Nationals Arm Race

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Quick thoughts on Garcia and Hill Moves Today

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Garcia just couldn't ever make it back. Photo unknown credit.

Garcia just couldn’t ever make it back. Photo unknown credit.

Quick thoughts on the two major pitching-related transactions this week.

  • Nats finally cut the cord on Christian Garcia, after attempting to nurse him back to health for most of the past few years.  They got moments of brilliance (the 2012 playoffs basically), but mostly they got frustrated promises of future utility.  There were more than a few arguments in this space even as late as this spring from people who thought Garcia was going to break camp with the team thanks to his grand total of 12 2/3 MLB innings, merely on the promise of what he could become.  I hope someone picks him back up and gives him another shot (maybe the Yankees, his original drafting team?).  One small nit: I can see perhaps DFAing the guy to make room on the 40-man; why bother outright releasing him at this point?  What harm would there be in keeping him in Syracuse to see if he gets it back?
  • Taylor Hill, who I thought would be lucky to start in AA this year, let alone dominate AAA has he has (9-2, 1.92 ERA), gets added to the 40-man and called up.  I say bravo to him and bravo to the Nats for rewarding a guy who didn’t appear on *any* prospect list for the Nationals, anywhere.  This guy was a *senior* sign, a 6th round cost-savings draft pick in 2011, a guy who probably signed for a few thousand dollars and whose ceiling of expectations was perhaps two good years in A-ball eating innings before getting released for the next crop of draftees.  Hill may only be up with the team for a couple of days to give some bullpen innings, but now he’s on the 40-man, where he’ll likely sit for quite a while.  Maybe he even pushes for a 5th starter spot sometime in the future.

Lets hope Hill gets some time tonight or in the next series so we can do a “first look” post.

Written by Todd Boss

June 25th, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs Predicted 2014 edition

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At the end of the 2013 season, I put out a slew of season rotational reviews and then predicted where everyone would start in 2014.

We’re a month into the minor league full-seasons and the rotations are already mostly established (with D/L trips and slight movement as noted here).  So lets do a little navel gazing and take a look at my predictions versus the actuals before we lose too much identity with the makeup of these four full-season pitching staffs from opening day.

As always, Luke Erickson and nationalsprospects.com, the Nats Big Board and the tireless work by “SpringfieldFan” is much appreciated here.


MLB Dec 2013 Prediction

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
  • MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

MLB April 2014 Actual Opening Day Staff

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevens (L), Detwiler, Barrett
  • MLB D/L: Fister, Ohlendorf, Davis
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

MLB Discussion: A late spring injury to Doug Fister obsoleted the 5th starter competition, giving both Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan spots (for now; Roark has “won” the 5th spot thanks to a better April now that Fister is ready to come back).  The biggest news during spring training was the Ross Detwiler “demotion” to the bullpen, but the Aaron Barrett victory over the likes of Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus was also notable.  Injuries to Ross Ohlendorf and Erik Davis cleared out bullpen competition, and an early spring training chest injury to Mattheus also made it difficult for him to break camp with the big league club.

Nothing new here: we’ve talked this to death already :-)  Lets move onto the four full-season minor league squads.


AAA Dec 2013 Prediction

  • AAA Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Jordan, Karns, Young, MLFA or two
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Delcarmen, Alfaro, Stange, Herron (AA?)
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

AAA Apr 2014 Actual opening day

  • AAA Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Tatusko, Treinen, Hill, Poveda
  • AAA Bullpen: Mattheus, Garcia, Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Delcarmen, Madrigal,  Roenicke, Stange
  • AAA D/L: Meyers, Davis (mlb 60 day d/l)
  • AAA cut/released/FA:Young, Broadway, Maya, Mandel, Clay, Kimball, Crotta, Torra, Lowe, Crotta,  Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)
  • AAA Missing: MGonzalez (L), Laffey

AAA Discussion

Technically I got 2/5ths of the AAA rotation right to start the year: Rosenbaum and a MLFA in the form of Omar Poveda (technically an acquisition but still…).  Karns was traded to obtain our (now) starting catcher Jose Lobaton.  Jordan of course started the year in the majors, but I think he’ll end up back here for a good portion of the season.  Young was granted his release and immediately signed in Seattle to fill one of their rotation spots.  The team resigned its own MLFA in Ryan Tatusko to return and he seems set to be in the rotation for now, but he’s more of a swing-man/org arm and he likely makes way for a starter when needed.  The big surprise is the unexpected promotion of Taylor Hill; he featured in AA but I thought he’d start out there.   Brad Meyers stays in the organization but is “missing” for the time being: he may be headed for the D/L but as of this writing has no assignment.

In the month since opening day, we’ve seen both Mike Gonzalez and Aaron Laffey make their way to Syracuse to cover for the subsequently injured Rosenbaum and promoted MLB-bullpen-covering reliever of the day (Cedeno, Treinen, Barrett and Mattheus have all already spent time on the shuttle between Washington and Syracuse).

In the bullpen; our prediction looks decently correct; 6 of the 8 Syracuse opening day members were called.  The outliers: MLFA signings Warner Madrigal and Josh Roenicke.   Predicted members Erik Davis instead sits on the mlb 60-day D/L, and Alfaro is in the AA squad.   Pat Lehman sits on the AA D/L for now.

AAA “Star Power” summary: So, as has become typical AAA isn’t so much about finishing off prospects as it is about holding spare parts.  In the rotation we had zero 40-man roster players at this point, and really just Blake Treinen features as a potential up-and-comer (with possible future apologies to Taylor Hill of course …).  The bullpen has just three 40-man roster arms (a loogy in Xavier Cedeno, and two injury reclamation projects in Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus).   Eventually we should see some culling of this roster when the team needs to find spots for Gonzalez and Laffey in particular.  Syracuse fans may not be getting the best pitching staff out there to cheer on.  


AA Dec 2013 Prediction

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Swingmen: Gilliam (swingman)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

AA Apr 2014 Actual

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L)
  • AA spot starts/swingman: Dupra
  • AA bullpen: Herron, Holland, Grace (L), Mirowski, Alfaro, Bates, Espino
  • AA dl: Demny, RMartin, Solis (L), Lehman, Perry
  • AA cut/released/FAs: Broderick, Ray (traded), Bray (L), McCoy (L), Karns (traded), Frias, Holder, Selik, Swynenberg (ret)
  • AA missing: KPerez

AA Discussion

We got some of the rotation correct; A.J. Cole and Blake Schwartz.  We technically got Hill and Treinen correct … just under-valued where the organization would put them.   And lastly Sammy Solis would be in this group had he not suffered a late-spring back injury; for the time being he’s in XST but is on the “missing” list here.  I had Rob Gilliam as the AA swing man anyway; he would likely make way for Solis once he comes back.  The two additional names are Matthew Purke (who surprisingly to me starts the year in AA) and newly acquired Felipe Rivero.  

We got most of the bullpen right: 5 of 8 predicted.  The outliers: Ryan Perry remains in the organization but sits on the D/L; personally I thought he may get released.  Gabriel Alfaro was a MLFA who slots into the bullpen, as was Zach Jackson (who should have been in AAA to begin with and has already been promoted).  Benincasa starts in high-A again and Gilliam is pushed into the rotation.   Recent acquisition KPerez remain missing, along with several other middle relief arms.  Spann started the year two levels lower than I thought he should have in Low-A but currently sits in Potomac.

A couple of long-serving names are now out of the organization; I was surprised to see Cameron Selik in particular being released; I always liked him for some reason.  Its tough being a middle relief RHP with so many of them getting drafted year after year.

AA Star Power summary: A few very important names to the organization sit in AA: top pitching prospect A.J. Cole sits here and will be looking to push for a AAA promotion.  Sammy Solis had rumblings of being turned into a Loogy in Spring Training; now he just needs to get healthy.  Matthew Purke’s destiny remains at a cross-roads thanks to a horrible start to his 2014 AA campaign.  And newly acquired/40-man member Felipe Rivero sits here, hoping to show as a decent bounty for the Nathan Karns trade.  These three guys all sit on the Nats fast-depleting 40-man roster … and they represent 33% of ALL the 40-man rostered players in the Eastern League.


