Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats 2014 draft = failure


Suarez is heading back to school.  Photo via

Suarez is heading back to school. Photo via

I’m sure, based on comments in the previous thread, that some will think the results of the Nats 2014 draft will be overblown.  Fair enough.  Yes the draft is a crap shoot, especially after the first round.  You can take that angle and tell your self that its not that big of a deal that the team blew its 2nd and 8th round picks.

But this fact remains: At the draft signing deadline for the 2014 rule-4 draft, out of 315 players taken in the first 10 rounds (and supplimentals), just six players were unsigned.  And two of them belong to the Nats.  This team is doing squat in the international market and, outside of a few marquee names, has a pretty thin farm system right now, and needed to get high-end talent out of this draft.  But they didn’t.

Here’s my (glass is half empty) summary of the top 10 rounds for this team now:

  • An over-slot starter coming off of Tommy John surgery (which doesn’t have a 100% recovery rate, lets remind ourselves) who may or may not have even been a top-15 talent (as he was paid) before he got hurt.  Every draft pundit I saw had him in the late 20s factoring in his injury.
  • Four college senior/throw away signings who all scream “org guy” and likely all wash out within a couple years.
  • A massive over-slot HS catcher who, if everything goes *perfectly* for the kid’s development, we may see at the big league level 5 years from now.
  • A Juco pitcher who so far is getting *hammered* in the rookie league.
  • A 6th round pitcher from a middling college in a low-end division 1 league.
  • A compensation pick in the middle of the 2nd round next year.

Wow.  I’m overwhelmed with anticipation to see how our 2014 class turns out!  To say that Mike Rizzo has gambled this entire draft on the future potential of Erick Fedde is an overstatement.  Most scouting reports on him have his ceiling as a 3rd starter at best, not exactly the same as drafting a Tyler Kolek or a Carlos Rodon.  If Fedde flames out or is converted to a reliever (as more and more it seems last year’s pick Jake Johansen will be doing thanks to his apparent inability to pitch more than 4 innings at a time without getting blasted), we’ll be talking about the “hole” this draft leaves in the system for some time.

Two of the other unsigned players from this draft are far more high visibility: the situation with Houston and Brady Aiken (and its fall-out consequences of costing them Jacob Nix and to a lesser extent 21st round pick Mac Marshall) is a huge problem for baseball.  I agree with Keith Law wholeheartedly; the Astros reneged on a draft-day deal with arguable “findings” in the medicals, and that haggling cost them another pre-arranged deal with Nix.  Both players have serious cases for a grievance; the Astros pulled back on verbal agreements that may end up being legally binding, AND both are high school kids who failed very high-profile professional negotiations, likely negating their NCAA eligibility/accepted scholarship offers to UCLA.  Its a mess all around.

Personally, I hope both players file a grievance with the union and are declared free agents, free to negotiate with whoever they want.  Certainly there will be another team that looks at Aiken’s medicals and has no problem giving him far more than the $6.5M bonus (approx) that was pulled back.  I read an opinion yesterday that said he could get a 6yr/$20M deal given his capabilities.  It highlights the grave need for a “player combine” similar to what the NFL does, where players showcase for scouts all together and get consistent medical advice that is available to all teams.

Sorry to sound so negative, but taking a high-profile/high-cost injury-risk pitcher for the 3rd time in 4 years (Giolito, Purke), missing on your 2nd rounder, and missing on the one potential “over slot” guy that you should have been saving your pennies for by drafting throw-away college seniors in rounds 5 through 9 is a failed draft for me.  The Nats are going to have to get some “finds” out of this crew, or out of the rest of the class, to make up for these mistakes.

Written by Todd Boss

July 19th, 2014 at 10:26 am

19 Responses to 'Nats 2014 draft = failure'

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  1. How do you really feel?

    Last year, while Johansen isn’t working out great so far, Voth and Ward look very good. Meanwhile, they are developing guys like Treinan, Jordan and Roark and have some higher end hitters ready to contribute. And… it’s a fairly young team. Isn’t that what a ML system is supposed to do?

    If this had been in the old system, it would have been a bigger loss. Now, we get a do-over next year.

    I have a bigger problem with not using our farm system as much this year. Bringing up Harper in 2012 and Rendon in 2013 were huge shots in the arm to the team. Now, we have Souza, Moore, Taylor, and others hitting the cover off the ball and they are given no shot. Let’s work these young guys in.

