Nationals Arm Race

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Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladson’s inbox 1/15/14

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Lots of speculation on Zimmerman's near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Lots of speculation on Zimmerman’s near future position. Photo AP via tbd.com

Rapid fire!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Bill Ladson didn’t even wait seven days to release his latest inbox, this one dated 1/15/14.   We just got done arguing about the last one!  He must have a huge backlog of questions from baseball-starved fans who can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report (we’re less than a month away now; Nats report date is 2/13/14).

Btw; I heard it from a friend of a friend that the Nats may have given extension offers to both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann this week; havn’t seen that news pop up on any beat reporter RSS feeds or elsewhere yet.  But if true, its good to see the dialog opening up now as opposed to deep into spring training.  Stay tuned and lets see if these rumors turn out to be true!

As always, we write our responses here before reading his and edit questions as needed:

Q: What was the reason behind signing Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot to Minor League deals?

A: Because Syracuse loves having old, over the hill veteran guys playing middle infield for them.  No seriously, both Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot profile as your typical aging veteran trying to hold on for one last shot, accepting a minor league/non guaranteed contract with an invite to major league spring training so that they can compete for bench spots.  And this team absolutely has a need for middle infield depth after trading away Steve Lombardozzi and given the question marks that come with other middle infield options on our roster Danny Espinosa (has he remembered how to hit again?), Zach Walters (can he actually play shortstop without booting every other ball hit to him?), and Jeff Kobernus (is he even a middle infielder any more after focusing on the OF for so long)?  At this point, I think at least one of them will make the roster unless we make another trade.  Ladson says Mike Rizzo loves depth and the team is looking for a backup to Espinosa.  

Q: At which Minor League level will Lucas Giolito start this coming season after tearing it up with the Gulf Coast Nationals and Class A Auburn?

A: In my big system-wide prediction piece in December 2013, I predicted Lucas Giolito will start in Low-A/Hagerstown.  There’s no reason not to get him going in full-season ball, and low-A makes the most sense given his age.  In a perfect world he’d dominate low-A in the first half and get promoted to high-A/Potomac for the 2nd half.  Ladson also says Hagerstown.

Q: Am I the only one concerned about Bryce Harper‘s weight gain?

A: Bryce Harper is in his low-20s; he was always destined to “fill out” and gain more muscle mass.  It will only mean more ferocious power and hopefully more strength to help him slog through the 162 game schedule.  On the downside, it means less speed on the bases and probably less range in the outfield, neither of which is really too much of a concern for a premium power hitter.   If it means that my dream of Harper playing center field and taking over the reigns from the likes of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as premium power-hitting CFers, so be it.  Ladson says there’s no worry.

Q: If the Nationals give Espinosa or Jeff Kobernus a spot on the Opening Day roster, who would be the first player sent to Syracuse?

A: I’d have to think Kobernus would be first expendible player; the team already has too many outfielders (3 starters in Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, a backup in Scott Hairston and a presumed 2nd backup in Tyler Moore).  There’ s just no room for a third extra outfielder on modern teams; you need that 2nd bench spot for a guy who can cover the middle infield.  Ladson didn’t really answer the question, just saying that Espinosa would be “given every chance” to make the team.

Q: Do you think the Nationals would move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and trade Adam LaRoche for a good starter or bullpen pitcher? They could move Anthony Rendon to third base.

A: I do not think the team would move Adam LaRoche at this point.  You’d get almost no value back and would be creating a hole in your lineup that the team can’t easily fix.  If you think a team is going to give up a “good starter” or even a “bullpen pitcher” for a mid-30s guy who underperformed last year, then you’re fooling yourself.  Bill Ladson: stop taking dumb trade questions!

Back to the question though; the team seems convinced that Ryan Zimmerman‘s throwing issues are behind him, since he’s had more than enough time by now to recover from his Oct 2012 shoulder surgery.  Btw, take a look at his baseballprospectus link and look at his unbelievable injury history; I can’t think of another player with such a long list of maladies.  Now, once LaRoche is gone and the team is looking at a hole at first, a premium 3rd base defender wasting his talents at 2nd, and a litany of free agent options to provide cover at 2nd and/or 3rd… yes we may see Zimmerman come back across the diamond.  Lets see what happens in 2014; if Zimmerman returns to gold glove form, we may be having a different conversation next off-season (as in, who are we getting to play 1B).  Ladson talks up LaRoche, calling him one of the best defensive firstbasemen in club history.  If LaRoche is so good, we must have really had a bad run of first basement.  LaRoche posted a -2.0 UZR/150 last year, good for 17th of 19 qualified first basemen in the league … sorry, hard to talk about how great defensively you are one of the WORST first basemen statistically in the league.

From Nats to Oblivion; Updated for 2013 season

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Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Is Maya going to be the latest Nats to Oblivion poster child? Photo Al Bello/Getty Images

Several years ago (November 2010) Mark Zuckerman posted a fascinating analysis he titled “From Nats to Oblivion.”  It chronicled the astoundingly high number of players that the early incarnations of the Nats were using who, once the Nats released them, never again appeared on a MLB roster.  I thought the analysis was so interesting that I kept up the same data and have been keeping it up-to-date with the whereabouts of Nats-to-Oblivion candidates ever since.  So with apologies to Zuckerman for stealing his idea, here’s an interesting visit to the Nats darker past.

A large part of this post is borrowed from previous versions; click here for 2012′s version of this post.   A few players from our near past have re-surfaced in the majors as of late and have been removed from this list where noted; if you see any others listed here in error please let me know.  But this entire list is updated post 2013 season, with the minor league/foreign league/independent league movements of oblivion candidates chronicled.

It is nearly impossible for a team to field an entire year’s worth of players who will not fall into this “Oblivion” category.  Every MLB team has guys playing out the string or near retirement, and every MLB team calls up guys through out the season from the minors who eventually show themselves as unable to compete on the MLB level and who never make it back.  So a 0% oblivion measure isn’t a goal.

For your reminiscing pleasure, here is the summary data updated to the 2013 team:

  • 2012: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio
  • 2011: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio
  • 2010: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again
  • 2009: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again
  • 2008: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again
  • 2007: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again
  • 2006: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again
  • 2005: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Look at the 2006 season; 35% of the players who played for the team that year never played another Major League game.  That’s still astounding to me.  Read on for a detailed look back at some of the very bad players that have put in significant time for this team.


2013 (13 Candidates):

Total Players used: 23 position, 21 pitchers, 44 total. 13/44 = 29.5% candidate ratio right now.  Real candidates list is just the top 5, so 5/44 = 11.36%.

Candidates

  • Yunesky Maya; ML deal with Atlanta for 2014
  • Chris Marrrero: ML deal with Baltimore for 2014
  • Chad Tracy: still a FA; highly unlikely to get a major league deal after his awful 2013.
  • Corey Brown: DFA’d, traded to Oakland
  • Fernando Abad; DFA’d, traded to Oakland

Less likely “candidates” from the 2013 team:

  • Danny Espinosa
  • Jhonatan Solano
  • Jeff Kobernus
  • Zach Walters
  • Eury Perez
  • Sandy Leon
  • Nathan Karns
  • Erik Davis

The top 5 players are really the “candidates” out of the 2013 team.  Every one of the guys in the lower section is on our 40-man roster, meaning they all likely see time this coming season.  In fact, right now the odds are that at least a couple of these guys will make the opening day roster.  So really the oblivion candidates here are just the top 5 guys, but we’ll track all 13 until they’re cleared off this list.  Both the guys we traded to Oakland sit on their 40-man roster, but both seem in serious jeopardy of being DFA’d again at some point in the spring (especially Corey Brown, who is out of options).

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Yunesky Maya, who was Mike Rizzo‘s first foray into the Cuban exile market.  Signed to a 4yr/$8M deal, he was given several shots at the majors and never could capitalize.  He arrived in the US with a wide arsenal of pitches but not a lot of swing-and-miss talent, and he ended up basically being a AAA starter.   He spent the last three seasons as Syracuse’s lead starter (getting 22, 28 and 24 starts there inbetween infrequent call-ups) and ended up with just one career MLB win for his $8M salary (making his one of the worst dollars-per-win contracts ever … even if it was “just” $8M).  This whole paragraph is assuming that Maya never makes it back to the majors … but based on what he’s shown thus far combined with his advancing age, that seems like a likely end-result for the Cuban starter.


2012 (5 candidates)

Total Players used: 24 position, 19 pitchers, 43 total.  5/43 = 11.6% candidate ratio right now

Candidates

  • Brad Lidge: Retired post 2012
  • Jesus Flores; signed ML deal with Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013, no MLB appearances

  • Brett Carroll: signed ML deal w/ Pittsburgh for 2013, no MLB appearances
  • Ryan Perry: Wash AAA and AA 2013

  • Carlos Maldonado: Wash AAA 2013

In the past 12 months, we’ve removed 3 players from this list (Izturas, Wang and Brown) who re-appeared on MLB rosters either here or elsewhere.  I still think its possible that Flores could re-appear on an MLB roster at some point; catchers have a way of getting hurt and causing organizations to scramble.  The rest face pretty long odds.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Brad Lidge, who gave it one last shot and failed spectacularly.  When you lose your stuff, its gone and gone fast.  I’ll readily admit I thought the signing was a great one when it occurred but it just didn’t work out.  I really hoped that Lidge would be a serviceable 7th inning guy and mentor to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, being one of the great closers of his day.  It didn’t work out that way.