High-A Dec 2013  Prediction

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A swingmen: RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

High-A Apr 2014 Actuals

  • High-A Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee
  • High-A spot starts/swingman: Dickson, Simms, Spann (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Benincasa, Henke, Harper (L), Mendez, Self,
  • High-A cut/released/FA: Smoker (L), Broderick, Ray (traded), Holt, Wort, Applebee (ret)
  • High-A missing: Fischer

High-A Discussion

I thought the team would start Purke in high-A again; instead he is struggling in AA.  I thought Dixon Anderson was old enough to merit the move to high-A; instead he still sits in Hagerstown repeating the level.  And Kyle Turnbull remains on the low-A D/L for now.  Otherwise the High-A rotation prediction looks pretty good: we hit on Mooneyham and Encarnacion, we hit on RPena and Dickson and Bacus as swingmen or starters (they all now sit in those roles in some capacity or another thanks to injuries).

The bullpen predictions are all over the place; both Wort and Holt were released, not pushed higher.  Fischer remains missing.  Benincasa is lower than I thought he’d be.   Dupra and Rauh (who I thought were in jeopardy of getting cut) not only have kept their spots but have been pushing for promotion, which is great to see.  It does go to show that its kind of difficult to do these predictions the lower you go.

High-A Star Power summary: Honestly there’s not a ton of big-time prospect names on the High-A staff.  Mooneyham was a high draft pick but has more or less struggled thus far in his pro career.  Encarnacion could be an up-and-comer in an organization that has struggled to develop its DSL graduate talent lately.  Otherwise the Potomac staff is filled with mid- to late-round college draft arms, older for the level at this point, and likely playing for their careers this year thanks to the higher-end talent sitting in the Hagerstown rotation right now (read further).


Low-A Dec 2013  Prediction

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A swingmen: Suero (swingman), Selsor (swingman),
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Low-A Apr 2014 Actuals

  • Low A Rotation:  Giolito,  Johansen, Voth, Pivetta, Anderson,
  • Low A spot starts/swingman: Suero, Anderson,
  • Low A bullpen: JThomas (L), Walsh (L), Cooper, Hollins, Ullmann, Silvestre (L), Sylvestri, Simms, Spann
  • Low A dl: Turnbull, CDavis, Estevez,
  • Low A cut/released/FA: Meza (L), Pineyro (traded), Selsor,  Boyden, Waterman, Aries
  • Low A missing: Orlan, Napoli, Bafidis, Aries, Joyce, Valdez

Discussion

The big three starters in Hagerstown were easily predicted (Giolito, Johansen and Voth).   Lee and Anderson switched places in my predictions (both starters, wrong teams) and Orlan is stuck in XST.   Pivetta was pushed to the rotation after pitching in relief last year.   And then a slew of the Hagerstown arms are participating in a “dual starter” system where by the starters generally have been going 5 and the relievers/spot starters going the other 4 each night.  So the team is getting lots of looks at these pitchers on an extended basis.

This system means there’s really not a “bullpen” being developed in Low-A, which is just as well; I’d rather have 8-10 starter candidates to choose from for higher levels than just 4-5 with guys already being pushed to being short-inning relievers in Low-A.

Unfortunately, we see that a slew of guys have already been cut here who appeared on last year’s rosters.  And, there’s a ton more players currently sitting in XST waiting to compete with June 2014 draft picks in the short-season squads.  Lots of churn here.

Low-A Star Power summary: look no further than the big three starters: they represent 1st, 2nd and 5th round draft picks.  Throw in Pivetta (a 4th rounder) and the team has a ton of vested interest in this rotation.


Phew; that’s a lot of players. I can’t wait to see how the staffs work out this year.  I don’t expect much in the way of commenting on this post; it was one of those drafts sitting in my admin screen that I thought i’d finish off and publish to get it out of the way :-)

Minor League Rotation Review – April 2014

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Austin Voth was great last year and has been good this year.  Photo via mlbdirt

Austin Voth was great last year and has been good this year. Photo via mlbdirt

We’re a month into the minor league season and nearly five turns through each minor league system rotation, so lets take a look to see how our starters are doing.

As with the major league rotation review, I’ve assigned grade letters to roughly judge each start done by our minor league staff, and then i’ve tacked on their overall stats for context.  Note that I generally give grades to those that get the starts in games, as well as those who pitch “starter length” outings.  You’ll see this much more frequently in the low-A section, where Hagerstown clearly has a “two-starter” system going for many of its guys; one guy will throw 5 innings, then the next guy throws 4.  So nearly the entire Hagerstown roster is getting “starter grades” right now.  I should also caveat that this analysis is “scouting the box score” analysis; I’ve not had a chance to see any of these guys in person, so I can’t comment on the luck factor involved with anyone (stats versus ability) other than inference analysis between ERA and FIP.

For each team I’ll list the current rotation as best as I can make it, then have a second section where we list the guys with spot-starts or who were in the rotation but are no longer (D/L trips, promoted, demoted, etc).  Then we’ll discuss, and then list those guys who are pushing for promotions and those guys who are in jeopardy of getting demoted (or, worse, released).

(Note: I wouldn’t be able to do this data tracking or this post without the great daily work by Luke Erickson at www.nationalsprospects.com.)  All stats here are as of 5/2/14, which means I grabbed one May start’s worth of stats for a couple of guys here and there.


AAA/Syracuse:

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Roenicke A (3ip),F,B 0-2 5.84 1.54 4.10 7/7 12 5/3
Tatusko A/short,B-,B+,A,B 1-3 2.36 0.83 3.87 15/7 26.2 5/5
Treinen A-> upandback,C/short,B+ 0-0 0.87 1.16 3.58 8/5 10.1 3/3
Hill A,A+,C,A,C 3-1 2.35 0.91 3.68 29/4 30.2 5/5
Poveda F,F,A,F 1-3 9.82 2.07 5.13 12/10 18.1 4/4

 

Laffey A (took Treinen’s spot),A+,D+ 2-0 1.80 0.67 1.92 14/2 15 3/1
Rosenbaum D,A,C-,D/inc (injury)->D/L 1-1 4.50 1.35 4.18 9/5 20 4/4

Rotation Discussion:

A month in and the Syracuse Chiefs are mired in last place (though to be fair, only 3 games separate the entire division).   Opening day starter Danny Rosenbaum is already on the D/L with a possible torn UCL, possibly the latest in an epidemic of Tommy John surgeries throughout baseball (there’s been at least 14 MLB pitchers to go under the knife for this already in 2014 and quite a few more minor leaguers; I have a draft post on this topic coming).  His replacement in the rotation is journeyman and Ian Desmond-relative Josh Roenicke, who has struggled in his spot-start duties.  However, Roenicke isn’t the least effective starter in AAA; that distinction goes to late spring training acquisition Omar Poveda, who has gotten pretty well battered so far in his four starts.  One of these two guys likely is making way for recently demoted Taylor Jordan (well, assuming Jordan even makes it to AAA anytime soon; Doug Fister‘s return is complicated by the Nats needing another starter in-between; Jordan likely is sitting in AAA limbo until tuesday 5/6, then will settle into the AAA rotation).

Meanwhile, we’re seeing excellent springs so far out of Ryan TatuskoBlake Treinen (albeit in a SSS thanks to his being bounced up and down out of the Nats bullpen), Aaron Laffey and especially Taylor Hill.  Hill’s excellent 29/4 K/BB ratio stands out, as well as his sub 1.00 whip so far in 5 starts.   I think its fair to say that nobody expected him to have rocketed up the system like he has, given the fact that he was a college senior draftee with limited bonus and limited leverage.  I think its also worth noting Tatusko’s production in a swing-man role; quite similarly to his trade-mate Tanner Roark, he continues to produce at an advanced/MLFA age … could he be another “found gold” pitcher in our upper farm system?

