Keith Law Ranks The O’s Farm Higher Than The Nats

Hey, I’m not above using some of the tricks tactics I used as an online marketer to get you here. My apologies to O’s fans, because I am most definitely taking advantage of the the DC-Baltimore provincialism to get some more folks to read this.

As the headline says, Keith Law has released his ranking of the 30 farm systems and Washington has come in at #21, four spaces behind the Baltimore system at #17, three spaces behind Boston at #18, eleven spaces behind the Yankees at #10. If you have a particularly good memory, you may remember that Mr. Law ranked DC at #19 a year ago.

The article (which is behind the ESPN paywall) cites the following for his ranking:

This was potentially a top-10 system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, no worse than top 15. But after dealing A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Derek Norris — probably three of the Nats’ top 10 guys before the Gio swap — this system lacks depth.

I’ve asked Mr. Law via Twitter if this is because he thinks the departed, along with the 2011 “graduates,” (Espinosa and Ramos) are better than the 2011 draftees. So far, he hasn’t responded, but I don’t take that personally. Law has a habit of retweeting his responses to queries that often rubs people the wrong way. Consequently, he may be confused by a legitimate question among the folks needling him. If/when he replies, I’ll certainly update this post.

My initial reaction was to be bothered by this, but Law is no different than a lot of prospect gurus in valuing youth. And I myself have been on record about the Nats needing to diversify their portfolio by drafting more JuCo and HS players. So if Law were to respond by saying there’s a lack of 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds in the system, we’d be in agreement.

Ultimately, I think rankings like these are like the reverse Bell Curve when it comes to students campaigning for a better grade — fans of the teams in the Top 5 (A- or A’s) or Bottom 5 (D- or F) are going to make the most noise. Most of us can concede that the “#1” ranking from BA in the prospect book (printed prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade; I promise you I don’t have that as a macro in my blogging software) was inflated, so I think the converse may be true here: That maybe Law is underrating the system as much as BA may have been overrating it.

Sickels Releases Preliminary Prospect List

Yesterday, John Sickels released his preliminary prospect list — a precursor to the release of his Top 20 list, which should come this week.

Since last year he released his preliminary list prior to the selection of our 2012 Watchlist, I’ll list the omissions instead of the overlap:

Paul Applebee Joel Barrientos Corey Brown
Paul Demny Wilmer Difo Diomedes Eusebio
Marcos Frias Matt Grace Junior Geraldo
Neil Holland Greg Holt Hendry Jimenez
Taylor Jordan Nathan Karns Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
Estarlin Martinez Gilberto Mendez Narciso Mesa
Christian Meza Justin Miller Adrian Nieto
Bryce Ortega “Fred” Ortega Arialdi Peguero
Ivan Pineyro Wander Ramos Caleb Ramsey
Manny Rodriguez Adrian Sanchez Steve Souza
Hector Silvestre Matt Swynenberg Jean Carlos Valdez

Not too difficult to see the pattern here: Too old for the level by his standards or players from the Dominican Republic that haven’t played north of Florida. Omission may also be too strong a word — if I were to slice our watchlist in half, I’d probably do the same, especially if I had to put a few hundred of them in a book that’s going on sale next month.

The only name that was on his list but not ours was Deion Williams, a.k.a. the lone HS position players signed from the Nats 2011 draft.

This year, you’ll recall, I made a conscious effort to be more exclusive than inclusive and one of the areas in which I thought that I was too “easy” last year was the three-letter leagues (DSL, GCL). It’s a balancing act between identifying guys that caught my eye while doing the season reviews and being a homer. So if I get kudos for picking out “For The Weekend,” I deserve the Red Foreman treatment on the likes of Nick Serino.

I did, however, make the case on his board for the Adrians (Nieto and Sanchez) and Taylor Jordan, with an honorable mention for Justin Bloxom. I’m sure most of you can make the case for others, and encourage you to comment both here and there.

Sickels On The Hitters

A look at the Nationals batters profiled in the John Sickels 2011 prospect book

As with the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

…Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1. Controlling the strike zone
2. Hitting for power
3. Hitting for average
4. Offensive speed
5. Fielding range
6. Fielding reliability
7. Throwing utility

…Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

…Sickels likes to look at OPS and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power. That may sound obvious, but recall how many people have used “offensive woes” to describe a .235 hitter that had a .534 secondary average last season (Derek Norris).

…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

…Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability.