2011 (6 candidates)

Total Players used: 20 position, 24 pitchers, 44 total.  6/44 = 13.6% candidate ratio right now…

Candidates

  • Ivan Rodriguez – retired after 2011
  • Matt Stairs — retired after 2011
  • Alex Cora — retired after 2011, now the General Manager of a Puerto Rican Winter League team.
  • Cole Kimball — Nats 60-day DL in 2012, XST in 2013, DFA’d off 40-man roster.
  • Brian Broderick — Stl AAA, waived now Nats AAA in 2012, AA in 2013
  • Atahualpa Severino — Nats AAA, DFA’d off 40-man in 2012, KC AAA for 2013, signed ML deal with Atlanta for 2014 (thanks John C).

Changes in the last 12 months: none.

As with the 2012 candidates, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this list get lowered by one eventually; Severino seems like he could work his way back into a loogy situation for a club.  Kimball’s DFA and Broderick’s pending MLFA status both make it seem like their chances of returning to the majors are slim.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Matt Stairs: He made the 2011 roster despite having almost no defensive capabilities and, as it soon became evident, almost no remaining abilities at the plate.  He somehow hung onto his roster spot until August 1st despite having just one extra base hit in 74 at-bats on the year.  I remember one game in particular; we were at the stadium going against the hated Phillies and they left Roy Halladay in to attempt to finish a shutout with a 3-0 lead (Game was on 4/13/11).  Nats rally, score 2 runs to make it 3-2.  Stairs comes up pinch hitting for Jerry Hairston with guys on 1st and 2nd with one out; he promptly watches three straight fastballs go right down the middle of the plate without moving his bat.  I’ve never been so p*ssed at a player at the ball-park.  Ivan Rodriguez then promptly struck out on 3 pitches as well, looking strike 3 into the mitt and then arguing vehimently with the ump over the game-ending call which gave Halladay the complete game victory.


2010 (12 players)

Total Players used: 20 position, 26 pitchers, 46 total.  12/46 = 26.0% never appeared again

Players:

  • Willy Taveras; played AAA for Col in 2011, retired prior to 2012, back with KC AAA 2013
  • Kevin Mench; retired after 2010
  • Jamie Burke; retired after 2010
  • Luis Atilano: in CIN org, AAA in 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Scott Olsen; in CWS org, AAA 2012, never signed for 2013
  • JD Martin; in MIA org AAA 2012, in TB AAA 2013
  • Tyler Walker; indy league 2011, never signed for 2012
  • Jesse English; indy league 2011, 2012.  Mexican League 2013
  • Matt Chico; indy league 2012, never signed for 2013
  • Joe Bisenius; in Mexico 2011-12, Atlanta AA/AAA for 2013
  • Garrett Mock: Houston AAA 2012, AZ AAA for 2013
  • Jason Bergmann: indy 2011, Col AAA 2012, Indy again in 2013, KC AA team.

Changes in last 12 months: none.

There’s more than a few guys here who are still hanging on to AAA jobs but not many of them are looking promising to break onto 40-man rosters and earn call-ups.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Jamie Burke: The 2009 Nats were so thin at Catcher by the end of the season that we literally bought a spare catcher in Burke from Seattle so we could have some coverage at the end of the season.  Burke re-signed on for 2010 and appeared in exactly one MLB game.  He was released after the season and retired.


2009 (9 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 30 pitchers, 55 total.  9/55 = 16.3% never appeared again

Players:

  • Elijah Dukes: released and never picked up for 2010.  Arrested in 2011, 2012, out of baseball.
  • Alex Cintron; playing in Mexico 2012, nothing in 2013

  • Jorge Padilla; in SD org, AAA in 2012, nothing in 2013
  • Ron Villone, 2011 playing indy ball, retired prior to 2012.  He will appear on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot and is currently the pitching coach of the High-A Chicago affilliate.

  • Julian Tavarez; retired after 2009
  • Zack Segovia; in Det org AA in 2012, Mexican league/Indy ball 2013

  • Mike Hinckley: Tor org in 2011, retired prior to 2012
  • Steven Shell; KC org in 2011, retired prior to 2012

  • Victor Garate; MIL org and Indy ball in 2012, Mexican league 2013

Changes in last 12 months: removed Kensing and Martis after they both resurfaced on MLB teams, meaning that they both went three full seasons inbetween MLB appearances.  That’s why we track these guys for so long.

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Ron Villone, who proved that a crafty lefty with a halfway decent fastball can have a long career in this game.  He had 63 appearances at age 39 for the 2009 Nats and got re-signed for 2010.  He didn’t make the team though, labored in Syracuse the whole season and was released.  Despite being 41 years old, he headed to Indy ball for one last shot but washed out after just a few outings in 2011.

It wouldn’t be a retrospective on poor Nats players if we didn’t briefly talk about Elijah Dukes though.  I think its safe to assume that he’s the only guy on this list that has served more time in jail than has played in the minor leagues, attempting to get back to the show.


2008 (8 players)

Total Players used: 25 position, 25 pitchers, 50 total.  8/50 = 16% never appeared again

Players:

  • Kory Casto; 2009 AAA, 2010 in Ariz AA, retired.
  • Dmitri Young: some rehab in low minors 2009, retired.
  • Rob Mackowiak: 2009: some indy, bounced around AAA, that’s it.
  • Johnny Estrada; flat out quit after 2008
  • Odalis Perez; refused his 2009 contract, never resigned
  • Levale Speigner; 2009 in Florida’s AA/AAA, then 2010 in Seattle AAA.  done.
  • Ray King; retired after 2008
  • Chris Schroder; 2009, 2010 bounced around AAA with Oakland, Fla.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Odalis Perez, though I’m tempted to say either Mackowiak or Estrada, possibly the two worst FA signings of the whole Jim Bowden era (and that’s saying something).  But nothing beats the Perez story.  He was the Nats Opening Day Starter in 2008; hell he was the first guy to get a start in the Nationals Stadium.  He pitched well; in 30 starts he was 7-12 with a 4.34 ERA and a 99 ERA+ for a god-awful team.  But apparently he got really pissed when the team only offered him a non-guaranteed Minor League deal for 2009.  So he held out, the Nats said “fine with us” and released him, and nobody else picked him up.  And he never played another game.  I’m not sure if that was a sign that he was just that bad (not one team wanted to even give an opening day starter a look the subsequent year?), or if there was some sort of MLB general manager omerta that conspired against him.  Either way, Perez played again, not even in Winter Leagues as far as I could find.  Sometimes a player has to swallow his pride, and Perez apparently could not.


2007 (12 players)

Total Players used: 21 position, 26 pitchers, 47 total.  12/47 = 25.5% never appeared again

Players:

  • Nook Logan; indy league 2008, 2010.
  • Robert Fick: Cut from the Padres in ST 2008, full year indy league 2009, retired.
  • D’Angelo Jimenez: AAA all of 2008, 2009.  Mexican league and Indy league 2010-2012
  • Tony Batista: Wash AAA 2008, then released
  • Michael Restovich: 2008 in Japan, AAA 2009-2011, retired
  • Brandon Watson: AAA 2008-9, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Mike Bacsik: 2008 AAA, 2011 indy league, now a broadcaster.
  • Jason Simontacchi; 2008 indy league, 2010 again.
  • John Patterson; cut in ST 2008, immediately signed w/ Texas but never played again.
  • Ryan Wagner: AAA 2008-9, released and presumably retired.
  • Arnie Munoz; went to mexican league, retired > 2010
  • Chris Booker: AAA in 2008, then retired/released.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Mike Bacsik, who was destined to be a career 4-A guy before Washington picked him up and gave him 20 starts in 2007.  Bacsik was on his 6th minor league organization when he arrived in Syracuse and pitched his way up to the major leagues.  He was overmatched badly; he had a 5.11 ERA and just a 3.4 K/9 rate.  But he did get his moment in the headlines by giving up Barry Bonds‘ 756th career homer one night in San Francisco in August.  Contrary to accusations on the topic, I do not believe Bacsik “served up” the homer.  If you check the play index, Bonds hit the 7th pitch of the at-bat in a 3-2 count for that homer.  Bacsik didn’t purposely give up a homer on the 7th pitch of an at-bat; he just ran out of pitches to show Bonds that weren’t going to get pulverized.

A quick comment though on John Patterson: I remember being absolutely shocked at his release in 2008′s spring training.  He was cut on 3/20/08, right in the middle of Spring Training with no warning and having just thrown his Grapefruit innings.   He was healthy, recovered from surgery, ready to be the ace of that staff and start showing off the potential that he showed in 2005 (you know, when he 4-hit the Dodgers with 13 punch outs and posted the best Game-Score performance in Nats history).  He signed a ML deal with Texas after his release by the Nats, but he couldn’t answer the call and never appeared again, getting released in mid May.  I guess his third arm surgery in 7 years just left him unable to compete at any level and he hung ‘em up.