We should also note that we have yet to see Brad Meyers, who remains on the D/L and has only thrown about 6 professional innings since 2011.

Bullpen Notables

The Syracuse bullpen has seen plenty of traffic to and from the majors: Aaron Barrett started in the majors and has seen time in Syracuse.  Ryan Mattheus and Xavier Cedeno have already both been up and back.  Nobody in the pen has much more than about 10 innings pitched, so we won’t make too many rash judgements.  So far Christian Garcia looks decent; his 12/2 K/BB ratio in 10 innings is promising but he currently sits on the D/L with an unspecified injury.   Meanwhile Daniel Stange has struggled with his control; he has 10 walks in 12 innings.   We’ll talk more about bullpen guys deeper into the season.

Most Deserving of a promotion: Hill and perhaps Laffey, both of whom are pitching dominantly right now.   But neither are 40-man guys, and that (especially for Laffey) hurts him.  Laffey as a starter in AAA has been great, but he might be more useful as a lefty-match up guy.  Cedeno has been getting the MLB-bullpen covering call-ups but if Laffey was on the 40-man instead, it probably would have been him instead.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion/release: Poveda for sure; his cash-only acquisition isn’t looking promising considering that a rotation spot is needed soon for Jordan.  Roenicke needs a couple of good outings to get his numbers up; with only 12 innings its hard to pass too harsh a judgement.  But, with very little push from the current AA rotation, its hard to see a reason why the organization needs to make a move anytime soon (see the next section for more).


AA/Harrisburg:

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Schwartz F,F,B+,F,D+ 0-4 6.08 1.99 5.1 15/10 23.2 5/5
Rivero D-,B,B-,F,B+ 1-4 5.06 1.69 4.85 13/9 21.1 5/5
Gilliam F,B-,D,A 0-0 5.09 1.36 6.05 13/9 17.2 5/4
Purke F,D,F,F 0-5 9.30 2.11 6.55 14/13 20.1 5/5
Cole B-,A,D,F 2-1 3.63 1.57 2.82 16/4 22.1 5/5

 

Dupra B+ 1-0 0.00 0.9 4.35 3/3 3.1 1/0
Perry F -> d/l 0-0 5.63 1.5 3.07 6/3 8 5/0
Jackson A -> promoted 0-0 0.00 0.52 2.01 7/0 7.2 5/0
Bates B 0-0 5.68 1.66 2.97 12.2 6/0

Rotation Discussion:

Well, there’s not much joy in Harrisburg in terms of the rotation right now.   The team is already 7.5 games out of first and is in dead last in the Eastern League.  Four of the five starters in Harrisburg are, well, just awful right now.   I should note that the stats above do include one extra start for Matthew Purke; it didn’t help his cause.  Newly acquired Felipe Rivero has not acclimated well to Harrisburg, to say the least.  Blake Schwartz has not adjusted well to the jump to AA after his excellent season in Potomac last year.  The one bright spot seems to be A.J. Cole by ERA/FIP, but he’s still putting an awful lot of people on base (1.57 whip).

Sammy Solis remains on the AA D/L, along with a handful of other long-serving names in this organization (Paul DemnyRafael Martin and Pat Lehman).

Bullpen Notables

Zach Jackson already earned his promotion via 7 scoreless innings, though to be fair he really should have been in AAA to start (he’s a veteran minor leaguer and has been pitching at the AAA level for nearly a decade).  Matt Grace is faring well thus far, as is Richie Mirowski, while Gabriel Alfaro needs to get his control under control (he’s got 9 walks in 11 1/3 innings).

Most Deserving of a promotion: none of these guys are pushing for a promotion, now that Jackson is back in AAA where he belongs.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion/release: You have to think that Purke may be in jeopardy of being coverted to relief at this point.  Alfaro was a MLFA signing out of the Mexican league and may not be long for the organization if he keeps pitching this badly.   Gilliam was a throw-in to the Gio Gonzalez trade and is old for the level; he may get pushed out if someone from Potomac makes a case for promotion (which, thankfully for him, has yet to be the case; read on).

 


High-A/Potomac

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Rauh B-,F-,C+,C- 1-1 4.43 1.57 4 15/7 20.1 5/4
Rpena F,D,F/inc,A-,A- 2-0 6.43 1.48 5.71 5/8 21 5/5
Mooneyham F,C-,A-,D/short,B- 2-1 3.32 1.63 6.71 7/19 19 5/4
Bacus A+,A+,A (into rotation for Encarnacion) 1-1 2.08 0.69 4.7 15/3 17.1 6/0
Simms (newly promoted; no Apr starts)

 

Dickson B+,F,B+,A 0-2 6.23 1.38 5.37 21/7 21.3 7/0
Encarnacion C+,B,F,D- ->d/l 1-2 4.00 1.94 5.88 14/12 18 4/4
Lee F-,F-,D,A -> d/l 0-2 10.05 1.74 2.33 23/8 14.1 5/4
Fister B (rehab) 0-0 0.00 1.5 2.16 3/0 4 1/1
Dupra A+,B+,A,A-> promoted 3-0 0.53 0.71 1.31 23/1 17 5/0

Rotation Discussion:

Potomac is sitting in 1st place easily with the rest of its division struggling so far.   But Its hard to see how they’re doing it with a rotation putting up numbers like this.  The only guy getting starts for Potomac in April with a respectable/impressive FIP was Nick Lee, and he’s on the D/L.  But even Lee’s numbers look completely weird: he had a 10 (ten!) ERA in his 14 innings, but an astounding 23 ks in 14 innings.  His numbers are completely spiked by two successive awful outings and he currently sits on the D/L with an unspecified but hopefully short-term injury.  Dakota Bacus earned his way into the rotation with a series of excellent long-relief outings; he replaces the also-injured opening day rotation starter Pedro Encarnacion, who himself struggled with his control (12 walks in 18 innings) before hitting the D/L.  Otherwise there’s not much notable in the Potomac rotation to talk about: Brett Mooneyham‘s advanced numbers show just how bad he’s really pitched; he currently has a 7/19 K/BB ratio in 19 innings.  He has more than twice the number of walks as he has strikeouts!  That’s not a recipe for success long-term.

Kylin Turnbull remains on the Hagerstown D/L, continuing to be a complete 2011 draft-day disappointment.

Bullpen Notables

The best reliever in Potomac thus far this season has already been bumped up; Brian Dupra posted a nifty 23/1 K/BB ratio and earned his way to AA.  Robert Benincasa already has 5 saves with good numbers.  Derek Self has great numbers and has given up just three base-runners in 10 innings thus far.  So the Nats are getting some great relief.  Gilberto Mendez hasn’t walked a guy yet and is one of the youngest guys in the league, so he’s clearly holding his own after posting a 0.91 ERA in low-A last year.

Most Deserving of a promotion: Outside of Dupra, its hard to pinpoint someone that really is pushing for a promotion out of this squad right now.  Bacus is pitching well but he’s just got a month of high-A experience; lets see how he does for a half season.  I could see the late-inning crew of Self, Benincasa and Bryan Harper possibly getting moved up sooner than later.  But none of the starters really are making a case for promotion right now.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion/release:  Clearly for me the guy in trouble is Mooneyham; you just can’t be walking that many guys and have as little swing-and-miss capabilities to counter-balance  your wildness.   Before his injury, Encarnacion was struggling with his command too; I can see him back in low-A.  Lastly Ronald Pena just is not fooling anybody right now; he’s got just 5 Ks in 20 innings and would be in more jeopardy if there weren’t other candidates ahead of him to replace at this point.

