Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

32 comments

Should this man be on this team?  Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Should this man be on this team? Photo Nats official 2014 via rantsports.com

Despite there being just a scant week until games start … i’m at a loss for content here!  Fear not; Mr. Tom Boswell always chats on mondays.  Here’s the 3/24/14 edition.  This was a monster chat; he took questions for 3.5 hours.

Q: Steven Souza just had a monster spring: Does he need a year at Syracuse or can the Nats use him now?

A: Some guys here love Steven Souza.  But he’s an outfielder in a system that already has 5 multi-million dollar outfielders under contract, so he’s not going to break camp with the team.  He’s  yet to play above AA and could use some seasoning against the near-MLB quality AAA starters.  But the Nats didn’t put him on the 40-man roster for the heck of it; you have to think he’s going to feature this year to cover for injuries.  He needs some positional flexibility.  He’s listed as a third baseman as well; another position we don’t really need any cover for right now.  Souza’s problem is that he’s a corner player (LF/RF/3B/1B) on a team with a bunch of them already.  So he’s going to have to out-hit a starter to get ABs.  Boswell says the same thing I do about not ever playing above AA.  Lets see how he does in upstate NY in April.

Q: Is Moore going to lose out on his spot to Peterson?

A: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a guy already is on the 40-man (Tyler Moore), then the odds of someone who is NOT currently on our (full) 40-man (aka Brock Peterson) beating out an established 40-man player AND dislodging an existing guy off the 40-man roster seems rather remote.  Besides, are we even sure Moore is making the 25-man roster at this point?  The team already has 5 OFers and needs another guy who can play middle infield, not a guy who can only play a corner.   Peterson is a 1B/OF type, much as Moore is.  Maybe this is all a precursor towards moving Moore to a team that covets him (Houston).  Boswell agrees that Moore is “on the bubble” and then notes that 1B competition after LaRoche is gone will be quite interesting.

[Interlude: someone asked a question about what "Cybermetrics" was.  WAR, OPS and WHIP].  Boswell answered it well, getting in his own dig at WAR while he was at it.

Q: Will Lobaton’s throwing arm add to an already-weak area?

A: Maybe; but I’m not sweating the throwing arm mechancis of our once-a-week catcher.  I’m more worried about whether Doug Fister is going to be ready for 4/1.  Boswell points out that Lobaton’s pitch framing is one of the best … and that if your backup catcher has just one weakness then you’re doing a-ok.  

Q: Who’s the 5th starter going to be?

A: Now I’m flip-flopping again, trying to read the tea-leaves, and I’m guessing Taylor Jordan wins it.  Ironically it will come down to Tanner Roark‘s flexibility; he’ll head to the pen to be the 7th man and he’ll be happy about it.  If Roark were to win the spot, Jordan would be heading to AAA to keep starting and we’d be basically auditioning a kid in the #7 spot (since it seems like Ryan Mattheus is heading to the D/L and Christian Garcia just hasn’t shown he’s got the stuff).  I’m ok with this configuration.   Boswell uses my previous arguments in saying that Roark deserves it and should have it on merit.  We’ll see.  

Q: Are you worried about the back of the Nats bullpen with Storen and Soriano’s shaky spring training stats?

A: Yes.  Short Sample Sizes, Spring Training stats, blah blah.  Soriano has looked awful, Storen not much better.  The Bullpen was the weakest part of this team last year and these guys are making too much coin to be just so-so.  Problem is, if Soriano blows a bunch of saves and loses the closer job, you might as well just release him because his non-closer splits show what a moper he can be.  This is an area to keep an eye on early in the season.  Boswell seems to think Soriano will be fine but worries about Storen.

Q: Are the Nationals vindicated in “Shutdown gate” now that Medlen is going in for a second TJ?

A: Phew,  I tell you this is a topic I’ve avoided because I want to keep my blood pressure down.  But others have certainly chimed in on it (Ted Leavengood at Seamheads.com opined on 3/18/14, as did Thom Loverro in the WashingtonTimes on 3/13/14 and Rantsports.com’s less than cordial website posted its own opinion in the same timeframe).  You’ll notice that nowhere in this list are the blowhards at NBCSports’ HardballTalk, some of the more loud and ardent critics of the Nationals 2012 decisions.  I wonder why; its like it is in the Newspaper business; nobody notices when you print a retraction of a 20-point headline and bury it on page 12 a few days later; all people remember is the headline.

I think honestly my opinion is in line iwth Loverro’s; we won’t really know if the Strasburg plan or the Medlen plan is really “the best” course of action until both guys are retired.  If Strasburg breaks down again, he’ll be in the same place as Medlen.  Yes the Nats plan looks better now that we have Strasburg going on opening day and the Braves will be lucky to have Medlen back and healthy this time next year.  But it still doens’t prove anything about pitcher mechanics and proclivity to injury (another topic that makes my blood boil; people just spouting off internet theories about biomechanics and presenting themselves as experts on the topic … another topic for another day).

