Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for March, 2020

So…. what the heck do we talk about?

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Its been a whirlwind few weeks, I tell you.

With today’s announcement that Virginia schools are now closed for the rest of the school year, I thought i’d chime in.  Virginia was not the first state to take such drastic measures, but certainly won’t be the last.

We’ve already had the NCAA shutter all spring sports, including baseball and the far-too-early-but-now-seemingly-sensible cancellation of the College World Series in June.

We’re also basically at a point where its likely that all prep sports around the country will be cancelled as well.

Its amazing.

I’ve covered the CWS for years, covering prep baseball in the DC/MD/VA areas is an annual tradition; not in 2020.  There’s nothing.

My son’s little league?  Probably gone.  He’s in a critical development year in the 7-8yr old range; this will set back his class for years to come.

So, now the question is … when do you think MLB will return?  Will it?  Do you think we’ll be past this crisis by the all Star Break in mid July?

If this stretches into August … and the players need a 4-week spring training … what time is left?  Would you run a season for a month and a half?

There’s all sorts of articles about service time, negotiations ongoing, etc.  To take a simple example: what would you do with Mookie Betts and the Dodgers if the season goes poof?  Both sides have pretty decent arguments:

  • Betts would argue he was blocked from fulfilling his end of the contract and should be a free agent.
  • Dodgers would argue that they traded assets to acquire  him and never got a day of playing time out of him so he should play another season for htem.

What a mess.

Any predictions out there?

My hope is for a mid-July restart, then a two month sprint of a season Aug and Sept (60 games or there abouts), maybe entirely within division, to determine the conventional playoff slat of 5 teams/league.  It will be an entirely unbalanced schedule but so be it.  I’d exactly pro-rate a “year” of service time to the actual days played (meaning if they do a 60-day season that’s the new 182-day “service year prorated so that each 2020 day is worth 3 non-2020 service days).  Yeah the teams like the Dodgers that acquired players get screwed, but they’re also paying pro-rated salaries thanks to natioanl emergency clauses and force majeure clauses in contracts.  Not fair to all players … but everyone takes a hit.

Written by Todd Boss

March 23rd, 2020 at 8:33 pm

Evaluation of IFA draft classes; 2005-present

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Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history.  And he's only 20.  Source NYPost

Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history. And he’s only 20. Source NYPost

So, i’ve been critical of the Nats top-end drafting lately in this space, as it has contributed to our overall paltry farm system rankings.  And i’ve been critical of the handling of the farm system in general.
But a counter argument is, if you do well in the IFA market … you can paper over bad drafts.  Absolutely true!  So, lets take a look at the fruits of the Nats IFA endeavors over the years.
Here’s an overview of the best products from each IFA July 2nd signing class.
Before we start, its worth reviewing the CBA rules set forth that govern IFAs over the years.  Full CBA details here: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/cba-history/ .  As the rules change here i’ll put in a note, because they drive context for various IFA years.

IFA starting point for 2005: no rules; free-for-all, no spending limits, its the true wild west.
The Nats, of course, are a steward of the MLB and were barred from even attempting to improve the 2005 roster mid season, let alone spend big money in the IFA market.
  • 2005: Jhonatan Solano only real prospect
  • 2006: Smiley Gonzalez; $1.4M bonus: all eggs in this one basket; nobody else from class ever appeared as a prospect

In July 2006, the Lerner’s took over.  But retained the existing management team and (as was frequently noted at the time), did not really invest in the team for some years (“Lerners are cheap!”)

  • 2007: Adrian Sanchez, Sandy Leon, Eury Perez; not bad in that three players made the majors; none really an impact player
  • 2008: not one signee ever appeared on any prospect ranking; fall out from the Smiley Gonzalez situation
  • 2009: No prospects of note and none remain, still fall out from rebuilding of entire DR operation under Rizzo
So, we’ll take a break here to discuss the obvious.  For basically three years as the team transitioned away from the Smiley Gonzalez scandal we had basically nothing come from international scouting.  The team had to cut ties with all its DR operations, it fired its staff in-country (Jose Rijo) and fired its general manager Jim Bowden.  So, its worth a quick discussion as to the context the team and Mike Rizzo began with starting in 2010.
  • 2010: Big money signing in Yunesky Maya that didn’t really pay off.  Also got Difo and Suero, each for almost no money.  Ruiz in AA remains in org.  Pretty good class.
  • 2011: 7 players from class appeared on rankings at some point: Raudy Read, Pedro Severino best players, several guys got to AA or AAA.  Jose Marmolejos in this class too.

