble.

I am a little surprised that Andrew Stevenson didn’t bump up to at least a straight-up B-minus. Before folks start howling about he was the hit leader of the 2016 AFL, remember it’s a SSS and the pitching isn’t as consistent as it is in AA or AAA. Sickels is citing questions in Stevenson’s swing mechanics, which I’d infer comes from a scout or two.

Before folks get a case of the Mondays, Sickels is high on Soto:

I normally take a wait-and-see approach with guys like this but in my opinion Soto is definitely for real; features bat speed, raw power, sound swing mechanics, and a good batting eye; has the tools to be an excellent hitter and the skills to make those tools work are advanced; mediocre speed is the main weakness but he can handle a corner and I strongly believe in the bat. ETA: late 2020

He’s also a believer in both Glover and Voth, which is good news because the big club can use them this upcoming season. And for those wondering, LHP Tyler Watson is Sickels’s “SLEEPER ALERT” again.

Unlike MASN, I encourage you to click through to the link above—Sickels is no longer doing the BPB, so let’s give him some traffic, shall we?—and then comment below.

Sickels on the Hitters

Looking over previous years’ version of this particular post, it would appear that Washington has finally reached that long hoped-for point where it not only develops both pitchers and hitters, but position players at nearly every position.

I have to use “nearly” because I’m still not thrilled with the depth at every position. Let’s just say Matt Skole and Jose Marmolejos-Diaz should not be allowed to ride in the same vehicle.

Now that I’ve shown that the DC-area sense of entitlement has worn off on me after 10 years of living here, I only need to look here to remind myself how things have changed.

Like 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.

…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.

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Trea Turner – A- (B) Raudy Read – C+ (C+) Spencer Kieboom – C (C+)
Victor Robles – B (C) Max Schrock* – C+ Edwin Lora – C
Wilmer Difo – B- (B-) Pedro Severino – C+ (C+) Jose Marmolejos-Diaz – C
Anderson Franco – B- (C) Rhett Wiseman – C+ Jakson Reetz – C (C+)
Andrew Stevenson – B- Telmito Agustin – C Matt Skole – C (C)
Osvaldo Abreu – C+ Brian Goodwin – C (C+) Juan Solo – C
Rafael Bautista – C+ (C+) Kelvin Gutierrez – C Drew Ward – C (B-)
Christopher Bostick – C+ (C+)


As I did yesterday, the bolded names are the ones that don’t appear in the BA book, the italics are 2015 draft picks, and Sickels’s SLEEPER PICK has an asterisk. FWIW, Brian Goodwin appears in the “exclusive bonus supplement,” but like the BA editors, I don’t feel like making the effort to code his name with semibold typeface.

Now for the tidbits…

• Not much else to say about Turner that you haven’t heard, read, or seen previously — needs more polish controlling the strike zone and may struggle some when he does get the call, but once he adjusts he’ll be an everyday SS.

• Sickels picked Robles in his 2015 book and obviously since Robles had a breakout year, a little chest-thumping (no different than yours truly when a DSL Guy does well, see below 😉 — otherwise, he’s in tune with the chorus that Robles is the next big thing.

• Likewise, he feels that Anderson Franco may be the next Victor Robles, but cautions that it might not be until 2017.

• Telmito Agustin was the fourth SLEEPER PICK and the sole position player. As noted in the comments, the stats have caught my eye and same for Sickels. Reportedly his defense is raw, which for teenage players, is about as shocking as learning that blonde starlet in that hit movie was born a brunette.

• Unfortunately, Sickels believes “The Orange” could get squeezed at higher levels if he doesn’t develop more power and/or defensive range.

With that, I finish up my annual review of the Sickels book, which you can purchase here.

