Nationals Arm Race

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Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

28 Responses to 'Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings'

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  1. Although the system had several graduations, a couple of them (Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark) were not on the radar screen going into 2013 – so their graduation had little or no impact on the rankings. Rendon graduating obviously did. I’m not sure whether Karns “graduated;” did he pitch enough to lose his rookie status? That’s usually the cutoff line.

    Offsetting the graduations is the fact that the pitching had a strong season pretty much throughout the organization. Giolito (injury) and Cole (2012 struggles) both bounced back strong in 2013. Only a couple of pitchers (Kylin Turnbull, I’m looking at you) really struggled. The problem the Nats have entering 2014 (before injury or additional trades) is finding a place for all of their starting pitching prospects to pitch.

    If the bats were anywhere close to where the pitching is the system would easily be in the top ten. Here’s hoping that happens this year :)

    John C.

    30 Jan 14 at 11:36 am

  2. Many thoughts, but not much time at the moment. But I did want to make a quick point on this nebulous idea of ranking “organizations.” The Nats have seven farm teams. Five had winning records, four went to the playoffs, and three had pretty dominant seasons. That’s not the only way an organization can be judged, but it seems a useful and oft-neglected one.

    KW

    30 Jan 14 at 12:42 pm

  3. Good point on Jordan/Roark; didn’t know about them before, no impact on rankings afterwards. Karns should still qualify as a prospect; he only had 12 innings in the majors last year. Hard to believe; 3 games, 12 innings and then back down yet we constantly talk about him.

    Lack of hitting depth in minors: I honestly thought Rizzo would have focused on drafting more bats after the pitcher heavy drafts of 2011 and 2012. Wrong; he took a TON more arms again thisyear, and again a ton more college arms. Maybe Rizzo’s theory is that you can always acquire bats either on the FA market or in trade instead of worrying about developing them. I mean, if you think about the Nats projected bats in 2013 how many are home grown? Rendon, Desmond, Zimmerman, Harper plus backups Moore, Espinosa and Leon/Solano. Ramos, Span and Hairston acquired in trade. Laroche, Werth and McLouth FA signings. 7 grown, 6 acquired, with a half/half on the starters.

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 14 at 1:54 pm

  4. Ken; great point. I hadn’t thought about it that way. I wonder if the cynic would have said that the reason the Nats lower-level teams succeeded so well was b/c of a bunch of over-aged teams? But that beign said, I don’t see how you can make that argument about Potomac or Harrisburg’s teams.

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 14 at 1:55 pm

  5. Considering how many Top 10 prospects we traded the last 3 years, I think #18 is pretty good. All teams have players move up, so that’s a non-issue.
    As a Nats minor league seamhead, it always hurts to see the players you follow get traded, but it’s what you do if you are going for the World Series.
    Let’s not forget when the farm system was ranked 30th Four Years In A Row. Look for A.J Cole to move up about 40+ spots next year & you’ll see the whole system move up, too.

    Mark L

    30 Jan 14 at 5:52 pm

  6. I don’t really look at it as “treading water” at all, but “working as designed” (providing talent to MLB in terms of both promotions and trades). As you noted from K Law’s comments on the 2012 rankings, the difference between a #18 ranking & a top 5 ranking is basically 1 good MLB player (Gio in that case). If Danny E had played at all well last year, virtually everyone was saying that the Nats wanted to see one more full, healthy season in the minors from Rendon. I think with that he would have easily been a top 10 prospect. Add that (maybe plus not signing Soriano for an additional draft choice), and the Nats could easily be ranked in the top 5-10 organizations this year. Similarly, if there are minimal needs to pull folks up this year, and solid years from the pitchers, Gooden & Taylor, the org ranking could kick way up next year without really being much different.

    DaveB

    31 Jan 14 at 7:59 am

  7. DaveB: yes that’s a good point, one I should have mentioned in the same sentence as saying we were “treading water.” Consider St. Louis: they were #1 last year, graduated a ton of guys who helped them make the world series, now they’re #12. Is that a failure on their part? Absolutely not; I’d absolutely want to be in the World Series on the backs of my developed talent than have a top farm system ranking by some pundit on the internet :-)

    I did want to do some other analysis of orgs who had big changes from last year to this year in the piece … but decided that was kind of against the grain of Law’s insider piece.