2006 (20 players)

Total Players used: 28 position, 29 pitchers, 57 total.  20/57 = 35% never appeared again

  • Damian Jackson; dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9
  • Bernie Castro: AAA all of 2007, 8 then retired.
  • Alex Escobar: Wash minors 2007-8, then retired.
  • Brandon Harper: Wash AAA all of 2007, then released/retired.
  • Wiki Gonzalez: CWS AAA all of 2007, indy league 2008, retired.
  • Henry Mateo: AAA or Indy league 2007-2009, mexican league from 2010-current 2013
  • George Lombard: AAA 2007-9, some indy league, retired.
  • Mike Vento: 2007 Wash AAA, indy league 2008, back with Syracuse 2009, retired.
  • Melvin Dorta; various minor leagues 2007-2010, indy league 2011, retired.
  • Luis Matos: AAA 2007, Mexican League 2008-2012.  ? 2013
  • Pedro Astacio; retired after 2006
  • Felix Rodriguez: dnp 2007, indy league 2008-9, retired.
  • Zach Day: AAA 2007, briefly A+ 2008, retired.
  • Beltran Perez; wash minors AA/AAA 2007-8, released and never played again.
  • Joey Eischen; released off of Washington and retired.
  • Travis Hughes; AAA in 2007, played in Japan 2008, indy leagues 2009, 2011.
  • Ryan Drese: various minor leagues 2007-8, indy league 2009-2010, Baltimore AAA 2011, released/retired.
  • Kevin Gryboski: AAA 2007-2008, retired/released.
  • Brett Campbell: Wash AA 2007, released/retired.
  • Santiago Ramirez: Japan in 2007, Mexican league 2008, indy 2009, retired.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Joey Eischen, who bounced around the league in his 20s before settling in Montreal and moving south with the team.  He was known to be a “character” in the clubhouse and to give good quotes to reporters (google “Joey eischen quotes” and you’ll find some of his classics).   By 2006 though the years had taken their toll on his shoulder; he had 19 walks in 14 2/3 innings through the end of May had blown his rotator cuff.  The team put him on the 60 day D/L and called up one Bill Bray.   Eischen never got off that D/L; he was released in the off-season and never played again.  For 2013, he’s listed as the pitching coach of Colorado’s high-A Affiliate in Asheville.


2005 (16 players)

Total Players used: 30 position, 25 pitchers, 55 total.  16/55 = 29% never appeared again

Players:

  • Carlos Baerga; retired after 2005
  • Junior Spivey: bounced around AAA 2006-7, indy ball in 2009, retired.
  • Tony Blanco; Nats minor leagues 2006-7, Colorado AA in 2008, in Japan from 2009-present.
  • Wil Cordero; released mid 2005, signed on with the NY Mets but never made it out of AAA.  Retired after 2005.
  • Deivi Cruz; released after 2005, cut from St. Louis 2006 ST, played indy ball, retired.
  • Jeffrey Hammonds; retired in June 2005 mid-season.
  • J.J. Davis: Traded to Colorado as part of the Preston Wilson deal, sent to Colorado’s AAA, then released after the season and never played again.
  • Rick Short; Granted FA after the 2005 season to play in Japan, played there til 2009.
  • Kenny Kelly; AAA in 2006 and 2007, released and retired.
  • Keith Osik; a backup catcher, got 4 ABs in 2005, released and retired.
  • Tyrell Godwin; after just THREE MLB at-bats in 2005, spent all of 2006 and 2007 in AAA, released and retired.
  • T.J. Tucker; released after 2005, tried one year of indy ball in 2008, retired.
  • Joe Horgan; released after 2005, played one year of AAA with Florida, released, retired.
  • Matt White; AAA in 2006-7, Japan 2007-8, tried indy ball in 2010, hung ‘em up.
  • C.J. Nitkowski; AAA in 2006, then went to Japan 2007-8, Korea 2009-10, back with the Mets AAA team in July 2012.  Not signed for 2013
  • Antonio Osuna: dnp in 2006, Mexican league 2007-9.

Changes in last 12 months: none

Favorite Nats-to-Oblivion story: Rick Short, who got his MLB debut at the age of 32, after 11 very long seasons in the minors with many different teams.  He got a couple of call-ups in June and July to provide cover, and then played out the string after a Sept 1 roster expansion call-up.  In that off-season, he returned to Japan (where he’d played one full season prior), and played four more years in the Japanese League and retired in 2009.

Though it merits talking about a couple other guys here. Tony Blanco; he was a rule-5 draftee who the Nats carried the whole of 2005 so they could keep his rights.  He was awful; he had a .177 batting average as the 25th guy off the bench.  In 2006 he couldn’t even cut it in AA and played most of the year in High-A.  After 2007 the Nats summarily released him from their minor league organization altogether.   He found his calling though; he signed on in Japan in 2009 at age 27 and continues to play there today.  You have to wonder if he may very well earn another MLB shot.

Jeffrey Hammonds was well known to Washington baseball fans by virtue of his pedigree with our northern neighbors in Baltimore; he was a 1st round draft pick in 1992 out of Stanford, broke in with the MLB team the following year and was a role player on the powerhouse Baltimore teams of the mid 1990s.   He bounced around the league afterwards though, signing on with the newly relocated Washington franchise for the 2005 debut season but he hung ‘em up after a slow start here.  He was only 34 when he retired.

Written by Todd Boss

January 16th, 2014 at 9:01 am

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Ladson Inbox 1/9/14

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Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

Is Zimmermann getting a contract extension?.Photo Manuel Balce-Ceneta/AP

You know spring training is coming close when Bill Ladson does two mailboxes in two weeks.  Here’s 1/9/14′s version.

As always, I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity as needed.

Q: Most of the talk about a middle infielder for the bench is centered on Danny Espinosa. What are your thoughts about Jeff Kobernus? I would play him and trade Espinosa.

A: I think the talk is focused on Danny Espinosa since, right now he seems like the best option thanks to the trade of Steve Lombardozzi and the lack of any other real competitors.  Zach Walters hit 30 homers in AAA … but by some accounts is a very poor defender.  I can’t find his minor league fielding stats but others have pointed out that he made 30 errors last year in AAA.  Jeff Kobernus has been playing outfield lately; he played 2nd in college and earlier in his pro career but can he even play short stop?  New signees Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot can both play 2nd and SS … but aren’t exactly MLB quality guys any longer; Fontenot spent the entire year in AAA in 2013 and Carroll is a guy on a minor league contract nearing 40 who hit for a 40-something OPS+ in 2013.

Ask yourself; what do you ideally want out of a backup infielder?  They have to be a plus defender (apparently knocking out Walters), they have to be able to play 2nd and SS (knocking out Kobernus).  Espinosa is a fantastic defender, a short stop in college with a rocket arm who many once upon a time thought was a better short stop than Ian Desmond.  Right now, I want to see if Espinosa can re-gain his former self and use everyone else in this discussion as a fallback plan.

Trade Espinosa?  Can you define the term “selling low?”  That’s the last thing the organization wants to do right now.  That being said, Ladson continues to be insistent that Espinosa will be traded before opening day.  His prediction for the opening day backup infielder is “lets see what happens in spring training.”  Strong stance.

Q: Is Bill Bray still with the Nationals? If I remember, he had health issues. Any chance he could be in the mix for a lefty slot in the bullpen?

A: Bill Bray is a Minor League Free Agent, and according to Baseball America is still unsigned.  Even if he did re-sign with Washington, it’d be on a minor league deal, meaning he’d have to be added to the 40-man to be in the mix for the loogy.  That already puts him behind several guys; Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno for sure, and likely Sammy Solis if the first two guys failed.  Bray also has to show he’s healthy, which he hasn’t really done in quite a while now.  I hate to say it, because i’ve got a soft-spot for him (he’s from Virginia Beach and i’m friends with his cousin), but he may be looking at retirement.  Ladson says he’s not ready until May but wants to stay in the organization; lets hope they throw him a bone and give him a minor league deal.

Q: Are the Nats pursuing any other lefty relievers, or is Jerry Blevins all there is to it?

A: I’d guess the team is pursuing other lefties, but not actively.  I’m sure there will be a couple of MLFA signings here and there to provide some competition in Viera.  Ladson reminds us that they’re thinking about both Solis and Ross Detwiler as lefties out of the pen.

Q: Any word on F. P. Santangelo re-signing for the 2014 season?

A: No idea.  I thought he was a fine broadcaster so I hope he comes back; didn’t realize there was a question.  Ladsons says they’re both back for 2014, after which Santangelo’s contract expires.

Q: Tyler Moore is an enigma. He seems to have all the tools to be a regular .280 hitter with 20 homers. Why does he appear to only be in the Nats’ plans as a bench player?

A: Moore is an enigma; is he the power hitting slugger (one homer every 15.6 ABs) in 2012 who bashed his way to an .840 OPS or is the overmatched, strike-out-one-out-of-every-three times guy we saw in 2013?  I’d hope he’s closer to the former than the latter, and thus can still be a servicable righty power bat off the bench.  Why is he just a bench player?  Because he’s not better than any of the guys ahead of him?  I would have thought this was kind of obvious, looking at Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth and their accomplishments and status on this team.  Ladson assumes Moore is a backup firstbaseman, I guess, but says Moore isn’t going to be platooning with Adam LaRoche either.

Q: Do you think it is likely that the Nationals will sign both Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to contract extensions this offseason?

A: Likely?  No.  I think at least one (Desmond) gets done, and we may see the other guy (Zimmermann) get moved in a cost-containment move with the team thinking ahead to its rising minor league players and its need to pay both Harper and Strasburg sooner than later.  Ladson sort of agrees.

 

 

Nats Rule-5 Draft History; updated for 2013

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Jesus Flores remains our most successful Rule 5 Draftee.  Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

Jesus Flores remains our most successful Rule 5 Draftee. Photo Toni Sandys/Washington Post

(I should have published this in early December but got caught up in a glut of other posts; posting this now in lieu of just trashing it).

The Nats for years were heavy participants in the Rule-5 draft, thanks to some pretty awful teams and some shrewd scouting.  In November 2011 I did a Rule-5 Draft history, and I thought I’d update it for the last few drafts, now that 2013′s draft is complete.  Borrowing a chunk of the text for the previous years from the previous post, here’s a list of the Rule 5 drafts since 2005, with our players taken/received noted and with some thoughts on how the player turned out for either side.  Note I’m mostly only doing this analysis for the major league section of the rule 5 draft; there’s just far too little eventual MLB success to be found in the AAA and AA sections of the Rule 5 draft to do the analysis.  I will note some notables who get snapped up in the minor league section for the later years.