An important note from another questioner on the same topic: all four guys going in for their 2nd TJ surgery this spring (Medlen, Brandon BeachyPatrick Corbin and Jarrod Parker had their first TJ surgery AFTER both Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann‘s surgeries.  The Nats approach seems to be more and more vindicated by the year.

Boswell doesn’t really bite at the offer to say “I told you so” but offers a link to a paper at NIH on the topic.

Q: Does Espinosa beat out Rendon?

A: No.  Yes Espinosa is superior defensively; you don’t need the second coming of Mark Belanger at second.  Boswell agrees.

Q: Did Rick Shue really make that big of a difference on this team?

A: Looking at splits both pre- and post- Rick Eckstein/Rick Shue hiring/firing, you would be inclined to say yes.  Was this causation or correlation?  Who knows.  Boswell doesn’t address the second part of a two-part question.

Q: Is the game of baseball headed for disaster thanks to big market dominance, over-emphasis on the teams in the 4 biggest cities and declining popularity?

A: I sense this questioner has a bit of bias.  Yes baseball’s ratings are miniscule when compared to Football’s; ask yourself how Football’s ratings would look if there was a game every night.  Baseball attendance dwarfs any other sport and is rising.  There’s national emphasis on “national” teams sure … but I’ve heard cogent, well put arguments that baseball itself is now basically a regional sport.  A strong sport with strong local ties that don’t translate nation-wide.  As compared to the NFL, where if the superbowl is Green Bay vs New England people tune in because they associate those teams with their star quarterbacks, not with their geography.

The thing that I worry about is the incredible revenue disparities we’re starting to see.  I do believe that the RSN monies that large market teams are pulling in will eventually give way to some sort of small-market owner revolt as the playoffs become the same teams year after year.  Sort of like what we see in European Soccer leagues.  Nobody wants to see that.

Boswell notes some stats about attendance, calls the game booming and also repeats my “regional points.”

Q: How important at the two early-season series versus Atlanta (April 4-6 at home and then April 11-13 away)?

A: I’d like to be a cynic and say something pithy like, “a game on April 5th counts the same in the standings as a game on September 30th.”  But in this case, I think a new manager, a weakened rival and a team that got its *ss handed to them last year by Atlanta will want to make a statement.  It could be damaging if the Braves somehow come in here and take 2 of 3.  Boswell does talk about the opportunity to put pressure on the Braves early.

Q: Is this the year Strasburg puts it all together?

A: It seems like it; he’s in the same place Zimmermann was in 2013 in terms of surgery recovery; I’d love to see him win 20 games.  Boswell drinks the kool-aid and then points out the excellent Adam Kilgore piece in the WP a few days ago on Strasburg; its worth a read.

Q: Who do you think has the most upside between Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor? Are the Nats still high on Destin Hood? 

A: A prospect question!  I’d go Goodwin, Taylor then Perez at this point. But if Goodwin plateaus again this summer Taylor will surpass him.  I think Perez has peaked as a late-innings defensive replacement/pinch runner at this point and may be trade-able/DFA able sooner than later.  Hood’s time with the organization is running out; he’s entering his 7th minor league season after hitting just .224 with no power in AA last year.  I’m thinking he’ll repeat and then hit free agency.  Too bad.  Boswell doesn’t sound like he likes any of these guys.

Q: Between the Morse trade (Cole, Krol, Treinen), the Guzman trade (Roark), and the Capps trade (Ramos), plus a few others, it seems like the Nats have made some really good trades. Umm, please tell me that the people who scouted these players before any of us had heard of them are well compensated.

A: Yeah, the Nats pro scouting squad has definitely done some great work as of late.   Boswell notes that scouts are not paid a ton … but that the Nats raided other teams for quality guys by giving them more respect and input in this org.  

Q: Every year the number of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery seems to be higher than the year before. It has to be clear at this point that the innings limit (alone) is not the answer. When does baseball finally figure this out?

A: Well, what’s the answer then?  You can look at literally every pitcher and find a fault or two with his mechanics; this guy has the “inverted W,” this guy subluxes his shoulder, this guy’s arm isn’t in the right position when he lands, this guy’s arm is too high, this guy’s arm is too low.  Nobody can define what “perfect mechanics” are.  I started pulling up video/images of the career MLB leaders of innings pitched and, guess what, those guys don’t have perfect mechanics either.  Don Sutton?  7th all-time in baseball IP and basically 2nd if you take out knuckleballers and dead-ball guys … and he has a perfect inverted-W in his motion.

What is the answer?  I wish I knew; i’d be the most in-demand pitching consultant on the planet.  When fully 1/3rd of major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and that numbers seems to be rising, maybe the answer is found by looking at the evolving role of pitchers.  Velocity is king now: 30 years ago if someone threw 90 it was special; now its mediocre.  Relievers especially; think about how power arms in the bullpen are coveted now.  Is it possible that the answer to all these arm issues is simply that guys are just trying to throw too hard these days?  That’s not much of an answer though.  We can talk about youth development, over-throwing as kids, AAU/travel leagues and 10year olds going from playing 18-20 little league games to 45 travel-league games a year.  But I’m not sure that’s entirely it; baseball recruits from the Dominican Republic basically did nothing for years except play sand-lot baseball from sun-up to sun-down and that doesn’t seem to affect their longer term injuries….