Bryce Harper – A Steve Lombardozzi – C+ (C) Randolph Oduber – C
Derek Norris – B+ (B+) Chris Marrero – C+ (B-) David Freitas – C
Danny Espinosa – B (B) Rick Hague – C+ Jeff Kobernus – C (C+)
Wilson Ramos – B- (B) Corey Brown – C+ Justin Bloxom – C
Eury Perez – C+ Destin Hood – C (C+) Tyler Moore – C
J.P. Ramirez – C+ (C)

As before, the bolded guys are the ones that didn’t appear on the BA list and all of them are on our watchlist. Unlike the pitchers, there’s not so much pride in picking these guys out of the crowd because they were either an All-Star or an MVP in their leagues. Like Rob Wort, Vermont IFs Jason Martinson and Blake Kelso were left on the cutting-room floor as Grade-C guys.

And that completes my review of the prospect books, bringing us pretty damn near the start of spring training. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a “This Afternoon In Viera” or anything like that. As the snark in the tags suggests, there won’t be a Bryce Harper love-fest, just as there wasn’t a Stephen Strasburg slobbering last spring. Instead, I’ll be working on the periphery, focusing on the minor-league angles that I see [insert comparison to dating in high school here] from the (paid) beat guys as they cover the goings-on in Florida.

So the flow of posts is probably going to slow while the attention turns to the big club, but I hope folks will keep checking back here over occasionally over the next few weeks. I always post a link on Twitter when I publish, and for those that prefer the vinyl to the MP3 in terms of Internet communication technology, WordPress creates an RSS feed, too.

Sickels On The Pitchers

A look at the Nationals pitchers profiled in John Sickels 2011 prospect book

Shortly after Thanksgiving, John Sickels revealed his Top 20 for the Nationals. A little more than three weeks ago, we learned that three Nationals made his Top 50 batters list. Now, let’s take a look at the rest of the players.

I decided to break this up by batters and pitchers, since Sickels doesn’t rank them like BA. Instead he gives letter grades… and he doesn’t grade on a curve — he is very, very tough. As he himself puts it, a C+ grade is good praise, but he is careful to note that the grade is relative, i.e. a Rookie-ball Grade C prospect could end up a star while a AAA grade C is likely to end up as a backup or long reliever.

When it comes to pitchers, Sickels has some guiding principals…

…AA is the ultimate test for finesse pitchers

…K/BB ratio is a strong bellwether

…K/IP ratio can indicate “stuff” but not necessarily velocity

…H/IP ratio is a good complement to K/IP, but should be taken with a grain of salt given the variances in defense [and scorekeeping]

…HR rate — all things being equal, young pitchers that don’t give a lot of HRs are better than those that do

As you might have guessed, Sickels is a Bill James disciple in that he uses statistics to help identify trends and anomalies (see below with Brad Peacock). But he most certainly believes in the value in scouting to identify the intangibles like effort, body language, kinetics, athleticism, etc.

Here’s a look at the 21 pitchers that Sickels graded (2010 grade in parentheses)…

A.J. Cole – B Tyler Hanks – C Tanner Roark – C
Sammy Solis – B Taylor Jordan – C Brian Broderick – C
Robby Ray – B- Josh Smoker – C (C) Atahualpa Severino – C (C)
Brad Peacock – C+ (C) Paul Demny – C (C) Josh Wilkie – C (C)
Henry Rodriguez – C+ (B-) Elvin Ramirez – C Adam Carr – C (B- in ’08)
Brad Meyers – C+ (C+) Danny Rosenbaum – C Adrian Alaniz – C (C)
Cole Kimball – C+ Tom Milone – C (C) Yunesky Maya – C

So why are some of those guys bolded? Glad you asked. These are the guys that weren’t listed in the BA book, and I take a great deal of pride that nearly all of them made our watchlist.

A couple of other notes…
…Rob Wort was one of three Nationals to make the manuscript but not the book — which Sickels calls his “cutting room floor” — and would have been listed as a Grade-C prospect.

…Brad Peacock and Danny Rosenbaum were both given Sickels’ “Sleeper Alert” tag. Peacock got the nod because there is a disconnect between his stuff and his results; he’s never had an ERA below 4.00 yet has a career W-L of 19-35 while his FIPs have been consistently lower than his ERAs (e.g. 3.14 vs. 4.44 at Potomac). With Rosenbaum, it’s more of a gut feel based on his strong GO/AO ratio (1.90) and perhaps, as he alluded back in November, he’s something of a Milone clone (hey, that rhymes).