When you’re signing 16yr olds … it may very well take 7 years to see any progress.  Here we are in 2020 and Raudy Read still has options, is still in the mix.  Difo an edge-of-the-roster backup middle infielder, Suero a solid middle reliever.


Starting for the 2012 season, the new CBA attempted to put limits onto IFA spending, imposing taxes and penalties for those who went over the bonus limits.  But what teams discovered was that the pathway forward with these new rules was to pick a year and “blow it out,” basically spend without limits and then take the penalties for the next two seasons.  You saw lots of teams attempt this strategy, including the big-money teams like New York and Los Angeles.
  • 2012: Reynaldo Lopez for just 17k biggest win, Rafael Bautista still in org
  • 2013: 7 guys on prospect lists, Anderson Franco biggest money signing for $900k, Steven Fuentes probably highest ranked prospect at this point.  Still several guys on AA and high-A rosters from class.
  • 2014: Victor Robles big win for just 225k.  Pena, Baez still in system.  Gilbert Lara was the big money guy, but he’s not exactly lighting it up in A-ball right now.
So, the first 5 years of the Rizzo regime featured a big swing and miss on the Cuban Maya.  I always liked him; loved that he had 8 pitches, but his fastball was just never as advertised.  We thought we were getting the next Livan Hernandez (age 23) but instead we got the next Livan Hernandez (age 35).  But, they had some HUGE wins here: Lopez for $17k is fantastic.   We still have some Fuentes fans who think he may succeed.  Robles for just $225k is perhaps an even bigger win than Lopez, given his development path and all star projection.  Plus we still have a ton of guys who might feature as role players.  So the rebuilding plan is back on track.
  • 2015: Juan Soto for 1.5M; obviously a win.  but little else from class to note.  Taveras, Chu, German, Alastre at various lower minors stops.
A change in strategy; the Nats went for an “all eggs in one basket” approach for the first time since 2010.  And it has paid off in spades.  $1.5M for Soto, who is now an MVP candidate.  One hit like this from your IFA makes up for more than a few classes.  We still may see something out of someone like German, who got an NRI this year and may be the next Wander Suero.
  • 2016: a TON of money spent: Garcia (1.3), Antuna (3.9m), Pineda (450k), Sanchez (950k); so far, plus Yadiel Hernandez as an older signee.  The potential is there for sure, as at least four of these guys are listed as top prospects.  Niomar Gomez in low-A rotation a sleeper.
This was finally the year Washington exploded their bonus pools, and the timing was solid.  They figured that the new CBA would eliminate the “binge mode” loophole so they spent and spent.  Lots of these acquired prospects remain in the system now and will for years to come.    Garcia is our #2 prospect, Antuna should return to the prospect fold after he gets over his injury-riddled 2019.  A lot of people look at Pineda as a sleeper; his star dimmed in 2019 but it might improve with a solid bounce back season.  I know there’s Hernandez fans out here who point at his massive 2019 AAA numbers … but the dude is 32 now, limited defensively to a corner at best; how is this a prospect?

In late 2016, a new CBA was signed that changed the rules here yet again.  The complete rules are detailed here: http://m.mlb.com/glossary/transactions/international-amateur-free-agency-bonus-pool-money, but basically we went from the soft limit with penalties to more hard caps.  So the IFA market now operates more like the Rule 4 draft; no going over, no chicanery.
It also means that, like the draft, you have to hit on your money picks.  Of course, its also far, far too early to pass any judgement on our three classes since.
  • 2017: way too early to tell; the 4 guys getting prospect love from this class are all at GCL.  Yeah, Arias leading guys right now.
  • 2018: Jeremy De La Rosa only top-30 prospect so far but the GCL/DSL is littered with 2018 IFA signees
  • 2019: Already getting prospect love for Andry Lara and Roismar Quintana; we spread more money around this year so promising.