Sickels on the Pitchers

The John Sickels 2016 annual arrived late Friday night in my inbox, which may not be as much fun as getting a thick envelope in the snail mail, but it’s more efficient. As I always have, I’ll discuss the book in two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

The pendulum has swung back towards position players — 22 were graded — for the first time in three years, leaving just 14 pitchers ranked, including 29-y.o. IF-to-RHP convert Michael Brady.  While there aren’t as many pitchers as in years past, more than half of them are rated above a “C,” which is encouraging. Even better, three of the newbies he’s tagged as “sleeper alert” players.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…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]

…However, when a low H/IP ratio is accompanied by a high K/IP, it’s a positive data point [and vice-versa]

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

Here’s a look at the 14 pitchers that made this year’s book (2015 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A) Abel De Los Santos – C+ (C) Nick Lee – C
A.J. Cole – B (B+) Koda Glover – C+ Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Reynaldo Lopez – B (B-) Andrew Lee* – C+ Tyler Watson* – C
Erick Fedde – B (B-) Michael Brady – C Austen Williams – C
Austin Voth – B- (C+) Taylor Hearn* – C


The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not in Baseball America’s, and for the third year straight it’s four. The italics are 2015 draft picks. The asterisks are “sleeper” picks, which if you think that’s meaningless, consider that Austin Voth was one in 2014

Some quick tidbits…

• Sickels is all in on Giolito and only worries — like we all do — whether he’ll be able to withstand a 200IP workload. Like many power pitchers, he believes the key for him to be a true #1 will be that changeup, which right now is merely “above average.”

• Cole, as has been mentioned in the comments, could be the next Jake Odorizzi, but Sickels is worried about the lack of whiffs.

• Lopez needs his command to catch up to his control and for his changeup to be more consistent. Sickels notes that some folks think he may be better off as a reliever, but if things click in 2016, he could rise from AA to MLB a la Luis Severino last summer.

• Glover could be Blake Treinen II — a power pitcher that needs a breaking pitch to keep lefties honest (e.g. a .316OBA by LHBs in Hagerstown last summer).

• Lee, Hearn, and Watson — all 2015 picks — were each listed as a sleeper pick for various reasons (convert, 98mph heat, promising numbers/reports in limited action from an 18-y.o.)

• Despite getting lit like a Kennedy at an open bar in the AFL, De Los Santos got the bump up from a C+ because Sickels thinks he may still have enough stuff to be middle reliever.

Next up: the batters.

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospect List

Last night, John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 prospects list for 2016. Here’s how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
A- Trea Turner
B/B+ Victor Robles
B Reynaldo Lopez, A.J. Cole
B/B- Erick Fedde
B- Wilmer Difo, Anderson Franco, Austin Voth
B-/C+ Andrew Stevenson
C+ Osvaldo Abreu, Rafael Bautista, Christopher Bostick, Pedro Severino, Max Schrock, Rhett Wiseman
C+/C Raudy Read, Abel De Los Santos, Koda Glover, Andrew Lee


Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which if you must know, you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, Trea Turner is #2, Victor Robles is #3… Koda Glover is #19, Andrew Lee is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. The opposite, i.e. folks who have dropped a notch, are in blue.

Top 20 guys from 2015 are in bold. Guys who played their way onto the list are in italics. Draft picks from last June are in green.

The last category is interesting because there are two ways of looking at it: (1) the system was so weak that the new talent simply looks better in comparison (2) the Nats drafted really well.  I’ll leave that up to the draft gurus to debate in the comments, but I think I have to lean towards the latter when I look back at previous iterations of this post and realize there’s never been this many just-drafted picks to make the Top 20 (hence the Kermitization 😉

It’s also interesting that Sickels is outlining the guys that are straddling two grades, which he also points out with nos. 11-7 (the C+ guys and Raudy Read):

Significant cut-off here: slots 11-17 could be ordered in many different ways with valid logic. Look at this like tiers.

Other thoughts…

…Clearly Sickels is higher on Cole than others, especially when you consider that he’s ranked him above Fedde. His comp is to Jake Odorizzi in terms of prospect fatigue.

…Speaking of comps, let the hype begin if Reynaldo Lopez is likened to Luis Severino.

