Nationals Arm Race

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

Keith Law liking what the Nats Farm system is doing.


Giolito is Keith Law's (and others) highest ranked RHP prospect right now. Photo unk via

Giolito is Keith Law’s (and others) highest ranked RHP prospect right now. Photo unk via

Some quick Keith Law links for you this week.  I know he comes across as abrasive, and his evaluations are sometimes at odds with other prospect hounds in the industry, but I’ve always liked  his methodology and his unapologetic analysis.

The first two links are behind ESPN insider’s pay-wall.  I’ve already gone on record saying that ESPN’s insider access is more than worth it, so consider buying it.  Its $3.33 a month on a year’s subscription and comes with the magazine (which is actually really good).

Anyway.  Law has increased his ranking of the Nats system significantly from last year, ranking them 9th in the league (last year they were ranked 18th).  The Steven Souza deal (a guy who Law did NOT rank in his own top 100 prospects despite being eligible) netted two prospects out of San Diego who did rank in Law’s top 100 (Joe Ross and Trea Turner), who joined no less than four other guys in Law’s top 100 prospect list.

  • 2015: Giolito, Ross, Taylor, Lopez, Turner and Cole are in Law’s top 100
  • 2014: Giolito, Cole and Goodwin were in Law’s top 100

Look at the growth of prospects by virtue of trade acquisition (Ross & Turner) and player development (Taylor and Lopez).  Goodwin isn’t even mentioned here, nor is last year’s 1st rounder Erick Fedde (yet to throw a pro pitch), both of whom have the capability of adding depth to this system (along with the Ross Detwiler bounty, minor leaguer of the year Wilmer Difo, and other under-the-radar guys).

From a system ranking perspective, here’s how Law’s rankings for Washington’s system have gone year over  year:

  • 2015: 9th
  • 2014: 18th
  • 2013: 21st
  • 2012: 21st
  • 2011: 19th (this was the year BA ranked the system #1 … just prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade.  Law got to do his rankings well after the trade)
  • 2010: 23rd
  • 2009: 29th

So, this is the highest we’ve ever seen Washington in Law’s opinion.  Great to see, given the performance of the on-field team and given the FA losses that we face in the coming two off-seasons.

I’ve uploaded and updated the historical Minor League Organizational System Ranking xls in google with Law’s 1-30 rankings (I was going to hold off on this until I saw that you could just get his numbers 1-30 by reading the team top 10 RSS feed).

18 Responses to 'Keith Law liking what the Nats Farm system is doing.'

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  1. This is unlikely to generate a long comment thread, because no one likes to comment on stuff the Nats are doing well. 😉

    John C.

    30 Jan 15 at 11:04 am

  2. More seriously, I’ve been saying right along that the Nats farm system is remarkably robust given the players that have graduated to 1/2 Street or been traded for other team needs. Ninth is a bit higher than I would have guessed, but we’ll see where other rankings put the Nationals. More important than rankings, the farm system is in a good place to continue to provide support to the big league for the near future, whether through promotion or as trade bait.

    Kudos not just to Rizzo, but to his staff of scouts and sabermetricians. Given Rizzo’s scouting background it was interesting to see him singled out by Dave Cameron of Fangraphs in a chat as a GM who is very good at incorporating sabermetric analysis into decisions.

    John C.

    30 Jan 15 at 11:09 am

  3. JohnC == funny guy 🙂

    Agree with you; totally surprised to see Washington higher than like 12-13 … Law really likes Ross and Turner clearly. More interestingly is this fact; the entirety of our farm system is blocked right now, meaning that we’ll likely not see a single graduation ahead of next year’s rankings .. at which time we’ll also have a healthy Fedde throwing innings and hopefully a re-purposing of Johansen into the bullpen dominant closer type that we think he projects to….

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 15 at 12:23 pm

  4. Yep … I think this is a really good story that hasn’t been appreciated even by Nats fans. While the trades have boosted this significantly and brought some additional attention (especially the Souza trade), I really like the depth that is developing. A year ago it looked like the Nats only had any strength at P and OF (and even at OF there was a fear that it was mostly AAAA depth). Today C and IF are also starting to look like real strengths that can be used both for trades and the Nats ML team.


    30 Jan 15 at 1:54 pm

  5. More than just Law’s ranking is the fact that several of the more credible prospects guys including Sickels and Kiley McDaniel, are positive on our system. That becomes more believable. It is fairly remarkable that a team with a major league roster as established and talented as ours, with several years of low draft picks/forfeited 1st rounders, has this quality in the farm. This feels more real than the ranking just before the Gio trade, which felt like more of a Stras/Bryce hype parade. I like that not only are there some star potential guys, but there are plenty of relievers and role players too, who these guys barely mention. Filling those spots with quality (above replacement level guys) at league minimum is essential in today’s market, even for big payroll clubs.