2004 Rule 5 Draft (ahead of the 2005 season)

  • Tony Blanco: 1B; drafted from Cincinnati.  He batted .177 as a 1st baseman backup while eating a roster spot all season, then we cut him from AAA after 2007.  He kicked around Colorado’s system for a year and has been playing in Japan ever since.  Verdict: failure.
  • Tyrell Godwin: CF, drafted from Toronto.  Prior to the 2005 season, the team traded another minor leaguer to keep his rights, so this really played out less like a Rule-5 pickup in that Godwin didn’t have to stick on the 25-man roster all year.  He played a grand total of 3 games for the Nats, kicked around AAA for a while an hung them up in 2007.  Verdict: failure.

2005 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not draft anyone, but had a player taken who went on a whirlwind tour of MLB organizations before getting returned mid 2006.

  • Chris Booker was rule-5 drafted by Detroit, who immediately sold him to Philadelphia, who then waived him in May of 2006 with the intent of returning him … except that Kansas City picked him up, hung onto him for a couple months and eventually returned him to Washington.  The Nats eventually called him up but he was relatively ineffective and he washed out of the game (seemingly due to injuries) after 2008.

2006 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jesus Flores, C, drafted from the New York Mets, stuck with the team all year despite having only played high-A ball in the minors.  Despite his eventual injury issues that plagued him for the better part of 3 seasons, Flores remains the best example of a “found gold” prospect that can be had in the Rule 5 draft.   After the Nats DFA’d him last off-season, he bounced around both LA and Tampa’s AAA teams in 2013 but did not appear in the majors. Verdict: success.
  • Levale Speigner RHP (a closer) was drafted from Minnesota and, as with Booker above, eventually was traded for by the Nats so they could keep him and stash him in the minors.  After some awful outings for the big team, he passed through waivers mid 2008 and was released from AAA in 2008, bounced around a couple other organizations, and retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.

The Nats lost one player in this draft:

  • Alejandro Machada was drafted by Minnesota just a month after the Nats had re-signed him to a minor league contract.  So Machada didn’t have to stay on their active roster.  And indeed he didn’t; he was injured all of 2007 and stayed with Minnesota’s AAA team until 2009, never again broaching the majors.

2007 Rule 5 Draft

  • Matt Whitney: 1B/3B, Drafted and then eventually returned back to Cleveland, who eventually made the former 1st rounder a ML free agent and we signed him after the 2008 season.   We cut him after the 2009 season and he retired after 2010.  Verdict: failure.
  • Garrett Guzman: LF/RF: after Rule-5 selecting him, the team eventually traded a PTBNL for him to Minnesota, then we cut him outright and nobody picked him up.  He played two years of Independent ball and was out of baseball after 2010.  Guzman is more infamously known as the player who was caught having sex with an underage girl while playing for our AA team in Harrisburg in 2008, likely the reason why nobody picked him up after his DFA.  Verdict: failure.

2008 Rule 5 Draft

  • Terrell Young: Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Cincinnati.  He got hurt, never played for us, and was eventually returned to the Reds.   His injury was severe enough that he was out of baseball after being drafted; he has no professional games after 2008.  Verdict: failure.
  • Ricardo Nanita, selected in the minor league phase, played most of 2009, then went to the Mexican league, then got picked up by Toronto in minor league free agency and has been there ever since, playing all of 2013 in Buffalo.   Verdict: failure.

The team lost two players in the minor league phase:

2009 Rule 5 Draft

  • Jamie Hoffman; OF, Drafted with the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft from Los Angeles Dodgers and immediately traded for Brian Bruney in a pre-arranged deal.  NY returned him to the Dodgers later that spring.   Bruney, meanwhile, immediately went to arbitration and lost with the team in the spring of 2010, was awful out of the gate, and the team outright released him before the end of May.   Verdict: failure, all the way around this transaction.

The team lost one player in this draft:

  • Zech Zinicola was drafted away from us by Toronto, who eventually returned him to the Nats without any Toronto appearances.  His selection was probably due to Dana Brown‘s hiring in Toronto, going from Washington’s Scouting Director to being a special assistant to the GM in Toronto.  Zinicola remained in our farm system until 2013, when he was released.

2010 Rule 5 Draft

  • Elvin Ramirez, RH reliever, drafted from the New York Mets: he was injured in spring training and spent the entirety of the season on the DL.  Interestingly, the team returned him to New York in October, long before they needed to, and with New York this year he made his way to the majors for some appearances.  If the team drafted him, why not keep him through spring training of 2012 to see if he was worth keeping?  It just seemed odd to give up on the draft pick while procedurally you could still keep him.  Verdict: failure.
  • Brian Broderick, RH Starting Pitcher, Drafted from St. Louis and stuck into the 2011′s bullpen as the long-man/mop-up guy.  He was awful, he was costing the team wins, and was eventually returned to St. Louis before May was out.   However, St. Louis waived him towards the end of 2012 and we picked him back up.  I projected him to be one of our AAA starters in 2013 but he struggled and ended the season in AA and likely will be cut loose this off-season. Verdict: failure.

The team lost one player in the 2010 draft:

  • The Phillies drafted Michael Martinez away from the Nats, and he stuck on their roster as a backup middle infielder.  His batting lines are awful though, and the Nats clearly had depth at middle infield at the time, so losing this player was not that big of a deal.  Even now, with his career .187 batting line, he couldn’t have helped us.

2011 Rule 5 Draft

The Nats did not take anyone for the first time in years, but had two players themselves taken.  Neither player drafted was a surprise; I posted at the time that I thought both these players should have been protected.

  • Brad Meyers (RH starting pitcher) was drafted by the New York Yankees, but he suffered an injury in spring training and was DL’d all year.  He was returned to the Nats and subsequently missed all of 2013 too.  I listed him as a “release candidate” in my 2014 rotation projections, not knowing if he’s healthy or if he can win a AAA rotation spot at this point with the talent we have matriculating upwards.
  • Erik Komatsu was drafted by St. Louis (in retaliation for our taking Broderick the previous year?), made their 2012 opening day roster, played for a while before being waived, got picked up by Minnesota, and by Memorial Day was returned to Washington in a whirlwind set of transactions.  I think he remains a minor league caliber player, with too little offense for a corner outfield position but not enough speed to play center.

2012 Rule 5 Draft

Again, the team did not select anyone but got poached for four players in the major and minor phase.

  • LHP Danny Rosenbaum was drafted by Colorado to take part in their unique rotation experiment (where guys work up to a certain pitch count each night).  Rosenbaum didn’t make the Rockie’s pitching staff out of spring training (somewhat an indictment of Rosenbaum’s skills; Colorado’s rotation was one of the worst in the majors in 2013) and he was returned to Nats.  As most readers here know, Rosenbaum toiled in AAA a full season, putting up good but not great numbers, and seems like he’s destined to repeat that season for us again in 2014.
  • Utility player Jeff Kobernus was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, traded to Tigers and then eventually returned to Nats.  Kobernus turned out to be quite the speedster, stealing nearly a base every other game in the minors and earned a call-up to the big team in 2013.  At this point the team must feel relatively lucky to have gotten Kobernus back, given his call-up and possible future role as a backup.
  • In the minor league phase, Nats draft bust Jack McGeary was taken by the Red Sox.  He threw 21 ineffective innings in short-A and low-A for Boston in 2013.  He’s from Boston, so it was a nice gesture, but it just doesn’t look like he’s ever going to recover from his arm issues.  Hey, at least he got his Stanford education and his bonus money.
  • The Dodgers poached Hector Nelo from the Nats AA team and stuck him on their own AA team … where he promptly made the all-star game again and had another excellent season.  I’ll be honest; I do not know the minor league rule-5 protection rules, but I wonder why an all-star player was exposed, no matter what his age.

2013 Rule 5 Draft

Once again, the team did not select anyone in the major league phase.  We did lose one player in the MLB phase:

  • Adrian Nieto was the 2nd overall pick in the major league phase, by the Chicago White Sox.  As commenters noted though, it seemed like an odd pick for the White Sox, who have a couple of younger developing catchers in their system.  Meanwhile Nieto has never played above A-ball but did  hit .285/.373/.449 this season.  Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher … even if he’s an old 24 in A-Ball.  I speculated in the comments of other posts that perhaps the White Sox just needed some catching help during the split squad games in 2014′s spring training, because the odds of Nieto sticking on a MLB roster for a full year seem incredibly slim.  I didn’t even mention him in my own pre-Rule5 analysis piece for all of this reasoning.  Its hard not to see him getting returned to the Nats by April 1st.

In the minor league phase, the Nats took a couple of players for organizational depth: Theo Bowe, a AA outfielder from Cincinnati and Martires Arias, a low-A right-hander from the New York Mets.  As mentioned above, these minor league acquisitions are essentially $12,000 purchases and the Nats now own these contracts.


Summary: we’ve drafted 10 guys in the MLB phase Rule 5 draft since 2005, and I’d classify 9 of the 10 draftees as eventual failures.  Not a great track record.  Plus its safe to say that most every player drafted FROM us has been a failure for the drafting team  (the exceptions perhaps being Martinez or possibly Nelo).  Clearly the Rule 5 draft isn’t a great way to reliably find players.  Why do we do so much analysis on it?  I dunno, because its fun?  Because its December and we’re desperate for Baseball news?  Fair enough :-)

 

Ladson’s Inbox 10/4/13

4 comments

Wouldn't it be nice to see Price in a Washington uniform?  photo unk via strikesportsnetwork.com

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Price in a Washington uniform? photo unk via strikesportsnetwork.com

Nothing like a Bill Ladson inbox to start off your week!  This one is dated 10/4/13 and was posted late friday.  As always I write my response here before reading his and edit questions for clarity and conciseness.  Here we go.