Or does it?   I wonder if there’s any correlation to the “nature” of a players youth development versus future injury?  American system versus Japanese versus a developing latino country like Venezuela/Puerto Rico or the D.R.?  Excellent post topic.

Boswell totally punts on the question; maybe since there’s no real answer.

Q: Given what Souza has been doing lately, should we focus less on “age appropriateness” in the minors?

A: No.  I think Souza is the exception, not the rule.   If you’re in  your mid 20s and you’ve yet to succeed beyond high A … that’s pretty indicative of what your ceiling may be.  Simple as that.  Boswell points out that Roark is 27 and is a classic “late bloomer.”

Q: Does the news that Scherzer and Desmond declined long-term deals portend eventual trouble for the likes of Strasburg and Harper?

A: No; i think those guys were already going to be trouble.  What’s the common denominator here?  Two words: Scott Boras.  Scherzer == Boras client.  Strasburg?  same.  Harper?  Same.  Desmond isn’t a Boras client but he’s gotta be looking at some of the monster SS deals out there and saying, I’m going to hit the FA market to see what’s out there.  Can’t blame him.  The 2016 off-season is going to be an interesting one for this team.  Boswell mentions the Elvis Andrus contract, as I have many times, as a game-changer for Desmond.

 

 

32 Responses to 'Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition'

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  1. Hey Todd.

    5th starter – I am flopping too, except the other way. I think it is going to be Roark as the 5th, and Barrett as the last BP guy. The least likely scenario to me is Jordan as the 5th and Roark to the pen. That way, there is no ready starter to call up when they need someone. Roark and Det would need to be stretched out, and I assume that Young is gone. They will want someone ready to go in a pinch.

    I think that the early ATL series can only help us, not hurt. If we sweep them, that could reinforce ATL’s doubts. If they do, they still have an awfully long way to go with a crippled lineup. Anything in the middle, meh.

    As for the failures on the extensions, to me, it is reflective of the Nats philosophy. Except for limited exceptions like Werth and maybe RZim, they’ll do extensions early if they can get a ‘deal’ relative to market, like Gio. Neither Desi nor JZimm wanted to offer that in return for security. So we still don’t know whether the Nats will extend some of their stars at market prices. Other than Ramos and maybe Rendon, not many guys left who line up as potential ‘deal’ extension types.

    Wally

    25 Mar 14 at 1:51 pm

  2. Isn’t it amazing that we just have no idea how the 5th starter is going to go, and its 3/25/14?? And consider this; if Williams hadn’t already dumped Detwiler to the pen, we’d probably also have people still arguing (me included) that Detwiler shoudl be the #5.

    Todd Boss

    25 Mar 14 at 2:06 pm

  3. yeah. I can’t figure out why they are still waiting to make the announcement.

    Btw, have you watched any of the ST games? Everyone is talking about how Harper is ‘big as a house’ but Werth is the one who has most noticeably put on weight. I am guessing 20 lbs, including a slight paunch (although that could just be the way his jersey hangs). Not a great thing for an older guy.

    Wally

    25 Mar 14 at 2:21 pm

  4. OK, O great ranker of rotations, where would you have this one among the MLB 30: Roark/Jordan loser, Detwiler, Ohlendorf, Treinen, Cole. That’s what the Nats have as “leftover starters.” Wow. And that’s after trading Karns.

    My guess would be in line with Wally’s – Roark as 5th starter, Jordan stretched out in Syracuse, and Barrett kept in the ‘pen, in large part because of concerns over Storen.

    Lots of good stuff here. Will dig in deeper later.

    KW

    25 Mar 14 at 2:29 pm

  5. Wally – I’ve said that the Nats will have to think about Werth at 1B at some point. They previously didn’t have much in the way of a potential replacement at corner OF, but the guy pictured at the top of this post has suddenly shown up as kind of “found money” and perhaps changed the conversation.

    KW

    25 Mar 14 at 2:34 pm

  6. 5th stater decision: probably still awaiting how Fister looks and feels in the MiLB start today. If he’s not right, both Roark and Jordan will be going north for the time being.

    KW

    25 Mar 14 at 2:41 pm

  7. On prospect age: You have to take it on a case by case basis. You have to know the head and hearts of your people and see what holds them back from an upward trajectory and what propels them.

    Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Strasburg, and Ryan Zimmerman are the exceptions, not the rule. Not everyone can be a first round draft pick.