    Andrew R

    19 Jul 14 at 11:50 am

  2. Great post. To continue with the theme from yesterday about the Nats being invisible in the IFA market, here is an article about the latest Cuban sensation who is about to sign an MLB deal. The Nats are nowhere mentioned as being in contention for him, and even though we don’t need another outfielder right now, I’ll bet our lack of participation in the bidding would be the same even if he was a hotshot second baseman or lefty releiver:


    19 Jul 14 at 1:31 pm

  3. Andrew: I’m not happy 🙂

    I know I threw in the remarks about the current system, but didn’t really want to get into a deep discussion about it. Just mentioned the marquee name from last year and how he seems to be fulfilling scouting prophesies that he’s not a starter. As for the state of the system itself, I think the rankings of the system by various pundits speak for themselves. (21st in BA, 18 Keith Law, 18 Baseball Prospectus and 28th in Fangraphs “major league impact” rankings). For every step forward we’re seeing (Giolito, Voth, Ward, Taylor) we’re seeing steps back from other top prospects (Goodwin, Rivero, Purke, Solis, Mooneyham). Maybe that’s just the way it goes in general… but the names taking significant steps back this year are major draft picks from prior years.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 14 at 1:38 pm

  4. Meh.

    I wish I’d thought of it, but I remember reading a couple of years ago that the MLB Rule 4 Draft is like Christmas. Whee! Except that you don’t know how many of your presents you actually get until signing day. And (most importantly) you don’t get to unwrap your presents and find out what you actually have for 3-4 years or more. Every year in the NFL and MLB pundits line up to grade drafts, and in retrospect their draft grades tend to be even worse than their preseason predictions (which are generally spectacularly wrong). A fact which is conveniently forgotten when it’s time to rate the next draft.

    One thing that I’ve taken from watching this organization tread steadily out of the Minaya/Bowden depths to its present status is that Mike Rizzo and his crew are really, really good at their jobs. So for me they’ve earned a lot of benefit of the doubt. And their record on picks in the first three rounds, and especially the first round, is actually pretty good. Sure, there are better players that could have been taken for any pick – in hindsight. But their whiff rate on those picks is pretty low. First round (including supplemental) picks since Rizzo took over:
    2009: Strasburg; Storen
    2010: Harper
    2011: Rendon, Meyer, Goodwin
    2012: Giolito
    2013: (none)
    Right now it looks they are all hits except Goodwin, and the jury is still out on him (he’s 23 in AAA, so he’s got time). That’s not a good record, that’s a GREAT record. For contrast, here’s the list of the 23 first round (including supplemental) picks for the franchise for the previous 12 years:
    2008: Aaron Crow (did not sign)
    2007: Ross Detwiler; Josh Smoker; Michael Burgess
    2006: Chris Marrero; Colton Willems
    2005: Ryan Zimmerman
    2004: Bill Bray
    2003: Chad Cordero
    2002: Clint Everts
    2001: Josh Karp
    2000: Justin Wayne
    1999: Josh Girdley
    1998: Josh McKinley; Brad Wilkerson (Got Wilk?)
    1997: Donnie Bridges; Chris Stowe; Scott Hodges; Bryan Hebson; Thomas Pittman; T.J. Tucker; Shane Arthurs; Tootie Myers.

    Yes, the team had 8 picks in the top 52 in the 1997 draft, and whiffed on every single one. And you could keep going, too; one has to go back to 1990 (Rondell White), another 14 choices, to add a first round pick that the team signed that actually had a decent career.

    So yeah. Zimmerman yay, Detwiler, Cordero, and Wilkerson OK. And a steaming pile of dreck (as baseball players; I’m sure they’re all lovely human beings) out of the other 37 first round picks.

    I don’t know how this year’s draft class will turn out. But I’m OK with trusting Rizzo and the Nationals organization that it isn’t a disaster. They have a track record that’s pretty good.

    John C.

    19 Jul 14 at 2:09 pm

  5. In terms of rankings, I toss out Fangraphs because it’s the outlier, the rest of the rankings having the team between 18-22 (Sickels has the Nats at 22). Given the way the system has been depopulated at the near MLB level by trades and promotions I would argue that being in the 18-22 range is pretty good.

    Further, I’d be willing to place a modest wager that the system moves up in the rankings after this season. They’ve got 3 players in the top 75 prospects list that Sickels just did, and he mentioned Souza as a guy that is just outside of that group. The Nats have got promising players at the lower levels as well. Most of the guys who are struggling have been discounted as prospects already (Purke, Mooneyham). Goodwin is the real setback, and he’s still the youngest guy on the AAA squad except for A.J. Cole. As for the rest, most won’t ultimately make it … but that’s the nature of the beast.