    You can make a very legitimate argument that the Nats are doing very well considering the amount of talent matriculated or traded away, that we still have three top 100 guys in the system (and a 4th who could be there soon in Solis), that we continue to develop lower-profile players who contribute at the MLB level (Jordan, Roark, Krol) and that we have a number of under-the-radar players in the lower minors who could surge quickly (i’m thinking guys like Voth).

    Todd Boss

    31 Jan 14 at 8:40 am

  8. Hi folks, and Happy New Year (been away a bit)…

    I’m a bit of a contrarian on this one. The prospect lists are arbitrary and do not measure numerous intangibles. For example, the mental edge of a player, his maturation and whether it has peaked, how far removed he is from injury, how much time he has been playing, what coaching he has been exposed to. All of these intangibles are significant to scout besides the numbers they show on the radar gun and even the numbers they put up playing home games in a given stadium — certainly relevant to followers of this organization.

    Another reason this matters little is that there are so many individuals for so many positions in our own system, a top-100 list will not possibly capture the organizational depth. That term, to me, means the capacity of an organization to plug in a replacement who can perform at a high grade if the player at the above level goes down.

    In that regard, it matters not whether the Nationals system is 18th or 30th; there was tremendous movement among the lower levels last year and numerous injuries that tested the Nats’ system’s ability to replace said players. In the pitching department, the A-A+-AA levels produced spectacularly. Power was lacking in the system and it affected teams at critical stages late in the year. But the organization produced four teams in championship series. All of those teams’ key players were home grown or acquired in trades (as opposed to the Chris Young variety of AAA). Really, did 17 other organizations do that?

    With that said, there is no credible way one can appraise the Nats as an organization without factoring in the the GCL Nats produced one of the best seasons of all time, and that all of those players are headed up the ladder. They may be sight unseen, but they certainly can win against their age-matched peers. And they are all STILL HERE.

    With that said, as I have noted before, I cannot help my own inclinations to react to a combination of 1) Age 2) Success at a particular level at a young age 3) Signs of increasing accomplishment as levels increase, or at least consistent performance after promotion 4) Input about the mental/emotional maturity 5) Appraisal of MULTIPLE scouts about a prospect’s command of his pitches/pitch selection as a hitter/raw power-speed off the bat of the ball (thump)/speed for base stealing/defensive range/defensive arm strength and then 6) Health and stage of recovery 7) What the Nat’s organizational moves say about what they see in the prospect. For example, who gets invited to the special instructional league? Who goes to the AFL? Who gets a spring invite? All of that information is telling. Very telling.

    There are many examples to illustrate the above. Matt Walters is to be respected because his power game exploded for the first time last year, and he is young and started the year before in A+ ball. Richie Mirowski gets guys out wherever he goes and his managers say he has the moxie to be used in any situation and with runners in scoring position. Michael Taylor had 21 assists from center field playing on the same team all year. Think about that — after he got to #10, they probably stopped running on him — and he still got to 21 assists! Billy Burns teams’ always win. He went to a Harrisburg team that had no power and was wasting good pitching, and with no power himself, catalyzed a run to the championship series and became the organizational player of the year in not even two months.

    Perhaps that explains it.

    For this reason, and I touted Tanner Roark while everyone was fixated on Karns, people like Tanner Roark are not so impossible to see coming. Recall that at the latter stage of 2012, he really came on. At the end of the year he had 17 losses, but was invited to spring training. The Nats started to see they had something in the losingest pitcher — in AAA!

    My point is that with a little thinking, we can search a little more intently and demonstrate that each of us is a lot smarter than folks who have to follow the whole league like Law, Sickels, the whole lot.

    And, those folks are often lazy. The system of prospect ranking is very similar to the ranking of high school football recruits. Folks are hyped and hyped (4-5 stars!) and often well-deserved. But when they flop, and often do, closer scrutiny reveals 1) Overrated talent 2) More interest in girls 3) More interest in drugs 4) Poor team skills and coachability 5) Poor coaching or blocked opportunity that saps their confidence and will to work through the “apparent” ceiling.

