Nationals Arm Race

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

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Nats Catcher Depth Chart; whole system

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Gomes looks like the 2019 starter... Photo via nytimes.com

Gomes looks like the 2019 starter… Photo via nytimes.com

I’m not sure why i got on this mental tangent, but here goes.

When was the last time the Nats developed a quality starting catcher from cradle to grave (so to speak) from our system?   Here’s a quick glance at the Nats leading catchers by  games played since they arrived in Washington:

  • 2017-2018: Matt Wieters  free agent acquisition
  • 2014-2016: Wilson Ramos: trade acquisition for Matt Capps while still a minor leaguer
  • 2013: Kurt Suzuki: trade acquisition from Oakland
  • 2012: Jesus Flores: rule-5 draftee
  • 2011: Ramos
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez : Free agent acquisition
  • 2009: Josh Bard: free agent acquistion
  • 2008: Flores
  • 2005-2007: Brian Schneider: drafted by Montreal Expos 5th round 1995

The answer is Schneider.  Not since Brian Schnieder has this franchise started a home-grown catcher.  Thats more than a decade of drafting and player development.

(No, I don’t count either Flores or Ramos by the way.  Flores as a rule-5 draftee was developed by the Mets, and Ramos spent 6 years in Minnesota’s farm system before we got him).

Sprinkled into the above include backups that we’ve definitely developed in house, guys like Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino and Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano … but none of these guys were really starters for any period of time, and none were impactful enough to not force the team to go back into the FA market again and again.

This trend continues for 2019, with the team buying not one but TWO catchers this off-season: Yan Gomes via trade and then the return of Suzuki via FA.

So I thought it’d be interesting to look at what depth we have now under Gomes/Suzuki, project where last year’s frequent MLB contributors like Kieboom will end up in 2019, and see what the pipeline looks like.


 

Nats Full-system Catcher Depth Chart:

  • MLB: Gomes/Suzuki

They’re on record (per the reports we’re reading from bored beat writers) as both being “ok” with the planned split in playing time.  They’ll also get PH opportunities, which makes sense as long as its a low-risk situation (this also implies we’d need to have a designated emergency 3rd catcher: Matt Adams anyone?)


  • AAA: SKieboom, Severino, Raudy Read.

So, both Kieboom and Read have 2019 options, while Severino does not.  Severino’s defense speaks for itself, but unfortunately so does his offense; his career OPS+ in four part-time MLB seasons and nearly 300 plate appearances is just 48.    I think the team keeps him around til the end of Spring Training to cover for injury, then DFAs him and tries to sneak him through to AAA.  If that happens, I think Read gets pushed back to AA.  Or maybe not; maybe they just cut ties with him completely.   I think we know what we have with Kieboom too.  Read is the interesting one; his PED suspension cost him both development time and good will within the org; will he start over Kieboom and continue to develop at AAA?  He hit decently enough at AA last year (.286) so I think he’s ready for the AAA challenge.  He remains generally the highest ranking Catcher prospect in the system … but may not be the first line of defense called up to cover for injury right now.

  • Next guy promoted: probably Kieboom, then Read.
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Read.  I think we’ve seen what we will see out of Kieboom.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Severino for options purposes in April.

 

  • AA: Taylor Gushue, Tres Barrera, Matt Reistetter

Ironically these first two are also the two NRI catchers invited to 2019 spring training.  They’re not there to make the team; they’re there to catch the gazillion arms who need to throw.  Gushue struggled at the plate in 2018 in AA (.212) but by all accounts is a pitcher favorite to call games (sounds a lot like Severino).  Meanwhile Barrera hit decently splitting time in High-A in 2018.  I can see an even split between these two in Harrisburg in 2019.  Meanwhile the system still has the NDFA Reistetter hanging around; in his 6 year minor league career he’s got appearances at literally every domestic team.  He likely gets assigned to the Harrisburg roster but hangs out in XST waiting to cover for injury.

  • Next guy promoted: Barrera
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Barrera
  • Most likely to get cut first: Reistetter

 

  • High-A: Jakson Reetz , Alex Dunlap, Alejandro Flores,

Reetz is nearly in “draft bust” territory, basically hanging around thanks to his being a 3rd rounder in 2014.  He’s now got 4 full minor league seasons under his belt and seems to be getting pushed northwards in the system less based on production and more based on his signing bonus.  At some point, the team may have to cut bait.  I see him serving primarily as a backup.  Meanwhile, Dunlap (a 29th rounder in 2017) hung around XST for a bit, then out-played Flores in Hagerstown and basically became the starting catcher.   I put both Dunlap and Flores here though b/c of who’s targeted for Low-A.  There’s still somewhat of a gap here in the system, but we could see some fast-movers pushing into Potomac this year.