    John C.

    19 Jul 14 at 2:25 pm

  6. JohnC: the only problem with your giving Rizzo a ton of credit for the last four years of 1st round picks is this: in nearly all those cases, they were no-brainer picks! Strasburg was consensus #1 overall pick. Harper consensus #1 overall pick. Rendon was college player of the year as a sophomore and was in line to be 1-1 until a late injury dropped him into the Nats’ laps like a free gift, and the same goes with Giolito (who was “threatening” to be the first prep RHP to go #1 overal until his own injury). You can give credit where credit is due for Rizzo having the cojones to take fliers on injury risks, but you can also argue that any other GM would have done the exact same thing he did in all four years (with the possible exception of the Giolito pick at that positoin, given his medicals).

    The picks where I *will* give him some props and some criticsm are the non obvious choices. I’m on record clearly with the Storen issues. Goodwin has disappointed. Meyers looks like he’s going to be pretty durn good … except because of Rizzo’s obsession with a “leadoff/centerfielder speedster” he’ll be doing it for another organization.

    But lets include the 2nd rounders too, since they’re nearly as valuable.
    2014: Suarez: couldn’t sign him. fail
    2013; Johansen: 5.00 era in low-a despite being a college junior draftee
    2012: Renda; a 5’8″ midget 2nd baseman with three homers in 1,000 career minor league at-bats at a time where the trend in middle infielders is towards power and size.
    2011: No 2nd rounder: believe lost for Adam LaRoche signing. I’ll call that a win in hindsight despite how badly LaRoche fared in the immediate 2011 season.
    2010: Sammy Solis: on the AA d/l after getting hammered in his first start back.
    2009: Jeff Kobernus; ceiling 4-A utility player currently out for the season.

    That’s not a good record, at all.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 14 at 2:31 pm

  7. Going down the line on Rizzo drafts, some of his best picks have been because he could flat out “outspend” the competition. AJ Cole as a 4th rounder getting mid first round money. Ray the same thing. Michael Taylor and Taylor Jordan look like great finds from the 2009 class … but where’s the rest of that class?

    I dunno. Maybe my expectations are too high. For any given draft I think I expect the following:
    1st rounder: future MLB above average regular
    2nd rounder: future MLB regular
    3rd-5th: expect at least one future MLB player in at least a backup/bullpen role
    6th-10th: hope for at least one impact player at the MLB level.
    11th-20th: hope for at least three players who matriculate to AA
    20th and above: hope for one-two players to matriculate to AA

    Take a look at those expectations. Are they too high? For reference, the lowest drafted player (as far as I can tell) who has made the MLB roster for this team was Tyler Moore, 16th rounder and Steve Lombardozzi 19th rounder. There may be others; i did a quick scan and didn’t take into account all the players who may have been traded and made it elsewhere.

    Todd Boss

    19 Jul 14 at 2:39 pm

  8. I see it differently. A good team should be bringing up 2-3 young guys a year to be able to spend as necessary on the core guys. For each year we don’t do that, the team gets expensive and if we matriculate too many then we need to fill up the cupboard more.

    We are not promoting anyone this year so next year we have too many signing worries like ALR, Span, and Soriano/Clip. I would argue all of those should be getting replaced by Moore, Souza, and Barrett/treinen as we speak through a platoon, rotation, etc so we can see if they are for real before cutting bait on the vets. Invest $ and time on the core like Harp, Rendon, Des, Ramos, Fister, Stras/Gio/Zimm. Next year Cole and Taylor should come up rotating out Werth and a SP.

    From last years draft if we can get Voth, Ward and maybe one other that would be a good year even if johansen doesn’t pan out. It’s all a crap shoot but I think Rizzo has done well to always have ml-ready guys available when needed.


    19 Jul 14 at 5:13 pm

  9. Too bad Rizzo can’t hire a good manager!!!


    19 Jul 14 at 5:15 pm

  10. The signings from this draft were a disappointment. I don’t think there is any doubt on that, and I think Rizzo would say it publicly. Not only did they miss on 20% of their top 10, but they didn’t sign any surprise guys either. They draft guys because they want them in the organization; I don’t think it is any more complicated than that, so if you don’t get the ones that you expect to get, it feels like a failure. But disaster is too strong, imo. This kind of stuff happens from time to time, and it was our turn this year.

