Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for November, 2020

Baseball America pre-season 2021 top-10 list reactions

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by BA. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America dropped the first off-season ranking of prospects for the Nats on 11/20/20 and, well, it was interesting.

Click here for the top 10 and their list of “best tools” for the system. It might be behind a paywall. If not that, then a quick chat with BA’s Lucy Lusk provides some insight on the list as well.

The last time we got any appreciable updated rankings was MLBpipeline’s end-of-the-season look at the system with the slew of 2020 graduates/call-ups removed. Technically MLBPipeline’s list is a running dynamic update, not a static list as of that moment in time, but I capture them as major updates occur for tracking.

Nonetheless, the two orgs definitely have different viewpoints on the top of the Nat’s farm system. Lets talk about some of BA’s conclusions.

  • BA has Cade Cavalli ahead of Jackson Rutledge at the top. I find this kind of interesting, given that Rutledge is younger, had pro ball experience in 2019, was in the 60-man pool along with Cavalli, and was a 1st round pick just like Cade.
  • Furthermore, in BA’s “best tools” they list Rutledge as having the best fastball AND the best slider. So, unless Rutledge literally doesn’t have a 3rd pitch, and his first two are the system best … not sure how he’s not #1 over Cavalli.
  • Therefore, Cavalli must really, really be promising, or have some pretty amazing secondary stuff.
  • Tim Cate: best curve AND best control. All he’s done since they drafted him was win. I think he’s an excellent 3rd or 4th starter in the making for this team in a couple years.
  • BA is amazingly bullish on Yasel Antuna. They list him as having the best hitter for average AND the best power hitter?? For a SS currently listed as 6’0″ 170? Well, no wonder the Nats just protected him on the 40-man. This is also a big change in BA’s opinion of him just from July, when they ranked him 12th in the org. The BA staff think Antuna is nearly top 100 material. They like him more as a 2B/3B option versus SS, with the thinking that maybe the infield goes Carter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Antuna and a FA bopper at 1st. Hey; if Kieboom can learn how to hit, i’m all for that.
  • They have soured fast on Wil Crowe, dumping him to 10th in the system. MLBpipeline has him 3rd right now just after the two big 1st round arms. He made three starts in 2020, got shelled in all three, gave up 5 homers in 8 1/3rd innings … does that mean the jury is now out on Crowe forever?
  • They’re quite bullish on Jeremy De La Rosa, having him ranked 6th when most shops have him in the teens. Only other pundit anywhere close on De La Rosa is Keith Law, who had him 8th last spring. I mean, he did get invited to the 60-man roster as an 18yr old … quite a statement. Maybe we have another Juan Soto on our hands.
  • Lastly, in their tools section they give “Best Athlete,” “Fastest Baserunner” and “Best Defensive Outfielder” all to the same guy: Cody Wilson. Looks like the next Andrew Stevenson.

Rule-5 Analysis & Prediction for 2020

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Israel Pineda could be getting the call-up this week. Photo via milb.com

Welcome to the annual Rule 5 analysis post. Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions. 

I suspect that the Rule-5 decisions are going to be somewhat anti-climactic this year. The team called up its two top ranked prospects from the 2017 draft class earlier this year (Seth Romero and Wil Crowe) and its top prospect from the 2016IFA class (Luis Garcia), eliminating some suspense on the decision. They also already did a roster-addition of one more famous name that we talked about at length last year (Steven Fuentes), taking him out of the running. In a “normal” season i’m not sure any of these players would have played, and we’d be talking about adding them to the roster this week.

So honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if nobody got protected this week. But there are a few interesting candidates that you could make an argument for. And the team has a ton of roster room; we only sit at 30/40 slots right now and we’re not buying 10 FAs this off-season.

As always, using the two indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2020; any 4-year college-aged draftee from 2017 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2016 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.  There’s always a couple of guys who have specific birthdays that move them up or down one way or the other; i’ll depend on the Roster Resource rules and the Draft Tracker for exact details.


