Saturday Smorgasbord

No AFL update, but if you need a breathless preview of today’s title game, here you go.

As we’re all familiar with the offseason cycle, with the AFL’s end comes the Rule 5 protection deadline (Monday, 8 p.m.) This, of course, has become less and less meaningful as the Nats system has thinned while the big club has become a contender (and a favorite of MADD, because they’re done after one round).

Todd Boss breaks it down at NationalsArmsRace and about the only thing I’d disagree with is protecting Drew Ward – he can’t be hidden on a bench as he’s not a viable defensive replacement and is not very fast. About the only intrigue is learning which of the IFAs the Nationals feel (fear) might be the next Felipe Rivero.

No news on the transaction front but if you’re of a mind to see where the recent free agents re-sign, you can visit BA’s free-agent tracker, which is better-looking but a little more cumbersome than its previous iterations. Spoiler alert: just three FAs have signed as of this writing.

Speaking of Baseball America—and looking at you MLB—the line between editorial and advertising is getting blurred. Let’s just say that when I write an article, I put my name on it. When I write advertising, I don’t.

AFL/Offseason Update: Nov. 4, 2017

The Solar Sox were eclipsed on a one-hit shutout yesterday, 3-0 to end the week.

And because we can’t have one day without (contrived) Victor Robles drama, the Nats top prospect played just one inning yesterday and exited without official explanation. He popped up to short in the top half of the inning and caught the final out in the bottom half.

Daniel Johnson replaced Robles in center field but went hitless again (0-3, 2K), as did Taylor Gushue (ditto). Kelvin Gutierrez pinch-walked and played third base for the final two innings.

Austen Williams was the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen and gave up a run on four hits over two innings. He threw 31 pitches, 24 for strikes.

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TRANSACTION UPDATE
Minor-League Free Agency begins at 5 p.m. on Monday. Not coincidentally, Wander Suero was added to the 40-man roster yesterday rather than re-sign as he did last November 3rd. In other news, Erik Davis declared free agency while Esmil Rogers was released.

THE BA TOP 10
Baseball America’s fall SEO campaign 2018 prospect rankings began last week with the Braves, Marlins, and Mets and continued this week with the Phillies and the Nationals (paid sub to read all).

As noted in the comments, the list is skewed towards major IFAs who have yet to play a full season and the top two pitchers taken last June. Just three of the top 10 have played more than one full season, and given the current state of the big club, it’s not outlandish to consider that perhaps two of those players will be on the 25-man roster by the middle of next summer.

THE SYRACUSE CHIEFS
They were bad. Very, very bad.

There’s really not much more to say. The team was old, slow, and had no power on offense and the pitchers were hit-prone (both bats and bodies) and couldn’t miss bats. About the only thing they weren’t in the bottom third was defense, but that may be in part because the players were kept in good shape with all the balls they had to chase.

Somehow, there were enough home-grown, replacement-level players available to the big club when needed, including roughly half-a-dozen homegrown guys. But it would be foolish to infer that had there been fewer injuries in DC, the team would have been significantly better, and specious to even attempt to name/rank these players.

The best thing that could happen for all of them is for them to not be needed so they can indeed play every day and perhaps play well enough to get traded — or be more prepared for their next trip to the Show.

As always, if you’re so inclined to see the full team’s stats, you can find them here.

AFL/Offseason Update: Oct. 28, 2017

Victor Robles doubled to lead off the game as the Solar Sox put up two in the 1st en route to a 5-1 win over the Desert Dogs.

Robles, however, stuck three times in the four plate appearances that followed to finish at 1-for-5.

Taylor Gushue, who led off off MLB’s roundup on the Nats in the AFL yesterday, also started again behind the plate and got a single in four AB’s to get hits in back-to-back appearances for the first time.

Mesa returns home to rematch against Glendale to finish out the week. The Solar Sox lead the AFL East by a ½ game with an 8-7 record.

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WINTER LEAGUE UPDATE
Still pretty early, but no need to reinvent the wheel – Byron Kerr has the deal on how the guys have done so far.

HARRISBURG SENATORS
Next week will be the magnesium citrate, but this week we have the castor oil. For those of you too young or too healthy… the 2017 Senators weren’t as bad as the 2017 Chiefs, but they weren’t much better.

Like the 2016 edition, there was an enormous amount of roster churn – 52 different players, 13 pitchers who made five or more starts, and 16 position players who made 100 or more plate appearances. But the talent level wasn’t as high in 2017, and consequently the Sens finished with the second-worst record in the Eastern League at 60-80 (i.e. just 6½ games better than the Chiefs).