    Todd – I do not think that you can just single out a few specific players (hit or miss) when evaluating whether an organization is producing quality players (and I probably think that you are being a little rosy on the Rendon pick; how many others would have kept passing on him if we did, and it didn’t look so good two months in when he blew out his ankle, and every national media guy was all ‘see, told you he couldn’t stay healthy’?). First, I’d say that you have to combine scouting and player development when you evaluate this area, because it is impossible to know where an organization is succeeding or failing. And then, to me, it doesn’t really matter if they are hitting on their early picks, late picks or trading for prospects and ‘fixing’ them to produce players, so long as they are able to internally generate productive players for the big league club.

    And I think, objectively speaking, Rizzo has to grade out well for the last 5 years or so on that dimension. Just off the top of my head (and in my definition I include prospects he acquired through trade if they spent a decent amount of time in our farm system), here is the list of players that have added positive value to the big club over the last few years: Stras, Z’nn, Storen, Clip, Roark, Det, Stammen, treinin, Barrett, Jordan, Lannan, Harper, Rendon, Desmond, Espy, Ramos (this one might be a stretch). Not to mention other guys that were valuable enough to trade for players that he wanted: Karns, Meyer, Norris, Peacock, etc. If you look at the cumulative WAR produced by those homegrown guys, its pretty impressive and I think it has to reflect well on Rizzo (admittedly it is pitching heavy). So while I am disappointed how this draft turned out, that track record causes me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Someone mentioned Roy Clark in the other thread: was all that his magic, and now it will evaporate? Yes, no, maybe, who knows. Time will tell. As for where our system stands now, I’d guess mid 20s again. Three strong prospects up top, but then a pretty big gap to the short season guys. But I don’t get too worked up about the rankings. They are just opinions with a lot of uncertainty still baked in.


    19 Jul 14 at 5:22 pm

  11. Todd I do think your expectations are too high; I’d like to see how many teams had more than one draft in the last few years that met those expectations.

    And, like Wally, I think your assessment of drafting Rendon is revisionist history. I was on a number of minor league boards at the time, and there was a lot of concern about Rendon. Sure, had he not been injured he was probably a consensus #1 pick. But he was, more than once in his college career, and in his senior year he was basically a DH and his power was WAY down.

    Wally’s other points about the draft are well taken, too. You can’t dismiss Meyer because Rizzo traded him. Wally didn’t even mention Tommy Milone in that crowd of players that Rizzo has drafted and traded. And the guys who scout for Rizzo are also the guys who spotted players like Roark, Ramos and Walters, minor league players that Rizzo picked up for veterans.

    OTOH, your point about taking advantage of the spending rules is well taken also. But while he did take advantage of those rules he did it well – of the “overdraft” crowd the only one that is a likely flop at this point is Purke. Right now there’s nothing to indicate that the subsequent drafts (prior to 2014) were disasters. For me, for all these reasons, Rizzo has earned a big benefit of the doubt. Your mileage clearly does vary, and that’s OK, too. Doom and doubt are easy to grab hold of and understand. And because 29 of 30 teams have their seasons end short of the goal, generally speaking if one predicts doom your chances of having at least enough doom to say “I told you so” are pretty good.

    John C.

    20 Jul 14 at 12:09 am

  12. Rendon revisionist history accusations: I Disagree. He was college player of the year as as sophomore, a rare feat. Here was his sophomore line: .394/.530/.801. 26 homers for Rice in a decent baseball conference. That’s frigging sick. Much like Rodon this year, he entered his junior season as the no-doubt #1 overall projected pick. Here’s Baseball America’s preseason 2011 draft projections with Rendon #1. And then he got hurt. But he was never falling out of the first round or something ridiculous, even given his injuries

    On draft day, it was a *shock* that he fell to the Nats. Nobody even bothered to consider Rendon getting to #6 when they were talking about how the Nats might pick; up until the day of, pundits were still thinking the Nats would get Alex Meyer at #6. He was thought to be guaranteed to slip but not to #6.

    Todd Boss

    20 Jul 14 at 10:37 am

  13. Wally: this criticism was specifically about the DRAFT. And I think it is fair criticism to look at Rizzo’s drafts and say a few things:
    – He’s gotten his first round picks and had success thus far … but most of them were pretty no-brainers
    – His 2nd rounders have been poor
    – He’s punted on more than a few upper round picks (think Trevor Holder), likely because ownership told him that he’d spent enough money. Not his fault, just saying.
    – He’s also found some good value later on (as mentioned elsewhere; Milone being a good example).

    Draft/amateur scouting isn’t the same as scouting to find hidden gems in other orgs (Roark as an example).