Q: This past season, Adam LaRoche had a .403 slugging percentage, which might fly at shortstop, but not at first base. Do you think that Tyler Moore is good enough to be in a platoon with LaRoche, or should the Nats go after someone like James Loney to start most of the time?

A: Adam LaRoche‘s season was a disappointment for sure.  In addition to the noted poor slugging percentage, I’ll give you two more interesting stats.  He posted a bWAR of 0.9 for the year, which is only slightly better than the bWAR of 0.7 posted by Billy Hamilton during his two weeks of base-running terror in September.  And he ranked 20th of qualified first basemen in the league in terms of fWAR for the year.  James Loney put himself in a position to get a decent contract this year, with a nice slash line, a 118 OPS+ and a 7.2 UZR/150 at first.  But Loney’s problem is that he just doesn’t hit for enough power.  The Nats need LaRoche’s power, and I think at this point they stick with what they have for one more year and hope he rebounds.   I don’t think Tyler Moore is ready for prime time and will continue to be a power RH bat off the bench.  Lastly; who is taking LaRoche off our hands if we decide to replace him?  We’d have to pay most of his salary, get little in return, and I just don’t see this management team doing that.  Ladson agrees.

Q: How does Ross Ohlendorf fit in with the Nationals’ future plans? I see him as a great No. 4 or 5 starter.

A:  Ross Ohlendorf is in an interesting spot.   He was signed as a MLFA this past off-season, but did not accrue enough service time to get to 5 full years, so I believe he’s still tied to the club.  He should be arbitration eligible, and (per springfieldFan’s big board work) seems to have 2 options left.  So, on the one hand he pitched pretty well for us and I’d definitely tender him a contract for 2014; he’ll be relatively cheap even through arbitration.  I see him competing for the 4th/5th with the other obvious candidates (Karns, Jordan, Detwiler, Roark), but his longer term history as a starter in 2011 and 2012 does not inspire confidence.  His new motion helped him to a 3-1 record with a 3.52 ERA in 7 starts this year, but ultimately I see him settling into a long-man role similar to what he had this year.  Ladson agrees; he’s arb eligible but doesn’t seem like he can stick as a starter.

Q: I feel like the Nationals should go after center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. How do you feel about that?

A: Nope.  Jacoby Ellsbury is a nice player, but I feel like he’s somewhat of a one-season wonder.  Look at his career homer records and tell me how he hit 32 in 2011 when he’s never hit more than 9 in any other season??  Doesn’t that outlier scream out PEDs?  Plus he can’t stay healthy; he missed 30 games this year, half of last year, basically all of 2010.  He’s a Scott Boras client who is already making noise about getting more for Ellsbury than he got for Carl Crawford.  Would you pay $150M for 7 years of Ellsbury??

But here’s the other thing; as with LaRoche, this team has a center fielder under contract for 2014!  If the Nats want to make a change in center they’ll be selling somewhat low on Denard Span.  Personally I wouldn’t mind putting Harper in center, acquiring a big bopper for left and adding some muscle to this lineup.  But I just don’t see Mike Rizzo doing that and admitting defeat on the Span acquisition.  Ladson points out that Span’s great finish means he’s clearly not in line to be replaced; organizationally they have to be hopeful that his 2014 will resemble more closely the end of 2013, not the middle.  Fair enough; I can get on that bandwagon.

Q: Have you noticed how similar the home run swings of Wilson Ramos and Andres Galarraga are? Every time Ramos goes yard, he reminds me of The Big Cat.

A: I had not noticed, but sure, whatever.  No real question here otherwise.  I like Ramos, and he’s finally showing signs of durability after an injury-plagued career.   This is the kind of hard-hitting question that Ladson is known for taking.

Q: Do you think the Nationals should go after another pitcher or two during the free agency period?

A: I think the Dan Haren experience may have scared them off the FA market for a bit.  And this coming off-season’s FA market for Starting Pitching is really thin.  After spending $13M each of the last two years for Haren and Edwin Jackson (and getting bWARs of -0.1 and 2.0 respectively) the Nats have to be thinking that there’s better ways to spend money.  I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see another deal similar to the Gio Gonzalez deal, where we package a slew of close-to-the-majors players together for one decent-to-good pitcher.   The problem would be finding such a team; Oakland’s current slate of young starters mostly struggled this year and none of them are arb-eligible yet.  Maybe Tampa lines up; not only do they have to deal with David Price‘s rising salary but Jeremy Hellickson is arb-eligible for the first time too.  Hellickson took a major step back though in 2013; would Tampa use this to their advantage and keep him at a lower arb-number for one more year instead of selling low?   Would you trade, say, Karns, Roark and Kobernus for Hellickson?  Too much?  Too little?  Ladson says he could see them going after a pitcher either on FA or in Trade.

Q: Will Jhonatan Solano be the backup catcher out of Spring Training or will the Nationals try to bring in someone else? 

A: This is one of the bigger questions for this team this coming off-season: do the Nats go into 2014 with Ramos and a minor league call-up as his backup, or do they go for a veteran backup?  I’m guessing they may go the veteran FA route; there’s a ton of catchers on the FA market this year.  Jhonatan Solano may have peaked as a player: his AAA slashline as a 27 yr old this year was .214/.245/.279.   He’s been bouncing between AA and AAA since 2009.   Sandy Leon seemed like he was the future answer, but he bottomed out this year too after looking great in 2012.   I’d go with a veteran backup (Kurt Suzuki is a FA …) and wait out the kids one more season.  Ladson thinks FA route.

Q: Do you think a new manager will be able to change the hitting philosophy of the team and play more small ball instead of over-swinging and trying for home runs all of the time?

A: Is that the perception of this team’s offense in 2013?  That they over-swing all the time?  I think they just don’t hit well in the clutch.  Small-ball is a century old concept mostly debunked by modern stats in the game as being out-dated strategy.  Honestly, I want a manager who stands up for his players, who keeps them in line, who isn’t afraid to order a bean-ball when it is called for, and who doesn’t come across as a feeble old man (sorry Davey Johnson; that’s how I interpreted your last season).  Ladson says the hitting has settled since the firing of Rick Eckstein and the hiring of Rick Schu. 

Q: I think that left-hander David Price would be the ideal arm to add to the Nationals’ rotation. If he is willing to agree to an extension, do you think that he would be a good fit for the Nationals?

A: Price would be a great fit on every team in the majors.   Duh.  The problem is extracting him from Tampa.  Tampa is shrewd, drives a hard bargain, and wants to win every trade.  They’re not exactly the best team to try to negotiate with.  We’ve had this argument on this site many times; what would it really take to get Price out of Tampa?  Giolito, Jordan, Kobernus and Rendon maybe?  Would you make that deal or is that too much?

Of course, that being said … ask yourself this; was starting pitching *really* the reason this team failed in 2013?  No I don’t think it was.  Yes, the team was 10-19 in Haren’s starts … even if they’d finished .500 in Haren’s starts they were still out of the WC game.  No; this team took a significant step backwards offensively.  So the way to fix that should be to address the offense.  Problem is; all 8 starting fielders are under contract or under team control for 2014.  What do you do?  Get a couple of bench guys who can hit?  How does that help?

Ladson punts with his patented ‘lets see what happens’ line.

 

Season Statistical Review of all Nats 2013 draft picks

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Jake Johansen led the Nats 2013 draft.  Photo via DBU website

Jake Johansen led the Nats 2013 draft. Photo via DBU website

Last year, minorleagueball.com’s John Sickels started a quick-hit review of every 2012 draft pick with snap judgements and quick stats.  I thought it was a great project, a nice little way to see how the draft picks were faring.  He petered out around the 17th round, and I took up his cause for just the Nationals picks and went through all 40 rounds at this link here.  Apparently 2012′s project was too much work for Sickels; he doesn’t seem to be doing it this year.  So I picked up the torch and did a Sickels-style analysis for all 40 of the Nats 2013 draft picks below.

(Note: stats are pulled from milb.com and/or fangraphs.com; put the player name into the search bar to get his seasonal stats).  MILB has nice consolidated seasonal stats while fangraphs has better advanced stats.  They do not include any playoff stats for those still playing after 9/2/13).

Finally, at the end of each writeup i’ll put in a color coded trending line for the player: Green for Trending UpBlue for Trending steadyred for Trending Down.   This is just my knee-jerk opinion of the prospect status of the player system-wide.  And yes I realize this is their first pro ball season, short-sample sizes, etc etc.

Without further ado:

Round 1: forfeited w/ Rafael Soriano signing, which as I noted in this June 2013 post cost the Nats a shot at one of several highly regarded pitchers drafted just behind our vacated spot.

Round 2Jake Johansen, Coll Sr. RH Starting Pitcher.  1-3, 1.92 ERA with 51/23 K/BB in 51 2/3 innings between Auburn and Hagerstown, 34 hits.  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 outperformed his poor college numbers somewhat, still walks too many batters, and still flashes a dominant fastball.  Scouts continue to believe he’ll end up in the bullpen, but until that situation presents itself Johansen will stay as a starter.  He seems like he’s bound for the opening day start in Hagerstown in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 3Drew Ward, HS 3B.  .292/.402/.387 with one homer, 25 walks, 44 strikeouts in 168 at-bats for the GCL Nats in the rookie league.  A good average and a great OBP, but where’s the power?  Ward was reported to have a ton of power coming up but his slugging was lower than his OBP.  He produced at a 142 wRC+ for the season, which is great, but I think he needs to show more power going forward.  That won’t be easy in his next stop; the stadium in Hagerstown is old and cavernous with huge walls; you earn every homer up there.  Trending Up.

