Nationals Arm Race

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

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


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

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

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:

  • 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.


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

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  1. When Law gave his ranking of the Nats system he implied that the position players were ahead of the pitchers, which to me is clueless.

    The Nats have some real pitching talent percolating up this year. It’s going to be exciting.

    Mark L

    3 Mar 20 at 3:15 pm

  2. The updated list today tracks fairly closely with Law’s list, although Agustin is nowhere to be found and Mendoza ranks a few spots higher. Some other minor differences, like Law ranking Pablo Aldonis and Mayo/Callis ranking Roismar Quintana instead from last year’s international class. But comparable.

    It’s a weak farm, and yeah, a lot of it is drafting. That’s been a huge weak spot.


    4 Mar 20 at 1:34 am

  3. […] MLB Pipeline Top 30 for Washington stop after just the first four. IFAs Andry Lara and Eddie Yean, who Keith Law is very high on (Todd Boss breaks down Law’s thoughts), come in at nos. five and six while Jaguars* Mason […]

  4. I’ll do a similar recap for the mlb list that popped just now.

    Todd Boss

    4 Mar 20 at 1:22 pm

  5. Keith Law has no clue! Drafted in 2017, Jackson Tetreault in 2019 dominated High A with 7 starts and a 1.91 era at 22 years old. Promoted to AA Harrisburg in 2019 in his First 11 starts he through to a 3.88. Second round pick Will Crowe, the # 4 and top Nationals pitching prospects introduction to AA threw to an 0-5 record in 6 starts with a 6.15 era at 24 years old! Tetreault’s second half of the AA season was a bit rougher, however when you take away 3 rough starts out of 25 for the year, he threw to a 2.88 ERA with 93 shutout innings out of 123. Tetreault ended the season with a 4.73 but if you did your homework Keith, and dig deeper into the facts since 2017, nobody has his numbers or rise from the 2017 Nats draft class that quick. Tetreault is the perfect example of a player writers like you give no respect for if they are not drafted in the top 3 rounds. Some more facts for you Keith, is that in 2017, there were 32 multi million dollar sign Pitchers taken in the first 2 rounds of which 27 threw in short season and Rookie ball. Tetreault outperformed 20 of those Pitchers with a 2.58 ERA. If writers like Kieth Law are going to evaluate prospects, he needs to do at least a little bit of homework before evaluating anyone!

    nats guy

    5 May 20 at 2:01 am

  6. that’s pretty heavy cricisim of Law in particular. Lets dive deeper on the Tetreault opinions across the spectrum of prospect writers. Here’s how Tetreault was ranked by each of the major pundits this spring:
    – Werner/ProspectsDigest: outside top 10
    – McDaniel/Fangraphs: outside top 10
    – Mlbpipeline/Callis/Mayo: outside the top THIRTY; not even ranked in their top 30
    – Keith Law/Atlantic: outside top 20
    – Baseball America: #24 of 30
    – Bleacher Report/Joel Reuter: outside top 30
    – Fangraphs/Longenhagen: Outside top 21

    the MLBpipeline list is pretty notable because they had Tetreault below Nick Raquet, who was outright released earlier this spring.

    so, this isn’t just about Keith Law’s opinion. Tetreault wasn’t rated basically by ANYONE based on last year’s results.

    Todd Boss

    8 May 20 at 10:14 am

  7. Oh, so the big picture does not hold any weight. I did not realize that everything is based on a rookie AA 2019 performance. Age does not matter, dominating High A does not matter, Projection does not matter, Performance vs other top Nats Pitching prospects/top Draft picks like Cate, Racquet, Crowe and others who have not dominated does not matter. Your telling me that 11 starts at only 22+ years old in AA with a 3.88, same as Crowe’s second try in AA at 24 years old does not matter. I believe only about 10-15 pitchers from the 2017 draft made it to AA when Tetreault was called up. Yes, Tetreault had a rough 2nd half with fastball command issues, but also had to recover from taking a line drive to his pitching hand just in front of his face in 2019. How many pitchers never come back from that. Hes still quite young and was 1.4 years ahead of avg AA age. I guess that does not matter either. Most all have missed on this kid Tetreault and thats a fact. Like I said, “Blinded by the Daft #”. It’s a good thing that agents and front office guys don’t take their opinions seriously! For reading entertainment only is what agents and scouts tell me. But their opinion probably does not matter either!

    nats guy

    8 May 20 at 9:24 pm

  8. If one pundit under-rates a player, I can get that. If EVERY pundit generally has a player ranked similarly .. i’m not sure what you want to hear.

