Nationals Arm Race

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

Updated Nats Prospect and Organizational Rankings for 2017

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Victor Robles is the new unanimous #1 Nats prospect. Photo via

Victor Robles is the new unanimous #1 Nats prospect. Photo via

We’re essentially through the “Prospect Ranking Season” at this point.  We’ve  heard from all the major shops who rank systems and individual prospects ( Callis/Jonathan Mayo, ESPN/Keith Law, Baseball America/J.J. Cooper, John Manuel, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs/Eric Longenhagen , Minorleagueball/John Sickels/Nick Melotte, Prospects Digest/Joseph Werner and Schwartz).  If you know of a reputable site that also does rankings not listed here, i’m all ears.

Click here for the updated Master List of Nationals Prospect Rankings for all the pre-2017 rankings.  This worksheet is one of my longest running projects, with every Nats prospect ranking I could find dating from Nov 2004 to the present.

With the trade of Lucas Giolito we have a new #1 prospect on all the major lists: Victor Robles.   Every minor-league wide ranking that I’ve found has Robles between #8 and #13 among all minor league players right now.  Nearly every shop generally mentions either Erick Fedde or Juan Soto (or both) in the 50-70 range.  Nobody has any mention of anyone else in the system right now, consistent with most opinions that the Nats system right now is a big top three, then a gap, then everyone else.

What is fascinating to me right now is the huge gap of opinion on some of our prospects.  Its been a while since we’ve seen such a dichotomy of opinion on our players, and it may very well highlight the methodology differences between the talent evaluators out there.  Lets discuss some of the more interesting cases:

  • Luis Garcia: ranked as high as #4 in the system (Fangraphs) to outside the top 20 (Sickels and Law).   The 2016 IFA signing cost a ton ($1.3M) and has yet to appear in any pro league, which may be why some evaluators don’t even list him.  Meanwhile Longenhagen is clearly bullish on the player and had him 4th, just after the system’s big three.  That seems aggressive to me; I’d at least like to see him in organized ball before putting such a ceiling on him.
  • Sheldon Neuse: mostly in the #6-#7 range … except for Baseball America, who has him all the way down at #17.  Clearly they thought his debut season was a disappointment.  I’m not ready to give up on Neuse after the collegiate career he had, but for him to slash just .230/.305/.341 in Auburn was definitely shocking.
  • Jesus Luzardo; again Fangraphs was way higher on him (#9) than anyone else.  In fact, Sickels didn’t even have him in the top 20.  Clearly the fangraphs methodology is more about potential and less about realization.
  • Drew Ward: Sickels had him #10, Fangraphs outside the top 20.  We may have a bit of prospect fatigue on Ward since we drafted him as a high schooler.  But its worth noting that he posted a .868 OPS figure this year at high A as a 21-yr old (he didn’t turn 22 til after the season) and earned a promotion to AA.  He also earned a NRI this spring, where he went 3-15 but did blast two homers.  I think his power is coming around (11 homers in 64 Carolina league games, not exactly a hitter’s paradise league) and he could be a sneaky prospect going forward.
  • Kelvin Gutierrez: as with several others, we find Longenhagen far more bullish on Gutierrez (#11) versus others (16th at best, outside of Law’s top 20).  Perhaps its trying to spit hairs once you get to a certain point in the system, this act of attempting to rank players who likely never get above AA.  But it does show that Longenhagen’s methodology definitely rates a certain type of player higher than other pundits.
  • Yasiel Antuna: the Nats’ “other” big July 2 signing from last year, Antuna got a massive, franchise record $3.9M bonus despite being lower ranked than Garcia on most international prospect boards.  Nonetheless, most of the pundits had Antuan in the 19-25 range … except for Werner at topprospectdigest… he put Antuna #5 in the system.  Werner’s logic went like this: $3.9M is about what the 3rd overall pick in the Rule-4 draft went for, so therefore Antuna must be ranked on a par with an upper-end first round talent.  I’m not sure I agree with that logic, and would rather put Antuna down in the mid-20s like others have him ranked until we see what he can do in organized ball.
  • Tyler Watson: again Baseball America hates this player as opposed to others.  BA has him #27 while Law and Sickels had him in the 14-15 range.  I like Watson a ton; he utterly dominated Short-A as a 19yr old, meaning he more than held his own against newly drafted higher-end incoming college juniors.  Its weird; why rank two completely untested 16yr old Dominican prospects higher than a domestic lefty arm who is 6’5″, already throws 90 and clearly has projection in his frame?
  • Joan Baez: Another with some wild variation in rankings.  Law has him #10 but BA has him #29.  MLB gives him a 70 fastball and a 60 curve-ball, which means they think he could be an effective 2-pitch reliever in the majors, right now.  Its weird; what’s the essential difference between Baez and Koda Glover right now?
  • Rhett Wisemann: completely disappeared from all rankings … with the exception of Sickels, who snuck him in at #20.
  • Telmito Agustin: another Werner one-off; he had Agustin ranked 9th in the system, where as both MLB and BA had him #28 and everyone else had him outside their top 20.  Agustin’s season was decent for a 19-yr old in Low-A, but his best tool is his run tool and he nearly had as many CS (9) as he had SB (14) in his half-season at Hagerstown.  And he played mostly LF in Hagerstown, though that may have been due to the presence of Robles there.  I don’t see much more in Agustin than a Matt den Dekker type; is that the 9th best prospect in the system?
  • Nick Banks: his crummy junior year became a relatively weak Short-A debut; he slugged just .320 there.  Still, Law ranked him 17th and still thinks the Nats got good value in Banks given his post-sophomore season buzz.  Most others have abandoned him; MLB and BA put him at the back end of their top 30s and others ignored him.