I’d give more detail (as I did last year, but that was *after* the printed run had sold out), but knowing that Sickels is basically a two-person operation (he and his wife Jeri), I’d strongly recommend folks purchase the book and support what I consider to be the best in the business.

[For those wondering, the pic is a nod to the “hanging fruit” metaphor in the comments. That’s what’s known as an orchard ladder, used for picking the fruit from the highest branches]

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part Two

The rest of the list and the projected 2014 lineup

Picking up where we left off yesterday, here’s 16 through 30 on the Baseball America Top 30 list for 2011…

16. Tom Milone, LHP
17. Adrian Sanchez, 2B/3B
18. A.J. Morris, RHP
19. Michael Burgess, OF
20. Elvin Ramirez, RHP
21. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
22. Jason Martinson, SS
23. Danny Rosenbaum, LHP
24. Tyler Moore, 1B
25. J.P. Ramirez, OF
26. Ryan Tatusko, RHP
27. Brad Meyers, RHP
28. Trevor Holder, RHP
29. Adam Carr, RHP
30. Hassan Pena, RHP

As mentioned yesterday, there were 14 holdovers — Norris, Espinosa, Marrero, Kobernus, Burgess, Hood, Perez, Meyers, Morris, Brad Peacock, Hassan Pena, Lombardozzi, J.P. Ramirez, and Rosenbaum. Burgess and Morris have since been traded, which means that there 16 newcomers to the list. Here’s the breakdown of they came into the system:

2010 Draft — Harper (1), Cole (4), Solis (6), Hague (14), Ray (15) , Martinson (22)

2010 Acquisitions — Ramos (5), Tatusko (26), Elvin Ramirez (20)

2010 IFA — Maya (11)

2009 Draft — Holder (28)

2008 Draft — Milone (16), Moore (24)

2007 IFA — Sanchez (17)

2006 Draft — Kimball (7), Carr (29)

As you can see, there’s a reason why the Nationals jumped from #24 to #14 and it’s not just Bryce Harper. Almost half of the Top 30 has been drafted or acquired under the Rizzo front office, and more than a third were brought in last year alone. That’s in quite stark contrast to Bowden’s Reign of Error, particularly the ’06 draft, which is has yet to produce a single major-leaguer (Marrero, Pena, and Brad Peacock join Kimball and Carr as ’06ers, so there’s still a little bit of hope). Thus, even without the #1 pick overall, there’s reason to believe that things can continue to improve with a deep draft this June and the Nationals possessing three of the first 34 picks.

As Brian Oliver pointed out last week, there are still reasons to be concerned. The list is roughly 50/50 in terms of pitchers and position players, but there are more relievers than starters. It tends to skew older, in part because the ’07-’08 drafts were more college-oriented, but also in part because the ’06 draft was such a perfect failure. Espinosa is poised to become just the second homegrown bat since the club set up shop in Washington — that’s two position players in six drafts, three in seven if you want to count Desmond. And until Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg pitches a full season, John Lannan remains the team’s best homegrown starter.

But if folks are looking for reason to hope, take a look at BA’s projected 2014 lineup for Washington. Now, a lot of things have to go right  (this is taking-the-tartar-sauce-while-you-go-after-the-whale optimism) for this to happen, but with a week to go until pitchers and catchers report, hope springs eternal, right?

C – Wlson Ramos
1B – Derek Norris
2B – Danny Espinosa
SS – Ian Desmond
3B – Ryan Zimmerman
LF – Jayson Werth
CF – Eury Perez
RF – Bryce Harper
#1P – Stephen Strasburg
#2P – Jordan Zimmermann
#3P – A.J. Cole
#4P – Sammy Solis
#5P – John Lannan
CL – Drew Storen

The BA Prospect Handbook, Part One

A look at the highlights from the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook

Last week, the estimable Brian Oliver graced us with his thoughts about the state of the Nationals Farm system, citing the recently arrived Baseball America Prospect Handbook and the #14 organizational ranking for the Nationals. This week, I’d like to take some time discussing some of the other highlights from the book.

While I still think BA is a bit of a cheerleader, and that Sickels remains the gold standard, I’ve come to the conclusion that the handbook is a lot like the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” issue: You can berate its status, lament its influence, but you just can’t ignore it. I may not always agree with them, but I will say that my opinion of BA has changed for the better.