    I keep my own Nats top list and base it on the above, and was watching Ian Krol put up goose eggs in AA at age 21 and wondering why no one was placing him on lists. You get the picture. Obviously Dave Dombrowski appreciated him. And appreciated how Robbie Ray added gas to his fastball and had some dominating starts at AA.

    And like the others here, I appreciate the nuggets of intangibles from those here who SEE THE PLAYERS PLAY. Nothing like that, and the input here and on Luke’s board and occasionally, Ryan Kelley and Ryan Sullivan.

    forensicane

    31 Jan 14 at 11:26 am

  9. So with that said, I throw in two lists. My top 10 Nats, and my top below the radars (and why)….

    and in so doing, the list reflects — Who is going to do best, in the organization, this year? Who will move up the most levels? Who will put up the best numbers? Naturally, the factors above make this impossible to predict, as does injury. But here goes.

    1) Steven Souza
    (a two year run started with a monster 9-RBI game in Hagerstown and ended with eye-popping stolen base proficiency on the big stage of Arizona. At this time in July, we will be talking about when he will see a starting job in DC – if he stays healthy)

    2) A.J. Cole
    Based on the above missive, you cannot ignore what he showed after promotion last year)

    3) Aaron Barrett
    Dominates. His coaches felt he was MLB ready last year, and so he should be fine at AAA showing us that we will not miss Soriano

    4) Luke Giolito
    I moved him UP because of the breathless scout feedback on him. But until he shows he is completely recovered and produces on the field higher that Auburn, I have to think the above are a more sure thing.

    5) Christian Garcia
    This is where the can’t miss list ends. He is a major leaguer we want so see in DC. He has the mental makeup. But health and a full deck of bullpen arms stand in the way. Let’s see how much time he gets in Syracuse to show he is fully recovered. The post-Clippard future?

    6) Zach Walters
    Once he shows better defense and better plate selectivity, he will force his way into a lineup somewhere. Those who watched AAA last year wrote how the Chiefs’ accommodation of Espinosa’s struggles cost Walters offensively as well. Again, things you do not see. And when he goes on a tear, he goes on a tear.

    7) Brian Goodwin
    Youngish, and over two years in AA. He either turns it on now or gets passed for good by Souza. But he’s clearly shown enough to see that he is not destined for the fate of Destin Hood.

    8) Nathan Karns
    Went back to AA a better man. But is he good enough to crack the Nats, or being developed to dangle in trade based on what he can achieve in AAA?

    9) Jeff Kobernus
    Premium speed, perhaps the best base stealer in the upper minors. Unlike Eury Perez, he can actually take a walk. No sign of his declining – another guy who if he were to stay healthy a whole year, we would see even more exciting production.

    Blake Schwartz AA
    Knows what he is doing and wins everywhere he goes. With no defined ceiling, no reason not to expect him to continue to rise.

    …and a few you never hear about to keep a look out for from the rest of my own top 75:

    16) Tyler Herron – a real find last year and had a dominant winter league after very successful AA. Went from out of baseball, but so did Christian Garcia. He really wants it, and it shows

    22) Blake Treinen – invited to spring training. He has a lot going for him, only needs to put it all together. That he has been brought to Viera tells me the team expects him to make that step up.

    25) Brandon Miller – turned it on AFTER getting promoted to Potomac, and in a system with lesser power potential. Ready to live up to what was expected of him.

    27) Hector Silvestre – The most advanced lefty starter from the dominant GCL pitching staff in a system that doesn’t have Ray or Krol anymore.

    31) Travis Ott – Here for his age. Successful even before filling out. There is life beyond high schoolers like Drew Ward (#13)

    37) Josh Johnson – Minor league free agent came back from the PED-dead (as did Matt Williams) and resigned and deservedly invited to spring training. Has underrated power and plays well off the bench, great clutch hitter and a quality team guy. Has already shown he can hit AAA and ought to be a phone call away.