 


Low-A/Hagerstown

Pitcher Start Trend Line W/L ERA Whip FIP K/BB Ratio # of innings Apps/Starts
Pivetta A,A-,F,F,B+ 3-2 4.57 1.48 4.36 13/10 21.2 5/5
Voth A,D,A-,D/short 0-2 2.91 1.38 2.7 26/10 21.1 5/5
Giolito D-,A+,A,C-,C- 1-0 2.95 1.22 3.62 24/11 21.1 5/5
Anderson A,A+,F,D- 3-0 6.33 1.36 4.98 13/6 21.1 5/3
Johansen B,B+,F,C- 2-0 5.21 1.53 3.84 17/11 19 4/4

 

Suero D,A,B,A 3-0 1.20 0.88 3.53 13/2 21.2 5/0
Cooper B,A+,D 2-0 2.81 1.31 2.57 11/1 16 5/0
Jthomas  A+,A- 1-2 2.53 1.22 4.51 4/5 10.2 5/0
Ullmann B+ 0-0 0.00 0.8 2.67 9/2 10 4/0
Hollins A- 2-0 4.35 1.74 3.86 9/7 10.1 8/0

 

Silvestre B+,inc (inj)->d/l 0-0 3.00 1.33 2.24 7/2 6 2/2
Simms A,A,A,A+->promoted 0-0 0.98 0.82 2.05 20/2 18.1 5/0
Spann B+,A-,B+,B+->promoted 2-0 1.20 1.13 2.77 15/4 15 4/0

 

Rotation Discussion:

Hagerstown is taking the South Atlantic league by storm, leading its division by 5.5 games already.   And they’re getting some great pitching.  The team clearly seems to be doing “combo starts” with some of its guys: that’s why someone like Wander Suero has as many IP as the 5 guys in the “rotation.”  So, when it comes to judging starts nearly the entire staff in Hagerstown has “start length” outings to assign grades to.   I like what I see out of Austin Voth so far, and Lucas Giolito is clearly holding his own in full-season ball (both these guys feature more than a K/inning, which is great to see especially out of the undersized Voth).  Meanwhile we’re seeing some worrying wildness out of Jake Johansen, which will not quell the “he’s too big to be a starter so he’s destined for the bullpen” crowd.

Bullpen Notables

John Simms (11th rounder in 2012) and Matthew Spann (booty for the team’s sticking its nose into the David DeJesus waiver situation last year) have both already forced promotions thanks to excellent results.  Otherwise there really isn’t much in the way of a traditional “bullpen” in Hagerstown to talk about.

Most Deserving of a promotion: I’d say Voth and Jake Walsh, who older guys who are mowing guys down in Low-A and may need to be challenged by better/older hitters.

Most in Jeopardy of a demotion: One of the older guys on this staff (Dixon Anderson) isn’t putting up the numbers he needs to be putting up as a college senior 2011 draftee in low-A.  Youngster Nicholas Pivetta is also struggling with the jump to full-season ball out of JuCo and may be dumped back to XST at some point.  But it should also be said that we’re kind of squinting for bad performances out of the Low-A squad; both these guys’ numbers are better than practically anyone in AA right now.

 


Top Prospect Review

From a trending perspective for our top 10 prospect arms (in rough order of their typical rankings on prospect lists):

  • Giolito is succeeding so far, though isn’t as dominant yet to be pushing for a promotion to High-A
  • Cole is holding his own and is the best AA starter right now, but again isn’t entirely pushing for a AAA promotion just quite yet.
  • Solis has yet to appear thanks to a late spring training injury.
  • Rivero has really struggled since his arrival
  • Johansen has shown some wildness and not as much swing-and-miss stuff as he did in short-season ball.
  • Purke has been awful and it may be time to move him to the Pen.
  • Voth has been excellent and is probably the closest to a promotion.
  • Barrett and Treinien have both earned promotions to provide MLB cover, and when in AAA have been effective
  • Jefry Rodriguez is in XST and didn’t make a full-season team.

Conclusions:

So far, I must say i’m a bit disappointed in the performance of the AA squad, but its great to see the promise of the Low-A squad.  I’m slightly worried about how our closer-to-the-majors top prospect arms are looking; lets re-visit in a month and see how it looks.

 

Ask Boswell 3/24/14 edition

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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.

 

 

Detwiler to bullpen… the first shoe to drop this spring

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If he's out, who's in?  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

If he’s out, who’s in? Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

So, big news out of camp today is Matt Williams announced decision to “start the season” with Ross Detwiler in the bullpen.   Adam Kilgore broke the news earlier today and now it’s been picked up by some of the bigger sites and other Nats beat reporters.

I’m on record with having predicted Detwiler for the 5th starter, dating back to my (too-early) December 2013 post predicting the rotations across the system.  I stand by my arguments made at the time, but cannot argue with decisions made by those who watch these guys day-in and day-out.  Detwiler’s stats this spring leave something to be desired (insert standard anti-Spring training stats/short sample size arguments here), and we all know that a) the team needs another lefty reliever, b) Detwiler’s reliever stats are excellent,  and c) the Bullpen was pretty bad last year and needed improving anyway.

Detwiler in the bullpen definitely improves the group as a whole, and opens up a spot for someone unexpected to start the season in the rotation.

So, now what are we predicting?  Something like this?

  • Rotation: Strasburg, Gio, Zimm, Fister and Jordan
  • Bullpen: Soraino, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevins (L), Detwiler (L) and Roark
  • D/L: Ohlendorf (back), Mattheus (chest), Davis (elbow)

Or are we thinking that Roark may pip Jordan for the 5th spot, which would give perhaps a guy like Aaron Barrett (whose Spring stats are stellar) or maybe even fan favorite Christian Garcia the 7th spot in the pen for the time being while Jordan heads to AAA?  Or, is Fister starting the year on the D/L as well, meaning both Jordan and Roark may be pressed into action?  Or, if Fister does hit the D/L is Detwiler getting pulled back into the fray as a starter again?  Or do we throw a NRI a bone and keep someone like Michael Gonzalez and/or Luis Ayala?  (doubtful on these last two guys: Gonzalez has yet to pitch in a game and Ayala’s gotten shelled).

If it were me, I”d go with Roark in the rotation until he falters (if he falters), stick Jordan in AAA to continue getting starts on a regular basis, keep Detwiler as 2nd lefty/long man and give a hard-throwing righty like Garcia a shot to show us what he’s got at the MLB level.

Thoughts?  First controversial move by our manager; I wonder how the players are taking it.

Written by Todd Boss

March 17th, 2014 at 4:21 pm

Ask Boswell 3/10/14

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How bad is Fister's injury?  Photo via wp.com

How bad is Fister’s injury? Photo via wp.com

Another week, another Boswell chat (this time 3/10/14).  Not much reaction to my big rotation rankings post yesterday; maybe 4800 words is too many :-)  Here’s about a 1000 instead about Nats stuff instead of overall baseball stuff.

Q: Interested in your thoughts on the Fister  elbow inflammation? 

A: I’d say that I’m cautiously concerned about Doug Fister.  It wasn’t a grimace-induced injury like what happened to Kris Medlen.  You could easily explain this away as a typical spring training injury.  I think the best answer is “we just have to wait and see.”  If Fister misses his next start … and isn’t throwing between starts, watch out.  As we have already learned … he’s already feeling good enough to throw today (Tuesday 3/11/14) so maybe it was just a scare.  Boswell accuses the Nats of being “underly worried” about its players’ ST maladies in the past, and then says we’ll have to wait and see.  He does also reference Medlen though.

Q: Does Ross Detwiler being the only lefty in the 5th starter competition give him any advantage?

A: Maybe.  Maybe a little.  I wouldn’t mind having a 2nd lefty starter instead of a 4th righty starter, but the real reason Ross Detwiler will win the 5th starter role will come down more to options and performance versus his handedness.  This is well-worn territory though (see previous Boswell chat here and rotation projections here) so we won’t go into it greatly.  Boswell has a good point; Detwiler’s being left-handed is a disadvantage b/c the team knows they can stick him in the pen and he’ll instantly be a valuable reliever.  And then I believe Boswel predicts that Tanner Roark is winning the 5th starter spot and Detwiler is heading to the pen.  Wow.