  • Next guy promoted: Dunlap
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none here really projecting to MLB at this point.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Reetz

 

  • Low-A: Israel PinedaNic Perkins

Perkins was a 28th rounder in 2017, was the main catcher in Short-A in 2018 and could make sense to slide right to Low-A, but he’ll play second fiddle to Pineda, who has burst onto the scene, does not turn 19 until April and now looks like our best chance to develop a starting catcher since Schneider.  Of course … it is folley to project an 18 yr old’s future success.  But, like Yasiel Antuna and Luis Garcia before him, the Nats should have no qualms of promoting a successful teenager right to low-A.  So Look for Perkins to back up Pineda in Hagerstown to open the season.

  • Next guy promoted: Perkins
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Pineda
  • Most likely to get cut first: none in the short term

 

  • Short-A: Tyler CropleyWilmer PerezAdalberto Carrillo, 2019 draftee(s)

Perez was an J2 IFA signing in 2016 who hit well in the DSL in 2017 and adequately in the GCL in 2018 and makes sense to be the starter in Short-A in 2019.   Carrillo was a late-round 2017 draftee who is hanging around.   Cropley was our 2018 8th round pick, a senior low money sign who was one of just two 2018 drafted catchers, and may have to really impress to stick around give the small amount of investment the team has in him.  All three appeared briefly in Auburn last year and seem to make sense to return this year.

  • Next guy promoted: Perez
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none projecting to MLB from here at this time.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Cropley

 

  • GCL: Onyx VegaAnthony Peroni, Geraldi Diaz, 2019 draftee(s)

Both Vega (a 2018 draftee) and Peroni (2017 draftee) were subs in GCL last year behind the likes of (primarily) Perez, and both seem like they should return to GCL.  Peroni only hit .177 and is entering his 3rd pro year so he likely seems like he’ll be released upon the 2019 drafting of more catcher talent, or upon the potential promotion from the DSL catcher candidates like Geraldi Diaz (a 2017 IFA signee who might be ready to come state-side).

  • Next guy promoted: Vega
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none projecting to MLB from here at this time.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Peroni

 

So that’s our Catcher depth.  Did I miss anyone?

Nats 2017 Draft Class; whole lotta College Arms

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So, is 2017 a one-player draft again? Photo via UHcougars.com

So, is 2017 a one-player draft again? Photo via UHcougars.com

We already did a quick reaction to the first day/first two picks and then the top 10 rounds.  Here’s a more holistic look at our 2017 draft class.  The team announced yesterday that it had already signed an amazing 25 guys, and I think that number is likely to rise to at least 33 players (assuming all top 10 round players and all College seniors sign).  That’s quite a few more than I initially projected.

I did want to make a statement though, following up on a back-and-forth in the comments on previous posts about 3rd rounder Nick Raquet (who, unsurprisingly to me, has already signed though no word on his bonus amount).  Some asked why I was so critical of the pick.  We’ll, here’s why: its about opportunity cost.  Raquet was indeed ranked on some boards (#145 in BA’s pre-draft list) but was absent from practically every other credible draft service (MLBpipeline.com for example ranked 200 players and didn’t rank him at all).   ESPN/Keith Law, MinorLeagueBall, 20/80 and Fangraphs all had him totally off their lists.  Baseball Draft Report had him in the 300s.

The Nats drafted him #103 overall, at the end of the 3rd round.

I have nothing against Raquet personally, nor his school in general (which I denigrated during the comments due to its lack of baseball pedigree).  What I have a problem with is taking a player in the third round who:

a) was a far inferior player versus where he was drafted,

b) if the team really, really wanted him would have been available probably 3 or 4 rounds later, and

c) the team chose to take in lieu of many, many better ranked players at the time of the pick.

You could make the same arguments, by the way, about our 4th rounder: a senior in Cole Freeman who again by BA’s rank was drafted at least two rounds too early and by anyone else’s rankings was drafted 5 rounds too early.

The drafting of these two players in the 3rd and 4th cost the team the opportunity to draft two far, far better players in those slots.  I don’t have a problem punting draft picks in the 6-10th round range if you’ve drafted quality players in 1-5 … but to purposely punt on 3rd and 4th round implies that their round 1 and 2 picks (Seth Romero and Wil Crowe) were both going to be over slot guys.  And that astounds me; Romero was kicked off his college team; how is he in a position to command more dollars than his slot?  Where’s he gonna player if he doesn’t sign?  Indy ball?  And Crowe is a 4th year player with a TJ on his resume who I suppose could go back for a 5th collegiate season, but really that’d be flushing a crucial year of development down the tubes, plus burning a year on his surgically repaired arm … with little chance he could improve his bonus amount or draft ranking over where he got drafted this year.  How are either guy demanding over-slot money?

I liken the situation to playing Fantasy sports.  When your buddy in your league drafts a kicker in the 8th round you mock him mercilessly.  Why?  Because that same kicker was going to be there 4 rounds later and because wasting an 8th round pick on a kicker is a sign of poor team management and a lack of understanding of how fantasy works.  Its the same thing wasting a 3rd rounder in the fashion the team just did.

