All Quiet on the Minor-League Front

Folks, we haven’t gone dark… there’s just not much going on. No relevant transactions – players getting assigned to a given roster at this time of the year is meaningless.

As promised, I’ve begun working on the player reports and have already knocked a couple, albeit with a couple of placeholders. Unlike years past, I would hold out hope that whatever BA won’t cover John Sickels might, but that option is gone. Now it’s a matter of guessing who might make the last 10 spots, and MLB Pipeline seems to have that largely covered.

This is the hardest time of the year for many us of anyways… holidays are over, diets have begun, and as we’ve seen this morning, cold and snow are back in the DMV (just in time for my being given medical clearance to run!). So my apologies in advance for the lack of enthusiasm. If the past is indeed prologue, something will break soon now that I’m written a post primarily designed to assure folks it’s still operating.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10
11 Pitchers

Much like the bats, there were handful of arms on which we could all agree, then it became a free-for-all.

This is actually par for the course – pitchers inspire a lot of strong emotions, in large part because the game begins with ’em and ends with ’em. Think about it: They’re usually the second question asked about your team (“Who are the _____ playing today? Who’s pitching?”).

Twenty-three different pitchers were named on ten ballots, same as last year. All three kinds were represented—old, young, and hurt—five, if you want to count the combinations.

Let’s do this…

  1. Erick Fedde
  2. Koda Glover
  3. Austin Voth
  4. Tyler Watson
  5. A.J. Cole
  6. Jesus Luzardo
  7. Joan Baez
  8. Weston Davis
  9. Ryan Brinley
  10. Matthew Crownover
  11. Tyler Mapes

McKenzie Mills, Andrew Lee, John Simms, Yonathan Ramirez, Nick Lee, Jaron Long, Bryan Harper, Jimmy Cordero, Steven Fuentes, Jake Johansen, Austin L. Adams, Gilberto Chu

Why 11? Well, because some idiot mixed up the days of service with innings pitched a couple of posts ago. So those of you who clarified or specified, I slotted him where you put him and if you didn’t I made him #5 since that was consensus (As it so happened, the gap between Cole and the Luzardo was so big that that maneuver made little difference).

Now for the requisite thoughts…

• Erick Fedde ends Lucas Giolito’s four-year run (which is a testament mainly to the latter’s age and hype) as the #1 pitcher in this highly unscientific poll. It would appear that two-plus years removed from TJ surgery that Fedde will be unrestricted in 2017, which is something to keep in mind if Joe Ross and/or Stephen Strasburg miss time or go under the knife.

• Most folks seem pretty confident Koda Glover will bounce back from labrum problems, which is good because he’s definitely a candidate to pitch in the late innings (don’t get me started on the whole closer misnomer).

• While Glover’s meteoric rise in 2016 enabled him to leapfrog Austin Voth, folks still believe in the Washington state native and truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the nod ahead of Fedde, especially early in the 2017 season.

• Cole turns 25 early next month and one has to wonder how much longer the Nats will use him as a starter. He’s made 52 starts at AAA and hasn’t been significantly better than league average for the most part, with 2016 worse than 2015 and likewise 2015 vs. 2014.

• Luzardo has yet to throw a professional pitch, but folks seem very confident that he’ll recover. Just yesterday, however, we were reminded that the TJ surgery success rate is high, but it’s not (and never will be) 100 percent.

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Vote for Your Favorite Arms

Favorite-Arms2
Well, thanks to an unusually busy December thus far (which could make for painfully longer January), we’re finally getting around to voting on Washington’s minor-league pitchers, a.k.a. the arms.

Like before, 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.

I’ll then tally the votes, weighting them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point) and then post the results along with the requisite comments and/or snark.

Now, one of the things that came out of Tuesday’s post was a lovely little exchange on Twitter between myself and his holiness John Manuel of Baseball America. In case he deletes his response (folks have been known to do that), BA ignores service time in favor of ABs for position players (130), IP for starting pitchers (50), and appearances for relievers (30).

I bring this up because there is one rather notable pitcher who has exceeded his rookie eligibility – A.J. Cole. If you were under the impression that all September activity does not count, that’s not quite accurate. September doesn’t count towards service time, but IPs and ABs do.

Now, to make matters worse, baseball-reference.com is listing players that I’m 99% sure have not exceeded either limit of service or playing time (like this guy). This may very well explain why BA ignores that loophole; it is easier to calculate.

However, I still think rookie-eligible is the standard because these kind of exceptions usually aren’t a big deal. Let’s be honest: Cole and Wilmer Difo are in the conversation primarily because the upper levels of the Nationals minors have been thinned (or aged) out.

So A.J. Cole is off the table with four other pitchers are gone via trades this month, so this ought to be a very interesting exercise. So vote early (но не часто, спасибо), and let’s see how this goes.

CORRECTION
I got the 50 and 45 mixed up in my head. Cole is eligible.

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.

