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.

Transaction Update

Back to the offseason grind, where we pass along the signings of journeymen with non-roster invitations and pretend that it’s meaningful:

• RHP Matt Albers
• RHP Joe Nathan
• RHP Vance Worley
• 2B Grant Green

[Crash Davis] They’re just happy to have the opportunity to see if they can help this ballclub win, and if they can’t make the Opening Day Roster, showcase themselves to the other 29 teams. [/Crash Davis]

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part Two

Alright, no sense in wasting time; here’s nos. 16-31:

16. Kelvin Gutierrez 21. Osvaldo Abreu (15) 26. Jose Marmolejos
17. Sheldon Neuse 22. Raudy Read (22) 27. Tyler Watson
18. Jakson Reetz (14) 23. Edwin Lora (22) 28. Telmito Agustin
19. Brian Goodwin (31) 24. Jose Sanchez 29. Joan Baez (18)
20. Blake Perkins (12) 25. Yasel Antuna 30. Matt Skole
YOUR AD HERE 31. Nick Banks

It’s worth noting that this year there are three IFAs who are ranked in the Top 31 without playing a single inning of affiliated baseball (Garica, Sanchez, and Antuna) and five total that cost the Nationals $900K or more in signing bonuses.

Good for them, but here’s the obligatory reminder of what it’s like for the other 99% of minor-leaguers. / steps off soapbox

As mentioned yesterday, the list is now tilted towards IFAs 16 of the 31. The past two drafts is still sizable portion (seven), though it falls off precipitously (not only that Skipper, it drops off pretty quick) after that: two from 2014, none from 2013.

Here’s a breakdown of the newcomers:

2016 Draft – Carter Kieboom (8), Jesus Luzardo (15), Sheldon Neuse (17), Nick Banks (31)

2015 Draft – Tyler Watson (27)

Int’l Free Agent – Luis Garcia (7), Kelvin Gutierrez (16), Jose Sanchez (24), Yasel Antuna (25), Jose Marmolejos (26), Telmito Agustin (28)

I suppose I could further break down the IFAs by their signing year, but I also think that would be really splitting hairs.

Finally, here’s BA 2020 projected Washington lineup, which ignores such things as free agency, injury, or a sudden decline in skills. BA didn’t project the 2017 lineup in the 2014 book, which I find a bit odd since they marketed it as a “secret weapon for fantasy league success” so we’ll miss out on seeing how wrong they were three years ago. (They brought it back in 2015).

C – Pedro Severino
1B – Daniel Murphy
2B – Wilmer Difo
SS – Trea Turner
3B – Anthony Rendon
LF – Adam Easton
CF – Victor Robles
RF – Bryce Harper
#1SP – Max Scherzer
#2SP – Stephen Strasburg
#3SP – Erick Fedde
#4SP – Joe Ross
#5SP – Austin Voth
CL – Koda Glover

Feel free to discuss in the comments. By the way, is there anything on TV tonight worth watching?

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part One

As always, when I make a post to refresh the site, something comes up to predicated an additional post. As the headline gives away, the 2017 Baseball America Prospect Handbook came in the mail today.

For those obsessed with how the Washington organization ranks relative to the rest of MLB, it came in at No. 19. Considering that the Nats traded away four pitchers who would have no doubt made this year’s Top 30, that ain’t bad.

As they did a year ago, the folks in Durham continue to praise the Nationals’ efforts in Latin America, which is also reflected in roughly half of the list being from the D.R. or of Dominican descent. We’ve been seeing (and mentioning) this for several years now, so I don’t think it’s really all that much of a secret except maybe to the folks who run the MASN’s social media or F.P. Santangelo.

As we’ve done before, let’s review how last year’s Top 30 fared:

Graduated (3) – Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo, Sammy Solis

Traded (4) – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Chris Bostick, Taylor Hearn

Waived (1) – Abel de los Santos

Dropped out (5)

That’s almost half the list. Despite an influx of some IFAs, there are four players who are or will be 25-or-older before midseason, although that includes the not-a-rookie Wilmer Difo (turns 25 in April) and just-barely-a-rookie A.J. Cole (turned 25 last month), so it’s roughly the same as a year ago with Brian Goodwin (turned 26 last November) and Matt Skole (turned 27 last July) taking the place of Sammy Solis and Nick Lee as the aging prospects.

With that, I’ll close out this post with a look at the Top 15 and continue with nos. 16-31 in Part Two. Last year’s ranking, if applicable, in parentheses:

1. Victor Robles (3) 6. Koda Glover (30) 11. Rafael Bautista (13)
2. Erick Fedde (4) 7. Luis Garcia 12. Drew Ward (16)
3. Juan Soto (24) 8. Carter Kieboom 13. A.J. Cole (7)
4. Wilmer Difo (6) 9. Pedro Severino (11) 14. Anderson Franco (10)
5. Andrew Stevenson (8) 10. Austin Voth (9) 15. Jesus Luzardo

All Quiet on the Minor-League Front

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

The hope—as always—is that this post will jinx something into happening so I have something better to write about than, say, the 2017 spring training uniforms and caps or the trucks arriving amid the frenzied construction at the Nats new digs in West Palm Beach.

Until then, please continue to keep the hot stove going in the comments…

Initial 2017 Player Reports Completed

I’ve made it through the first pass of writing the 2017 Watchlist and Player reports as I await the arrival of Baseball America’s 2017 Prospect Book. With Sickels no longer doing his book, I couldn’t punt on too many guys, which may be better because it forced me to write and research a little more.

While it’s a lot of work, it pays off down the line. Once the season starts up, the focus is on delivering the news and notes every day, which I enjoy, but gets progressively harder as the season progresses (even with reduced coverage of the DSL and GCL).

This is when I get the legwork done, and more than a few times during the season I’ll use this as reference material (and I’m sure others do, too, so you should know what to do with that the images that appear under “Pay The Bills”).

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments – (UPDATE) preferably here, but I just enabled them on each category page.