Group 1: Newly Eligible 2017 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Cole Freeman, 2017 4th rounder. Was not on the 2020 60-man roster, did not play in 2020, has not played above High-A. Not a candidate.
  • Alex Dunlap, 29th round catcher. Can never have too much catching, but he’s not a candidate.
  • Jackson Tetreault, 2017 7th rounder. I’ve always liked him; he forced a promotion to AA after a month in Potomac in 2019 but couldn’t cut it and got sent back down. Was not on the 2020 60-man roster, a telling sign to his future. Not a candidate, but hoping he can step up in 2021.
  • Alex Troop, 2017 9th rounder who has appeared in Low-A three years running. Good numbers, but not a candidate to get picked.
  • Trey Turner; 2017 10th rounder, middling stats in Short-A in 2019, sort of surprised he survived the 2020 minor league purge. Not a candidate.
  • Jackson Stoeckinger, 2017 12th rounder. Kind of a 5th starter/swing man lefty starter, never above Low-A. Not a candidate, but like Tetreault I like the potential here.
  • Leif Strom, 2017 21st rounder: another guy who I’m surprised survived the May 2020 purge. Has barely pitched since getting drafted, hast a career ERA in the 8s. Not a candidate.
  • Gabe Klobosits, 2017 36th rounder: cleaned up in 2017 right after getting drafted, got hurt in 2018, didn’t give up a run in low or high-A in 2019. Not a candidate to get drafted Rule-5, but is quickly becoming the best 30th or higher round pick we’ve ever had.
  • K.J. Harrison: a 2017 3rd round pick by Milwaukee flipped to us in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Decent hitting 1B, never above High-A, not on the 60-man, not a candidate.
  • Pearson McMahan, a 2014 4th round pick by Colorado that we picked up as a MLFA in mid 2019. I’m not clear on the rules here; is now a FA? does he fall under Rule-5 guidelines? Either way, not a candidate.
  • Jacob Condra-Bogan, a 32nd rounder in 2017 by Toronto who, I guess, didn’t sign, went to Indy ball, then signed as a FA in Jan 2018 with Kansas City, then got flipped to Washington in the Brian Goodwin trade. Pitched well in a middle-relief role in AA in 2019, perhaps the best profile of any guy in this section, but not on the 60-man roster. Barely a candidate, but could push his way into the conversation for bullpen arm going forward.

Group 1 Rule-5 Protection Candidates: Condra-Bogan, barely.


Group 2: Newly Eligible 2016 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

We have none. We picked two HS players in this draft who signed. One of them is Carter Kieboom, the other is Jesus Luzardo. Both 40-man active. Therefore there are no Group 2 candidates.


Group 3: Newly Eligible 2016 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Israel Pineda; 2016 IFA. On the 60-man roster for 2020, one of our best young Catching prospects. His stock faded a ton in 2019 when he hit a paltry .217 in Hagerstown. But he still got put on the 2020 extended roster, which means he got a ton of ABs against major league talent. A solid candidate to consider protecting, especially if other scouts got a look at him and he performed well.
  • Jose Sanchez, 2016 IFA SS who hit .182 between short- and Low-A in 2019. not a candidate.
  • Yasiel Antuna; 2016 IFA. one of the more polarizing prospects we have. He was a huge money bonus guy in 2016, getting a whopping $3.9M as a 16-yr old switch-hitting true SS. His state-side debut in 2017 was solid, he struggled in 2018 then missed half the season with injury when he had to have Tommy John surgery. This caused him to basically miss the entire 2019 season. The team added him to the 60-man roster for 2020, so he got reps with the MLB-quality players in Fredericksburg there. So what do you do? $3.9M is a sunk cost, but baseball team’s struggle to accept that sometimes, instead thinking that its an “investment” that needs to be protected. On the other hand, what are the odds that a 21-yr old (just turned a few weeks ago) who has basically not played since Aug of 2018 and has never played above low-A could possibly stick on a MLB roster for a full season? A candidate to protect.
  • Caldioli Sanfler: 2016 IFA as an older 18yr old. Not exactly a household name amongst Nats prospect watchers; he played CF in Auburn in 2019 and had decent numbers. Not a candidate.
  • Niomar Gomez: 2016IFA who struggled as a starter in short-A in 2019. but had great K/9 rates. Could be a future reliever candidate based on his swing-and-miss capabilities. But not a candidate for R5 protection now.
  • Joan Adon, 2016IFA who was pretty solid in 2019 as a starter for Hagerstown, enough so to get put on to the 60-man extended roster for 2020, which means the top brass got a long look at him as he threw to 4-A guys all summer. He’s one of a handful of decently-ranked prospects in our system (in the 10-20 range) that is eligible this year. Candidate to be protected.
  • Alfonso Hernandez, a 2016IFA now serving as a loogy in low/short A. Not a candidate.
  • Wilmer Perez 16IFA Catcher, played in Short-A in 2019 and hit .221. not a candidate.

Group 3 Rule-5 protection candidates: Pineda, Antuna, Adon


Group 4: Nats Drafted Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2016 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2015 and prior HS draftees. Unless there’s been an appreciable update worth noting, none of these guys are anything more than org guys at this point.