The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Position Players

There are four players we can agree on: Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Drew Ward, and Carter Kieboom. They’re the only ones named on every ballot. This is actually pretty normal, since the Nats aren’t typically deep in position players.

Twenty different players were named on 12 ballots (including mine), down one from last year. Robles was the clear #1 player, named #1 on eleven ballots. Juan Soto got the most second-place votes, but finished third behind Stevenson, who was in everybody’s Top 5.

Without further ado, ze list:

  1. Victor Robles
  2. Andrew Stevenson
  3. Juan Soto
  4. Drew Ward
  5. Carter Kieboom
  6. Pedro Severino
  7. Jose Marmolejos
  8. Brian Goodwin
  9. Anderson Franco
  10. Rafael Bautista

Others receiving votes: Osvaldo Abreu, Nick Banks, Kelvin Gutierrez, Yasel Antnua, Sheldon Neuse, Jakson Reetz, Raudy Read, Austin Davidson, Rhett Wiseman, Blake Perkins, Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

For those wondering, that’s five names carrying over from 2015, same as last year from 2014. Two players graduated (Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo), one was traded (Christopher Bostick), and the other two (Osvaldo Abreu and Spencer Kieboom) dropped out.

The Dominican presence also remains strong with six of the Top 10, ten of the 20 nominees being born in the D.R. or to Dominican parents. This ought not to be a shock to the mindful watchers of the Nationals minors (a.k.a. the regulars), but given the reaction to Washington refusing to overpay for a “closer,” I feel obligated to point this out for the folks who are new (and welcome) here.

Next up: The pitchers, which just got a whole less interesting (or more difficult to pick) with four would-be nominees traded in the last week.

Nats Go All in for Eaton

For those of you who work the third shift, aren’t on the Twitters, or had a date last night (hey, it could happen), Washington traded Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning for Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton.

This is hard for us as prospect followers because we become (or have become) enamored with the exploits of “our guys” and envision their future with the big club, which we saw briefly last summer with Giolito and Lopez, and were looking forward to with Dunning in 2-3 years. I’ll be the first to admit that my first thought was: “Just Adam Eaton? No PTBNL?”

That’s because I’ve become used to the consolation prize that Mike Rizzo seems to find with his trades: Joe Ross… Blake Treinen… Tanner Roark, etc.

Nope. Three maybes, two of them pretty strong, for one proven, in-his-prime major leaguer.

As the pic suggests, Rizzo appears to be going all-in for this season; at least that’s the knee-jerk narrative. But if you look more closely, and think about it a little more deeply, he’s got an OF option secured for the next five seasons at a reasonable price. This is critical because at least one of the two guys who’ll play next to him next summer won’t be here in 2019.

That’s not being Chicken Little – Jayson Werth’s skills are in decline, Bryce Harper may leave. If you’re a Pollyanna, then you look at this trade as freeing up the Cayman Island that it’ll take—and if he reverts to 2015 form, deserves—to keep Harper in DC.

If you’re bitter, or cynical, then you wonder if the Nats have soured on at least one of these three prospects and are dealing them because they’ve reached their peak and/or will get hurt. I certainly hope not because if a pattern like this emerges it will be harder for Rizzo to make trades in the future.

It’s worth paraphrasing what one scout tweeted yesterday: Prospects have three purposes (1) play for the parent club (2) use to trade for other players (3) fill out the rosters in the minors. Number one is obviously top of mind for us, but this is yet another reminder that number two may actually be number one in the minds of the Washington front office.

Last call for the Top 10 Nats Bats while we brace for the Rule 5 Draft.

Nats Make Some Minor-League Signs

As noted yesterday, the latest BA transactions post—first in nearly two weeks—was published yesterday. Here are Washington’s signees:

• RHPs – Dustin Antolin, Derek Eitel
• LHPs – Yoan Aponte, Braulio Lara
• C’s – Brian Jeroloman, Adderling Ruiz
• 2B – Corban Joseph

Antolin, whose full name (Dustin Kamakana Mai Ku’u Makualani Antolin) makes for a difficult time at the DMV, Aponte and Eitel appear ticketed for Syracuse as inventory while little can be found on Aponte, which leads to the inference that he’s low-tier IFA.

Jeroloman and Ruiz are re-signs and will likely continue in their roles as player and player-coach, respectively. Jospeh spent 2016 with the Orioles organization as a stopgap at AA and AAA and will likely do the same for the Nationals in 2017

Vote for Your Favorite Bats

favbat2016Quick! Before they get traded!

It’s time to crowdsource our favorite position players in the Washington farm system as part of our annual offseason ritual to fill the void between when the Nats get eliminated in the playoffs and a season-ending injury in Spring Training the last pitch in September and the first pitch in April.

OK, so here’s how it 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 comments.