    Souza being too old is a fallacy created by no more than his spinning wheels and losing time for a couple of years. That can happen to high school players. OK, he is 24 and now in AAA. Where was Jayson Werth at 24? In AAA and with states that don’t even compare to Corey Brown. Where was Ian Desmond at 22 and in a less talented organization? With stats and progress that were less impressive than Souza’s at the same age. Where was Doug Fister at age 24? With a AA year that would make Paul Demny look like Cy Young.

    The age issue matter at a point when it is clear that a fully matured person has reached the ceiling of their talent and mentally has gotten the most out of it. It’s player development’s job to figure out when that happens. Tanner Roark, age 25 was a different player than he was at 26.

    People like Paul Menhart, for example, are proving to be worth millions, whatever they are paid. I fail to see why there is not an arms race to get the best teachers and talent developers into any organization. It is a college football model – sure an eye can recruit, but a person who develops talent wins championships.

    I posted this here many months ago – that Blake Treinen was headed for a breakout. He’s “too old”, too. But closer scrutiny demonstrates that he was clearly still learning his craft and his skills were refining and blossoming, that he was a tireless , and worker and dedicated to craft, that his pitches were known to MOVE, and his numbers were affected by a few DISASTROUS outings.

    As Todd knows, I was big on Roark, too – he had a terrific end to a 17 loss year and had a few wipeouts.

    People reach a crossroads. For some it is 22 (it was for Souza), for some it is 25 (Roark) when they will either take a quantum step up or they will not, and it is a make or break. Most don’t make it, but enough do. The smart organization recognizes when that point has arrived and when it is not yet arrived.

    I think, looking at the organization from afar, these are an example of names to watch this year who fit that paradigm, based on everything I have read:

    Brett Mooneyham
    Brandon Miller
    Destin Hood
    Wilmer Difo
    Bryan Lippincott
    Matt Walters
    Brian Goodwin
    Stephen Perez
    Matt Purke
    Danny Rosenbaum

    This is a list of players who can be a quantum leap higher than what they have yet shown and we have envisioned. Note that their ages are not listed.

    And yes, Walters is on the list because he went from A+ to AAA before he even had a set infield position. His ceiling is open, in my estimation.

    forensicane

    25 Mar 14 at 3:48 pm

  8. Well, it looks like one of the in-house prospects is going to make it on the bench – Kobernus or Leon. If Williams wants speed, that’s Kobe. I’ve been advocating for Kobe and Souza all winter.

    I assume that Barrett making it means that #5 will be Roark. As I noted earlier today, I wonder how much Barrett making it reflects on concerns about Storen. There’s no doubt Barrett earned it, though. I hope Mattheus can go to Syracuse and get back close to his 2012 self.

    As for T-Mo, it really is time to trade him and give him a chance elsewhere.

    KW

    25 Mar 14 at 7:38 pm

  9. In regards to Souza and positional flexibility he has played 5 positions in the minors.

    130 games – RF
    249 – 3B
    117 – 1B
    64 – SS
    21 – CF

    All of his time in CF has come in the last 2 seasons where he has been playing along with guys like Michael Taylor billy burns and Goodwin so his chances to play in CF have been limited by them. I guess my point is that he is an athletic young man unlike some stereotypical corner guys. He has 130 steals in his minor league career with 4 different seasons of 20+. To me he surpasses Moore on the depth chart because he is a more dimensional talent.

    Pdowdy

    26 Mar 14 at 12:04 am

  10. Uhhmm … how ’bout giving Souza a break? April in upstate NY, etc. would not be a good gauge for Bryce Harper … let’s not foist that on Souza. it’ll take some time to get used to places like Syracuse, Rochester, Toledo, Pawtucket, Buffalo, Lehigh Valley, and even Scranton-Wilkes Barre.

    Lots of new ‘rookies’ will be facing icy conditions and snow perhaps into May and even June. Been in Syracuse on the 4th of July dressed in a winter coat. I could see my breath and this was during the day.

    ChiefsFan

    26 Mar 14 at 1:02 am

  11. BTW, @forensicane, mlbdepthcharts lists
    Nick Lee, Robert Benincasa, and Rafael Bautista as their great leap forward candidates. Interesting and not far fetched.

    for Fangraphs and mlbtraderumors their favorite is new comer
    Drew Vettleson. If he develops power to go with his other four
    skills, particularly his arms … yes arms plural! You might see a player who could leapfrog over Souza and some others.

    ChiefsFan

    26 Mar 14 at 1:14 am

  12. Souza: hey don’t get me wrong … i’m extremely happy for the guy, and I’m happy the team stuck with him when a lot of other orgs may have dumped him. 2 years ago he was a washout candidate, now he’s on the 40-man and likely will get some MLB at-bats this year. Signing HS guys is always tough; look at Destin Hood. He turns 24 in a week; he’s starting his 7th pro season after signing 2nd round out of HS. He hit .224 in AA last year as a 23-yr old. Now, if we had signed him as a college draftee, sent him to short-A as a 21-yr old and then he had a two-level promotion his first season of full-season ball (from low-A through high-A) … he’d be a 23yr old in AA. Right where he was this year.