Conclusions?
So, since moving to Washington really they’ve had just two stars out of IFA work; Robles and Soto.  they’ve had a couple more slightly better than replacement players (Lopez, Suero).  And they’ve had a ton of guys who have hit the majors in some fashion or another at the replacement level (Difo, Solano, Perez, Leon, etc).
The nats will probably roll out a 2020 lineup that contains at least three and perhaps four IFA home-grown signings (Robles, Soto, Suero for sure, perhaps Difo or Sanchez).  That’s pretty darn good, considering that the 2020 25-man roster likely only features 5 players that the team drafted (Stevenson, Taylor, Zimmerman, Strasburg and Voth) and only one of them will be in the “core 14 players” that comprise our starting 8 positional players, 5 rotation mates and closer.
but you have to ask; in 15 years they’ve generated precisely two above-replacement level WAR guys.  Is that a failure?

Farm System Rankings; a comparison and contrast

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We’re basically at the end of “Prospect Season” now … and the last of the major pundits (mlbpipeline.com) has published its org rankings.  We talked about the Nats system top X in a previous post, now here’s a more macro view on how our system looks in general.

Short answer: “Not Good, Bob!”

(TV reference, anyone?)

Anyway.  Here’s links to the major pundits and their system rankings:

I havn’t seen anything from Fangraphs (i’m not sure they do entire system rankings), Baseball Prospectus now has their entire site behind a paywall, ESPN is in a transition year after Law left, and John Sickels at the Athletic  (who has done rank ings in the past) seems to have re-focused his attentions for now, so we’re down to these four major pundits.

I’ve seen a couple other rankings (one from Bleacher Report, another from Myworldofbaseball.com) that are mostly driven by the rankings of the top prospects in each system, which is a somewhat limited way to view an entire system comprised of hundreds of prospects.  If a system has (say) three top 100 players that are sure fire MLBers then absolutely nothing else in the time line … how strong is that “system” in general?  I’d rather have a ton of percolating talent than having a top heavy system.   This generally describes why there’s sometimes wild differences in the way systems are ranked, especially in the Law rankings (b/c he’s heavy on ceiling and is the anti-famous

Nats observations: Both MLB and Law have the Nats at #29.  MLB says that “trades and free agent signings” have led the system to be depleted.  Law says the team “worked the heck out of the system” in trades to acquire players.  Neither mention the poor drafting at the top levels over the past seasons (as I laid out in a previous post).  MILB and BA are a bit more friendly, perhaps because they still think rather highly of some of our more “famous” prospects (Romero, Mendoza, Antuna etc).

 

Overall system ranking observatiosn:

  • Everyone has Tampa #1.  Pretty scary given that they won 96 games in a very difficult division last year.
  • There’s generally a consensus on the rest of the top 5 farms: San Diego (who was #1 last year by most rankers), LA Dodgers, Atlanta are mostly considered for top 5 by the pundits.
  • There’s a  huge disconnect between Law and the rest of the industry on some of the systems: he has Detroit far lower than others, while he has the Yankees and St. Louis generally far higher than others.
  • but at the bottom end of the rankings, also some consistency: Milwaukee is dead-last on every list.  Washington, Colorado, Houston, Cincinnati and Boston also generally at the bottom.

Its ok to be at the Bottom of these rankings if you’ve used your system to get to a WS title.  Washington, Houston, Boston are definitely in this category.  Cincinnati has really shredded their depth lately to stock up and make a run, so their low ranking is understandable.  Colorado’s location here is a bit more of an indictment of their approach lately.

Its incredible that the two wealthiest teams (Yankees and Dodgers) continue to not only win 100+ games but maintain among the strongest farm systems.  How does this happen?  They both should have the least amount of assets to leverage in the draft and the IFA market (by virtue of having the smallest bonus pools for being among the best teams), yet they both continue to churn out prospect after prospect.  They’re both clearing doing something right.

Lastly its notable that a couple of the serial “tankers” of late (Baltimore, Miami, and Seattle in particular) have made huge strides in their system rankings over the past couple of years.  They’re on the Houston and Chicago Cubs plan of bottoming out to build back up.  We’ll  have to wait and see how it goes in the next few  years.

Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2020 at 12:25 pm

MLB Pipeline top 30 comes out: who are they up/down on?

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Rutledge is holding stead at #3 on nearly everyone's list. Photo via BA

Rutledge is holding stead at #3 on nearly everyone’s list. Photo via BA

In quick succession to Keith Law‘s list of top Nats prospects, the prospect team at MLBpipeline.com (Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo) has released their top 30 for the nats system.