…Andrew Lee appears to be his next Austin Voth: A sleeper pick that becomes a workhorse with stuff that’s neither exceptional nor weak.

As always, I encourage folks to click through to the first link above and read John’s comments on each player. Then discuss in the comments (a.k.a. the opposite of MASN).

Sickels On The Hitters

The whine for the longest time has been that the Nats don’t do enough in the International market. The 2011 CBA dramatically changed that avenue — read: spend your entire allotment *and* incur penalties for one (1) player — but the recent influx of Cuban players has brought that caterwauling back.

While it’s unlikely to appease the aforementioned folks, the Nats’ emphasis of scouting over spending is showing up on lists like Sickels’s. More than a A third of the seventeen 18 position players are from the Dominican Republic and obviously all of them have been acquired since the Rizzo regime began in 2009.

The distribution is better than last year, when nine of 15 were OFs, but still uneven: six OF’s, four C’s, two 2B’s, two 3B’s, one SS, one 3B, one 1B.

Before I list ’em out, a review of Sickels’s principles on hitters:

…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.

…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 (which fielding percentage measures).

Here they are, listed from high-to-low letter grade first, alphabetically second:

Michael Taylor – B+ (B-) Brian Goodwin – C+ (B) Isaac Ballou – C (C)
Trea Turner – B Spencer Kieboom – C+ Stephen Perez – C
Wilmer Difo – B- Raudy Read – C+ Anderson Franco – C
Drew Ward – B- (B-) Jakson Reetz – C+ Victor Robles – C
Rafael Bautista – C+ (C+) Tony Renda – C+ (B-) Matt Skole – C (B-)
Chris Bostick – C+ (C+) Pedro Severino – C+ (C) Drew Vettleson – C (C+)

Like yesterday, I’ve bolded the ones not listed in the BA Prospect Handbook. Unlike last year, just one of these outliers is a Dominican making noise in the GCL. Perez and Ballou are more widely known in our little bubble, so it’s always nice to see some exposure elsewhere.

Now for some tidbits from the book…

…Jakson Reetz is “HIGH CEILING ALERT” which is a new feature that Sickels is trying to denote guys who have “a conservative formal grade but who also have particularly high upside.” Less than two dozen players were given this tag.

…Most of the Turner writeup was devoted to his “weird case,” but if folks are wondering why he wasn’t graded higher, it’s because Sickels is considering the scouts’ opinion that the bat might not match the glove.

…This ought to be familiar to folks who know Michael Taylor is a favorite of mine: “Even with the progress he made last year Taylor is not the type of hitter who will win batting championships, but he should provide enough OBP, power, and speed to keep himself in the lineup. Add in the defensive ability and you have a fine player.”

…Sickels is losing faith, as others have here, in Brian Goodwin’s ability to overcome his weaknesses (strikeouts, handling offspeed pitches, keeping his swing mechanics in gear). No mention of the injury, which the gut feeling here is far worse than anyone is letting on.

…After explaining the difference in opinions on Renda’s draft position and catchet today (overdraft, o.g. respectively), Sickels remains optimistic but concedes that the drop in power (.405 to .377) merits the drop from B- to C+.

…Sickels still hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s pronounced “key-boom,” but was impressed with Kieboom’s surge in offense at Low-A Hagerstown, conceding that he was old for the level. Nevertheless, he put the tag of “SLEEPER ALERT” on him, as he did with Osvaldo Abreu (oops) and Rafael Bautista (yup) last year.

That concludes my review of the Sickels book, which you can buy online here.

Sickels On The Pitchers

The John Sickels 2015 annual arrived last night in my inbox, which isn’t quite as satisfying as getting a package in the mailbox, but it’s faster and cheaper. As is my tradition, I’ll break up discussing the book into two posts — one for hitters, one for the pitchers.

For the second straight year, there are 18 pitchers ranked while the number of position players has risen to 17 18 (yes, including Trea Turner). As we’ll see shortly, more than half of them are Grade “C,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody familiar with Sickels. Just five pitchers earned an “A” in the 2015 book, for example.