Round 4Nick Pivetta, Juco RH Starting Pitcher.  1-1, 3.41 ERA with 18/12 K/BB in 29 innings between GCL and Short-A, 28 hits.  Pivetta started 8 games 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; bound for Hagerstown but seems like someone who may convert to short relief soon where he can maintain higher velocity in shorter outings.  Trending Steady.

Round 5Austin Voth, Coll Jr RH Starting Pitcher: 3-0, 1.75 ERA with 55/6 K/BB in46 1/3 innings between three levels, 33 hits.  You read that correctly; 55 to 6 strike out to walk ratio for this U of Washington product.   He pushed his way through two promotions on the season, ending up in the Hagerstown rotation.  Another interesting stat: 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.  He seems like an exciting draft find and should be in the Hagerstown rotation in 2014.  Trending Up.

Round 6Cody Gunter, Juco 3B.   .229/.294/.313 with 3 homers, 20 walks, 62 strikeouts in 214 at-bats for Auburn.   62 punchouts out of 214 at-bats; that’s more than 25%.  With so many Ks and so little power (.084 ISO), I’d be concerned about Gunter’s future at the corner.  Its possible he was just a bit young for Auburn as a 1st-year JuCo grad.  Trending down.

Round 7Jimmy Yezzo, Coll Jr 1B.  .267/.282/.342 with 2 homers, 5 walks, 37 strikeouts in 243 at-bats for Auburn.   Five walks in 243 at-bats??  That shows a pretty significant plate discipline issue.  Yezzo came to the Nats with such a good hitting reputation in a decent baseball conference (the CAA); what has happened?  Drafted as a first baseman, Yezzo needs to show some serious power improvement to continue at a spot which normally is where lesser defenders “end up” to keep their bat in the lineup.  Trending down.

Round 8David Napoli, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  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 could see him in Potomac in 2014 quickly turning into the next Ian Krol.  Trending up.

Round 9Jake Joyce, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  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).   Given the fact that Joyce was a senior sign for very little money, he could seem rather expendible if he doesn’t start strong in 2014.  Trending down.

Round 10Brennan Middleton, Coll Sr SS/2B.  Did not play an inning in 2013; I cannot find any details of the injury.  There are some reports that he injured his ankle towards the end of his senior season at Tulane; perhaps that injury carried over into the summer.  He signed for a pittance and was not highly regarded; he could struggle to make a team out of spring.  Trending down.

A quick note before continuing: you can see the effect very clearly of the new MLB draft rules by looking at the Nats draft picks here; our 8th,9th and 10th round guys signed for a combined $40,000 so the team could over-pay earlier in the draft.  We got mostly cheap guys, senior signs with zero leverage as we got closer to the 10th round and the production shows.   Then, starting at round 11 (where the slot per pick is a flat $100,000 and the signing bonus cap re-sets) we start to see more significant prospects get signed and coaxed out of remaining college eligibility.  Its almost as if we should treat the 8th-10th rounders as closer to 30th round picks, all things considered.

Round 11John Simms, Coll jr RH relief pitcher.  0-4, 5.70 ERA with 34/7 K/BB in 30 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 41 hits.  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.   Look for him in Hagerstown or Potomac’s bullpen, where shorter stints should allow him to maintain velocity.  Trending steady.

Round 12Andrew Cooper, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-1, 3.86 ERA with 16/7 K/BB in 25 2/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 29 hits.  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.  Trending steady.

Round 13John Costa, Juco RH relief pitcher.  Did not pitch an inning in 2013; he had Tommy John surgery in March and won’t be healthy until mid 2014.   Likely stays in the complex league until short-season starts, then heads to the rookie league.  Trending down.

Round 14David Masters, Juco SS.  .178/.246/.237 with 0 homers, 9 walks, 33 strikeouts in 152 at-bats for Auburn.  Masters showed little power, little hit tool in general.  He had a wRC+ of just 51 and slugged lower than his OBP.  He’s apparently a genius in the field though.  But, you’ve got to hit to advance.  If he’s the defensive whiz that the scouting reports say, then he may get another shot in 2014.  Note; as others have noted, Masters is a 2nd cousin to Mad Men star John Hamm.  I hope this wasn’t the reason we drafted him :-) .  Trending down.

Round 15Isaac Ballou, Coll Sr OF/CF.  .273/.381/.366 with 2 homers, 32 walks, 37 strikeouts in 238 at-bats mostly for Auburn.  Ballou was Auburn’s leading hitter by average and earned a promotion up to Hagerstown, where a 3/27 start dented his seasonal numbers.   No reason not to see him in low-A again starting in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 16Willie Allen, Juco Corner OF from Oklahoma/Newtown, MA.  Did not sign; I cannot find any reason; there’s a link to his hometown paper that seemed to indicate that he was ready to sign and report.   Perhaps something came up in his medicals.  Allen also does not appear to have transferred to a 4-year school.  Interesting question; how did a kid from Boston end up in an Oklahoma junior college program?

Round 17Geoff Perrott, Coll Sr C.  .308/.308/.308 in 12 at-bats for Hagerstown; Perrott was hurt most of the year and is providing late-season cover for the Suns’ playoff push.  A lost season for Perrott; hopefully he gets a chance to prove himself next season.  Trending down.

Round 18Cory Bafidis, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  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.   Too many walks for a relief pitcher, though, he’ll have to work on that.   He mostly worked in 2 inning stints and never got any looks at starting.  Trending steady.

Round 19Niko Spezial, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 3.32 ERA with 21/8 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 16 hits.  Spezial started the season with Auburn but got the quick demotion after just 3 1/3 relatively non-descript innings.  A college senior draftee, he did not belong in the rookie league.  Nonetheless he pitched effectively for the record-setting GCL Nats.  Spezial needs to show how he fares against someone his own age, which hopefully he’ll get a chance to do in 2014.  Trending steady.

Round 20Brenton Allen, Coll Jr Corner OF.   .186/.319/.271 with 1 homer, 15 walks, 31 strikeouts in 113 at-bats mostly for Auburn.  A disappointing pro debut for Allen, a 9th rounder out of HS who chose UCLA at the time.   Which makes his signing all the more curious; if he was a 9th rounder at one point, why sign for 20th round money?  Why not go back for your senior season to try to build draft value?  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll compete for a full season OF job in 2014 but will have to show a better hit tool.  Trending down.

Round 21Justin Thomas, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  1-0, 3.13 ERA with 28/3 K/BB in 23 IP split between FOUR levels.  Thomas was well traveled this summer; he started in the GCL, got promoted to Auburn, then again to Potomac before settling back in Hagerstown for the bulk of the 2nd half.   All he did in Hagerstown was post a 21/1 K/BB ratio in 15 2/3 innings.  His ERA was a bit inflated versus his low-A FIP (2.56) and he remains the sole member of his draft class to broach high-A on the year (even if it was just for a game or two).  He’s clearly a leading situational lefty candidate with his control and should feature for Potomac in 2014.  Trending up.

Round 22Cody Dent, Coll Sr SS.  .222/.310/.242 with 0 homers, 19 walks, 47 strikeouts in 153 ABs for Auburn.  A light hitting senior sign middle infielder who strikes out one out of every three times isn’t going to go far in this game unless he fields like Ozzie Smith.   What’s interesting is this: Dent is actually hitting BETTER than he did at Florida this year.  A blogger on fangraphs dug into the numbers and found that Dent had an amazingly low babip his senior year in college.  Trending down.

Round 23Garrett Gordon, Juco Corner OF.  .257/.356/.317 with 0 homers, 12 walks, 27 strikeouts in 101 ABs for the GCL Nats.   We’d hope for some more power here for the undersized Gordon; he’s listed as an outfielder but he caught in high school.  Perhaps he’s considering going back to the position.  Trending down.

Round 24Matt Derosier, Juco RH relief pitcher.  2-1, 2.43 ERA with 20/5 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 24 hits.   Derosier may have been a Juco guy but he’s young; he turned 19 in July of this year.  After a brief stint to start the season in Auburn he pitched in middle relief for the GCL Nats, getting at least 4 long enough stints to earn a “grade” in my monthly starter grades.   He posted good, solid numbers, nothing flashy, nothing bad.  A 4/1 K/BB ratio is great.  He’ll move up next year, looking to stick as a younger member of the bullpen in low-A.  One interesting point related to Derosier: despite his young age, he’ll achieve rule-5 eligibility as if he was a college draftee, so he could run out his eligibility when he’s in the very low-minors.   Trending up.

Round 25Travis Ott, HS LH starting pitcher.  3-0, 4.03 ERA with 32/12 K/BB in 29 innings in the GCL, 24 hits.  The rare mid-20s round high schooler who signs, Ott was used as a starter in the GCL and was mostly good all year.  His seasonal numbers were skewed by one bad outing where he gave up 6 earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in mid-July.  This tall, lanky left-hander (6’4″ 170lbs) seemingly has room to grow and is very young; he turned 18 at the end of June.  Looks like the Nats might have a find here.  Trending up.

Round 26Garrett Hampson, HS SS from Reno, NV.  Did not sign; honored committment to Long Beach State (as confirmed by a local media site as well as PerfectGame).  Hampson was a well regarded prospect  heading into the draft (BA had him #84) and may have been a typical casulty of the new MLB draft reality; unless you’re picked in the first couple rounds and will sign for slot, you’re dropping.

Round 27Bryce Harmon, HS LH starting pitcher from Richmond, VA.  Did not sign; honored committment to East Carolina University.  A big lefty clocked 87-91 but recruited by lesser baseball schools (per PerfectGame).