The book ranks the Top 30 prospects. Two of the 2011 Top 30 were traded away with the acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny (Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris). As the headline suggests, I’m breaking up the list to have multiple posts and discussion fodder . But before I do that, let’s take a look at what happened to last year’s Top 30:

Graduated (6) — Stephen Strasubrg, Drew Storen, Ian Desmond, Justin Maxwell, Luis Atilano, Roger Bernadina

Lost On Waivers (3) — Aaron Thompson, Juan Jaime, Marco Estrada

Traded (3) — Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris, Graham Hicks

Retired (1) — Will Atwood

Dropped Out (5) — J.R. Higley, Jack McGeary, Atahualpa Severino, Adrian Nieto, Jeff Mandel

If you’re following the parenthetical numbers and doing the math, then you know that 14 of this year’s Top 30 prospects are holdovers (12 if you exclude Burgess and Morris) and there are 16 new names on the list. For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the two organizations that were above and below the Nationals #24 organization ranking last year. The #23 Chicago White Sox (this year’s #27) also had 14 holdovers from 2010 to 2011 while the #25 New York Mets (this year’s #20) had 18 holdovers.

Clearly, the newcomers Nats’ Top 30 are the difference, but I think it’s fair to say that’s not just simply the addition of a certain 18-year-old phenom. As Baseball America put it: “Last year, the Nationals system consisted of Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond and a few other contributors. This year’s system is Bryce Harper, Derek Norris, Danny Espinosa and the 2010 draft class [italics mine], but the top is heavy enough to put the Nats in the first half of the rankings.”

Tomorrow, I’ll break down the 16 “new guys” in terms of how they were acquired, but without further ado, here’s the first 15 of the Baseball America Top 30 Prospects for the Washington Nationals…

  1. Bryce Harper, OF
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Danny Espinosa, SS/2B
  4. A.J. Cole, RHP
  5. Wilson Ramos, C
  6. Sammy Solis, LHP
  7. Cole Kimball, RHP
  8. Eury Perez, OF
  9. Chris Marrero, OF
  10. Brad Peacock, RHP
  11. Yunesky Maya, RHP
  12. Destin Hood, OF
  13. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  14. Rick Hague, SS
  15. Robbie Ray, LHP

More From The MLBA: Pitchers

The obligatory follow-up to yesterday’s post

Before I jump into the post about the pitchers, let me take a little side trip and point folks towards this item on yet another National minor-leaguer suspended for PEDs. Simply put, this is a black mark against the organization, no matter how you spin it. The cynical take is that “Yay, this means I’ll get to see David Freitas sooner,” but I also know that comes at the expense of a young man that, at the very least, will be knocked back to Auburn for the summer, and quite possibly could be released. I’d much rather see a prospect flame out by competition versus immolation.

Back to post…

Now that folks are familiar with the system, let’s take a look at which pitchers were written up, shall we?

A.J. Cole (19) – 9D

Sammy Solis (22) – 8C
Throws from low 3/4 slot without a slider and features a plus changeup

Brad Meyers (25) – 8C (7C)
Long, lean, and throws the classic arsenal (FB, SL, CV, CU) and works well in the lower third of the zone

Cole Kimball (25) – 8D
Decent three-pitch arsenal (FB, SL, CU) and made great strides, moving from A+ to AA with dominant numbers (12.3K/9 at AA)

Jack McGeary (22) – 8D

Robbie Ray (19) – 8D

Pat Lehman (24) – 7B (7B)
Like Holder, gave up the long ball and didn’t hurt himself with walks, but got more strikeouts (9.1/9) with a decent slider.

Brad Peacock (23) – 7C
Mastery of his changeup was the key to his breakthrough season, making his mid-90s FB even faster

Trevor Holder (24) – 7C (7D)
Cannot survive up in the zone, as evidenced by the 11HR’s given up at Potomac, but throws strikes and doesn’t give in to batters

Athualpa Severino (26) – 7C
Primarily listed due to the slim chance he has to make the club as a LOOGY

Josh Smoker (22) – 7C (8D)

Aaron Barrett (23) – 7D

Colton Willems (22) – 6E (8E)
Um, what part of “retire” did they not understand?


Now, as I pause for you to wipe off the coffee or soda that you just spit onto your screen…

This is indefensibly bad. Apparently neither retirement (Willems) nor in-season Tommy John surgery (McGeary) is enough to get you booted from the list. Missing nearly the entire year (Myers) can somehow improve your chances? Pat Lehman, who is shorter than I am, has apparently grown to 6′ 6″ and has a better chance of making it to the majors than a younger pitcher that finished the season at AA.

Suffice it to say, this is the last MLBA post and the final time I’ll be buying this book. My apologies if you were hoping for more than snark and comedy.

