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 It also doesn’t help that the Pipeline page often has outdated scouting reports (pro tip to MLB: if you’re going to compete against BA, you need to do more than just poach a couple of its longtime writers).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.

The Top 10 Position Players

The pendulum has swung back to a consensus again, with just 17 different players named on 10 ballots. The top three players were so named on every ballot but one, as predicted in the comments.

What’s perhaps the most glaring, albeit probably not unwarranted, is that last year’s #4 position player—Drew Ward—not only dropped off the list but had zero votes.

Before I go any futher, ze list:

  1. Victor Robles
  2. Juan Soto
  3. Carter Kieboom
  4. Daniel Johnson
  5. Yasel Antuna
  6. Luis Garcia
  7. Raudy Read
  8. Andrew Stevenson
  9. Jose Marmolejos
  10. Blake Perkins

Others receiving votes: Kelvin Gutierrez, Pedro Severino, Eric Senior, Jake Noll, Israel Pineda, Tres Barrera

For the third straight year, five players were holdovers. But unlike years past, none were traded away and just one (Brian Goodwin) graduated. The other four (Ward, Rafael Bautista, Anderson Franco, and Severino) dropped off the list, thought it should probably be noted that a list like this will tend to skew to the new, particularly in a system that’s never been very deep in position players.

Next up: The pitchers, a.k.a. Erick Fedde and the 2017 draft class, which promises to be much harder to pick even without anyone having been traded this month.

Vote for Your Favorite Bats

It’s time to put up a post before people think the site’s gone dark.

This is our 8th annual crowd-sourcing exercise for the Top 10 (or more likely, Victor Robles and the next nine) minor-league position players.

Quick rundown on how this works: Send me your Top 10 list of minor-league position players (40-man guys are eligible as long as they have rookie status) to enfieldmass-top10bats[at]yahoo[dot]com (link will open your preferred email client) or submit them in the comments.

I’ll tabulate the voting with a reverse-order weighting (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). When it feels like I’ve got a decent number of submissions, I’ll either update this post (if nothing new has happened) or create a new one to let folks know the Russians told me to stop I’m ready to post the “Top 10 Nats Bats” post.

As you might have guessed, I use the word “Bat” as a shorthand for “position player” – we all know too well there are guys in the system who need to be hidden on defense and guys at the plate who look like Jeff Sessions in a Big & Tall store. Try to account for defense when making your picks since the N.L. enjoys losing out on free agents, the All-Star Game, and the World Series still doesn’t have the DH.

Unfortunately, the Winter Meetings are still more than a week away—the Rule 5 Draft nearly two weeks away—so we’re looking at some more dead time on the minor-league front.

Byron Kerr has been profiling the 2018 Nats Top 10 per Baseball America and is halfway through, having recently finished with #6 Luis Garcia.

And if you’re the sort who obsesses over former players who, for the most part, couldn’t hold a spot on the current 25-man roster, Mark Zuckerman has you covered.(No offense to Zuckerman, he’s drawing a paycheck and needs to file stories – my derision is with the subset of “fans” who wax nostalgic for players who weren’t as good as their typed-with-one-hand comments would suggest.)

Otherwise, I think we’re in for another week of the Shohei Otani sweepstakes and whither Giancarlo Stanton, a.k.a. how fast can a popular player become more hated than the team’s previous owner?

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments…

Preliminary 2018 Watchlist

With the passing of Thanksgiving, it’s time to take a look at the next edition of the watchlist.

This is one of the most difficult/depressing exercises because I kept running into two scenarios:

  • The player had good numbers, but was (very) old for the level
  • The players was age-appropriate for the level, but had terrible numbers

Now, I realize in the case of the latter—and especially in short-season ball—the statistics are not meaningful. But in the case of the former, there are very, very few late bloomers.

This past season I spent more time covering the GCL since 2014, “thanks” to Syracuse being as unwatchable as daytime TV.* But I still got the distinct impression that the IFAs were the ones to watch, not the draft picks.
Remember I was hospitalized twice last year; at least there I could ask for painkillers (*rimshot!*)

Before I go any further, let’s lay out the caveats…

It’s not a depth chart. It’s ordered by the highest level played to date. The guys at the top of the column are not necessarily better than the guys at the bottom.

It’s (mostly) based on 2017 usage. The Nats have a history of rotating IFs between 2B, 3B, and SS and are usually not very strong at 1B or the corners of the OF.

It’s preliminary. This is no longer a side project that I hope might lead to bigger things, it’s now a hobby that I’ve figured out how to keep doing.

I’m expecting and depending on readers to write in with omissions, criticism, and/or suggestions. Doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily respond or react, but I will read them.

What this is are the players who I think are worth keeping an eye on for one reason or another… but hardly ever because of when he was drafted or how much Washington spent to acquire him. I’m all too aware of how that does lead to some guys getting far more chances than they may actually deserve.

Sometimes it’s based on what I see for myself at Potomac (or what people I trust see at Hagerstown) and sometimes it’s based on what I see from the statistics. I do take into account what the experts think at MLB Pipeline, Minorleagueball, and yes, even Baseball America, even if I have my qualms about its editorial independence.

This year I’m simplifying and not listing any “DSL Guys” or “Notables” – the former isn’t going to change, and the latter is most useful as a place to list the folks that people will bring up in the conversation that follows. About the only “rule” I have is to not list anyone in the “Notables” from one year to the next.

So let’s kick off the 2017-18 offseason, and take a look at what we got here:

C 1B 2B SS
Severino Marmolejos Davidson C. Kieboom
Read Corredor Noll Antuna
Gushue Shepard L. Garcia  
Ward Stevenson Fedde Borne
Gutierrez Robles Valdez Howard
  Johnson Baez Braymer
  Soto Sharp Romero
  Perkins Bogucki Raquet
  Connell Crowe Stoeckinger
  Evangelista Klobosits Infante
    Tetrault Jimenez

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.