Sickels has the following guiding principles when it comes to pitchers…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers, a.k.a. the

…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]

…However, when a low H/IP ratio is accompanied by a high K/IP, it’s a positive data point [and vice-versa]

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

Here’s a look at the 18 pitchers that made this year’s book (2014 Grade in parentheses)

Lucas Giolito – A (A-) Austin Voth – C+ (C) Neil Holland – C (C)
A.J. Cole – B+ (B+) Robert Benincasa – C (C) Jake Johansen – C (C+)
Joe Ross – B (C+) Abel De Los Santos – C Gilberto Mendez – C
Erick Fedde – B- Robbie Dickey – C Nick Pivetta – C
Reynaldo Lopez – B- Matt Grace – C Jefry Rodriguez – C (C)
Felipe Rivero – C+ (B-) Taylor Hill – C Derek Self – C

The names in bold are in Sickels’s book but not Baseball America’s, and it’s the same number as last year (four). This overlap used to be less, which may mean many things. The two most obvious inferences: (1) Sickels is less likely to go out on a limb (2) Baseball America is getting better about incumbency based on draft position.

Some quick tidbits…

…Sickels is among those that believe that Lopez’s size may shift him to the ‘pen. While I’d agree he’s a “college” 6’/185 lbs., he also appears more solidly built than say Gilberto Mendez (listed at 6’ and 170).

…Fedde’s grade is mostly due to conservatism, which I applaud. Yes, the success rate for TJ is high – but it ain’t 100 percent.

…Likewise, Pivetta is “only” a Grade C because of how wildly inconsistent his secondary pitches have been (“from poor to plus”).

…Sickels points to the improvement in K/IP and K/BB ratios for Joe Ross moving from a C+ to B.

….Finally, Voth is still “sleeper” material, but obviously now the word is out

Next up: the batters.

Three Nats Make Sickels Top 50 Lists

With the release of his 2015 edition expected in the next day or so, John Sickels has released his Top 50 Batting and Pitching prospects, which included two Nationals pitchers and one Washington batter.

It should come as no shock that Lucas Giolito was ranked #1 with the Dodgers’ Julio Urias ranked #2. Giolito was ranked #12 in the 2014 book, which is pretty heady considering that the Nats 1st Rd. pick in the 2012 draft was coming off Tommy John surgery and had pitched just 36⅔ innings in 2013.

If you guessed that A.J. Cole was the second pitcher, ranked #31, congratulations. You can now collect your prize. Cole was #33 on the 2014 Top 50, #46 in 2013, and #23 in 2012. Cole, who turned 23 in January, was a 4th Rd. pick in the 2010 draft and has been traded twice — to Oakland in December 2011 and from Oakland in 2013.

A mild surprise, given his age and proclivity to whiff, is Michael Taylor, who was ranked as the #35 batting prospect. Taylor has long been a favorite here on this website, but his ascendance has been a long time coming as the almost-24-y.o. was drafted in the 6th Rd. in 2009.

Giolito and Cole will most likely begin 2015 in the minors — the former at either Potomac or Harrisburg, the latter in Syracuse. Until this week, Taylor seemed bound for upstate New York, too. But with healthy outfielders in short supply in Viera, the narrative has changed from “Well, maybe he might make the club as a 4th outfielder” (well, no, not really) to “He could be the Opening Day centerfielder” (yeah, more than maybe).

Watchlist Player Reports Are Finished

With the news that John Sickels’s 2015 Baseball Prospect book may be further delayed, I decided to finish the remaining player reports rather than wait any longer — just as I did last year.

We’re still in a dead period of sorts while we await the beginning of spring training games. For the second straight week, the Baseball America transaction report has seen nothing — no comings or goings — for Washington.

No news or not, it’s always a big deal when we close the books on February. It means baseball will be played next week, not next month, and April doesn’t seem quite so far away.