    I fully admit I fall into this age-vs-level issue frequently. I also believe that a real pro talent should at the minimum be matriculating a level a year. And I believe that repeating a level is bad. And I believe that college juniors if they’re struggling in low-A are not good candidates to move forward. And I believe that the guys who do eventually make the majors 95% of the time are jumping minor league levels instead of taking them one per year.

    ChiefsFan; excellent points about playing in Syracuse; a brief conversation with Roark last year gave me the same impression. Its like the guys who play AAA ball in Las Vegas and have 6.00 ERAs. YOu just have to take things in context.

    Todd Boss

    26 Mar 14 at 9:34 am

  13. Souza size and positional flexibility. He’s listed as 6’4″ 225. That’s a big frigging guy. Is he really projecting as a CF? I doubt it. Not saying he can’t … but we’ve all seen Bryce Harper’s athleticism in action and we’ve also been told over and again that Harper is “too big” to play Center. Well Souza is BIGGER than Harper.

    It seems to me he’s a corner guy, plain and simple. Maybe the move is to stick him at 1B if/when LaRoche departs via FA. Or put Werth there and put Harper in RF (where he belongs) and Souza in LF. Or something like that.

    Todd Boss

    26 Mar 14 at 9:38 am

  14. Chiefsfan, thanks.

    I thought about those guys and a few others — Lee in particular. He has had games over the past two years in which he has dominated. I cannot figure out whether he is already maxing out his expected talent, like Richie Mirowski or Blake Schwartz, or whether there is actually a notch for him to take up. Not that that is a bad thing. he will just keep moving up levels like they are.

    As for Benincasa, he was expected to be in the DC bullpen conversation in 2014 when he was drafted and even by the end of his first pro year, not (26 yo!) Aaron Barrett. And Benincasa has been reared along as a fair-haired boy in the organization, and he will be the AA closer. But I think his path to DC is blocked unless he returns to the absolute domination he had at FSU. But then, Storen dominated in college as well.

    Vettleson may be right for this list (although he is already highly thought of) but only if he turns into a power masher. I just wanted to include folks who are off the radar or seemingly underachieving who I think have are showing signs of another gear.

    As for Bautista, he is not right for this list. All indications are that he is a star already and a star waiting to happen in a full season. Every time his name comes up, it is with superlatives from the scouting department.

    I was one of those who believed in Corey Brown. You saw him play. He knew the game and hustled. Now he has found a place with the world champions’ organization. I lament when folks run out of chances who are that close to blossoming. That is why I am rooting for Souza to make it.

    With that said, I was big on Billy Burns. The guy is a winner whose teams win. I’m sorry you will not see him up your way this year. As high as I am on Rizzo trades, I think Burns pushed himself past Goodwin last year. Pertinent to the above, I think Taylor’s light has come on and Goodwin are neck and neck.

    Boswell may not be that impressed, but Taylor’s already got defense and an eye popping arm and great stolen base skills. His power potential is real. As for Goodwin, he works hard and wants it. I believe in them both. Eury Perez came close, but if Corey Brown never got there, he won’t either.

    Souza, a football player and athlete, has the same athlete pedigree as…Destin Hood. That is why I am reluctant to give up on him just yet. His career, his education, his calling, is in professional sports. That saved Souza as much as Jesus did. He knew he did not want to even consider a life away from professional athletics. If the Lord gave him the sense to see that, so be it.

    Whatever he is, the organization clearly sees Souza as a rightfielder. I am still not so convinced that the Nats are not better off with Bryce Harper in CF (unless Taylor makes it).

    forensicane

    26 Mar 14 at 10:11 am

  15. I wasn’t meaning to project Souza as an every day CFer. More that he can fill in there which to me signals that he is a viable OFer unlike the Lombardozzi/Moore outfield experiments. Souza can hold down a super utility role because he can hold down multiple positions instead of just being a bat off the bench. A Skole/Souza first base situation could be promising if it were to materialize.

    Pdowdy

    27 Mar 14 at 6:36 pm

  16. Souza is a dynamic player. What that means is that when he is in a lineup, inning 1-9, he does something with his tools to help his team win, and to catalyze others around him. Harrisburg was a quantifiably better team with him in the lineup. What that means is he is an everyday player. He will not see the bench in DC (for very long, anyway).

    It takes a special player to play multiple positions on different days, and I am convinced that it takes from their offense. You can do that with someone who is a good PH, can steal you a base, and will give you great defense. But you can’t do that with a young and learning power hitter.

    Souza has been perfectly adequate in CF. But his success will force the issue, as will injuries. If he were to succeed, in AAA, and Span went down, I still think we’d see McLouth/Harper there, and Souza brought up for the corner, just to get him started confidently.

    Let’s face it – Jayson Werth is an annual injury risk in rightfield.. Just like Fister’s situation, I think we are learning and relearning the value of plug-n-play.

    forensicane

    27 Mar 14 at 9:42 pm

  17. Honestly, I’d want to see Souza’s UZR ratings in CF to see if he’s really capable of covering the distances out there sufficiently.

