Baseball America Ranks Nats #15 Farm System

Ordinarily, this would probably be glossed over, but in the offseason from hell, this qualifies as news.

Here’s what the boys in Durham had to say…

The Nationals farm system has produced a steady stream of stars over the decade–Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner. With Victor Robles and Jesus Soto, the Nationals have another pair of potential stars, even if their prospect depth can’t match many of the teams above them in the rankings.

The development of Carter Kieboom, Daniel Johnson, and Raudy Read was also cited in the system’s rise from #19 last year. For those wondering, the Braves were ranked #1, followed by the Yankees at #2, while the Mariners were dead last at 30, ahead of the Royals at #29. Rounding out the N.L. Least: the Phillies at #6, the Marlins at #19, and the Mets were #27.

It should be noted that these rankings can change very quickly. Just two years ago, the Nationals were ranked #5. Three years ago, the Cubs (#28 in ’18) were #1, four years ago, it was Pittsburgh (#16), and five years ago, St. Louis was #1 (#13).

My concern is precisely that which BA cited regarding the system’s depth (or lack thereof). Victor Robles is going to graduate this year, Erick Fedde probably will, too.

Even if the short-season guys (Seth Romero, Wil Crowe, Yasel Antuna, Luis Garcia) have strong seasons, that will merely continue the trend since roughly 2012: five-to-six blue-chip guys, another five that are a notch or two below, and then little-to-no difference between the #12 guy and the #42 guy.

As noted in the comments, the system is precariously short on pitching and will need several guys besides Romero and Crowe to step up in 2018. It was an embarrassment to have a mediocre 26-y.o. free-agent pitcher named as the best right-handed starter in the entire system.

We’ve been told that 2017 Draft was all about pitching. Here’s to hoping that promise will be fulfilled.

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.  

Initial 2018 Player Reports Are Completed

I’ve made it through the first pass of writing the 2018 Watchlist and Player reports as I await the arrival of Baseball America’s 2018 Prospect Book, which is the only prospect book I use these days.

I really wish there was a worthy successor to Sickels. A few years back, there was the Minor League Baseball Analyst by Deric McKamey, but like a lot of folks from that era (~2005-2011), he’s now working for an MLB organization. I gave his successors (Rob Gordon, Jeremy DeLoney) a chance but when back-to-back editions (2010 and 2011) were nearly identical to each other, I called it quits.

So like last year, I didn’t punt as very many players. When the BA handbook arrives, I’ll finish ’em up, edit those that need it, and then lock ’em down. After that, it becomes clickbait reference material for the rest of the season.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments as we wait out the offseason from hell…

Nationals (Finally) Name 2018 Farm Managers, Coaches

Hinted at earlier this month, the Washington Nationals finally announced who the managers and coaches will be in 2018:

Affiliate Manager Pitching Coach Hitting Coach
Syracuse Randy Knorr Brad Holman Brian Daubach
Harrisburg Matthew LeCroy Michael Tejera Brian Rupp
Potomac Tripp Keister Sam Narron Luis Ordaz
Hagerstown Patrick Anderson Tim Redding Amaury Garcia
Auburn Jerad Head Franklin Bravo Mark Harris
GCL Mario Lisson Larry Pardo Jorge Mejia
DSL Sandy Martinez Pablo Frias Freddy Guzman

Bold = New to the organization
Italics = Different than 2017

As noted in Chelsea Janes’s WaPo story the changes center on pitching: Just one level (DSL) has the same coach as last year and there are new coaches at AAA and the GCL.

Chris Michalak (Marlins), Bob Milacki (unknown), and Josh Johnson (Padres) are out while Billy Gardner, manager at AAA from 2014 to 2017, remains as a “roving coordinator.” He joins usual suspects (e.g. Spin Williams, Tommy Shields, Jeff Garber, Troy Gingrich, Paul Menhart, et al).

Why this took so long to release remains a mystery. Typically, this news comes around the winter meetings, but three times in the past four seasons it’s been in January; this is the latest since this site was begun in 2009. That I’m complaining about this shows you just how slow this offseason has been.

The 2018 Watchlist is on track to be finished by the end of the month. I’ve punted on a few players, but I’ve written up six of the ten categories, including all the position players and the RHPs. Until something else breaks… as you were.

Plugging Away at the Watchlist

Plugging AwayOne of the saddest things in the offseason is doing a search for when you last did a post and finding it was roughly this time a year ago. Sadder: About 80% of it I could reuse word for word.

As the headline says, I’ve begun writing the player reports for the 2018 Watchlist and have finished a couple of pages. It’s been a tough go because I can already feel the fan half of my brain fighting the analyst half and have keep reminding myself that the system is top-heavy (and has been for quite some time).