    44) Dakota Bacas – We’ve learned by now that when Rizzo makes a straight up trade for a prospect, and it’s not a Henry/Abad dump, keep an eye on the player.

    46) Danny Rosenbaum – Sure stepped it up in the latter part of the year. The Rockies almost kept him – after his 2012 disaster. AND he’s a lefty starter.

    forensicane

    31 Jan 14 at 11:36 am

  10. If Souza had a Dominican birth certificate showing him three years younger, he would indeed be well up a lot of national prospect lists. Ditto for Karns, Solis, and even Josh Johnson.

    But that’s a part of the whole prospect “thing” – the game clicks sooner for some guys than it does others. Strasburg wasn’t a prospect at all out of high school and wasn’t drafted. Souza didn’t really get serious about the game until he was nearly out of it. Karns, Solis, Purke, and Garcia have had injuries. Brandon Miller has made a position change.

    Forensicane – good list, but where are Skole and Solis? I actually feel like Skole’s injury last year may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as he apparently spent the summer getting in much better shape than he had ever been. Obviously everyone is watching to see if he’s the heir apparent at 1B.

    KW

    31 Jan 14 at 2:40 pm

  11. Skole has shown no defensive prowess at 3B and has yet to demonstrate that he any more than Tyler Moore at 1B). And per earlier, until he shows (and at his age) that he can hit above A+ post his injury, I couldn’t see him as a better prospect than others. He has a great eye for walks, and has at least some power post-injury. But his AFL (after he got into shape) certainly did not answer anything. I have him at #20, and only that high because he was so well received in ML spring training last year and because his power is an organizational need.

    Solis, likewise, has never been above A+. He, too, is still showing how far back he can come from an injury. OK, he is a lefty, but let’s see him make a jump to AA and sustain something all year. I have him at 18, primarily because of how impressed those who played behind him in the AFL were in their appraisal of him this fall.

    18 & 20 are not bad. They just are not as promising as others.

    FYI, second ten:

    Richie Mirowski
    Michael Taylor
    Drew Ward
    Eury Perez (I know, but still young)
    Austin Voth
    Tyler Herron
    Sandy Leon (winter league and opportunity knocks)
    Sammy Solis
    Matt Purke
    Matt Skole

    On Purke: I have a good feeling about him. He is farther removed from his surgery and can exhibit a more recovered arm. It’s now or never – and he is younger than Solis and always had a higher ceiling. I rated him lower only because he did not outperform Solis in AFL, and batters figured him out in A+ and in AFL. He is better compared to Karns, who needed some time to get past surgery and to learn how to pitch before his 2012 quantum leap. But even those who say Purke’s velocity is lower still praise the movement on his pitches. That’s the difference between potential and result. But I don’t think the potential is lost forever, just lost for now.

    forensicane

    31 Jan 14 at 3:16 pm

  12. Dave B – you made some points that I wanted to make. The Nats used seven players from their purported #1 class in 2012 to make it to the playoffs. Four went to OAK for Gio, and Harper, Lombo, and Moore all contributed in DC. I imagine that Lombo and Moore weren’t in the top 10, either.

    Based on pitching prospects, the Nats would be in the top five right now. The Cards and Braves both have a number of pitching prospects graduating, but the Nats have some pretty incredible pitching depth throughout the organization. They also have the pitching prospect with perhaps the highest ceiling. I’m not saying that Giolito is the “best,” as he still has a lot to prove. But he has unlimited potential (whatever that means!).

    Todd – I completely agree that I’m surprised that the Nats haven’t done more to draft hitters. Perhaps they thought there was just better value to be had among the arms. They’ve also had some highly valued hitters not really make it recently: Brown, Marrero, even Bernardino could be considered among them. Still in the organization, Hood seems to have hit a wall, and Martinson isn’t advancing as hoped.

    And then there’s the catcher problem. This organization seems to have a real problem producing a catcher. Norris didn’t turn into an everyday guy with OAK, either. At least Leon showed some signs of life in winter ball. Perhaps Nieto will bounce back to us as well.