More From MLBA: The Hitters

A look at the hitters listed in the Minor-League Baseball Analyst

Because it was suggested — but more because it gives us discussion fodder — I’m continuing with my posts derived from the Minor-League Baseball Analyst (MLBA). To keep folks posted on my previously promised endeavors (not only that, Skipper, what you said you’d do), the right-handed starters page is now complete.

First, a review of the system they use for grading prospects. It’s two parts, a number grade and then a letter grade. The number grade is the ceiling, the letter grade is the potential for reaching that ceiling.

10 = Hall of Famer A = 90% Probability
9 = Elite Player B = 70% Probability
8 = Solid Regular C = 50% Probability
7= Average Regular D = 30% Probability
6= Platoon Player E = 10% Probability

As I did last year, I’ve put my comments in itals if I’ve seen them in person (or simply have something to add).

Bryce Harper (18) – 10D
Some power, serviceable arm, can hit a little 😉

Wilson Ramos (23) – 8B

Danny Espinosa (24) – 8B (8B)
Not much to add to what I wrote last year: “MLB-ready defense. Terrific batter’s eye. Power breakout in ’09, if legit, could get him to Washington by year’s end.” Obviously, folks question if he can keep the strikeouts down and the BA high enough to justify spot in everyday linep

Derek Norris (22) – 8B (9D)
Injuries diminished his power in 2010, but time to heal between regular season and the AFL seems to have brought it back.

Eury Perez (21) – 8C (8C)
Turned on the jets in the second half to finish with 64 steals and is the best young CF prospect in the system.

Chris Marrero (23) – 8C (9D)
Slowly working his way up to AAA, but the once-promising power potential remains somewhat diminished.

Corey Brown (25) – 8C

Tyler Moore (24) – 8D
Struggles with breaking pitches and can be jammed inside, but arguable the most pure power in the system.

Steve Lombardozzi (22) – 8D
No standout tool, but does the little things well and uses the whole field as switch-hitter. Can fill in at SS, but fringe-average arm will be exposed.

Destin Hood (21) – 8D (8D)

Jeff Kobernus (23) – 7C

Rick Hague (22) – 7C

Kevin Keyes (22) – 7C
Just passing this along, folks.

J.P. Ramirez (21) – 7C (7D)

Adrian Nieto (21) – 7D (8E)

Leonard Davis (27) – 6B (6B)
SDDY: Mistake hitter that can be neutralized by LHPs. Best positions are 3B and RF but can play LF and 2B.

Stephen King (23) – 6D
Has shown flashes of former five-tool status, but injuries and suspension have eaten into his development time


As you can see, there are some obvious faults to this list… a 4A utility guy… a 22-y.o. that was clearly overmatched at SS-A… a light-hitting catcher that’s still not hitting… It’s nice that there are more guys being ranked (16 vs. 15 last year), but I’d rather have something a little less suspect.

Tomorrow, a look at the pitchers and then we’ll work our way over the the likes of BA and Sickels while working on the watchlists.

Like a Bad Penny

Brian Oliver weighs in on the Nationals farm system

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.

I may have walked away from NFA last September but I didn’t stop following the minor leagues, and Sue was nice enough to offer me a place here to dip my toe back into the prospect pool one more time.

As Sue has mentioned, it’s the time of year for the prospect guides and I happily received my copy of the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook last week. Fortunately for me (and my grading/lesson plans), there have been a couple of “snow” days and a pair of teacher workdays allowing me to dive into the BA Handbook.

The guys at BA do a tremendous job putting together a tome that discusses more than 900 of the top prospects in MLB, complete with scouting reports and projected ports of call to begin the 2011 season. As most who know my inclination is towards seeing how the Nationals are doing from a player-development point of view.

Back in 2005, BA ranked a threadbare Nationals system #26, led by the likes of Mike Hinckley and Larry Broadway. In 2006, Ryan Zimmerman allowed them to move up to #24, but aside from the anomaly of 2008 (BA was crazy to let the drafting of the left-handed firm of Detwiler, Smoker & McGeary cast that much influence on rankings [#10 overall]), the Nationals have been in the bottom third of the BA talent rankings for most of the last decade.

This year, the folks at BA have moved the Nationals to the top half of the class (#14 overall) and this time it’s with some merit. They have done a nice job of restocking and rebuilding a farm system torn apart by MLB ownership and mismanaged by Jim Bowden’s reign of error. Scanning the top 30 (or 31 if you ordered directly from BA… hello Sandy Leon), it has a nice balance of bats and arms, some close to the majors (Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos), some a year or two away (Derek Norris and perhaps Bryce Harper) and some (hopefully) a bit further out (A.J. Cole and Eury Perez).