Q: Is MLB stalling on the MASN issue b/c they’re waiting for Peter Angelos to die?

I didn’t want to phrase this “question” this way, but it was the most succinct.  Answer is, “No even the bastards that run MLB aren’t that crass.”  At least not overtly.  I think the real answer is that Bud Selig realizes just how impossible this situation is (and, frankly, the SF-Oakland-San Jose issue as well) from a legal standpoint and he’s going to just keep on waiting for one side to call out “chicken” and propose something.  We talked more at length about this issue a month ago when the Jonah Keri revalation surfaced, and (of course) nothing new has happened since.  Boswell does call this an “ultra cynical” view. 

Q: Why was Matt Skole cut so quickly?

A: Because he needs at-bats, and he’s not going to get as many of them the further we get into spring training as the veterans want 3ABs/game instead of one.  He wasn’t going to make the team; why does anyone care when he was “cut” from the major league squad?  I dunno; the whole “cuts issue” in spring training is faintly ridiculous for me anyway; is the guy on the 40-man roster?  No?  Then he’s not making this team out of Viera.  This isn’t the cattle-call that we had for pitchers in 2008 when “cuts” actually meant something closer to when your high school team had cuts.  Boswell agrees … and then gushes about Stephen Souza.

Q: Does Strasburg’s new slider put undue stress on the elbow?

A: What google article did this guy find that told him that??  I’ve never bought that argument and here’s why: I never really learned how to throw a curve ball.  I didn’t really realize this until I was an adult, but the “curves” I always thought I was throwing as a kid?  Yeah; they were sliders.  I held the ball with a curve grip and just let it tumble out of my arm, bringing my arm across my body without snapping my wrist.  And lemme tell you what: throwing a slider in this fashion was a heck of a lot easier on my arm than it was to violently snap my wrist and throw a curve ball, as I learned later on.  Personally I’ve always thought the adage, “sliders hurt your arm” was B.S.   Boswell hedges, saying that there’s different ways to throw a slider.

Q: Does it seem to you that Tanner Roark doesn’t get the respect his stats would seem to deserve?

A: Yes, absolutely.   I wish I had a nickel every time I heard someone completely discount his 50+ innings of stellar work last September and invent some reason why some minor leaguer with 12 innings of experience (ahem, Christian Garcia) should be in the MLB bullpen instead of Roark.   Why does this keep happening?  Probably because he was an afte- thought, a lowly right-handed middle reliever without an eye-opening velocity or pitch.  All he does is command his fastball, keep it low and earn grounders.  Yes Detwiler (his 5th starter competition) was a first rounder … but I think at this point in everyone’s development, the team wants the best 25 guys on the field and aren’t really that concerned about how much bonus money they were paid 8 years ago.  I think we should all look up the definition of “sunk cost” and move on.  Boswell thinks Roark is a classic late bloomer.

Q: Bryce Harper said that, with a healthy knee, he should be able to stay in on left handed pitching. What type of performance should we expect to see with him against lefties, that will be indicative of a breakout season from him?

A: I hope this is true; he was pretty bad last year against lefties.   I couldn’t easily find his lefty splits for just April before his injuries … that’d be an interesting split.  I have no idea if this is true; it could be.  Something tells me his knee pain was worse than he really let on about, all season.  Boswell points out Bryce’s rookie season splits against lefties were better.

Q: What is going to happen with Tyler Moore this year?

A:  At this point I have no idea; maybe just PH duties off the bench and occasional mop-up duty?  We’ve covered this territory many times before.  Does it make sense to keep a third outfielder on the bench over a utility guy?  Not to me … if I was constructing this team i’d be sending Moore to AAA or looking for a trade and keeping another guy who can play infield.  Boswell thinks a trade to a second division team that can start him is in order.

Q: If “the window” is only open for a short time, how do you justify not finding a way to keep Strasburg going in 2012?

A: (the question was a bit longer but basically calls out Boswell for advising a double standard in terms of approving the Stephen Strasburg shutdown but also urging the Nats to “hurry up” and take advantage of this current “window” of opportunity).  Another topic that’s well-oiled; the Strasburg shutdown.  Honestly I don’t think the Nats truly feel that they have a finite “window” right now; yes there’s a huge transition year after 2016 … is that the end of a window or merely a way to move onto the next phase?  Boswell points out some facts supporting the Nats 2012 shutdown decision … it is nice to hear someone arguing FOR the health of a player.

Ask Boswell 2/18/14 Edition

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Lots of questions about Mr. Williams.  Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Lots of questions about Mr. Williams. Photo Nats official 2014 via sportingnews.com

Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell must be in heaven: he’s at Spring Training, in 80 degree weather, talking baseball.  Here’s his 2/18/14 WP chat edition and how i’d have answered his baseball questions.  He did an extra long session, doing an hour and then coming back for even more questions, so this is a huge post.

Q: Which Nat is most and least likely to benefit from Matt Williams’ detail-oriented approach?

A: I’ll take the easy way out on this one: I’ll say that the rookies are most likely to benefit and the veterans are least-likely.  But that’s probably not very fair because it assumes that our vets will automatically have a hard time adjusting to a new voice.  In reality, Matt Williamspedigree as a player is going to shut just about any veteran up; name one player on this team who has accomplished anything close to what Williams did as a player?   I mean, we’re talking about a guy with multiple All Star appearances, multiple Gold Gloves, multiple Silver Sluggers, a couple near MVP seasons, more than 200 post-season at-bats spread across 5 post-season trips, three trips to the World Series and one ring.  He also played in two specific games that are both counted among the best games of the last 50 years (Game 7 of the 1997 World Series and 2001′s Game 7 of the World Series).

That’s a heck of a lot of accomplishments.  Who in their right mind is looking him in the fact and doubting his wisdom about anything?

Boswell points out a number of guys who are “introverts” who like the structure, mentions Rafael Soriano as a possible problem child … but then also notes Soriano lost a ton of weight and is playing for a contract, so he doesn’t expect any issues.  Fair enough.

Q: Where can I get good details on the Nats spring training schedules in Viera?

A: CSN’s Mark Zuckerman posts a great intro-to-spring training on his Natsinsider.com blog each year.  Here’s parts 1 and 2, focusing on the Nats baseball Complex and the Town of Viera.  Boswell speaks highly of watching bullpen sessions.  Can’t blame him; man I want to do Spring Training sometime!

Q: What does the Yankees signing of Masahiro Tanaka do for the Yankees season?

A: Not much in my opinion.   Despite Tanaka’s pedigree and $175M paycheck, he’s being touted by his own team as a “#3 starter.”  That’s a heck of a lot of money for a #3 starter.  Now in reality scouts liken him to a young Dan Haren (in terms of his repertoire), but he’s still not nearly in the same Ace class as the most recent Japanese import Yu Darvish.  Plus he’s got to deal with the inevitable adjustment to this country, a new language, 10,000 obnoxious NY beat reporters, the food, the city, and that pesky 4-days of rest schedule we have here for our starters.

As for the Yankees chances in 2014 in general, check out their current depth chart: Their rotation is set to be Sabathia (coming off an awful year), 40-yr old Kuroda, TanakaIvan Nova and David Phelps.  Does that sound like a 95-win rotation?   Here’s their infield: Mark Teixeira (15 games last year), Brian Roberts (77 games last year), Derek Jeter (17 games last year), and Eduardo Nunez (90 games last year).   Does that infield inspire confidence?  What makes anyone think that infield is lasting even a quarter of the season without a major injury?  Plus, Buster Olney or Jayson Stark recently mentioned this factoid:  ”No team has ever in the history of the game had a winning season starting a shortstop as old as Jeter.”    Yes the Yankees made some significant signings (Beltran, Ellsbury, McCann).  But I don’t think its enough to make up for what’s going to happen to their infield.  I think years of overpaying for FAs and being unlucky in their player development has caught up with the Yankees in a big way and they’ll be lucky to be a .500 team this year.  Boswell points out that PECOTA has them as 82-80.   And then he drops a scary subtle hint saying that Ian Desmond has already declined an $85M deal and may have his sights on becoming the next Yankees long-term shortstop.  Ouch.  Thankfully the timing doesn’t quite work out; Jeter retires after this year and the Nats have Desmond locked up for two seasons.