    If Span went down, you better hope this team isn’t STARTING frigging McLouth there. Because he hasn’t been a capable CFer since 2005 statistically. Left field? He seems ok. Center? Disaster.

    Werth *should* be playing left and Harper right, given Harper’s better arm and Werth’s injury risk. But that’s the way they’re lining up right now. I sense that Werth will stay in good enough shape to keep in the OF for the rest of his contract, whether it be in LF or RF (unlike others who think he’s destined for first). But that’s problematic for a guy like Souza, who needs an open corner to play. Where’s that going to be? If Zimmerman makes another 30 errors this year … you have to think he’s permanently moved to 1B .. but that also likely means Rendon moves back to his natural position. That does’t help a guy like Souza.

    Todd Boss

    28 Mar 14 at 8:58 am

  18. Good players force their way into the lineup one way or another so I strongly believe it will work itself out. Not to mention this team could be in the need of another front line starter if they don’t want to shell out the big bucks on the free agent market or extend Zimmermann. A guy like Souza could have plenty of appeal on the trade market if he continues to hit the way he has the last 2 seasons.

    pdowdy

    28 Mar 14 at 9:33 am

  19. My concerns for the future of baseball are twofold and interrelated. First, the price of attending MLB games has gone up exponentially in the last 15 years or so, in large part in conjunction with all the new stadiums. In the 1990s, you would see a working-class contingent at many MLB stadiums that is no longer there. Whether those folks still support the teams as deeply and have their kids playing baseball, I don’t know. I’ll be quick to concede that MLB tickets are still “cheaper” in general than those of other pro sports, but they’re no longer generally affordable.

    Also, I fear that baseball for the next generation is becoming something akin to lacrosse, a game of the private schools and well-to-do suburban public ones. I already had that thought in mind, but Todd’s lists of the top HS programs across the country and the top local talent have reinforced it. Through the Baby Boom and the early Gen X years, the vast majority of male American youths were exposed to baseball – rich or poor, black or white. But that isn’t the case anymore. And if you’re not playing it as a kid, you’re less likely to be watching it, or buying tickets, as an adult. It’s an intricate game to understand if you haven’t played it at least a little.

    KW

    29 Mar 14 at 1:12 pm

  20. Todd and I have gone back and forth on whether the Nats should think about Werth at 1B at some point in his contract. I don’t disagree with Todd that with Werth’s build and his commitment to conditioning, he could still be viable in LF at 38, more so than Morse or Gattis are now. My point is more along the lines of where do the Nats need him more, and where do they have the best chance of plugging in high-quality replacements? Obviously if Zimmerman can’t throw and has to move to 1B, then Werth has to stay in left. (And please, by all means, let’s get him over to LF as soon as possible, THIS season.) But if 1B is open after this year, you’re looking at either a high-priced free agent or someone like Werth, Skole, or Souza. It would make more sense to have Souza and his much younger legs in the OF and Werth at first. (I don’t think Moore is an everyday caliber player for a top contending team and therefore not part of a long-term discussion, at either 1B or LF.)

    The Nats seem to think about Souza the same way they do Roark – they’re struggling to wrap their brains around the fact that these two guys who have been kicking around for so long suddenly look like stars. If Souza goes out and crushes the IL, then things could get interesting with the big club. He would definitely become part of the consideration for 2015. I wonder if they will have him in CF in Syracuse just to see if he can do it. Anyway, this is make-or-break time for him, to prove that he’s a legit keeper and not the next Corey Brown.

    The assumption, though, is that Goodwin will be in CF in Syracuse, still trying to prove that he can play it. So far, he hasn’t shown nearly enough power to play a corner spot with a contender. In theory, Goodwin should have another year after this one to make or break, but in practice, if he doesn’t make a leap ahead this season, it’s going to be hard for the Nats to keep thinking of him as a piece of their future.

    KW

    29 Mar 14 at 1:18 pm

  21. KW,

    Doug Harris gave an interview with the Washington Post one year ago which essentially advanced his perspective that Souza was a star, and the star, among position players in the minor league system. The Nats simply have not needed to rush him, and he has made that easier by his injuries last year and the humility of his spiritual mindset.

    On a related note, the trend we are seeing for eye-popping extensions is going to blow up on too many ballclubs and their owners. Of course we are all thinking about this with the folks on deck (Zimmerman, Harper, Strasburg, Desmond, Span).

    Consider that the replenishing of the Nats system is continuing apace and will flood AAA with ready talent within two years, especially if the team is prudent enough to flip the unsignables for an appropriate prospect return, which Rizzo, is sweetis exceptionally capable of doing.

    This coincides with two very real facts — that the price tags on these extensions is escalating dramatically, the free agent market is proving overpriced, and Clayton Kershaw and Doug Fister are on the DL.