Here’s the major pundits in the space and links to their top X lists:

  • MLBpipeline (Callis, Mayo): https://www.mlb.com/prospects/2020/nationals/
  • Athletic (Keith Law): https://theathletic.com/1646222/2020/03/03/keith-laws-prospect-rankings-washington-nationals/ (paywall)
  • Fangraphs (McDaniel and Longenhagen): https://blogs.fangraphs.com/top-21-prospects-washington-nationals/
  • Baseball America: https://www.baseballamerica.com/teams/1012/washington-nationals/organizational/?year=2020&type=P
  • Baseball Prospectus: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/prospects/article/55796/2020-prospects-washington-nationals-top-10-prospects/ (paywall)

The only major pundits remaining without published lists are John Sickels, who ran minorleagueball.com for years but who is now at the Athletic and i’m not sure if he’s still in the business of prospect rankings (he did not do one last year but it was perhaps still during the transition to the site) and Kiley McDaniel, who recently left Fangraphs to take over for Law at ESPN and probably doesn’t have time in 2020.

Anyway, lets take a look at the MLBpipeline guys and see who they’re “up” and “down” on.  From a prospect perspective, I perceive that Callis/Mayo tend to more heavily weigh the “famous factor” in these rankings, often keeping players around just due to draft pedigree or signing bonus.  They also seem to weigh floor a bit more than ceiling (hence why we have a few “edge of the 40-man roster types” lingering on this list, and often will have promising but younger players omitted to include older guys … that is unless the younger guy is in the “famous” category.

  • Same top 3 as everyone else
  • They’re definitely high man on both Andry Lara and Eddy Yean.
  • As per the “famous factor,” Romero continues to linger in their top 10
  • They like 2019 IFA Roismar Quintana; Law and BA didn’t rank him at all and they have him 15th despite never having played an inning in pro ball.
  • They have a bunch of  higher-round college arm draft picks in teh 20-30 range (guys like Schaller, Irvin, Bourque, Braymer) that seem to be to be low ceiling guys; are any of these guys anything other than org-arms?
  • Raudy ReadJakson Reetz and Tres Barrera listed as 25,28 and 19 respectively.  Is this how you’d rank these depth chart catchers right now on your prospect  list?
  • They’re much lower on German than Law was, but are in line with BA and Fangraphs.   I wonder what Law sees in the guy.

Who’s missing?

  • as others noted, no Jackson Tetrault anywhere.  No Malvin Pena mentioned either.  No Augustin on mlb’s list; only Law likes this guy.

Keith Law’s Nats top 20 comes out; who is he up and down on?

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Kieboom is Law's number one ... like everyone else. Photo via federalbaseball.com

Kieboom is Law’s number one … like everyone else. Photo via federalbaseball.com

Keith Law, long-time ESPN baseball writer and prospect lead, moved to the Athletic this past off-season and he’s put out most of his 2020 pre-season prospect content.  Yesterday he put out his Nats top-20 list.

We already know that Law is bearish on the Nats system in general, ranking it 29th out of 30 teams.  A lot of that has to do with his being “lower” on Carter Kieboom and especially Luis Garcia than any others.  But its also a pretty specific indictment of the Nats top-end drafting (and to be fair, trading of prospects to acquire MLB players) over the past years.  Consider the top 3 rounds of draftees lately (see the Draft Tracker for more: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/)

  • 2019: Rutledge, forfeited 2nd round pick, Mendoza
  • 2018: Denaburg, Cate, Schaller
  • 2017: Romero, Crowe, Raquet
  • 2016: Kieboom, Dunning, Neuse, Luzardo
  • 2015: forfeited 1st round pick, Stevenson, Perkins, Wisemann
  • 2014: Fedde, Suarez (who refused to sign), Reetz
  • 2013: forfeited 1st round pick, Johansen, Ward
  • 2012: Giolito, Renda, Mooneyham

So, take a look at this list of top end picks.  You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a first rounder who has starred for this organization (Anthony Rendon).  The team gave up on Giolito and he’s now starting for the White Sox.  Fedde is heading to the minors again in 2020 and seems topped out as a 4-A starter, and so far the team has gotten nothing from its 2017 and 2018 $3M arms Romero and Denaburg.  You can credibly say that the team lost or outright blew its first round picks in 5 of the last 8 seasons, and the guys who have succeeded not named Kieboom are playing for other teams.