So, frustration over punting two high draft picks so as to pay two other high draft picks more money than I think they’re worth leads me to the end of this diatribe.  We’ll have our answer soon enough; if Raquet signs for a piddling amount of money (his slot value is $522,300), and if Freeman similarly signs for under-slot (he’s at $390,000) then you’ll have confirmation of the punting on these picks.  I suppose both guys could sign for at or near slot, which would imply that they were worth the draft pick; if that happens i’ll be shocked.


 

Anyway, back to the draft class review overall.  Here’s a quick table 1-40 before doing some breakdowns:

 

RoundOverallNamePositionCol/HSCollege or CmtmStateSlot Value
125Seth RomeroLHPCol JrHoustonTX2530400
265Wil CroweRHPCol SrSouth CarolinaSC946500
3103Nick RaquetLHPCol JrWilliam & MaryVA522300
4133Cole Freeman2BCol SrLSULA390000
5163Brigham HillRHPCol JrTAMUTX291200
6193Kyle JohnstonRHPCol JrTexasTX226100
7223Jackson TetreaultRHPJ2State Col Florida ManateeFL178100
8253Jared BrashnerRHPCol SrSamford Fl149600
9283Alex TroopLHPCol JrMichigan StateMI138000
10313Trey TurnerRHPCol JrMissouri StateMO131300
11343Justin ConnellOFHSAmerican Heritage SchoolFL
12373Jackson StoeckingerLHPJ2Col of Central FloridaFL
13403Eric SeniorOFJ2Midland ColTX
14433Anthony PeroniCJ2Mercer County CCNJ
15463Bryce Montes de OcaRHPCol JrMissouriMO
16493Jake Scudder1BCol SrKansas St UKS
17523Jared JohnsonLHPJ1Palm Beach State ColFL
18553Nick ChorubyOFCol SrTexas A&M UTX
19583Jonathan PryorOFCol SrWake Forest UNC
20613Jake CousinsRHPCol SrPennsylvaniaPA
21643Leif StromRHPJ2Pierce CollegeWA
22673Nelson GalindezLHPHSHaines City HSFL
23703Jamori Blash1BJ2Cochise ColGA
24733Tim RichardsSSCol SrCal State FullertonCA
25763David SmithRHPCol SrCal St Long BeachCA
26793Kameron EsthayOFCol SrBaylor UTX
27823Darren BakerSSHSJesuit HSCA
28853Nic PerkinsCCol JrDrury UniversityMO
29883Alex DunlapCCol SrStanfordCA
30913Austin GuiborOFCol JrFresno St UCA
31943Jeremy McKinneyRHPCol SrIndiana St UIN
32973Phil Caulfield2BCol SrLoyola Marymount UCA
331003Adalberto CarrilloCCol JrU Southern CaliforniaCA
341033Bennett SousaLHPCol JrVirginiaVA
351063Jackson Cramer1BCol SrWest VirginiaWV
361093Gabe KlobositsRHPCol SrAuburnAL
371123Kody Gratkowski3BHSFairhope HSAL
381153Jake BooneSSHSTorrey Pines HSCA
391183Kai NelsonOFHSFieldston HSNY
401213Max EngelbrektLHPCol Sr5Oregon St UOR

Here’s some breakdowns (note I wrote this prior to the team signing a bunch of these Juco guys plus a couple of HS guys):

  • 11 College Juniors, 16 College Seniors/5th year Seniors, 7 JuCo guys, 6 High Schoolers
  • 20 Pitchers, 20 hitters.  The pitchers broke down 12 RHP, 8 LHP.
  • 9 of the top 10 rounds are pitchers though: these are the guys nearly guaranteed to sign.
  • I count about 29 that i think are locks to sign; every guy in the first 20 rounds, plus all the 9 college seniors drafted in rounds 21-40.
    • Of these 29 guys: 17 are arms, 12 are bats.
  • I’m only guessing that one Prep guy signs: 11th rounder Justin Connell.
  • I count at least 4 under-slot guys: Nick RaquetCole Freeman ,8th rounder Jared Brashner and 10th rounder Trey Turner.  So that’s where the cost savings will come from to pay Romero, Crowe and perhaps Connell.

So, even though the draft splits even 20/20 bats and arms its heavily tilted at the top and in the signability department towards arms.  This should make for some serious carnage in the lower ends of our minor league ranks.  The Auburn roster is half stocked with late-round college seniors drafted in 2016 and rising IFAs from the DSL last year; I could see some moving of those guys down to GCL as needed and a shedding of 20th-some round 2016 signees to make room for all the guys they’ve picked up this year.  But the more I look at this draft, the more it looks like a one or two-player draft at the top.  Is that ok?  Sure; it is basically what the team did in the Lucas Giolito draft, and the industry was on record saying that the strength this year was college arms.  It should be interesting to see how quickly Romero moves up the ranks.