Q: Can you go into the stadium and see the view from your seats before committing to a Season Ticket?

A: No idea, but I’d bet the answer is yes.  We could do that before, you know back when I was a season ticket holder, pre Nats stadium, pre kids, pre getting-royally-screwed-in-the-new-stadium-relocation game.  Boswell assumes yes, and posts an answer confirming it from another fan later on who did exactly this.

Q: Why is the name Redskins such a hotbutton while the Braves gets almost no press?

A: (I couldn’t resist this question even if not entirely about Baseball): Probably because one name is a slur and the other is just a noun.  In a politically correct world no person-indicating moniker would ever be used as a team nickname … but then again you can get rather ridiculous (is “Padre” and the drawing of a priest with a goofy smile swinging a bat offensive to the clergy?  I’m of Irish descent; what if I said that the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” is offensive to me because of my culture?).   Plus, frankly, I don’t get why little Danny Snyder won’t just frigging change the name; I mean, how many gazillions of dollars of new merchandise sales would he get if he re-branded the team?  Why is he so obstinate about this issue?  Every time he posts some dumb letter defending the name it makes him look more and more like a little rich whiny fan-boy who grew up loving the team despite being too sickly to actually play, and now he’s clinging to an iconic symbol of his youth.  As if it was a ratty security blanket.   Boswell talks about cultural change and social progress and hints that he’s going to post his official opinion on the matter soon.

Q: Has Jeter’s retirement caused TOO much media attention?

A: Honestly, I don’t feel like it has; at least not as much as the questioner, who whined about all the coverage and news items related to Jeter.  Perhaps its because he’s gone up against the Olympics and NBC’s force-fed human interest coverage machine that I havn’t noticed.

Olympics Rant/Tangent: Seriously; I thought I had seen it all with NBC’s ridiculous coverage over the years of figure skaters as “athletes” … now the coverage of these silly snowboarders has surpassed it.  I’m sorry; if your “sport” requires judges who take into consideration your “style” or your “costume,” then it isn’t a sport.  ”Team skating?”  ”Ice Dancing?”  Why not just have a frigging spinning contest or see who can coast the longest on one skate or some other useless reason to award a few more gold medals?  In my opinion, if there isn’t a score or a race to a finish line or one man versus another in a contest … you’re not a sport.  Nothing against figure skaters specifically; what they do is amazing, requires elegance and strength and years of training.  But so does Ballet; why is one an olympic sport and the other a performance art?  All those cirque-de-soleil performers?  Why isn’t that an olympic sport too?

Tangent/Rant off.

I think we’ll all be pretty frigging sick of Derek Jeter once August and September rolls-around.  Yeah he’s a great player, first ballot hall of famer.  But so are about 20-25 other guys playing right now.  I agree with the questioner’s rant about the over-coverage of all things Yankees.   Boswell points out that Jeter’s career WAR is one spot above Bobby Grich, so as to temper some expectations.  That’s harsh; even I recognize his importance to the game as a surpassing point than just whittling down all his accomplishments to one (dubious) number. 

Q: What is Livan Hernandez’s role on this team?

A: Whatever it is, I think its friggin awesome that he’s in Spring Training representing the Nats.  Kudos to whoever reached out and got him to come help out.  Livan Hernandez may have played all over the majors (9 teams in 17 seasons; that’s tough to do when you’re not a left-handed reliever) but he played the most of it with our franchise.  Boswell’s quoting of Drew Storen‘s description of Livan’s role is awesome: ”His job is life-coach, bleep-talker and being Livo.”   He also notes that Livan can provide some fielding and instruction on holding runners, a sore spot for several Nats starters.

Q: How is Christian Garcia looking so far? Any chance that he goes north with the club?

A: All reports list Christian Garcia as (finally) healthy.  But its telling that the team is already specifically pointing out that “he’s made it further than he did last year.”  It seems like his fragility is almost a running joke on the team now.  Chances of breaking into the 7-man bullpen?  Remote unless there’s injuries.  But if he goes to AAA and pitches lights out, he’ll be first guy back.   If he stays healthy (four words that should be attached to every single sentence ever written about Garcia).  Boswell says that if he’s healthy, he’s on the team.  I have a very hard time believing that; who makes way?  Not Soriano, Storen, Clippard or Stammen.  Not Blevins.  Ohlendorf?  Roark?  Roark’s numbers last fall were *better* than anything Garcia did in 2012 and in 4 times the innings.  Ohlendorf isn’t being paid north of $1M to screw around in upstate New York.  And, none of this takes into account the statements from Williams about liking to have two lefties in the bullpen… If it were me, I’d want to see Garcia pitch at least a month straight without hurting something on his person.  

Q: How would you grade Rizzo’s off-season?

A:  Pretty frigging good.  Fister: fantastic acquisition.  McLouth; not too bad, should help.  Lobaton: looking better and better, considering the pedigree i’m hearing about the two guys thrown into the deal (Vettleson and Rivero).  I don’t think his lack of acquiring a better lefty will hurt; Sammy Solis is impressing and could contribute immediately, newly acquired Rivero apparently has some stuff, and there’s still the likes of Cedeno and a couple other AAA guys who we could use.  Boswell says A- … and then tells a tid-bit about the Grant Balfour deal that fell through.

Q: Why are the Nats pitchers so bad at holding runners on?  Is this something they’re working on this Spring

A: Why?  beats me.  Maybe a better defensive catcher will help in that category.  They definitely seem to be working on it this spring as noted in the above Livo question.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the question but then uses this question as a segue into talking about Williams’ anger issues.  Random.

Q: If Ryan Zimmerman is going to play some first base … what the heck is Tyler Moore going to do?

A: A decent question, but which assumes that Tyler Moore is anything other than a bench bat.  And it assumes that Adam LaRoche is going to platoon.  I know plenty in the blogosphere want that to happen … but this is a contract year, and the last time couple times LaRoche faced a contract year he played pretty durn good.  Meanwhile, Moore seems like the kind of player who could use a change of scenery and a trade to a team with more playing time.  Boswell likes his swing.

Q: Is team improvement correlation or causation to a hitting coach change, like what happened last year with Eckstein’s firing?

A: You ask me, i’d say its correlation/coincidence.  It isn’t the hitting coach facing 95 mph fastballs.  But I’m no professional.  Boswell can’t figure it out either.

Q: Did they really need another catcher when they had both two young options and Synder as a proven vet? Why waste a pitching prospect with a high upside for a backup catcher who can’t throw out runners, already a major problem. Did Rizzo get taken by the Rays?

A: Sounds to me like this question-er is overvaluing the potential contributions of our catching prospects Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano, is incredibly overvaluing what Chris Snyder still brings to the table, and is overvaluing Nathan Karns and what is ceiling seems to realistically be.  Oh, and he’s undervaluing the prospects we got in return (both of which are in our top 14 according to mlbdraftinsider.com’s recent post).  I like the move, it fixes a hole for the team and gives a couple of prospects to shore up a thinned system, all for a guy who I think we all liked in Karns but who likely faces a ceiling of a reliever.  Boswell notes the need for a “real” backup catcher and notes that the team traded from depth.

Q: Have the Braves taken a step back this offseason and are really counting on BJ Upton to do anything on offense this year?

A: Yes and yes.  McCann is a  huge loss.  Tim Hudson may not “seem” like a loss given the Braves pitching depth, but he was their opening day starter in 2013 and was their bulldog staff leader (if not an “ace” in the literal sense of the word).   They also let go Paul Maholm, who gave them a ton of decent innings last year.  They’re depending on Brandon Beachy to come back healthy and on the rest of their young rotation to contribute.  Otherwise they did little this off-season other than extending a couple of guys.   As far as BJ Upton, what choice do they have but to run him out day after day at this point?  Same as Dan Uggla: those two guys are getting paid a ton of money and will be given every chance to prove themselves.  Boswell agrees.