    KW

    31 Jan 14 at 3:17 pm

  13. Point taken, but they have spent bonus money on Dominican position players with increasing degree of investment.

    forensicane

    31 Jan 14 at 4:10 pm

  14. I should say Dominican and other Central/South American players.

    forensicane

    31 Jan 14 at 4:11 pm

  15. I was surprised at Law’s ranking, I thought it would be lower. I know that he is higher on Goodwin than most, and he really likes Taylor too. And I think all the national scouts really like Giolito. If he holds his health and performs decently, I’ll bet he shoots up to top 10 overall.

    As for the impact of these rankings, I can’t get too excited or worked up, and commenters like DaveB and Forensicane make some good, tempering thoughts. I will say that, looking back over the last 5 years, it is hard to be anything but really pleased with the performance of the farm system. It has produced some stars directly (Stras, Harper, JZ, Desi), indirectly (Gio), a few good contributors a cut below (directly and indirectly – Storen, Span, Detwiler), some guys with potential (Rendon, Roark, Jordan) and some guys that have contributed somewhat sporadically (Espy, TMo, Bernie, maybe Lombo). Plus, they look to have at least one potential superstar and several high upside guys still in the mid to upper minors. If you sat down with a piece of paper and asked yourself honestly what you hope to get from your farm system over a multi year period, I think that would be considered a very good result.

    Wally

    31 Jan 14 at 4:23 pm

  16. Every professional scout agrees on the Top 3 Nats — Giolito, Cole, and Goodwin. There’s no disputing that.
    After the Top 3, that’s where all the fun begins;how do value guys that may be ready to contribute soon, as opposed to the stud who’s just finished Rookie League.

    In the feel good department, Keith Law has Severino at #5 and raves about his defensive impact. Plus, we all get to see him in Potomac in 2014.

    Mark L

    31 Jan 14 at 5:39 pm

  17. I wonder if the Nats’ insistence on keeping Skole at 3B is a subtle organizational hint that Zim will be moving to 1B. That may be reading too much into it, but since no one seems to think that Skole can play third at a higher level, it’s interesting.

    When I look at Skole, I see Berkman, who was so good at the plate that they found places for him to stand in the field (particularly since Bagwell was at 1B when he came up with the Astros). Heck, the Astros even had Berkman in CF for a time, which has to match any of Billy Beane’s “fielding doesn’t matter” experiments. I’m not saying Skole is Berkman, but even 80-85 percent of Berkman would be pretty good.

    But speaking of Billy B., my other thought about Skole is that he’s a Beane kinda guy and that he’ll end up by the Bay sooner or later.

    If the Nats want a 3B, why not try Walters there since he has the power for a corner position and some deficiencies at SS? Or Souza, since he was drafted as a 3B?

    KW

    31 Jan 14 at 7:19 pm

  18. Good comment board… I really liked Walters’ approach/attitude in Sept and Souza’s afl performance. I’d love to see those two getting a shot this year, and why not try them at 3b and see if they can hang.

    Andrew R

    31 Jan 14 at 9:36 pm

  19. If Skole turned into Berkman … i dare say the Nats would find themselves with one of the more fearsome lineups in the league. Berkman came with in four OPS points of having TEN straight .900+ ops seasons. Frigging amazing. he had a whole slew of .300/.400/.500 or better seasons, with power. As a switch hitter no less. I have him in a big draft post I have about “borderline hall of famers” that we’ll be arguing about for the next 20 years.

    Skole being kept at 3b b/c of Zimmerman moving to 1B? Can’t see that; i mean, if Rendon is so good at third, why put Skole there and “waste” Rendon at 2nd? Honestly the best place to hide a guy like skole would be in Left … finally put Harper in center where i think we all believe he can hang, keep Werth in right for as long as you can. I’d take that. Except that this plan assumes we don’t develop any decent CFers out of our current crop of candidates. So who knows; maybe we’re talking trade bait.

    Great idea about Walters and/or Souza at 3B, but i’ll say the same thing as for Rendon. Souza listed at 6’3″ 220 … a little big for a 2b. Maybe we’re overthinking this; maybe the team has looked at Rendon’s small stature (6’0″ 195) and decided he’s a permanent 2b. Makes sense to me the more I read these comments and think about things; i’d rather have a capable 2B than a rock star 3B, and teams “hide” sub-par defensive guys at 3B all the time (Miguel Cabrera anyone?).