    The reference point for JZimm and Desmond figures to grow that much farther apart. They smell money they never dreamed of, their agents are smelling it too, and the escalations are not sustainable unless better insurance exists on said investments. By this time next year, long term investments in once-luminous talents will blow up.

    I think the long term thinking of the organization already recognizes that Werth, as much as he has been worth his contract symbolically at first and productively since, will not be a NEEDED obligation by year six. Already the Souza discussion is forcing this thinking. That is how far and how fast this farm system has rocketed.

    Now imagine where we will be next year if Souza has an excellent AAA year, as does Goodwin and Taylor — and with a wave behind them? Will the organization want to trade off controllable talent just to sustain high price investments, perhaps a third baseman who can no longer throw? No.

    The trading of Prince Fielder was a sign of what will come. And it will pick up in earnest long before Jzimm hits free agency.

    So I think the forces we are seeing will basically guarantee that JZimm is gone. And if Fister does not sign a team friendly contract, he will be gone too.

    Pitching is one thing. What about Desmond? Keep an eye on Matt Walters and even Danny Espinosa – now that he is obviously staying. As for Harper, if he transcends the game in a Trout way, that is one thing. If he remains a great player, that is another.

    forensicane

    30 Mar 14 at 2:08 am

  22. I do agree with you about Roark. But in the vein of what I said before, it is immaterial. For AJ Cole was not relevant a year ago, and he is knocking at the door. Giolito was not relevant a year ago, and he is not knocking, but he is certainly relevant. And Taylor Jordan has surprised us — not relevant a year ago, and officially arrived at the expense of Ross Detwiler now.

    Let’s say that either or both Robbie Ray and Nate Karns graduate well. That adds momentum to the point.

    And if they don’t, we all know that a year from now, someone else will be truly relevant, whether it is Sammy Solis, or Blake Treinen, or even a surprise like Matt Purke, Austin Voth, Blake Schwartz, Danny Rosenbaum, etc.

    forensicane

    30 Mar 14 at 2:13 am

  23. I’m not sure I understand why so many people are down onBrian Goodwin. He skipped high A altogether and was playing at AA last season at the age of 22. It’s not like he was old for the level and then he turned around and performed pretty well in the AFL. Combined between AA and AFL he put up a .260/.345/.415 slash line. So that is a .760 OPS from a CFer. He also scored over 90 runs, stole over 20 bases and from reports played an average CF. The reports when he was drafted were that he was a toolsy raw talent which he is. I think we will see an improvement from him this year to the tune of .275/.360/.425 or so with better base running numbers.

    Pdowdy

    30 Mar 14 at 11:09 am

  24. I don’t think folks are down on Goodwin. I do think that the dialogue about any player is whether he adds something necessarily that Denard Span does not, contemplating that graduation will replace Span’s contract. Taylor gets love because he has better power, arm, and SB speed than Span. Souza (while not a classic CF) is well discussed here, and chicks dig the long ball.

    Goodwin continues to be highly hyped, so there is not much room to go but down when others are moving faster than you.

    With that said, he has an excellent work ethic and is building off AFL success. Where he was on the full time squad and Souza was not.

    I think Billy Burns passed him last year. Forget tools. Burns is a winner and his teams win, and that’s the name of the game.But Burns was shipped out.

    It’s just that Goodwin used to be the only game in town in the outfield, other than Corey Brown. One year later, it’s a lot more crowded.

    forensicane

    30 Mar 14 at 1:14 pm

  25. That’s kind of my point though. I feel like no one is really moving faster than Goodwin. He has made it to AAA in 3 years. Souza and Taylor have both been around a lot longer. The others have strong points while Goodwin seems to have a bit of everything. Solid arm, decent glove, good speed, developing power (he had 12 homers last year along with 11 triples). He does K too much and needs to refine his base stealing but I look at him as the only one who has 5 potential tools that can play at the big league level.

    Burns has hustle speed and good on base skills but doesn’t have enough pop in his bat to be a major impact guy IMO. Michael Taylor has a killer glove and arm but there are questions with his bat ever catching up to them. Souza has a huge bat and above average speed but like Todd said I would want to see some more data or at least see him in CF with my own eyes before I would consider him a major league regular there. Goodwin I have seen and he reminds me of Denard Span with more power and not as good defensively. If he stops trying to be a power hitter his K rate will drop. I guess it is a very good thing to have options!

    Pdowdy

    30 Mar 14 at 5:20 pm

  26. I agree with Pdowdy about Burns. I just don’t think he was going to figure in the Nats’ plans at the MLB level. And that’s what it’s all about in this overall discussion: if and how these guys can make it with the big club. There’s likely an OF spot open in 2015, as the assumption is that the Nats won’t take the club option on Span, saving the money to put toward extensions. The question is who will step forward to lay claim to that roster spot.

    Taylor is clearly the best defensive CF in the system, but he only hit OK after repeating A+ and still strikes out way too much. The club wants Goodwin to be the CF in waiting, but he’s still got to prove that he can play center, and that he can hit enough. He doesn’t hit with enough power to play a corner OF position with a contender. But Souza does, or at least has hinted that he can.