    So none of us know how this season will turn out, or how well the roster turns over in the next couple of years, but whether we win the WS or fail to make the playoffs for some reason, I think we ‘stepped in sh@t’ when it comes to the Rizzo hiring. You hear about many of these young talented execs, and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. This guy has not only built an extremely talented major and minor league roster, I think his staff is deep and talented as well. Player development really seems to be operating on all cylinders.

    Maybe the best thing the Lerners can do is keep this guy happy and well paid for the foreseeable future.

    So there you go John C. 🙂


    30 Jan 15 at 9:07 pm

  6. And Rizzo may not done yet. I still maintain that he will inevitably acquire a top rung major league shortstop prospect to go with the abundant depth he seems to have built up around second base (Turner, Difo). Can he purloin Addison Russell from the Cubbies?
    Or will he go for a top A level or below Dominican prospect? And there’s Moncado but that perhaps, seems less likely now.

    Goodwin has to prove he can be that left-handed outfield bat that eventually supplants Werth or else its off to find another via trade.


    31 Jan 15 at 5:21 pm

  7. That the organization jumps nine places because of a trade of Souza for Ross-Turner is simply a testament to how prospect guru arbitrariness makes for pendulous swings that trail our own sophistication from this site (and that of Luke Erickson) by at least a year. I think that once the GCL team broke out in 2013, with 2013 championships in Hagerstown, Potomac, and Harrisburg with home grown and age-appropriate talents, panning the Nats farm system was outdated and emblematic of shallow thinking. Now the pundits are catching up to us.

    With that said, the Nats system will continue to rise in “sexiness,” and in spite of its drafting of recent years. It’s because the Dominican strategy has been very well-conceived, unheralded trades bear fruit, and that’s going to continue to separate the organization from others and others will blossom that we have not heard from before. The key is that the Nats identify diamonds well and go for quantity. Those folks will continue to rise and when they start to break out on AA, look out.

    Listen closely to the way Michael Taylor is described. Those who watched him every day in AA spoke about the many adjustments he DID make as the season advanced. So what if he struck out and looked overmatched in the majors? He had barely played AAA!! The point is, the shallow thinking is that Taylor WILL strike out over 100 times in the majors, blah blah blah will not hit for average, blah, blah blah, when everyone who really watched him was particularly impressed with the speed of his adjustments and how they were reflected as he adjusted to AA in his first year there. He is going to AAA and an outstanding hitting coach and I fully expect him to do the same there.

    I say this because at this time, we were listening to the same blathering about how Souza’s swing was long, he was a defensive liability, his PED history and his “attitude.” Well, guess what? Those same folks are calling him a future star for Tampa Bay, which traded Ross and Turner for him because THEY thought they were getting a steal.

    The only thing this top-100 stuff tells me is that AJ Cole is really THAT much of a perceived commodity, in spite of the fact that he is not the #7 or #8 (depending on how you regard Treinen) starter in the Nats system. Now THAT’s championship depth.

    Turner obviously helped himself in the AFL. Again, illustrating the folly of “prospect ratings” and the number system. Here is a guy who took over NC State games with his speed, like a Billy Burns type with more power, and was downgraded from 80 to 70 speed because of his “leg injury.” Fair enough. But those downgrades persisted despite an October 2014 AFL campaign, against top higher level prospects and good catchers, in which Turner was 7 of 7 stolen bases in only nine games.

    And now, he starts his first full professional year. That will be fun to watch. I’m warming up to him.

    I liked the McDaniel writeups. He is big on intangibles. I noted that Pedro Severino “jumped off the field” at him. Ryan Sullivan had the same reaction to Kieboom. He flagged a vastly improved Tyler Moore defense at 1B that way. And so I would say that the exuberance is only catching up to the reality. This is a damn good system and if they figure out how to draft in June and to sign all of their picks, they will be as elite as the major league team is becoming.


    31 Jan 15 at 9:28 pm

  8. Just a reminder that Miracle Max did cost us our #1 pick in 2015.


    31 Jan 15 at 9:54 pm

  9. I don’t put too much stock in the ranking of the systems. As noted, I think we all thought #18 was low last year. I don’t know that much about other systems to know how #9 stacks up now.