    Todd Boss

    1 Feb 14 at 9:07 am

  20. Espinosa turned Rendon into a 2B, not the Nats. It was a big risk of last year that no one spoke about much that really worked out surprisingly OK. And it should remind us all that as an organizational philosophy, the Nats are developing multi-position competence in their players. That’s how Espinosa came to 2Br after his college career at short. And it reflects in how Lombardozzi and Kobernus were developed and Carrol resigned. Recall that even Rendon was taking games at SS in spring training.

    That philosophy includes Walters, of course, who has spent meaningful time at SS and 3B and who could bring other gloves along. If one took a pessimistic view of Zimmerman, the next best 3B option would be Rendon. If Walters bat demands a promotion, then if he ends up at 3B, it will be because they just don’t have the confidence in him to play 2B. But we may just as well see him be the replacement for LaRoche after all. If his power continues to develop and his selectivity improves, he will not be a bench bat. And he is certainly farther along the road than Skole.

    The Rizzo talk of Espinosa at 3B, along with the above, tells me that the organization wants these multi-position competencies to prepare for the gamut of contingencies (disabled list) and prospects hitting their ceiling. And players with that level of development are better trade chips.

    But Souza is an outfielder, just as converted SS Taylor is an outfielder, to stay. He is not being hidden in the PF, he stars in the OF. McLouth on a two year contract and one year of Span plus an option allows a two year lag to answer all questions about the OF-1B in the pipeline, including Skole, Moore, Goodwin, Taylor, Perez, and Souza (and maybe even Walters). At the end of 2015 we will know the fates of all of these folks.

    Perhaps I am too cautious after injuries, but I recall Cliff Floyd as the superstar in the making for the Expos who was never the same after a first base collision. That is why I am a little less exuberant about Skole until we see him replicating his Potomac success every day, in Harrisburg.

    I agree that catching is a big organizational question mark – compounded organization wide with an inability to keep backstops healthy. What the heck happens up and down the chain, whether it is AA or Kieboom or Manuel and all, really?

    Perhaps Leon will return to the promise of 2012. Perhaps Severino develops the pop at the next level. Perhaps Nieto comes back and sustains the promise that Leon could not (they were once peers, and Leon outclassed the more expensive signing).

    Or perhaps Raudy Read, fresh off the GCL glow, will grow up to outshine them all.

    Perhaps.

    forensicane

    1 Feb 14 at 12:48 pm

  21. Skole: i’m not too terribly worried about him. There was a reason he got an invite to major league camp last spring, and he played and fared well. It was a freak injury to his non throwing arm … i can’t see why he doesn’t come back and pick right back up where he left off.

    More and more, thinking about Rendon’s size and his glove ability I think he’s a major league second baseman. I don’t care that he excelled at short in HS or third in college; he’s undersized and thus perfect for second base. A good shortstop (Espinosa is a fabulous one) should be able to adapt and play any infield position without much adjustment. Being a middle infielder myself, I can attest that switching between 2nd and SS is almost seamless, even mid-game. Making the adjustment to third is a bit harder … and going to first is a piece of cake. So I do like the “positional flexibility” concept mentioned for sure, and feel its going to serve the team well in case of injuries.

    Todd Boss

    1 Feb 14 at 1:24 pm

  22. Another point about the organization and positional flexibility. It is not just to prepare for unforeseen major injury or ineffectiveness at the level above. On top of that, there is always the player whose bat is so good that it MUST be in the lineup. Somewhere. And not on the bench.

    That is a great problem to have. But the best way to adjust to such a problem is to have that player prepared to slot in at any number of positions. That way, if he can no longer be denied, there is an easier decision tree.

    Many may forget that it was spring 2012 when Rendon was getting a serious look at SS. This preceded a year in which Desmond eliminated all doubters about whether he was a shortstop that a championship club could win with. But he had his doubters prior to 2012, as did Espinosa. And in 2012, their paths moved in opposite directions. The point being, let’s say the 2013 collapse was not Espinosa, but Zimmerman? We’d be having a different conversation.