Q: How often have you seen baseball players take a hometown discount?

A: Not very often: Roy Halladay took a bit less so he could play for Philly … because their spring training complex is in the same town as his full-time home.  Hard to think of obvious other players off-hand.  The asker questioned whether Jordan Zimmermann would consider less money to play for his “hometown” Brewers … without really considering the fact that Milwaukee is a cheap-skate franchise and will *never* come close to paying the 9-figure deal that Zimmermann probably earns in two years’ time.  Boswell doesn’t really answer the original question, just notes that so far our FA players are going for the money.

Q: In your opinion, who will end up being the fifth starter? Detwiler, Roark, or Jordan?

A: Ross Emery Detwiler, for the same reasons I pointed out in my 2014 Staff Projections post in late december.   Quoting myself from that post:

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options (Detwiler has none while Roark, Ohlendorf and Jordan all do), but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.

I like Tanner Roark and feel the team is going to find a way for him to be in the MLB bullpen.  I also now believe Taylor Jordan‘s off-season ankle injury will give the team an excuse to keep him in the minors a bit to season him up and maybe even keep some innings off his arm.   So it’ll be Detwiler until he either falters or gets hurt again.  At least we have a ton of options this year to cover for a starter injury.

Boswell says Detwiler as well but writes a ton on othe other guys, including a glowing talk about Roark.  And he throws in this tidbit: Detroit asked for Jordan and Robbie Ray before settling for Ray and spare parts.  Interesting.  

Q: What’s your read on how the last two bullpen spots play out?

A: Also borrowing from my Dec 2013 post, I’ll go with Ohlendorf and Roark.  Ohlendorf as the long-man, spot starter rubber arm guy.  Roark with the hope he continues his magical run of exceptional command and fearless relief.  I know that only leaves on lefty out there, and leaves guys like Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia in AAA.  Hey, I could be wrong.   Boswell doesn’t seem to guess.

Q: Do you think the coaches will let Espi continue to be a switch hitter or keep him as a lefty hitter only? 

A: I hope you mean righty hitter only; he is a career .220 lefty hitter but .262 righty. If I was the Nats brass, i’d try him as a righty-only guy.  But by all accounts Danny Espinosa is a bit stubborn and may not be open to limiting a unique skill that he may continue to think distinguishes himself from other competitors.  I continue to wonder just how hurt he was last year … as others have said, it isn’t like Espinosa suddenly forgot how to hit.  Yes he was always somewhat limited as a player, but 20-homer capable middle infielders don’t grow on trees.  Boswell says the team isn’t messing with Espinosa, and that they want to see what he can do in 2014.  Fair enough.

Q: Are you worried about the power (or lack thereof) in the Nats lineup?

A: Not really.  The capability is there across the lineup.  Zimmerman has hit 30.  So has LaRoche.  Desmond has hit 20.  So has Espinosa.  Ramos has 20+ homer capability if he’s healthy.  Werth is good for 25 and has hit 30+ before.  And none of this talks about our best power hitter Harper and what he can do.   Basically the team is a whole bunch of guys with 20 homer capability.   The Nats were T-3th in the NL in homers last year as a team (trailing two teams in offensive parks) and should improve in this category with a healthy Harper.  Boswell just talks about Ramos’ stats extrapolated to a full season.

Q: Is praise of Williams’ approach tacit criticism of Davey Johnson’s?

A: Yeah probably.  That’s why you change managers; to change the message.  I’m not going to disparage Davey Johnson too much here other than to say what i’ve said before; the team needed a new voice.  Boswell points out that Johnson’s 2012 job was fantastic and that there’s “different jockeys for different horses.” I like that analogy.


One last point: there was a question about MASN that Boswell went off on and gave some tidbits, including a shot at Bud Selig.  Its worth the read; click on the chat link and head to the bottom.

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?”

2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

Auburn/Short-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Jake Johansen was the star of Auburn's pitching staff this year.  Photo via DBU website

Jake Johansen was the star of Auburn’s pitching staff this year. Photo via DBU website

This is the 6th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Auburn/Short-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  I’m posting Auburn and GCL today to finish off the series this week.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Brett Mooneyham was the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Auburn/Short-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Auburn’s 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Auburn 2013 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

A caveat before starting this post (and we’ll say this same thing in the GCL post): this is short-season ball, so nobody’s got more than a few dozen innings.  The staff leader had 56 innings.  So yes this is absolutely going to be some “Small Sample Size” analysis.  Which in some cases is unfair to the player (to the good or to the bad).  It is what it is.

Auburn starters.  The rotation started the season with Turnbull, Johansen, Selsor, Orlan and DWilliams.   Those 5 opening day rotation members were acquired by the team as follows: 2011 Draft, 2013 draft, 2012 draft, 2012 draft and 2011 draft.  I mention this because a common thought process is that Short-A spots are “saved” for college draftess in the current year, but this year only one current-year draftee started in the Short-A rotation (and it was our #1 pick).  The Auburn rotation ended with Barrientos, Giolito, Selsor (sort of), Orlan, Simms and Ullmann.  As with the rest of the system, Auburn graduated a ton of hurlers throughout the season.  Lets take a look at the starters:

  • Kylin Turnbull faced two demotions to end up as Auburn’s opening day starter, not a great start to his 2nd pro season.  He posted a 1.96 ERA in his first four Short-A starts and returned to Hagerstown.  See Low-A write-up for more.   Outlook for next season: High-A’s rotation competition but likely slipping to bullpen.
  • Jake Johansen was the Nats first 2013 pick, a big tall righty from a small Texas school with a 99 mph fastball.  He did not disappoint in pro ball, posting a 1.92 ERA with 51/23 K/BB in 51 2/3 innings between Auburn and Hagerstown.  After signing quickly for slot (very quickly, like in 24 hours or so), Johansen joined short-A Auburn and was essentially unhittable through 10 starts.  He was promoted up to low-A, got hit around in two starts and finishes the season with a 1.92 ERA, and a sub 1.00 WHIP.  Johansen is walking too many batters, but still flashes a dominant fastball.  Scouts continue to believe he’ll end up in the bullpen (a lazy narrative assigned by default to any player over 6’5″ with a significant fastball .. with the constant “big guys cannot repeat their mechanics” excuse.  Nobody talks about how LeBron James can’t “repeat his mechanics” as he dominates the NBA and he’s 6’8″ playing the point … just a slight tangent on my irritation with broad-stroke scouting narratives), but until that situation presents itself Johansen will stay as a starter.  Outlook for next season: Low-A’s rotation, looking for a push to Potomac mid-season.
  • Casey Selsor was 0-6, 4.29 ERA with 30/14 in 42 1/3 innings, 56  hits for Auburn.  He started the season in Auburn’s rotation, got demoted to the bullpen after 6 starts, but eventually made his way back into the rotation in some sense by the time the season was over.  He gave up a ton of baserunners, but his BABIP was high.  Despite a 4.29 ERA his FIP for the year was just 3.15.  So he pitched better than his stats look.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen as a swingman.
  • Robert Orlan was 1-5, 3.65 ERA with 47/22 K/BB in 56 2/3 innings, 54 hits for Auburn.  Orlan was the leading innings-eater for Auburn in 2013 after missing the whole 2012 season following TJ surgery.   Orlan kept the ball down, pitched better than his ERA shows (3.38 fip) and shows no reason not to continue up the chain and compete for rotation jobs in full season ball next year.   Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Deion Williams has now fully transitioned to the mound after being a hitter in 2011.   But the jury is out as to whether he can stick; in 8 Auburn starts he got shelled, going 0-6 with a 9+ ERA and was dumped back to the rookie league.  He’s young (just turned 21) so he has a bit of time to sort things out.  Outlook for next season: XST and another shot at Short-A in the bullpen.
  • Joel Barrientos tried to make the jump from rookie ball to short-season and got hammered: in 11 appearances (8 starts) he was 1-5 with a 7.08 ERA, getting demoted to the bullpen later in the season.  The DSL grad just turned 19, so patience is expected with his progression.  He did well enough in the GCL in 2012; he needs to make the leap to the next level. Outlook for next season: XST and another shot at Short-A rotation.
  • Austin Voth was clearly started too low for his draft pedigree (Pac-12 College Junior) and it showed, as he went 3-0, 1.75 ERA with 55/6 K/BB in46 1/3 innings between three levels.  He pushed his way through two promotions on the season, ending up in the Hagerstown rotation.  Two key stats on Voth to keep in mind: he had more than a 9/1 K/BB ratio on the season and he gave up zero home-runs in his 55 innings on the year.  And these stats were done with pretty normal looking BABIPs; his FIP values were lower than his ERAs in short- and low-A.  I like this guy and I think he could be a find.  He finished 2nd in the Pac-12 to Mark Appel in strikeouts last year after all.  Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation and also looking for a mid-season bump to Potomac.
  • Ryan Ullmann began the season in the rookie league, being a senior coming from a Division III school, but by season’s end he was in the Auburn rotation.  He got 6 starts in Auburn with some up and down results (3 decent, one ok, two bad) that resulted in a 5.30 ERA all told.   You can’t teach size (he’s 6’6″, 230).  Ullmann closed in college and may return to the pen, despite his K/9 not being strong.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen, maybe Short-A again.
  • Nick Pivetta sported a 1-1, 3.41 ERA with 18/12 K/BB in 29 innings between GCL and Short-A.  Pivetta started 5 games for Auburn but averaged less than 4 innings a start.   For such a big guy (6’5″ 220) with such a reported fastball (upper 90s in short spurts) I would have hoped for more K’s (18 in 29 innings).   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen, possibly as a closer so he can maintain higher velocity in shorter outings.
  • Lucas Giolito, as any Nats fan knows, returned from TJ surgery and pitched in both the GCL and for Auburn.  In three Short-A starts he gave up just 9 hits and one run.  See GCL’s post for more.  Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Other’s who got 1-2 starts here or there:
    • Blake Treinen got two rehab starts.  See the AA-post for more.
    • John Simms got two spot starts at the end of the season; see the reliever section.
    • Chris Young got a rehab start; see the AAA post for more.
    • Reynaldo Lopez gave up 7 runs in an inning and a third, got demoted to the GCL and he didn’t throw another inning all year.  Odd.   Outlook for next season: GCL bullpen.