Round 28Joey Webb, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  2-0, 1.89 ERA with 25/6 K/BB in 19 innings in the GCL, 13 hits.   A college senior who turns 23 in a few weeks pitching in the rookie league?  The definition of “too old for the level.”  But, Webb comes from a very small baseball school (NAIA’s Menlo College in California) and may not have been ready to compete with a bunch of Division I guys in Short-A.   Webb has almost no baseball pedigree (PerfectGame doesn’t even have a profile of him) so he’ll have to earn it going forward.  Trending steady.

Round 29Mike Sylvestri, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.  3-1, 5.40 ERA with 14/9 K/BB in 18 innings split between Short-A and the Rookie league.  Sylvestri started in Auburn, got shelled (12 runs in 8 2/3 innings) then threw a shutout in the rookie league (9 2/3 innings, 9 hits, zero runs).   He’s undersized (5’10″, 180) and could have trouble getting out of rookie ball (as evidenced by his short-A experience).  May not be long for the organization.  Trending down.

Round 30Ryan Ullmann, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher.  3-2, 4.74 ERA with 38/13 K/BB in 49 1/3 innings, 64 h its.  Ullman, like Webb, started in the rookie league being a senior coming from an NAIA (small).   By the end of the season, Ullmann 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.  Trending down.

Round 31Willie Medina, Coll Sr SS.  .228/.315/.237 with 0 homers, 9 walks, 24 strikeouts in 114 ABs for the GCL Nats.   A .552 OPS playing as a 22-yr old in the rookie league is disappointing.  Medina may struggle to make it out of Viera next spring.  Trending down.

Round 32Pat Boling, Coll Jr LHP: Did not sign, chose to return to U. of Georgia for his senior season.  Bolling missed all of the 2012 season with an injury and redshirted, then had an uneven 2013 season (going from weekend starter to bullpen guy).   Probably looking to either complete his degree or try to compete for a full time starter job a year removed from injury in 2014.

Round 33Andrew Dunlap, HS C/RHP from Houston.  Did not sign.  Honoring a committment to Rice University.  Research on Dunlap finds an interesting story; he apparently went to 3 different  high schools all told (he moved around b/c because at the time he was a catcher and was blocked at the varsity level), was committed to Texas Tech at one point but then de-committed when he decided to become a pitcher and discovered he could hit 95-96 on the mound, transferred again and tried to gain a 5th year of high school eligibility, apparently failed, and had no “team” to play for this past spring.  Nonetheless, he had multiple offers for scholarships (Rice, UNC and U San Diego) before going to Rice.  BA did a Q&A feature on him in Feb 2013, so I’m guessing he was supposed to go much higher than the 33rd round.

Round 34Jake Walsh, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  0-0, 1.40 ERA with 17/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings closing in the Rookie League.  Promoted to Hagerstown on 9/3/13 to provide lefty bullpen coverage in the playoffs.    He was probably too old and too experienced for the rookie league but showed enough promise to get a two-level call-up for the post-season.  Lets see how he does in 2013, likely as a situational lefty/closer for Hagerstown.  Trending up.

Round 35Lukas Schiraldi, Juco RHP from Texas.  Did not sign.  The son of Calvin Schiraldi, Lukas was a 2nd year All-American Juco pitcher ranked #162 by Baseball America who has decided to transfer to U Texas Austin (like his father) instead of signing.   Understandible; if Schiraldi succeeds for Texas next spring, he’ll come into the 2014 draft as a high-powered college junior with much better earning potential.

Round 36Reid Humphreys, HS SS from Missouri.  Did not sign.  Honoring committment to Mississippi State.  Humphreys was the 2013 “Mr. Baseball” for the state of Missouri.  He is also the brother of the Nationals’ own Tyler Moore, who also was Mr. Baseball for Missouri and also attended Mississippi State.

Round 37Karsten Whitson, RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign, returning to U Florida for his senior/4th year.   Whitson is an interesting story.  He was San Diego’s 1st round pick (9th overall) in 2010 and was drafted just behind Matt Harvey and just ahead of Chris Sale.  In a move that surprised the Padres, Whitson refused to sign for slightly above-slot money and chose to go to school, turning down a $2.1M offer.    After a great freshman year, Whitson struggled with arm pain his sophomore year and turned to Dr. James Andrews this past spring, performing a “cleanup” surgery on his shoulder to alleviate an “impingement” and costing him the whole season.  Clearly Whitson needs to return to school and complete a full healthy season to regain draft value, so I don’t entirely understand this pick.  Maybe the Nats wanted to see if Whitson wanted to sign and rehab with the team as opposed to on his own (they did something similar with Robert Orlan last year).  But that would have made no sense for Whitson; he’s already in college on scholarship; why would he possibly have signed for round 37 money at this point in his career?

For me Whitson confirms what Keith Law always says when it comes to significant bonus money; take the money; you can always go back to college if you wash out of the minors.  But you just never know what may happen; if Whitson suffers another injury or performs badly next spring, he’ll be lucky to be offered $10k and will really wish he’d have taken that life-changing $2M bonus.  When proposed with this scenario, my wife says “I want my kid to go to college” but the reality is this; that money may not ever be there again, and the kid can always go to college later.  You have to take it if it is there.

Round 38Caleb Hamilton, HS SS from Washington State.  Did not sign; honoring committment to U of Washington.  Seems like Washington’s area scout liked Hamilton, so they made an impression on the kid and drafted him late.

Round 39Robbie Tenerowicz, HS 2B/SS from California.  Did not sign; honoring committment to UC Berkeley.  He looks like an excellent Oakland-area product staying close to home.  Made the Area Code team and was on some all-american lists.  The Nats have drafted two middle infielders from Cal lately (Kobernus and Renda) so perhaps Tenerowicz will be a third in a few years.

Round 40Shaun Anderson, HS RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign; honoring committment to U of Florida.  Baseball America had a nice little writeup on the 2013 draft’s Mr. Irrelevant.

Ask Boswell 5/20/13 Edition

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The drum is banging for Espinosa's benching. Photo AP Photo/Nick Wass

Another week, another set of disappointing results for our weary Nats (losing two games in San Diego?  come on), coupled with a troubling set of injuries, and Nats fans are a bit nervous.  Lets see what kind of questions Tom Boswell got in his weekly chat, 5/20/13 edition.

As always, I write a response here before reading his, and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: You can have Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann for the next eight years, but only one. Which do you pick?

A: Has it come to this for poor Stephen Strasburg?   As I pointed out in this space last week, Strasburg isn’t any worse or different of a pitcher right now; he’s just been really unlucky this year.  Despite Jordan Zimmermann‘s dominance so far in 2013, I still think Strasburg has better stuff and a  higher ceiling.  I’d still go with Strasburg.  Boswell also goes with Strasburg based on age and the last three years stats.

Q: Nick Markakis has proven to be a solid veteran but, possibly due to injuries, not the star the Orioles envisioned when they gave him the big contract extension. Do you think this may be Ryan Zimmerman’s fate?

A: Great question.  Nick Markakis has been injury plagued … but only the last two years.  Before that he was very solid, rarely missed a game, and had some really good numbers.   Ryan Zimmerman only has managed to play three full seasons and has missed significant time in 5 others.  Zimmerman is being paid a 9 figure salary but may not really be a 9-figure player honestly.  I’ll freely admit; after injuries and now his arm issue, i’ve really fallen off the Zimmerman bandwagon.  So yes, in a way I agree with the questioner.  Boswell sort of agrees too.

Q: Is it time to really worry about the Nats? The most errors in the majors, the hitting remains spotty at best, and they can’t score enough runs to win when their best pitchers give extra-quality starts.

A: I’m definitely worried.  They should have swept the Cubs.  There’s no dishonor in losing to two Aces in Los Angeles (Kershaw and Greinke), but then to come to San Diego and lose to a no-name journeyman in Eric Stults and a rookie in Andrew Cashner (no matter now promising he may be), is troublesome.  They now travel to San Francisco with no pitching advantage in any of the three games and look like they could easily get swept the way they’re hitting.  Of course, that being said, I must also remind myself of my 4/24/13 post that talked about our very tough early schedule … and remind myself that the Nats go 8 weeks in June and July without playing a playoff team.  So we just have to scuffle around .500 until then.   I’ll say this though; if we don’t go somthing like 20-8 in June, we’ll have different issues.  Boswell says its May 20th, relax (paraphrasing :-) )

Q: I’m puzzled by his use of the bullpen. Last year, every guy seemed to get an inning or two of work every few days. (Of course, last year every guy was also reliable.) The postgame analysis yesterday talked about how rusty they were and chalked it up to the starters going long. To me, it seems more about the relievers being brought in (or not) at all the wrong times. Thoughts?

A: Ah, a question after my own heart.  I have complained about Davey Johnson‘s management of the bullpen twice this year already, after both Detwiler and Gonzalez had excellent efforts wasted when they got pulled too early.  I’m just not getting the bullpen usage at all.  In Johnson’s defense, he just hasn’t had enough blowouts (wins or losses) in order to really get his fringe guys work.  Zach Duke has exactly 2/3s of an inning this entire MONTH.   Stammen may be our best reliever and he’s only getting one appearance a week right now.  Henry Rodriguez got only his second appearance in May in yesterday’s blow out.  So yes, that’s nearly half his bullpen that is inarguably rusty.  In some ways its a good problem to have; it means their starters have been going deep and there’s not been a need for 6th and 7th innings of work.   Rodriguez has brought his inactivity upon himself frankly, but I think Stammen needs some of these later inning stints right now.  Boswell agrees that the bullpen management has been poor this year.