  • Nick Banks, 2016 4th rounder. No new news here; didn’t play in the 60-man roster, so the same decision holds based on his 2019 results. not a candidate.
  • Armond Upshaw, 2016 11th round.
  • Sterling Sharp: 2016 22nd rounder. As we now now, he was Rule-5 selected last year after I and many other pundits thought he should be protected, trashed the org on his way out, got returned, immediately put on the 60-man extended roster, and … well now what? Do you bother protecting him again? I don’t think you bother, and I don’t think he’s long for the organization. post-publishing update: pointed out by the astute Luke Erickson, thanks to Sharp’s outright, he’s no longer really eligible for rule-5 in that he can refuse the next DFA, so there’s no real point in mentioning him here.
  • Rhett Wiseman, 2015 3rd rounder
  • Ian Sagdal, 2015 16th rounder
  • Andrew Lee: 2015 11th rounder
  • Ryan Brinley, 2015 27th rounder
  • Andrew Istler, 2015 23rd rounder, trade bounty for Ryan Madsen. Still hanging around at the age of 28.
  • Jakson Reetz, 3rd round C from 2014. This will be his third time facing rule-5 draft, only now he’s coming from the 60-man roster. He’s entering his age 25 season, his 8th professionally with the Nats after signing out of HS. Has he progressed enough in the extended roster with MLB quality looks to merit protection? Maybe.
  • Nick Wells, a 2014 3rd rounder and our trade bounty for Austin Adams at the beginning of 2019. After barely pitching in 2019, he somehow found his way to the 2020 60-man roster. He’s never been above A-ball. I wonder if he made that Fredericksburg roster because … well because he lives in Haymarket. Anyway; doesn’t seem like a protection candidate.
  • Ronald Pena: 2012 16th round pick: the long-time Nats farmhand that has now re-signed twice on MLFA deals. He’s now 29, clearly is an org arm, has passed through Rule-5 drafts now multiple times. Not a candidate.

Group 4 Rule 5 Protection candidates: Reetz maybe, Wells maybe, Sharp possibly?

Group 5: IFAs: 2015 and older. Sometimes players in this group, because they often are signed at age 16, make fast progress even after their first year R5 eligible. Will this be the case in 2020?

  • Luis Reyes: 2013 IFA
  • Joan Baez 2014 IFA; pitched in both AA and AAA in 2019, really struggled in Fresno. Not put on the 60-man roster for 2020, so nothing has changed from an evaluation perspective. Not a candidate.
  • Telmito Agustin 2014 IFA
  • Gilbert Lara, 2014 IFA, received from Milwaukee in the Gio Gonzalez trade. 
  • Malvin Pena 2014 IFA
  • Aldrem Corredor, 2013 IFA who just turned 25. Undersized 1B in high-A with little power; not a candidate.
  • Omar Meregildo: 2015 IFA; yet to really impress at any level, hit .228 in High-A in 2019. not a candidate.
  • Gilberto Chu, 2015 IFA
  • Jhonathan German, 2015 IFA RHP closer who ascended 3 levels in 2019, ending the year in AA, then got a 2020 NRI. The team likes him, but not quite enough to put him on their extended 60-man roster. He doesn’t get a ton of prospect buzz, but could be a useful bullpen arm. I think he could get protected because he’s the kind of middle-bullpen arm that could be stashed away on some 2nd-tier team’s roster.
  • Felix Taveras, 2015 IFA
  • Tomas Alastre: 2015 IFA
  • Jhon Romero: 2015 IFA signing, trade bounty for Brandon Knitzler.
  • Manuel Geraldo, 2013 IFA we rule-5 drafted last off-season from San Francisco, Rule-5 eligible again. He’s yet to take the field for our franchise; hard to believe we’d protect him as a non-prospect. not a candidate.
  • Mario Sanchez, 2012IFA and subject to the interesting MLFA re-signing/Rule-5 eligibility issue last offseason. He’s still on the roster, still projected as a AAA pitcher. He just turned 26, was really excellent as a starter in AA in 2019, and as we speak he’s still listed as active with the Nats, so I suspect he’s R-5 eligible. But, curiously, he was NOT put on the 60-man for 2020. So, does the team view him as an org-guy? He’s a candidate to consider, but a lower-probability one for all the above reasons.

Group 5 Protection Candidates: German, Sanchez


Group 6: MLFAs for 2020: I think technically guys we’ve already talked about may qualify for this category. Mario Sanchez, Ronald Pena, technically a few others like Jakson Reetz who were briefly MLFAs then re-signed. So, no candidates for this group this year.