I’ll compile the votes and weight them in reverse order (#1 = 10 points, #2 = 9 points… #9 = 2 points, #10 = 1 point). When it feels like I’ve got a sizable number of submissions, I’ll update this post to let people know I’ve ready to write the “Top 10” post.

This will create the seventh annual NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Bats list.

Now, let’s not forget that “Bat” is my shorthand for “position player” – obviously there are guys for whom the glove is something to wear to blend in when they’re out in the field, but try to take into account both offense and defense. The National League remains stuck in the 19th century when it comes to the DH, so we can’t overlook defense entirely.

The Winter Meetings start up today at the Gaylord in National Harbor, so there’ll be plenty o’ speculation (because speculation is always Irish?) about proposed trades, both actual and agent-planted. Baseball America hasn’t had a Transactions post since before Thanksgiving but one is expected this morning, so we may have back-to-back posts this week!

As always, feel free to discuss in the comments…

The Next CBA

New CBAAs expected, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed upon before the deadline last night. As predicted, there will be no international draft.

BUT…
(There’s always a but, isn’t there?)

In this case, the scuttlebutt on the “but” is higher bonus pools – somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to $6M per team per year – in exchange for more severe penalties on teams that exceed the limits.

As Doug Gray pointed out over at Redminorleagues.com, this new limit of $150M to $180M is roughly 40-50% of what teams spent during the last full year of International Free Agency (2015-16), including penalties.

In essence, Gray says, the MLBPA gave away $120 to 150M from amateurs to the owners in exchange for not very much; slightly higher luxury tax thresholds, tweaks to the qualifying-offer system.

To me this is same shit, different CBA. The players’ union and the owners continue to negotiate over monies spent on (or to) people not at the table. Last time, it was the minor leaguers. This time it’s the foreign-born players.

Bottom line: the players we know and love to watch play are being attached to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis. (Translation).

Don’t even go down the path of what this means socioeconomically… in both cases, young men (or teenage boys) are being asked to trade their youth and/or postpone their education in exchange for a pittance and an infinitesimally small chance to make it to the major leagues.

The Americans at least have the threat of going to college; the (mostly) Dominicans and Venezuelans have nothing. And now they have less.

More details on the CBA are forthcoming, but I’m quite confident we’re not going to see anything that will be better for our guys.

The Preliminary 2017 Watchlist

Preliminary Watchlist 2017
Here we go again on my own, traveling down the only road I’ve ever known with the seventh edition of this site’s watchlist. There’s a certain degree of fear this time around because, CBA uncertainty aside, it feels like this might get blown up in less than a month.

Why? Because even Stevie Wonder can see that the big club’s window may be closing soon, and there are immediate needs at multiple positions. Free agency may solve some of the problems, but a trade or two seems possible, if not imminent.

That means some of these guys might not be here by the time this is finalized. It’s happened before.

Truth be told, I think they should listen to any and all offers for anybody listed below. The December 2011 trade accelerated the timeline from pretender to contender; we certainly don’t want to hear the jokes about no DUIs at Rizzo’s sports bar (because you’re done after just one round).

Now for a quick explanation on what the watchlist is (and isn’t):

Six years ago, I decided to list the players that had shown some promise by position; guys who were worth watching. I don’t give a rat’s @ss about what round a player was drafted in or how much of a bonus he got.

Those two things are decided by the market and the draft rules, neither of which are fair. But I understand that they influence decisions due to the factors of “sunk cost” and reputation (of the drafter, not the draftee).

Now for the “isn’ts”…

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 2016 usage. The Nats have a history of rotating MIs between 2B and SS, trying to develop utility players, and being weak at the corners of the IF and OF.

It’s preliminary. I can’t spend the time that I used to on this site, so I’m depending on my readers to call me out in the comments. That doesn’t mean that I’ll respond to every suggestion or crticism, but I will listen.

Now, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that I’ve collapsed two categories and expanded another. This is for aesthetics: Washington has a shipload of right-handed pitching prospects, and thimbleful of middle infielders worth listing.

Take a look a look, tell me what you think, and let’s get the 2016-17 offseason started.

C 1B 2B/SS 3B OF RHRP
Severino Skole Abreu Ward Goodwin Glover
Read Marmolejos Sagdal Gutierrez Bautista Brinley
Barrera Simonetti C. Kieboom Davidson Stevenson Mendez
Harris Bogetto Keller M. Sanchez
Robles Pantoja
Agustin Peterson
Wiseman Fuentes
Johnson F. Peguero
Soto
Florentino
RHSPs LHPs DSL Bats DSL Arms Notable Arms
Notable Bats
R. Lopez Crownover Cabello Sisneros Mapes Ballou
Giolito Borne Falcon Guillen J. Rodriguez S. Kieboom
Voth Guilbeau Mesa Chu Baez Banks
Simms
Watson Morales Duran Rivera Corredor
Valdez McDonald Pascal J. Peguero Rishwain Franco
Avila Braymer
A. Lee
Dunning
W. Davis
Sharp
C. Peña