    Tetreault vs Crowe. Lets take a deeper look.
    – Tetreault: 2019 as a 23yr old in AA; 18 starts, 85 innings, 4.73 ERA, 1.61 Whip. .292 BAA. 63/40 K/BB in 85 innings.
    – Crowe: 2019 as a 24yr old in AA: 16 starts, 95 innings, 3.87 ERA, 1.12 whip. .241 BAA. 89/22 K/BB in 95 innings.

    Crowe’s command and control at the same level is distinctly shown here. Look at the whips. Look at the K/BBs.

    The one thing i’ll give you is the age: what I really want to see is how Tetreault does when he repeats AA this year. He needs to be putting up the same kind of numbers Crowe did. 23 in AA is great. 24 in AA needs to prove soemthing.

    Btw; the team has released Raquet, so maybe that’s not the best example.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 20 at 1:10 pm

  9. ONe last thing on Tetreault. Here’s post-2019 scouting report on BA, the highest pundits on him of any of the major pieces:

    Ranked Washington Nationals #24 prospect after the 2019 season
    TRACK RECORD: Tetreault signed for $300,000, the fourth-most of anyone in the Nationals’ 2017 draft class. In his one year of junior college ball, he struck out 105 in 80.1 innings and had a 2.58 ERA. Tetreault has a plus fastball and reached Double-A Harrisburg in 2019, but he closed out the season where he started it—at high Class A Potomac.

    SCOUTING REPORT: Scouts like Tetreault’s fastball, which touches the mid-90s thanks to a fast and whippy arm. It was a plus pitch in Harrisburg, but what continues to hold Tetreault back is the development of his secondaries. He made progress with a changeup last year but scouts who saw Tetreault thought all of his secondaries were below-average offerings this year. He has shown the ability to spin his curveball, but doesn’t land the pitch for strike consistently, and without improvement of either his change or curve, more advanced hitters will be able to sit on his fastball. Tetreault walked 4.2 batters per nine innings in Double-A after walking just 2.8 per nine innings in both low Class A and high Class A in 2018.

    THE FUTURE: Tetreault’s stuff is good enough to work at higher levels, perhaps in the bullpen. After allowing one run over 11 innings in his final two starts in the Carolina League, he appears ready for another go at the Eastern League. The Nationals hope to see more confidence out of Tetreault in the season ahead.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 20 at 1:11 pm

  10. by way of comparison here’s Crowe’s writeup in BA:

    Ranked Washington Nationals #4 prospect after the 2019 season
    TRACK RECORD: Crowe had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and missed all of 2016 at South Carolina, but rebounded in 2017 to become the Nationals’ second-round pick. He won high Class A Carolina League Pitcher of the Year honors in his first full season but struggled after being bumped to Double-A. He fared much better in his second Eastern League try in 2019, posting a 3.87 ERA, and finished the year at Triple-A Fresno.

    SCOUTING REPORT: Crowe is continuing to learn which of his four pitches works best at which times. His fastball velocity has increased each year and he now sits 92-93 mph with the ability to reach 95. His four-seam fastball plays up more than its raw velocity would suggest due to an elite spin rate that makes it an above-average pitch, and he can mix in a sinker to change hitters’ eye levels. His changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch that draws above-average grades, and he shows feel to spin both an average curveball and slider. Crowe has the actions and durability to remain a starter, but his stuff would play up in the bullpen, too.

    THE FUTURE: Crowe will continue to see what his stuff can do against more advanced hitters. He’s seen as a future major leaguer, but the question could be what role he’ll play.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 20 at 1:12 pm

  11. So basically Tetreault has a great fastball, very poor secondary pitches and a whippy arm, all of which point to a bullpen guy. Crowe has two plus pitches plus two others described as “average” and is projected to stay as a starter.

    its clear to me the difference; a 5th starter in the majors is significantly more valuable than a RH 7th inning reliever.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 20 at 1:15 pm

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