    In my opinion, the Nationals have three POTENTIAL bats that can force their way into the lineup, this year or next, on bat alone. Moore, Walters, and Souza. This is exactly why Morse was expendable and why the Nats trained Moore up in LF. He will get one more chance to show that he can be the Chris Davis that the organization dreams of. As for Walters, consider that two years ago in spring training, we was pretty much where Dakota Bakas is right now. Which is to say, a complete unknown that Strasburg knew and was a former Diamondback, and who had nothing of the prodigious, team carrying power he has shown on a bad Syracuse Chiefs squad. Walters has played multiple positions, and has experience at 2B as well. As for Souza, in spring 2012 he was near oblivion. And he has shown a great arm and excellent defense in the OF despite being a converted 3B. None of these folks may force their way into the lineup in Washington, or all of them. Moore was a defending minor-league -player of the year, the same pedigree as Skole.

    Perhaps the best measure of a top farm system is one where the depth is so real, there are clear ML starters in AAA who never get a shot. Clearly that is not happening with the position players on this team.
    I wondered what lesson we would learn with Corey Brown being the odd man out. Some of us thought a less talented team would be his landing spot, perhaps Houston. And in the end, it was the Red Sox, and only on a minor league deal. So although holes can be replaced, there can always be a real traffic jam, perhaps such as the one that enabled the Blevins deal. Things may prove to be different after this year. But the Nationals as a system are doing GREAT.

    And every year there is the meteoric rise of someone we never thought would take off. Every year, and it will happen again. Another great measure of a farm system, that is not so appreciated, is how many such talents emerge. In 2013, it was Jordan, Krol, Burns, Schwartz, Herron, for example.

    As for the pitching, we are indeed approaching that kind of depth, especially on the bullpen side. I still think a trade for depth in the farm system is coming to resolve the RH bullpen depth, especially if there are talents that Rizzo is enamored with.

    I really respect Rizzo’s/minor league scouting’s eye. Look how Cole is one of our top prospects and how he was key to that deal. Look how a PTNBNL like Krol took off. And Walters, and Roark, among others. I guess we’ll watch Matthew Spann and Bakas in particular, and Wooton as well, though he may be the Ian Dickson-is-better-than-a-bag-of-balls variety.

    forensicane

    1 Feb 14 at 9:05 pm

  23. Good thoughts, and a good discussion all around. In brief, I’m more bullish on Skole, much less on Moore. Moore could be an everyday player on a lesser team, but his low OBP numbers would be a detriment to a contender. It’s Skole’s OBP that gives me hope for him despite relatively high K numbers. As I said, I’d take an 85% version of Fat Elvis. (Would love to see the HoF discussion of Berkman and others.)

    It’s a pretty similar deal with me with Walters. To get 29 HRs from a SS at any level is eye-opening, particularly at his age. But his very low OBP is worrisome. If he hits during the spring, I wonder if they will give him a real chance at the utility slot or insist that he keep playing every day at Syracuse. He certainly needs the reps defensively.

    I do, however, share Forensicane’s bullishness on Souza, although we seem to be in the minority. Yes, he’s a bit “old” (in need of that Dominican birth certificate), and yes, the injury bug has gotten him the last two years after his personal/professional turnaround. But my goodness, this is a Harper-sized kid who gets on base, has some pop, and can fly. He went 300/396/557 at AA last year with 20 SB and 15 HR in just 77 games at age 24. Who knows what he can do at a higher level, but if that’s not a prospect, I don’t know what one is. I would give him a seat on the bench over Moore or Hairston right now, and he would be my first call if/when Werth or Harper goes down.

    All things being equal, I agree with Rendon staying at 2B. But things don’t always stay equal, which is how Rendon ended up at second in the first place. The kid is going to hit, though, and perhaps not just with gap power. Look back at the projections when he was drafted. Nearly everyone thought he could get to around 25 HRs a year while hitting .300. So there’s a higher potential ceiling than many are remembering right now. (And yes, Rendon got the starts at short on the two days Desi took off last season.)