Auburn Relievers: We’ll go by the assumed closers then by IP.

  • Leonard Hollins had 6 saves and a 2.91 ERA with 36/16 in 46 1/3 innings, 48 hits mostly for Auburn.   The submariner made a successful jump to short-A out of the GCL, and still has not given up a professional home-run.  All we have to do now is figure out if he’s “Leonard” or if he’s “L.J.” since milb.com and Fangraphs differ in their names for him.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • David Napoli went 1-0, 1.14 ERA with 28/10 K/BB in23 relief innings in Auburn, 16 hits.  He had a very wild reputation coming out of college, but seems to have toned it down at Auburn to become an excellent relief pitcher.   I’m a little disappointed to see him already get converted to relief, but his size and stuff seems to point towards situational lefty anyway.  I’m also very excited in particular to see Napoli succeed; he was a clear “draft punt” pick, a college senior taken between the 6th and 10th rounds and given a miniscule signing bonus so as to play by the new CBA drafting bonus cap rules.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen, perhaps even higher if Potomac needs lefties.
  • Jake Joyce went 1-3, 5.22 ERA with 25/12 K/BB in 29 relief innings in Auburn, 37 hits.  Joyce was unlucky (.381 babip) and his FIP reflects that (3.03 versus 5.22 era), but he still gave up a ton of base-runners (1.67 whip) and a ton of air-outs (0.62 GO/AO on the year).   Like Napoli,  Joyce was a senior sign for very little money, but he didn’t perform nearly as well.  He could seem rather expendible if he doesn’t start strong in 2014.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen competition, release candidate.
  • John Simms worked mostly as a long-man for Auburn, getting two starts at the end of the year.  All told, he went 0-4, 5.70 ERA with 34/7 K/BB.  His walks were low but hits were high.  His ERA looks ugly but look beyond the top layer and you discover that Simms actually didn’t pitch that badly this year.  A ridiculously high BABIP of .438 contributed to his inflated short-A ERA; his FIP was just 2.38.  Combine that with his 5/1 K/BB ratio and he has the makings of at least a good reliever in the system.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • Andrew Cooper was 2-1, 3.86 ERA with 16/7 K/BB in 25 2/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 29 hits.  His Auburn-only numbers were worse.  Drafted as a project, and so far he’s pitched like a project.  His numbers aren’t bad or great in any direction.  I’d suspect the team knew he needed some complex time so I could see him staying in Viera until next season’s short-A starts up and repeating the level.  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen again.
  • Cory Bafidis went 2-0, 2.73 ERA with 22/13 K/BB in 26 1/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 18 hits.  He got pushed to low-A too early, settled into short-A where he probably belonged to begin with, and pitched relatively well for 20 innings.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen loogy competition, perhaps falling back to Short-A again.
  • Will Hudgins started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen, was demoted to Auburn, and abruptly retired in July.   Outlook for next season: out of baseball.
  • Other Relievers who got 10 or fewer innings:
    • Justin Thomas threw 3 1/3 innings in Auburn during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2013.  See low-A post for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition.
    • Mike Sylvestri started the season in Auburn, got shelled (12 runs in 8 2/3 innings) but then dominated the GCL.   He’s undersized (5’10″, 180) and could have trouble getting out of rookie ball (as evidenced by his short-A experience).  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen again, release candidate.
    • Ben Grisz threw 8 scoreless innings in his return to the organization after missing the 2nd half of 2011 with some unknown “off-field issue” and then the entire 2012 season with some sort of injury (discussed here in this 4-minute interview with awful audio).   He’s an NDFA turning 23 with just 28 pro innings in 3 years; clearly he needs to do something in 2014.  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen, release candidate.
    • Elliott Waterman got hammered in his early outings for Auburn this year before getting demoted to rookie ball.  He pitched better in the GCL, eventually earning a call-back to Auburn but has not appeared since 8/31/13.  He’s still relatively young (does not turn 23 until November) and he’s a big tall lefty, but he’s putting too many guys on base and not getting enough swing and miss stuff to stick as a situational arm.  He may get one more spring training but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him cut loose if he doesn’t make a full-season team in 2014.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen loogy competition, release candidate.
    • Todd Simko threw a grand total of 6 innings for Auburn and was released.
    • Kevin Dicharry threw 4 1/3 innings and then was released 7/1/13.   Without any knowledge of how well he recovered from the arm issues he had in college, this seems like an incredibly quick release considering how well he pitched (even if he was overaged) last year in the GCL.
    • Niko Spezial started the season with Auburn but got the quick demotion after just 3 1/3 relatively non-descript innings.  See the GCL write-up for more.
    • Matt Derosier briefly started the season in Auburn he pitched in middle relief for the GCL Nats.  See the GCL write-up for more.
    • Christian Garcia threw one inning of re-hab work.  See the AAA write-up for more.l
    • Catchers Erick Fernandez and Andruth Ramirez each threw a bit of bullpen-saving mop-up work, as did OF Greg Zebrack.

Summary

In the end, Auburn featured three starters who will form the bulk of what could be a pretty special Hagerstown rotation next year.  Not surprisingly, the rest of the rotation and the bulk of the bullpen was comprised of mid-to-late round draft picks, college seniors and other long-shots, and as a result the team struggled on the year.  But from a player development perspective, we may have a few decent players coming out of Auburn this year.

Editor note; corrected Ullmann’s entry after publication per comments; had said NAIA school, corrected to identify Concordia as a Division III school