The pitching went from the third-best in the E.L. to the second-worst (4.79 R/G) while the hitting improved to near-league average (4.20 vs. 4.32) BUT both the hitters and pitchers were the oldest in the league by a year and a half or more, on average.

For the sixth straight year, it’s a combined list. And in keeping with a theme this year, unranked.

Erick Fedde, RHP 3.04/3.24/1.12, 8.63 K/IP in 56⅓IP (17G, 7GS)
Jose Marmolejos, 1B/LF .288/.361/.458, 14HR in 107G
Raudy Read, C .265/.312/.455, 17HR in 108G
Phillips Valdez, RHRP 2.72/2.92/1.16 in 43IP (25G)

An honorable mention to Ryan Brinley, who had a decent FIP at 2.96, but was otherwise unremarkable in his second go ’round the Eastern League. Likewise for Drew Ward, who nearly set a team record for strikeouts (131) and barely cracked into double digits for HR’s at 10.

Folks interested in seeing the full team’s statistics can find them here.

AFL/Offseason Update: Oct. 14, 2017

The Solar Sox got three in the first and never looked back as they held on for a 4-2 win over the Javelinas.

Daniel Johnson got the start in right field and led off again but was 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts. Defensively, he had just one putout.

Taylor Gushue started at catcher but was also 0-for-4 but with only one whiff. He threw out two of three runners trying to steal against him.

Dakota Bacus made his second appearance, a scoreless 8th inning with one hit allowed and one K on 12 pitches.

Mesa remains on the road to close out the week, visiting Glendale this afternoon.
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BA TOP PROSPECT LISTS
Baseball America completed its fall SEO campaign swing through the League Top 20s this week and, as mentioned in the comments, Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna came in at nos. 4 and 5 respectively. Garcia is obviously more advanced defensively, but Antuna is proving the inference that there must be a reason why they’re tolerating 26 errors in 36 games, and that reason is that he can hit (.301/.382/.399). With more than $5M “invested”* between them, the 2017-2018 offseason question is whether one or both start next spring in Hagerstown.
* Quotes because the signing bonus is reflection of the IFA system, not the players. About the only thing that makes it better than the NCAA is that nobody’s pretending that it’s not about the money.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
Just some releases from the DSL:
• RHPs Christian Flores, Hector Ramirez, Francisco Constanzo, Rafael Melendez
• LHP Yelmery Sisnero
• 1B Luis Santana
• LF David Escobar

WINTER LEAGUE SIGHTINGS
Winter Leagues have already begun in Venezuela, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Rosters are incomplete, but there is a sizable contingent on Los Tigres de Licey in the DWL.

THE HAGERSTOWN SUNS
Finally, we’ve reached the full-season teams – where we have some semblance of non-team coverage – but we’re also hitting the divide between prospects and minor-leaguers. This is the apex, after this week it’s going to be Victor Robles and a whole lot of “well, maybe if…”

We’re also at the first of two levels where we have some eyes on the field. My “Hagerstown Guy,” who has a love-hate relationship with both the Suns and the Nationals (i.e. he loves to hate on them 🙃), has his thoughts on the hitters as well as the throw…er, pitchers.

The Suns were one of two (2) affiliates with a winning record in 2017. However, unlike the G-Nats, they did not make the playoffs as the first-half champion Intimidators swept them by a combined score of 28-7 in a pair of doubleheaders in the final week before the All-Star break and they missed the mark by 1½ games. A tailspin on 13 losses in 17 games in mid-to-late August sealed their fate in the second half, as four straight wins to finish out sliced the margin to 2½ games.

Injuries (Juan Soto, Carter Kieboom) and trades (Tyler Watson, Sheldon Neuse) ate into the Hagerstown’s production, which was third in the 14-team Sally Lg., while the pitching was 11th. The team outperformed its Pythagorean projection of .500 as it scored 643 runs and allowed 643 runs. Oddly, the Suns allowed the fewest stolen bases and threw out the fewest baserunners.

Now, for the Obligatory Top 5’s (of the players who remain)….

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Carter Kieboom, SS
.304 GPA, .497 SLG%
1. Sterling Sharp, RHSP
3.69/3.81/1.23, 1.36 BB/9
2. Daniel Johnson, OF
.295 GPA, 17HR in 88G
2. Hayden Howard, LHRP
2.95/3.63/1.31, 3.22 K:BB ratio
3. Juan Soto, OF
.323 GPA, .523 SLG%
3. Ben Braymer, LHSP
5.26/3.47/1.43, 8.84 K/9
4. Tres Barrera, C
.275 GPA, 3PB, .995 FA
4. A.J. Bogucki, RHSP
3.56/3.78/1.24, 3HR in 55⅔ IP
5. Blake Perkins, OF
.254 GPA, 31SB, 7E, 8 Assists
5. Matt DeRosier, RHSP
3.60/3.45/1.18, 8.5 K/9

Picking the hitters was easy. I’m sure someone will argue for Jake Noll over Perkins or Barrera; I saw him in Potomac in August and he didn’t impress me. Maybe I’m being unfair to Aldrem Corredor, but he’s just 22 and with a shortage of 1B in the system, he’ll more than likely make the 2018 watchlist.