    On the news front, glad to see the deal get done with Fister. I would have preferred an extension, but at least they didn’t go through the hassle of arbitration, and he did get a pretty nice raise.

    KW

    1 Feb 14 at 10:57 pm

  24. Just to clarify, Souza is three months older than Skole and one level higher. Walters is two months younger than Skole and was one level higher last year, and is a switch hitter. We really are comparing apples to apples on the age front. (and then you reflect that Rendon is a year YOUNGER than all of them!

    Walters also has the capacity to hit home runs in bunches, is a switch hitter, and definitely improved as a hitter later in the year. Skole’s 2012 power display came at low A, not high A.

    I’m not arguing that Skole (who is slated for 3B this year) is ineffective or marginal. I’m only asserting that the others deserve their due.

    It is worth mentioning that just as Walters and Skole blossomed into big-time power prospects with big HR seasons, there are other (mostly unheralded)Nats minor leaguers who have it in them in 2014 to do turn the power corner. Keep an eye on Randy Encarnacion, Goodwin, Bryan Lippincott, Cole Leonida, Estarlin Martinez, James Yezzo, and Wander Ramos, for example (Miller is already established).

    It’s also worth noting that Desi’s power did not come around immediately. Rendon is going to be a special player.

    As for Fister, the most impressive point to me about the trade is that the Nats targeted him specifically because he was below the radar, with Scherzer diverting. That says a lot about how the front office locks into players, whether it is Fister or Denard Span with Bourne on the market. The Cubs, for an inferior pitcher, might not even have accepted what the Nats gave up for Fister. Whoever got the better deal is irrelevant; the Nats approach to the target, including to act before the market set itself, was really clever.

    forensicane

    2 Feb 14 at 12:09 am

  25. Souza vs Skole; age aside … i’d counter with the number of full pro seasons they’ve had to develop. Skole: two. He’s got just 700 career minor league at-bats. Souza just finished his SEVENTH minor league season. He’s got three times the professional at-bats of Skole. And I’d also counter by saying that Skole likely would be at Souza’s same level for 2014 if he hadn’t lost the entire year. Souza frankly is lucky to be where he is right now (newly added to the 40-man); most teams would have lost patience with the guy after the 5th pro season.

    Todd Boss

    3 Feb 14 at 9:44 am

  26. It’s interesting to think about the age proximity and the experience comparisons when looking at these places on the BA list:

    4 Skole
    10 Souza
    14 Walters

    Hmm, Skole really hasn’t played above low A and is essentially the same age. He’s also by far the least athletic of the trio. Now, I’ve expressed my great hopes for Skole, so I’m not going out of my way to put him down, but at essentially the same age, Souza and Walters are much farther advanced. We’ll see. Obviously we’re hoping that they all pan out.

    KW

    4 Feb 14 at 7:56 pm

  27. Indeed.

    On top of everything that has been said, it has been overlooked that Souza turned into an unstoppable SB machine in the AFL this past fall. What the hell? But certainly welcome at the ML level, in any reasonable facsimile, given the power that comes with that package.

    Adding to the intangibles of my intrigue with him is the measured speed with which the ball apparently comes off his bat. Yes, they actually measure that, too, and he was outperforming his peers by some FanGraph metric. All in all, he’s no Mauro Gomez.

    forensicane

    4 Feb 14 at 10:43 pm

  28. Souza: I’ll admit that i’m a doubter here. I just have a hard time believing the same guy who languished for *years* suddenly is a top-end prospect. I’ll stand corrected when he proves me wrong.

    A’s trade candidates: whoever mentioned Cespedes is right on; that’s a very interesting point. He’s signed through 2015 and his salary has escalated to $10.5M this year and next. That’s a ton of change for a team like Oakland, who are generally between $50 and $65M in team payroll. They’ve also committed to Jim Johnson inexplicably for $10M in 2014 and have a couple other relatively highly paid vets … maybe their owner is loosening the purse strings. And yeah, i’d show up early for Nats BP with him on board :-)

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 14 at 8:53 am

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