And then there’s this list; these are players who formerly got at least some brief prospect mention in the past who are now off everyone’s top 20-30 list:

  • Andrew Lee: Was ranked in the 20th range last year on some lists.  missed most of 2016 with an injury after a promising 2015 debut for the 11th rounder.  I think he can bounce back and put his name back in the mix.
  • Austen Williams: Got some love in the 15-20th rage last year, none this year after his ERA ballooned to north of 5.00 and getting demoted mid-season.  He’ll presumably be a 24-yr old repeating High-A a third time in 2017, so time is running out.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: peaked as high as #6 on some lists in the 2014 range, his stock has fallen precipitously.  He had a 4.96 ERA in a full season of starting in Low-A in his age 23 season.  Perhaps its time to move him to the pen to see if he can focus on his best pitches in shorter stints.
  • Spencer Kieboom: never was a major prospect but did get some rankings in the 15-20 range over the years.  He’s still 4th on the C depth chart for the Nationals, but his DFA and passing through waivers to get off the 40-man roster is an indictment of where he really is right now.
  • Nick Lee; got some back-of the top-30 list recognition last year after getting put on the 40-man; now he’s off the 40-man and will miss significant time due to an elbow fracture in 2017.  He’s now 26 and staring in the face of being a permanent “org guy” type arm.

Here also is a list of the 30 Minor League Organizations as ranked by various pundits.  As you might expect, the system has been shredded with the graduation of Trea Turner (and in some cases Wilmer Difo) along with the trading of Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.


  • Amazingly, 4 of the 5 pundits tracked all ranked the Nats farm system exactly the same: #19.  Only Law varied and only slightly, dropping the Nats to #22.
  • Everyone is unanimous in ranking Atlanta #1.  Most everyone believes the Yankees now have the #2 ranking (Werner’s rankings are a bit suspect when compared to others).
  • The White Sox jumped from generally being in the mid 20s to being ranked in the 3-5 range by most pundits.  Makes sense.  Law has them all the way down at #10, which seems like an outlier.
  • BA is the outlier on Houston’s farm system, ranking them #3 while everyone else had them at 10-12.
  • Law loves the Mets; he ranked them 7th while everyone else had them at middle of the pack #15.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, there’s little disagreement among the pundits about who is at the bottom (either Arizona or Miami), nor with the last 4-5 teams in general.  Nearly all the pundits panned Arizona, Miami, Baltimore, Kansas City and the Angels’ farm systems, with none of these teams being ranked higher than #22 on any list.

Its rather scary to see two of the wealthiest teams (the Dodgers and the Yankees) also possessing strong farm systems; it does not bode well for competitive balance in the near future.  It is also scary to see a divisional rival like Atlanta so fully loaded; the Nats will struggle to compete if the Braves prospects matriculate properly, since it will likely coincide with our natural decline after the 2018 FA purge occurs.


Written by Todd Boss

February 13th, 2017 at 10:56 am

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