    The Nats system has its strengths (arms) and weaknesses (big bats). They made some moves in the offseason to shore up the middle infield, but they seem thinned in the OF.

    The Nats, of course, are stocked to the gills with pitching, with perhaps the #1 arm in MiLB and a $17K Dominican out of nowhere who was just as good on the same team. McDaniel absolutely raved about Lopez. In Giolito, Lopez, Cole, and perhaps Ross, the Nats have four pretty darn good starter prospects, and this not even counting Jordan and Hill, plus a couple of quietly rising guys in Voth and Simms, and Fedde not even having thrown a pitch. This despite high picks Johansen and particularly Mooneyham flaming out as starters.

    I was pretty frustrated with the middle-infield situation at the time of the 2014 draft. Renda is another high pick who is hard to project as having much impact at the MLB level. He and Perez are advancing in the system, but the lack of depth in this area had to be addressed in the trades for Turner, Bostick (and Escobar). Difo’s rise is a pleasant surprise, although it will remain to be seen how he does at higher levels. So middle infield is now much more solid than it was.

    The outfield now looks like Taylor or bust, after Goodwin’s poor season and injury, the Souza trade, Hood’s minor-league free agency, and the Perez release. There’s not much else in the OF at all. Goodwin is still a promising prospect, but it’s a make-or-break year for him. He’s yet to show the projected power, or that he can handle CF. Vettleson has yet to show much return on his promise. The Nats now seem to be looking at Kobernus, another high draft pick, as an org guy. He would have had more value if he could have stuck at 2B.

    The young catcher parade is well documented and good news. That said, there was a lapse in the system, which could be attributed to Leon’s regression and losing Nieto in Rule 5, so the youngsters are still a couple of years away, necessitating a couple of AAAA signings.

    Corner INF pop is also lagging. Ward is the comer but very young and yet to show the projected power. Skole is down to his last hurrah, and T-Mo even more so if we’re still counting him as a “prospect.” Beyond them, there isn’t much. Wooten seems to have faded. Thank goodness Rendon was available to step in at 3B.

    Rendon is a great example of how team needs evolve, though, and how it’s hard to draft too many years in the future. When he was drafted in 2011, everyone thought Zimmerman was going to be a 3B for the foreseeable future. The middle infield looked set, too, with Desi and Espy. Nevertheless, Rendon seemed more middle-infield depth than any thought of being at third. My, how things have changed.


    31 Jan 15 at 10:32 pm

  10. KW, I’m with you with a couple of exceptions…

    Stephen Perez is underrated by us. He took a step up and I expect him to be heard from in AA.

    Wooten is not at all fading. He may not start at A+, but he is certainly trending there soon, and his power is real and clutch.

    It’s also too soon to discount the middle infield talent at the lower minors.They won’t be in DC anytime soon, but the best two will be in Hagerstown.

    Finally, it will take a full season to pass judgment on the recently drafted OF talents, and there were a few. Jeff Gardner in particular is just a lot better than he showed in Auburn. Carey and Page are two others who need 2015 to really appreciate whether they are the real deal. I am always partial to University of Miami products, and so Stephen Perez has redeemed himself, so may Carey.


    31 Jan 15 at 11:33 pm

  11. And count me among those who think Skole will make it happen in 2015. I think he was really coming on last year and wore out. I love his clutch bat. It’s isn;t just his power and walks that will get him to the majors, but even morseo his ice veins. That goes beyond stats.


    31 Jan 15 at 11:35 pm

  12. correction: meant Wooten may not start at AA, but is trending there at least soon.

    Also got to give the organization credit for the big corner infield bat they signed from the Frontier league, 24 yo but blossoming in second year of pro ball.

    Finally, keep our eyes on the overlooked Cubans. Maybe Moncada is meant to go elsewhere, maybe not. But there are other Cubans that the Nats may grab while others are following the Ben Badler pied piper tune.


    31 Jan 15 at 11:45 pm

  13. Good stuff.

    I was glad to see Jefry Rodriguez’ name pop up in several of the write ups. He was last year’s Lopez with less hype. Amazing how an entire year of development can be washed out due to injury. I was intrigued by his profile last year and it is good to see that some others still have him in the picture.

    It also seems that Victor Robles is the marquee name from the Dominican crowd, at least in the eyes of the national guys.


    1 Feb 15 at 9:23 am

  14. For fun…ten (sort of) people I’m betting on that we don’t speak much about, and why they catch my attention. Check back in a few months, shall we?