    Anyway. Point of the post was to express my opinion of the 2014 draft. With the current CBA, with spending limits and pretty draconian penalties for not signing players (just ask Houston right now), you HAVE to sign your upper end guys. Missing on 2nd rounder, failing to sign their overslot targeted 8th rounder, overpaying college seniors in the middle rounds … i just don’t get it. This puts an awful lot of eggs into one (Fedde) basket for the draft when instead the team should have mitigated that risk with more solid picks.

    Todd Boss

    20 Jul 14 at 10:43 am

  14. this link isn’t about the Nats, but about the Astros:

    But for as much criticism the Nats have taken … the Astros fan base should be absolutely *furious* right now. After tanking for years and cutting payroll to sub-Miami levels despite being in the nation’s 4th largest market, they play hardball with their #1 overall pick in order to save $1.5M. Just ridiculous, even if they had legitimate concerns about the kid’s elbow (which I really have a hard time believing … he was 97 with no pain and no issues all sprint).

    Todd Boss

    20 Jul 14 at 10:45 am

  15. Todd – I hear you. The draft is definitely an important part of an organizations effort to field competitive teams. Rizzo gambled and lost this year by taking guys he liked with injury questions, hoping to get them under slot so he could sign others. Clearly it didn’t work and so the criticism is fair game. I think because I feel like he has generally done a good job, I am disappointed but not incensed, if that makes sense.

    I thought that I read into your comments a bit of ‘and he really isn’t that good at this anyway’, which is why I went into the broader part of acquiring talent, which I think he has done well to date. But I may have misread that.


    20 Jul 14 at 7:05 pm

  16. I think the new CBA rules absolutely play into it here. This ridiculous spending limit forces teams to “play games” with their signees and monies. Take for example the four college seniors that the Nats took in the middle rounds: they got bonuses of 60k, 40k, 30k and 75k. That’s more than 200k … to guys with limited upside and with zero leverage. Why? Do you mean to tell me you couldn’t have signed those guys for less money and gotten the 2nd or 8th round picks done? To a certain extent, the same criticism holds to why we “had” to offer Fedde over-slot money. Why? Hoffman signed for slot and was a consensus top 4 pick before his injury. Fedde may have come on incredibly strong in 2014 but was no where near the prospect Hoffman was (I’ve seen pre-college season lists with him as low as in the 50s).

    Just listened to a fascinating BA podcast talking mostly about the Astros; they just *killed* the astros for what happened.

    About Rizzo’s draft capabilities … I know the “narrative” about him is his scouting prowness, but the more I look at these drafts the more I find quibbles. I’m doing a follow-up to the concept of a “successful” draft I put earlier in this comment thread. Lets see if my analysis holds up.

    Todd Boss

    21 Jul 14 at 9:20 am

  17. I don’t think Rizzo intended to offer slot, certainly not over slot. But the top two guys called his bluff, so he backed down (that’s my read). I dunno, would Fedde have caved? Maybe. I am kind of shocked Suarez didn’t take slot, since he wasn’t ranked as a 2d rounder (I don’t think), has that shoulder history and there seems to be a growing concern over pitchers generally because of injuries. He has two more years of eligibility, though, which maybe gave him more confidence to be bold, but I’ll take the under on whether he gets a bonus equal to this year’s offer of slot.

    I’ll be interested to read your follow up post on Rizzo’s drafting, although I do keep coming back to the difficulty of separating scouting from player development. What if he is drafting great players but they get screwed up in PD? I guess also, is it accurate to put drafting directly on Rizzo any more (good or bad), or on the scouting director? But I am jumping the gun, I’ll wait for your post. 🙂


    21 Jul 14 at 10:18 am

  18. Fwiw, i’m doing this whole post up and, as you point out and as others have pointed out, the GM and even the scouting director aren’t really that involved in the machinations of the draft once you get beyond the first couple of picks. So this is less about “Mike Rizzo” than it is about the org. But, one man leads the org, and as we all know in organizational dynamics, organizations take their lead, their direction, there character and their behaviors generally from the head person.

    Who knows if Fedde would have caved if “just” offered slot. Who knows if that would have made the difference between signing Suarez and/or Byson or not. Maybe the team pulled a Houston with Suarez after looking at medicals and offered him something way below slot and thats why he’s going back.

    Todd Boss

    21 Jul 14 at 11:39 am

  19. Another take on the top 10 picks from our 2014 draft:

    Todd Boss

    9 Sep 14 at 12:48 pm

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