It’s also harder than in years past because I’m down a valuable resource. I used to be able to punt on a dozen or so guys in the hopes that John Sickels would write about them in his annual prospect book.

Now, I can look at the MLB Pipeline page and know that it’ll have about 25 of the 31 guys who will written up in the BA handbook. It also doesn’t help that the Pipeline page often has outdated scouting reports (pro tip to MLB: if you’re going to compete against BA, you need to do more than just poach a couple of its longtime writers).

Following up on a story from this post from last year, Seth Maness, who underwent an alternative to Tommy John surgery in August 2016, was able to pitch all of 2017, albeit for a new club (Kansas City), mostly at AAA, and not at his pre-surgery level of performance.

If he’s able to avoid a second surgery may be the true bellwether—and still pitch this season, natch—but I fear his inability to return to form quickly (or at all) will be how this procedure is judged, which would be a tragedy because it seems that this could be used instead of TJ for minor-leaguers (or, *ack* HS and collegiate pitchers) and have them miss less developmental time.

Until next time…

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…

The Top 10 Pitchers

Or, who the Nats might trade this week!

It looks like we’re not gonna get any more votes, so it’s time to call it and write it up.

If that sounds a little resigned, well, it’s because just four (4) points separate #8 from #12. Statistically speaking, all of these surveys have been the (dreaded) small sample size but when there are 23 pitchers across 10 ballots (which is actually identical to last year), there’s whole lot more noise than signal.

Before I continue, ze list:

  1. Erick Fedde
  2. Seth Romero
  3. Will Crowe
  4. Wander Suero
  5. Nick Raquet
  6. Jackson Tetrault
  7. Austin L. Adams
  8. Jefry Rodriguez
  9. Joan Baez
  10. Alex Troop

Others receiving votes: Grant Borne, Gabe Klobosits, Brigham Hill, Austin Voth, Tomas Alastre, Weston Davis, Kyle Johnston, Matt Crownover, Steven Fuentes, A.J. Bogucki, Matt DeRosier, John Simms, Jorge Pantoja

Eight of those names are new to the list, five are from last June’s draft. So my snarky “Erick Fedde and the 2017 Draft class” wasn’t that far off, was it?

Other thoughts…

• Fedde returns as #1 and is a near-lock to graduate in 2018, IF he’s healthy.

• Fedde, Romero, and Crowe were the only three pitchers named on every ballot.

• Voting was so close that nos. 11 and 12 might have made it with just one or two more votes or one or two positions higher, and no. 11 was only named on two (2) ballots.

• Austin Voth, who was an underdog and favorite here (some idiot actually thought he might get the nod ahead of Fedde), fell the farthest (last year’s #3) and hardest (two votes) and also has questions of his health due to his velocity slipping from fringe-average to “well, he’s usually around the plate.”

• It is, however, disturbing that two of these players are 26 years old (Adams will turn 27 in May) – it’s never a good sign when a prospect is no longer eligible for the Selective Service.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Vote for Your Favorite Arms

Well, the Shohei Otani sweepstakes are over (read—if you can—Lt. Dans: It wasn’t the highest bidder) and the Giancarlo Stanton drama continues, but otherwise the hot stove remains unlit.

Perhaps that will change when the Winter Meetings convene tomorrow in Orlando, but in the meantime, let’s use this downtime to vote on Washington’s minor-league pitchers and find out who will be #2. (If you don’t know who #1 will be, please do not operate machinery – heavy or light).

As always, send your Top 10 list to enfieldmass-top10arms[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or post them in the comments.

The votes will tallied with weighting in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). Once I feel like I’ve gotten enough votes, I’ll post the results along with the usual commentary and snark.

Thankfully, the Nats don’t have anyone on the 40-man who’s both on the cusp of exhausting his rookie eligibility and good enough to be considered, but for future reference, I’m cool with using BA’s simpler limits of 130AB, 50IP and/or 30 appearances for something like this.

Nats Make Some Minor-League Signs

In the latest BA transaction post, we’re finally seeing some free-agent signings for Washington:

• 3B Michael Almanzar BRef
• SS Jason Martinson BRef
• OF Ryan Raburn BRef

Yeah, the band’s getting back together…

…Almanzar re-signs after splitting time between Detroit and Washington’s AAA teams in 2017.

…Martinson, who went solo signed with Texas last winter, returns to the organization that drafted him in the 5th Rd. of the 2010 draft.

…Raburn, who also split time in AAA for two organizations (Chicago and Washington) in 2017, comes back with the hope of sticking with the big club on the bench, as he did for two months last summer (albeit thanks to plethora of injuries).

All three would appear to be ticketed for Syracuse for next summer, though the Nats do have a history of using veteran free agents to fill gaps at both AA and AAA.

Stay tuned for the “Favorite Pitchers” post.