    I don’t think they would put Souza in CF. So putting Souza in the MLB lineup would require another major decision: moving Bryce to center. Frankly, I haven’t understood the resistance to that. He’s going to run into things even if you put him at 1B. That’s just how he plays. You haven’t seen the Angels moving Trout out of CF to protect him.

    Hey, I’m pulling for all of these guys. It would be great for all of them to have terrific seasons and force the issue. But really, if they want to have a chance with the big club in DC, this is a huge year for all of them.

    KW

    30 Mar 14 at 8:20 pm

  27. I must be old school; I grew up watching the Pittsburgh Pirates play championship caliber baseball with Omar Moreno leading off. No power, but he was such a disruptive threat when he got on base that a walk was a double, and even when it was not, pitchers were distracted and the next hitters took advantage.

    Burns is that player and more. He walks, bunts well, and is faster. He is not sexy because he has no over the fence power. But hit it in the gap and you get triples. He had a pop fly double last year.

    Burns will play in the major leagues and his teams will win BECAUSE of his impact when he is on base.

    forensicane

    31 Mar 14 at 1:09 pm

  28. Off topic, the minor league picture now comes into place, with Harrisburg’s release of their roster:

    AJ Cole is starting in AA; so is Purke. Robert Benincasa is not, and that is a surprise. Solis and Taylor Hill are not — did they bump both to AAA, or is either hurt?

    Sandy Leon back at AA; helps the pitchers, but sure hope he can get his offense going and go up a level. Mirowski is back at AA; after the year he and Herron and Grace and Holland had, all of them back at AA shows how loaded the AAA bullpen is right now. Perhaps that is what kept Benincasa low.

    This clinches Goodwin to AAA, of course. Vettleson in the AA OF.

    forensicane

    31 Mar 14 at 1:19 pm

  29. Never mind. AAA roster out and Solis not on it, Hill is. I guess that solves the mystery of why they got Poveda. A shame for Solis.

    forensicane

    31 Mar 14 at 1:23 pm

  30. Burns/Hamilton: can’t steal first base. But if they can get on with any regularity, watch out. I was debating whether to get Hamilton in fantasy for this reason … he stole enough bases last year in like 10 games to almost equal the WAR of Adam LaRoche for the full year. Amazing.

    Minor league rosters: can’t wait till all four are out. Yeah where the heck is Solis??

    Todd Boss

    31 Mar 14 at 2:01 pm

  31. Now that all four are out, it is clear from the absent names that a number of folks are in extended spring training for reasons not yet disclosed. They may be injuries, or they may be developmental, but releases from this list here would be surprising. Here are folks who are MIA who caught my eye because they’ve distinguished themselves for more:

    Sammy Solis
    Erik Komatsu
    Matt Swynenberg

    Shawn Pleffner
    Narciso Mesa
    Bryan Lippincott
    RC Orlan
    David Napoli
    JC Valdez

    One obvious explanation; the Hagerstown roster is stacked, the Potomac roster has a slew of folks already promoted from Hagerstown and the six lowest on the list were Hagerstown/Auburn 2013. People like Mike McQuillan were well regarded but not on rosters for awhile in 2013. We may see the same with the above, though Orlan may be getting nursed through his old injury. He is one to watch.

    Otherwise, there are a few surprises, mostly of the variety of who was not promoted rather than who was that seems to have taken a leap forward. Three observations:

    1) As fascinating as Hagerstown’s roster is, only five players promoted from the GCL monolith. Most of course, are Dominican — so English classes are part of their 2014 transition to professional baseball futures. Again, this attests to the depth of the organization at the lower minors. Auburn will be loaded this year – and the Nats have not even stocked the cupboard with 2014 draft talent. Raudy read, Osvaldo Abreu, Randy Encarnacion, Bryan Mejia and Jefry Rodriguez are five really bright lights that this stocked system can now take their time with.

    2) Benincasa, for me, is the not even the most notable talent whose ascent is slowed. The others: Richie Mirowski, back in AA because of the logjam ahead of him; Matthew Spann – back in low A. Dixon Anderson – low A, had a really strong start but coming off an injury. Cole Leonida, still in A+. Austin Voth in A-. Time will tell.

    3) The most notable riser? Taylor Hill, to AAA.

    What do you folks think about the rosters?

    forensicane

    1 Apr 14 at 4:19 am

  32. There’d definitely some odd names missing. Solis in particular; he’s on the 40-man, so he’s one of the most important minor leaguers we have right now. Why is he not assigned somewhere? Clearly he belongs in AA; perhaps the team is keeping him in EST so they can convert him to a reliever? Maybe he’s hurt? I do look forward to an explanation.

    Lots of missing names; i did some looking around just at the pitchers last night and am surprised by the number of guys who did not make a full season team.

    Todd Boss

    1 Apr 14 at 8:51 am

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