Picking the pitchers was not easy. Trades took away the no-doubt guys, and no one (even the traded pitchers) had a league-average FIP.

As always, folks interested in seeing the full stats can find them here.

Offseason Update: Sept. 30, 2017

We’re down to the final weekend, wondering not who the big club will play in the NLDS, but when. Is it okay to root for an odd start time in hopes of snagging a ticket on the resale market? Asking for a friend.

Alas, plenty o’ places to discuss that, but we’re just little ol’ minors site…

BA TOP 20 LISTS
As expected, Victor Robles also made the Carolina League Top 20, albeit as only the #2, and was joined by Daniel Johnson at #18. Double-dipping is what BA does, and thus Johnson also made the Sally Lg. top 20 at #13. Carter Kieboom’s incumbency and an impressive showing in an abbreviated season (210 of 255PA at Hagerstown) made him the #8 pick. For those who obsess over the departed, Sheldon “Come On Feel The” Neuse was the #20 pick but McKenzie Mills was not ranked.

A couple of tidbits from yesterday’s chat:

Noel (Portland): Is Kieboom likely a 2b in the bug leagues?
J.J. Cooper: More likely a 2b or 3B than SS, but he has enough feel to maybe make SS work for a while.

Nats Fan (DC): When comparing Victor Robles to Juan Soto, it’s obvious that Robles is the far superior defender. However, when comparing them offensively, is it fair to say that Robles profiles as a #2 spot hitting CF who will hit .280 with 12-15 HRs a year while Juan Soto is your prototypical #3/#4 who in his prime should be hitting .300+ with 25-30 HRs?
J.J. Cooper: I’d say that’s fair. A lot of projection involved here, but Robles’ value comes more from speed/defense. Soto is a bat-first prospect.

Soto did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the list.

TRANSACTIONS
It’s a Yukon Cornelius week.

THE 2017 GCL NATIONALS
Thanks to the suggestion to stop covering the Chiefs, the G-Nats were watched the most closely since 2014. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was another playoff run, as they made it to the GCL Finals but lost the best-of-three series 2-1 to the G-Yankees East. Pitching carried this team, as they were the fifth-best team at 3.95 R/G and had just a slightly-better-than-league-average offense (4.57 vs. 4.51 R/G) while the defense was below-average.

What’s perhaps most encouraging is that the four most-used players on offense were 17 or younger and were in their first professional season. Two of them were even better than the league average, which is impressive for any first-year player, never mind one too young to vote in this country (if he was a U.S. citizen, natch). And while Yasel Antuna may have been a running joke for his 20 errors in 21 games at SS, methinks they’ll find position for his .301/.382/.399 bat stay in the lineup.

Now, for the reminder that the sample sizes here are small, as are the odds of many of these guys to rise above Low-A.

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Justin Connell, LF
.274 GPA, .407 OBP
1. Tomas Alastre, RHSP
2.55/3.38/1.02, 6.2 H/9IP
2. Yasel Antuna, SS
.272 GPA, 23BB
2. Angel Guillen, RHRP
3.42/3.00/1.18, 1.9 BB/9
3. Luis Garcia, 2B
.245 GPA, .387 SLG%
3. Jackson Stoeckinger, LHSP
4.73/2.49/1.31, 10.46 K/9IP
4. Jamori Blash, 1B
.237 GPA, .985 FA
4. Darly Infante, LHRP
4.43/3.69/1.39, 10.48 K/9IP
5. Juan Evangelista, RF
.235 GPA, 3HR
5. Jose Jimenez, LHRP
1.35/3.87/1.13, 1.9 BB/9

The hype went to the IFAs but the most production came from 18-y.o. Justin Connell, an 11th Rd. pick from Pembroke Pines, FL. Honorable mentions go to 35th-Rd. pick Jackson Cramer, who turns 23 in December, and 22nd-Rd. pick 19-y.o. Nelson Galindez at 1B and RHSP respectively. The full team’s statistics can be viewed 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….

STATE OF THE FARM
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.

BA TOP 20 LISTS
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.

THE WATCHLIST AND THE GBI
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.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
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.