The 2nd rounders are even a worse indictment; Renda and Johansen were failures. Suarez refused to sign (a huge gaffe in the modern bonus-structure driven draft).  Stevenson is a 5th outfielder.  Dunning and Neuse are solid … for other teams.  We gave up last year’s 2nd rounder to sign Patrick Corbin.

Lastly the 3rd rounders have also basically done nothing: the team was obsessed with Mooneyham for years and he never got above A-ball.  Ward and Wiseman are org players.  Reetz is finally showing some promise … in his 6th pro season.   Luzardo?  Awesome … for another team.  Raquet was serviceable as a starter in high-A last year repeating the level, but may be heading to relief as a lefty specialist.  Schaller didn’t even make Law’s top 20 list despite being a Vanderbilt product, and Mendoza is already a 1B limited guy more famous for his HS pedigree than his abilities.

Yeah.  Its no wonder our system is so poorly ranked.

(No, i’m not taking into context who we traded these assets for.  Yes i’m aware that the trades of Giolito, Dunning, Neuse, and Luzardo netted the team several crucial pieces at the MLB level in Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen.  That’s not the point here; we’re isolating reasons why the farm system has collapsed; part of is is poor drafting and part of it is trading away 1st and 2nd rounders.  I’m less concerned with the traded assets as I am with the 1st and 2nd round pick failures that are starting to mount up; Denaburg and Romero in particular.).

———–

Anyway.  Lets take a look at who Law likes and doesn’t like as compared to the rest of the prospect ranking world.  Law’s methodology generally favors ceiling over floor (so he likes younger prep guys with potential versus boring guys in AAA with demonstrated but un-flashy talent).  He favors those in the skill positions (SS, CF) versus corners.  He really discounts relievers.  He likes IFAs.  So with that in mind, here’s some names worth mentioning:

  • He has the same top 3 as most every one else for our system: Kieboom, Garcia, Rutledge.  BA, Fangraphs, MLBpipeline and Law all have these three in a row.
  • He’s generally down on Kieboom though versus other shops: I’ve seen Kieboom in the 11-15 range on a lot of minors-wide lists; Law has him all the way down at #74.
  • We know he’s down on Garcia versus others.  I’ve seen Garcia mostly in the 60s to 90s range on these minor’s wide lists; Law doesn’t have him anywhere close and has made mention of it whenever asked, saying that Garcia’s sole “tool” seems to be that he was 19 in AA last season.  This is definitely at odds with the way Garcia is portrayed within the organization (he did get an NRI this year and has already hit a flashy homer), nor with other evaluations.
  • He remains higher on Denaburg than others: see “ceiling” versus “floor” reasoning above.
  • he’s a little higher on Jeremy De La Rosa and Eddy Yean than other shops, noting that Yean’s name frequently comes up in trade talks but the Nats are holding firm.
  • He’s lower on Matt Cronin than other shops despite his eye-popping numbers: see “reliever all the way” reasoning above.
  • He’s suddenly much higher on Reetz than basically anyone else, citing 2nd half splits that really look rosy.  Hey, i’ve been down on Reetz for a while, using him as my classic “Baseball doesn’t know what a sunk cost is” economics argument for hanging onto failed prospects just because they ahve a big bonus.  But maybe we’re finally going to see something out of him.
  • He’s way higher on Jhonatan German than anyone else; despite his being a pure reliever, perhaps a reliever-only starts getting his attention once he starts getting AA hitters out.
  • He’s bullish on Telmito Agustin, but i’m not sure why.  Agustin cratered while repeating high-A, though he’s still just 23.
  • He does not like Mendoza nearly as much as others.  Mendoza has a big bat, no doubt, but he can barely play 1B and may end up being a DH-only guy.  That’s a ding on the prospect ranking set unless you’ve got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. batting lines in the minors.
  • he’s down on some of our mid-minors college arms, guys like Jake IrvinReid SchallerJackson Tetreault and Ben Braymer.  Braymer in particular probably is a “floor versus ceiling” discussion;  yeah he’s on the 40-man but what does he project to?  A 5th starter?  A reliever?
  • Lastly, he’s completly at odds with one shop in particular that has Tres Barrera as the 11th ranked prospect.  And I get it; what exactly is Barrera going to give this organization going forward?

Anyway.  If you’re not an Athetic subscriber I would encourage you to sign up.  They’ve got some of the best talent in the game writing for them now and they just keep adding more good stuff.