Well, at least until the next time it snows or sleets…

Sickels Releases Top 20 Nats Prospect List

This morning John Sickels released his Washington Nationals Top 20 list. Here’s a look at how it breaks down by letter grade:

A Lucas Giolito
B+ Michael Taylor, A.J. Cole
B Trea Turner, Joe Ross
B- Wilmer Difo, Erick Fedde, Reynaldo Lopez, Drew Ward
C+ Brian Goodwin, Austin Voth, Rafael Bautista, Jakson Reetz, Felipe Rivero, Pedro Severino, Raudy Read, Spencer Kieboom, Tony Renda, Chris Bostick
C Nick Pivetta

Let’s revisit my explanation for the layout…

The primary focus here is on letter grades, not numerical rank, which you can get by going top to bottom, then left in each row. Lucas Giolito is #1, Michael Taylor is #2, A.J. Cole is #3… Chris Bostick is #19, Nick Pivetta is #20.

The secondary focus is on improvement by letter grade, which you can see by the color red. Because Sickels only ranks Grade C or better, that means becoming a C+ or better guy after being previously identified as a Grade C.

Top 20 guys from 2014 are in bold while guys that played their way onto the list are in italics. Like last April, I chose not to italicize the players acquired by trade but did indicated if they improved (Joe Ross).

My apologies in advance if I misled anyone with the earlier post; I was unaware that Nick Melotte and Sickels were both doing Top 20 lists. That said, it is interesting to see, as others have noted, the differences between the two. Sickels is much higher on Goodwin while lower on Lopez. But you should click the link above to see for yourself as Sickels has a comment for each and every one.

Minorleagueball.com’s Top 20 Nats Prospects

Yesterday, John Sickels’s protege Nick Melotte released his Top 20 Nationals Prospects.

Melotte does the star system — 2.5 to 5, which roughly equates to Sickels’s C to A rating, with a 2.5-star player being an organizational guy and an five-star being a future superstar. The hyperlinked article explains the gradations before getting into the list.

As I’ve done the past few years, I’ll break it down by the star (letter) system while noting the players who have improved (by grade, not numerical rank), declined, and the newcomers. It’s not a perfect translation — Melotte may have been higher/lower on a Prospect A than Sickels was in the first place, so he may not have actually improved/declined — but it’s what we have to work with.

★★★★★ Lucas Giolito
★★★★½ Michael Taylor, Reynaldo Lopez
★★★★ Trea Turner^, A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde+, Joe Ross^, Drew Ward, Austin Voth, Wilmer Difo, Jackson Reetz+
★★★½ Rafael Bautista, Tony Renda, Taylor Hill, Raudy Read, Felipe Rivero, Chris Bostick^, Robbie Dickey+, Abel De Los Santos^
★★★ Gilberto Mendez
Honorable mentions Derek Self, Brian Goodwin, Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom, Anderson Franco, John Simms, Steven Fuentes, Neil Holland

+ Newcomer by draft ^ Newcomer by trade

Now for some quick thoughts…

…There are only seven holdovers (bolded) from the 2014 list, and while we can’t assume the honorable mentions are nos. 21-28, it’s telling that of the 15 eligibles (four were traded, one graduated to MLB), just eight remain in the “Top 28.”

…According to the article, the honorable mentions are all three-star players; I separated from Mendez to make it easier for the list-obsessed folks to figure out who was #20 😉

…Just five guys played their way onto the list; the other eight were either traded for or drafted (hence the superscripts).

…Since B-/C+ guys aren’t delineated, it’s difficult to say that there are more “better than marginal” prospects, which was always something that I would look for; we’ll have to wait until next month to see how that pans out

…With the exception of Fedde, looks like Melotte takes the Weaver-esque approach (“I only deal with the living”) to prospects, which I actually prefer because the opposite leads to too much wishful thinking

As I did last year, I encourage folks to click through to read Melotte’s thoughts on Giolito, Taylor, and Lopez.