THE DSL NATIONALS
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…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
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.

Checking In…

Like the past couple of Septembers, we’re in a weird lull between the usual offseason sequence of events. The big club has already clinched – though that says a lot more about the division than the Nationals – but most of the focus on “the kids” is the singular (i.e. Victor Robles), which is fine when he’s doing well. I don’t envy Dusty Baker’s task in picking when, where, and how to play Robles because if he is indeed being groomed to take a postseason roster spot, he’s going to have to limit the chances for advance scouts to find a flaw.

As noted in the comments, the instrux roster was released, which, thankfully, doesn’t have the urgency that it once had. For me, it’s mostly an indicator of who the club values for next season, who may have underperformed this season, and confirmation that some names that we haven’t seen in quite some time weren’t quietly released in April or May.

The organizational awards, which used to be named in early September, are still unannounced. You can probably bet the farm on Robles getting the nod as the Player of the Year, but Pitcher of the Year is going to elicit arguments.

You can’t give it to McKenzie Mills, who was the actual best pitcher until he was traded. Erick Fedde? Is that a consolation prize for how badly he was mishandled? Try selling Joan Baez, even if he led the Nats minors in innings pitched and strikeouts and was second in wins (yes, really). Wander Suero? That begs the question of why he wasn’t called up or put on the 40-man roster.

It will be interesting to see who the Nationals pick because there really isn’t one currently in the organization who merits the title. Not to mention finding out who’s the coaches’ favorite this year’s Bob Boone Award winner.

Until or unless something else comes up, season reviews begin next week.

Saturday Smorgasbord

Also, what the FAQ?

For what it’s worth, I’m mostly Irish, but I like the word smorgasbord.

As the subhead suggests, I’ve finished the FAQs, so take a look if you’re new here, curious, or, for the old-timer… just bored.

Thanks to the WBC, the timing and rhythm of spring training this year is a little off — about 5-6 days, I’d say. Usually by now, we get the first inkling of who’s been released, which is not something I relish writing about but it does help give us a clue as to what the minor-league rosters will be.

It also seems like the Nationals are taking their sweet time in making up their minds regarding Brian Goodwin, A.J. Cole, and Pedro Severino. This trio seems nearly guaranteed to start the season at Syracuse, which begs the question “Why are they taking so long?” All have options left and none of them are doing so well to entertain the idea of another team wanting to trade for them.

Erick Fedde was reassigned yesterday, which was no surprise, but if he dominates at AA early and/or Joe Ross struggles, I’m expecting a drumbeat from the Natmosphere.

Back to the minors, Hagerstown announced a new radio man/media director, Kevin Gehl, who is the third Suns broadcaster in three seasons, following Jordan Nicewarner (2016) and Eli Pearlstein (2013-15).

Finally, the transaction wire from BA has been largely insignificant. As some have noted in the comments, there have been a few low-level signings this month, including what appears to be two IFAs (RHPs Johan Gomez and Alejandro Vallejo) and a non-drafted free agent (2B Alian Silva).

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments while we wait for the minors to start up.

In Case You Hadn’t Heard…

About a month ago, the folks from MASN came to me—sans pitchforks and torches—and asked me to join their rotation of guest bloggers for this season. Now that I’ve thoroughly buried the lede, I said “yes.”

While my MASN posts will be posted on Wednesdays, I’ll probably write them on the weekends and file them early.

But this isn’t about me per se. It’s about you. No, really.

One of the first things that occurs to me is that there will be newbies, and they will have questions. This means we need some sort of glossary, which some of you may actually enjoy, too.

This is where you can help. Off the top of my head, I figure folks will ask:
• What’s up with the bulldogs?
• What is an OG?
• What is a “sportswriter’s win?”
• What is the “Hellenic flu?”
• What is the “Curse of the GBI?”
• What’s the difference between promoted, transferred, and reassigned?
• Seriously, what’s the deal with the dogs?

What are the others you guys (and gals) can think of? This is your chance to ward off the askholes or just simply to make this site a little better.

Please, discuss in the comments or send me an email.

Watchlist Reports Are Finished

As promised, I’ve taken a pass through the 2017 watchlist filled in the unwritten reports while editing a handful.

The “donuts” have been made.

It also usually means that we’re almost at the beginning of spring training, which promises (again) to be pretty quiet for “our guys,” unless (until) there are injuries. There’s already angst over who the Nationals will use for the closer, which of course, longtime readers know is bullsh!t.

For those who like to obsess over Top XX lists, Baseball America has released its latest, which finds Victor Robles at #13 and Erick Fedde at #52.

Pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday – free to discuss in the comments.