Post-2019 publishing, i’m adding a new section because  it seems like we’re going to see the following situation occur for the second time in recent memory.   Long time farmhand Mario Sanchez achieved minor league free agency at the end of the 2019 season, but apparently has been re-signed (his milb.com page lists the Nationals resigning him to a contract … but its dated in the future, 12/18/19, something i’ve never seen before).   But, if he’s re-signed as a MLFA with the team, then he has to be protected else he’d be subject to the draft.


So, who would I protect?

Summary of above:

Group 1: Condra-Bogan, barely.
Group 2: none
Group 3: Pineda, Antuna, Adon
Group 4: Reetz maybe, Wells maybe, Sharp possibly
Group 5: German, Sanchez
Group 6: none

I would protect:

  • Israel Pineda
  • Joan Adon

I would consider protecting, in order of likelihood:

  • Antuna
  • German
  • Sanchez
  • Reetz
  • all the others: Condra-Bogan, Wells, Sharp.

Here’s some other opinions in the Natmosphere on the same topic (i’ll add them as I see them):

  • Federal Baseball
  • TalkNats/SaoMagnifico: predicts Antuna, Pineda, probably not Adon
  • BaseballAmerica.com
  • mlb.com’s list of Rule-5 top30 prospects; None of our current top prospects is eligible; the highest MLB-ranked candidate for Rule-5 is #14 Pineda.

For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 2019, 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010. This is one of the only recurring posts I have managed to do every year since I started writing.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

Written by Todd Boss

November 18th, 2020 at 11:31 am

Nats Payroll Analysis for 2021

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Newly minted Silver Slugger and MVP snub Soto is set for a big raise in arbitration; how will this factor into the Nat’s payroll plans? Source NYPost

Before giving real thought to what the Nats might do this off-season, you have to know where they stand from a payroll consideration.

Quick answer: they have about $50M to spend. See https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Au_xTIni1eJbDGzravS1482wBbzN9DBQaOY1wwo2Mr0/edit#gid=1520401900

More detailed answer: I have been maintaining a “Payroll worksheet” for the nats for years, which helps write t his particular post every year.

I’ve posted this at the Big Board, in a new tab called “2021 Payroll” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/186nm-v5F-zTCoR2Be7TFYM3e2cZ-gYi2WVqJLEkHdmc/

Here’s a breakdown of the Nats payroll right now (note; every figure in this article is Luxury Tax dollars: I honestly don’t care about real or actual dollars anymore since everything is driven by the Luxury tax limit in this game, and if the Lerners are looking at deferred dollars and making spending decisions in real-time based on that, then they don’t deserve to be running a team that earns them tens of millions of dollars a year).

$112,522,709 <– under contract
$18,850,000 <– arb est
$7,889,000 <– pre arb
$1,800,000 <– 40-man
$15,500,000 <– benefits
$156,561,709 <– total payroll estimate right now
$210,000,000 <– Luxury tax cap for 2020
$53,438,291 <– room under cap right now

By category:

  • The nats have $112M and change committed to its 8 current veteran players. Of course, the lion’s share of this is going to its big 3 starters in Strasburg, Scherzer and Corbin, who combine for $87M of this $112M themselves.
  • We have 4 arb-eligible players, who i’m estimating to earn $18.8M; the two biggest earners of course will be Turner and Soto, who are projected to be at least $10M and $5M each
  • The rest of the roster are estimates: 14 26-man roster players at roughly the MLB minimum comes out to $7.8M, a figure that will be a bit higher as 1 and 2-year guys get a bit of a raise. Plus the rest of the 40-man gets estimated at $150k per, so 12*$150K turns into $1.8M. Again, might not be exactly that b/c we may not have 40 on the 40-man all year.
  • the 2021 estimate for benefits is $15.5M this year.

So that leaves us around $156M committed right now before we acquire a single player. $210M is the cap for 2021, so we’re working with an operating FA budget of $53M. My figures are slightly different from Cot’s because of the arb estimates and 40-man estimates, but we’re within $2M of each other right now.

$53M is not a lot of money to acquire everything that this team needs. We need another starter, a catcher, a decent slugger to play 1B, we need another outfielder, and we need a few relievers. Catchers are rare and are not cheap, but we may be able to acquire a re-tread veteran starter for around $10-$12M. But for the rest of the roster we’re looking at taking fliers on MLFA/NRI types and edge of the roster $1M major league deals.

Written by Todd Boss

November 6th, 2020 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Nats in General