Though, it is still a work in progress.

It’s that work in progress that I wanted to investigate. I scanned the Handbook with a focus on trying to uncover what makes the top organizations the top and where the Nationals fell in terms of that measuring stick. BA was kind enough to provide us with source of talent for all 30 organizations and it’s that I chose to compare.

They initially break out homegrown versus acquired. There’s really not much to surmise there (aside from Toronto making out well in the Roy Halladay trade). Most teams’ top prospects are homegrown and the Nationals are no exception with 28/31 prospects homegrown (not to mention nine of their top 10).

What is clear to me is that the Nats need to improve their performance internationally if they want to run with the top organizations in MLB. Only four of the top 31 Nats are homegrown and international compared to the top 10 franchises (Kansas City, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Toronto, New York [AL], Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago [NL], San Diego & Colorado). With the exception of the Cubs, none of the top organizations have less than seven international prospects.

While the focus the Nationals have had internationally has restarted after Smiley-gate, they still have a long way to go to establish a healthy and steady international pipeline. Mike Rizzo and company stepped up in 2010 signing Yunesky Maya, but that needs to be replicated and amplified from this point forward. They really need to crank up their presence internationally.

This does not mean they need to throw millions of dollars at one player. What it means is they need to do is invest the cost of one season of Jason Marquis ($7.5 million) into getting their Dominican academy up and running, set up a presence in the Pacific Rim, and look to get quality from quantity. Sign a couple of dozen players in the $20-100K range and see who they can develop. This is critical to long-term success because there are only a finite number of draft picks each season while the number of international free agents is only capped by roster space.

Additionally, the Nats are casting their lot with college players in the draft. While a more known commodity when it comes to projection, this normally comes with a reduced ceiling of what they can become. It’s a choice between an older player who may max out as a slightly above replacement level player versus a younger player who could turn into a key part of a winning organization. Yes, the risk of flameout increases with younger players, but this is where top organizations show faith and trust in their player identification — and more importantly, their player-development personnel.

The jury is still out on the Nats’ player development. Guys drafted in the top 10 picks out of college should make the majors for at least a cup of coffee. The Nats need to show us that they can turn on a pipeline that will continually crank out guys for the 25-man roster, and not just #5 starters, middle relievers and bench guys. The Nats need to get a pipeline in place that develops starters consistently… not just for Nats Park but also to move in deals to address weaknesses.

Let me close with this: It’s fantastic to see the Lerners write the big checks for the draft. Please keep that up and understand that the best way to put the Nats in a position to compete on a regular basis is to continue that investment and increase it internationally. Keep exploiting the First Year Player Draft by drafting and signing the AJ Coles and Robbie Rays of the world. It’s a system that can be used to replenish a farm system.

Next, show consistency and results in the player development process. I’m happy to see the Espinosas and Desmonds succeed, but it doesn’t stop there; there needs to be a steady stream of bats and arms at the ready. Rizzo, Doug Harris and their staff have done a solid job of standing up a minor-league organization over the last couple of seasons but there is much more work to do.

Programming Note

Hitting the road to visit family…

Remember the last two snowstorms? Well, this week’s came too early to fulfill my private prediction that we’d get another just in time to preempt our third attempt to visit family in New England. So, as you might imagine, posts will slow (though it was a busy week this week wasn’t it?).

My Baseball America book came in the mail on Thursday. After the flurry of Keith Law posts, I chose to put my time into working on the player watchlists, as previously posted. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve updated the page for lefthanded starters and published the page for righthanded starters, leaving unfinished the guys that I hope may be included in the Sickels book, which I hope to have in my hands upon my return.

And though his site is now officially gone, NFA Brian still lives on Twitter and I have to pass along two tweets combined into one quote regarding the BA book:

[Ten] of the 30 #Nationals were acquired in the last year — Harper (1), Cole (4), Ramos (5), Solis (6), Maya (11), Hague (14), Ray (15), ElvRamirez (20), Martinson (22), & Tatusko (26)

Add in the 2009 draft picks that are still in the system — Kobernus (21), Rosenbaum (23), Holder (28) — and that’s 13 out of 30 from the Rizzo era. This is not to say we’ll be the next Kansas City (let’s face it: that many high-risk/high-reward picks panning out does require a certain amount of luck), but we’re getting there… maybe not as fast as folks want, but it’s progress.