    1) Spencer Kieboom – An accomplished college catcher who is old for his level. Yet he was not at all outclassed in the AFL, and after a full season that even included playoff baseball, coming off an injury. Power, bat, and maturity. What’s not to love?

    2) Taylor Hill – Every year he elevates his game. Doug Fister had far worse a minor league runup. He may never pitch for the Nats, but Taylor Hill could be poised to start a long big-league career.

    3) Hector Silvestre – A young arm and lefty starter who has it in him to dominate and miss bats. Has challenged hitters all his career. Will presumably be part of the hyped Potomac rotation; will he make it to AA before Lucas?

    4) Manny Rodriguez – Came out of nowhere, with few miles on his surgically repaired arm, and kept it rolling as high as A+ and in the playoffs. Another Christian Garcia story in the making?

    5) Tony Renda – It’s hard to bet against overachievers. He knows how to play, knows how to hit, and is coming off a batting champion season. Still young.

    6) Drew Vettelson – The numbers are meh, but the guy came back from a broken wrist and made his season respectable and on a horrible team. He’s not ready for AAA, but I’d not be surprised at all if he started fast and flashed everything the Nats traded for. My hopes are higher for him than his more hyped teammate.

    7) Chris Bostick – Two teams have already traded for him within a short time, and all of those extra base hits can’t hurt. Another guy that is still young and going to a familiar level where his play can force the issue one level above him.

    8) Ian Dickson – The lights really went on for him at A+ later in the year, and he dominated a league in which players were well aware of his stuff. Of the Spann/Bacas/Silvestre/Dickson quartet of all who should be in the running for promotion to Harrisburg and one of the spots in their crowded rotation, I’m rooting for this guy.

    9) James Yezzo, Brandon Miller, and Jeff Gardner – All three highly accomplished college hitters. At least one of these guys is bound to bust out.

    10) Kevin Keyes – It’s not over for him; Destin Hood found the key from far greater adversity and with less going for him. In this system, sluggers welcome. And he showed enough on defense as well to make it to the EL all-star game last year.

    people – who do you have your eye on that we overlook here, and why?


    1 Feb 15 at 12:04 pm

  15. I’ll be curious to see how these guys do:
    Goodwin – everyone has written him off, but one good 1/2 season in AAA, and I could see him up in DC as the 4th OFS. Somewhat redundant with McLouth this year, but could help let Span leave next year.
    Jefry Rodriguez – mentioned earlier, he was Rey Lopez before Lopez himself. Law thinks he might be a reliever, but there is still a chance for a SP. Would like to see him healthy.
    Lopez and Difo – would like to see them put up another season like 2014, to show its no fluke.
    Mark Grace – I terested to see if he gets a chance on the big club


    2 Feb 15 at 7:46 am

  16. When contemplating “who else?” I thought of the guy who, this time last year, was the hottest topic of conversation. Even Rizzo was talking up his chances of making the big club and perhaps even competing to be the fifth starter. It shows the fickle nature of the prospect business that just 12 months later, no one is even mentioning Sammy Solis. It really will be a shame if he and Matt Purke never stay healthy enough to prove something with their considerable talent.

    What do I want to see? Specifically concerning the immediate future of 2016, I’m looking at three guys: Taylor and his contact rate, Jordan and his recovery, and Cole and his continuing progress and maturity. If Taylor can’t prove that he’s ready to be the CF of the near future, or if Cole and Jordan can’t show that they could be a part of the MLB rotation next year, then the Nats will have to start looking in other directions.

    Beyond 2016, I’m looking at Woodbridge. Stras and Harper skipped the Pfitz, and Rendon’s stay was very brief, so it’s been awhile since Potomac has seen the top-tier first-round talent that Giolito and Turner will be bringing to town, in company with Lopez, Difo, Ward, and Kieboom. One or two of those may skip on to Harrisburg, but I hope not.

    Bounce back hopes: Goodwin and Skole are the obvious picks. One guy who has fallen almost completely off the radar is Martinson, who hit 22 HRs in 2012. Was that a fluke?


    2 Feb 15 at 12:37 pm

  17. I’m working on a spreadsheet that i’ve been meaning to do for a while; it tracks the prospects and their rankings over the years by various source. I’ve been keeping this information in a text file for years but was inspired by a tab I saw on the big board a while back. I’ll post seperately when I upload it.

    Todd Boss

    3 Feb 15 at 9:10 am

  18. […] Keith Law has ranked the Nationals farm system 9th overall, up from No. 18 last year, and the highest he’s ever ranked the Nationals (H/T Todd Boss, who lays down some more Law in his latest post). […]

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