Q: Is it acceptable for a manager or GM to tell a player that he is not a switch hitter at the big league level? Espinosa has always looked better from the right side of the plate. Career he is .221 from left side and .264 from right. Considering his struggles, maybe someone should tell him he’s a right handed batter. No shame in that after all.

A: A great question, one that continues to follow Danny Espinosa. He has not “turned the corner” in 2013 as some had hoped; instead he’s bottomed complete out.  A 90-100 OPS+ figure is ok if you’re hitting for power; this year he’s sitting at a 33 OPS+ with an embarassing slash line.  June 1st I think the hammer comes down and Espinosa goes to the bench in favor of Steve Lombardozzi. That being said, Lombardozzi isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire either right now, so maybe both guys sit in favor of Anthony Rendon or maybe even a call-up Jeff Kobernus, who has been hitting well in AAA.  As for the question in hand; can a GM “tell” a player to stop switch hitting?  Probably not; Espinosa has presumably never faced a top-level right hander from the right side; I’d have to think that forcing him to stop switch hitting would make him even worse.  At the very least that change happens in the off-season/spring training, not in the middle of a slump.  Boswell posts a very eloquent answer about what the team may do with Espy/Lombo but doesn’t answer the core question.  Maybe it isn’t answerable.

Q: Nats pitchers giving away Stolen Bases: This is getting ridiculous. It has been a serious problem since last year, known to everyone. Didn’t anyone of the pitching staff work on this in the off-season?

A: The coaching staff said they did.  I havn’t really noticed.  Lets runs some quick numbers out of Baseball-Reference.com:

2012 Starter SBs SBs CSs SB%
Strasburg 14 2 88%
Gonzalez 12 1 92%
Zimmermann 10 2 83%
Jackson 7 5 58%
Detwiler 3 2 60%

Yes, the rotation last year generally speaking was not holding runners on.

2013 Starter SBs to 5/20/13
Strasburg 5 1 83%
Gonzalez 2 2 50%
Zimmermann 5 1 83%
Haren 2 0 100%
Detwiler 1 0 100%
2013 Starter SBs extrapolated full season
Strasburg 18.3 3.7 83%
Gonzalez 7.3 7.3 50%
Zimmermann 18.3 3.7 83%
Haren 7.3 0.0 100%
Detwiler 3.7 0.0 100%

So, Strasburg isn’t appreciably improving in this regard, but Gonzalez has really worked on it.  Zimmermann looks about the same.  Haren is not quite as good historically as Jackson at holding runners, but the variations in the factors may have something to do with that as well.  All in all, I don’t think its as bad as it was last year.  Boswell’s answer verbatim: “They worked on it. They ain’t fixed it.”

Q: Just looking at Strasburg’s pitching in comparison to other elite speedballers in the league and I find one glaring item: the speed of his pitches in relation to the fastball . His off-speed pitches seem to hover too close to his fastball. Verlander, Wainwright, Kershaw, et.al., all throw 90′s fastballs, 70-85 curve and change-ups. Is this something that is missing from his arsenal?

A: Is this true?  Lets do a little Pitch F/X analysis.  All these numbers are average speeds for the pitch type for 2013 only for the pitchers named in the question plus a handful of other hard-throwers:

(Quick glossary lesson for pitch F/X: FA = 4-seam fastball.  FT = 2-seam fastball.  SI = Sinker, usually ends up being the same thing as a FT.  CU=Curve, SL=Slider, CH=Change up and FC = Cut-Fastball).

FA FT/SI CU SL CH FC FA-CU Delta FA-CH Delta
Strasburg 95.5 95.3 79.7 88.1 15.8 7.4
Samardzija 94.9 94.3 82.9 83.3 91.1 12 11.6
Harvey 94.7 94.4 82.3 89.1 86.4 12.4 8.3
Zimmermann 93.7 93.6 77 86 86.6 16.7 7.1
Verlander 93.5 93.3 78.7 85.3 86.7 14.8 6.8
Darvish 93 92.7 66.7 81.8 86.9 89.3 26.3 6.1
Kershaw 92.5 73.6 84.5 85 18.9 7.5
Hernandez 91.1 91.4 80.5 84.2 88.7 91.9 10.6 2.4
Wainwright 90.9 90.6 74.9 83.7 87.3 16 7.2

Strasburg’s delta between his curve and his fastball is 15.8.  That’s an almost identical delta to Wainwright and is better than Verlander.  Kershaw‘s delta is ridiculous, but his curve is also his signature pitch.  Meanwhile Darvish‘s curve is almost comedically slow and he rarely throws it.   Strasburg’s Fastball-Change up delta is also very consistent with the top pitchers in the league, and is “better” than the likes of Verlander and Darvish.

So, I’m calling BS on this question.  I don’t see any problem with Strasburg’s arsenal or the delta between his pitches.  He throws a ridiculous, unhittable 88 mph circle change that breaks a foot; ask yourself whether or not MLB hitters want to see that pitch right after the see him hump it up to 98mph.  Boswell says his stuff is fine and give some similar numbers, including some Vertical and Horizontal pitch F/x discussion that I only alluded to.

Q: What Logic did Davey have leaving both Haren and Mattheus in past their effectiveness. Haren? Well okay, sometimes he shapes up as the game goes on. HOWEVER! Leaving Mattheus in for that long when he kept getting pinged and dinged was ridiculous! Was this essentially a forfeit to save the bullpen for when Duke pitches tonight?

A: The chances of a team overcoming a 6-7 run deficit are astronomically low.  So much so that most teams just go into autopilot once a big enough lead is opened up by either team.  That’s why there’s so many “unwritten rules” regarding doing things with big leads; guys are mentally checked out and just trying to avoid the embarassment.  The same can be said for bullpen use.  Once one guy gets hammered, if the next guy does too you just kind of throw in the hat and just let guys work it out.  What use would it have been to replace Mattheus after the Padres had scored 12 runs?  You let the guy work on his craft, get some innings in, and move on to the next game.   Boswell says, yes this was basically Johnson giving up.

Q: Boz, my 13-year-old is convinced that the Nats are finished (and that he could play second base better than Danny Espinosa, but that is another story). Baseball seasons are long, and Dad is confident but quietly getting concerned with the way the records look in the NL that a second-place finish in the NL East will not result even in a wild card. At this point in the season, what things do we really know with certainty about this team?

A: What do we know?  I think we know the following:

  • We still have 4 very good starters (Gio will get it back and post another 120 ERA+ season).
  • We know Haren is a weakness
  • We know Harper is no one-season wonder and is improved.
  • But we also know that Harper has not been the same since his first injury scare about a month ago.
  • We know we have some issues on defense and in the bullpen, and have all year.
  • We know our schedule gets easier.
  • But we also know that the Braves have cooled off and despite our iffy run we’re just a couple games out of first place in our own division.
  • I don’t trust either Pittsburgh, Arizona or Colorado to continue to play even .500 ball, so I’m not worried about a 2nd wild card coming from a weird place.
  • And lastly, we know there’s a lot of baseball to be played.

Boswell talks about our starters and Harper, and the re-iterates my last point.  There’s 100 games to play!

Q: Did the addition of Soriano contribute to Storen’s struggles?

A: I think it had to; after a demoralizing game 5 loss the team replaces you and demotes you in the off-season.  Wouldn’t you struggle in your job if that happened to you?  I think we’ve talked about this before so I won’t go into great detail.  Boswell’s heart wasn’t in the answer either; he just noted that Storen’s first save since his Game 5 meltdown was this week.

Q: Seems like you left out what may be the sanest idea for the Nats’ offensive woes in your column: move Rendon to second base permanently and call him at the All Star break if he’s still mashing at AA and Espinosa still can’t hit a slow pitch softball.

A: He did, but I didn’t; see above.  Boswell admits this is eventually going to be an option.



No takers for Carlos Rivero plus Rule-5 returns

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Carlos Rivero snuck through waivers and stays with the organization. Photo Brad Barr/US Presswire via bleacherreport.com

Great news 3/25/13: the Nats exposed Carlos Rivero to waivers, got no takers and he was outrighted to AAA Syracuse over the weekend.

I know he didn’t have the greatest numbers this spring (8-for-47 for a meager .170 BA), but he seems like he could be a valuable utility guy in a pinch, able to play multiple positions both in the infield and outfield.   I liked what I saw from him in limited TV time this spring.  I’m glad he made it through waivers and remains an option in our farm system for at least this year.

He also clears a spot off the 40 man, leaving us sitting at 38/40.  Plenty of room to make moves if need be.  But not a ton of manuverability; of the 38 guys remaining, you can only really make a case for Corey Brown as being relatively expendible/likely to pass through waivers.  If we get a slew of injuries like last season that cause us to do mass call-ups, we may have to heavily depend on the 60-day DL.

Meanwhile, another year of Rule-5 complaining (see here and here) has essentially proven once again to be wasted breath; both Jeff Kobernus and Danny Rosenbaum have been returned to the team.   Kobernus still seemingly sits behind Steve Lombardozzi, Anthony Rendon and Wil Rhymes on the team’s 2nd base depth chart, meaning we’d have to have a pretty bad slate of injuries for him to sniff the majors this year.  But, it is nice to have him back, considering his draft pedigree and bonus money investment.  Rosenbaum was our AA Ace last year and started out with ace-like stuff, but struggled in the 2nd half.  Given that the team suddenly has a slew of starter arms in AAA (especially if Chris Young sticks around, though he probably walks), perhaps we’ll see Rosenbaum starting in AA again.  Not likely though; would you rather challenge Rosenbaum in AAA or give another year of starts to someone like Tanner Roark at this point?

Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.