Nationals Arm Race

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

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Braves at Nats: this is the 2018 season-deciding series

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Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

Can Milone get another win? Photo: Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images/milb.com

So, despite winning 5 of 6 over the past week against two teams that havn’t really been trying for years, the Nats …. failed to make up a single game on Philly and head into the Atlanta series 6 games out.

That’s because Philly was also playing a team that isn’t really trying (Miami), and just finished off a nifty 4-game sweep at home.

But hey, at least the Nats scored 3 touchdowns in a game, driving their RS/RA average so far up that now by Pythagorean record they’re leading the division by two games!  You know, in that fantasy world of stat nerds that nobody cares about but which I’ve been guilty of pointing at myself and saying, “See!  they’re just unlucky and will win more soon!”

So here it is.  I’ve already basically written off the season … but hey, maybe if the team plays a 22-7 August … and both Atlanta and Philly scuffle along at .500 … they can get close.  But to play a 22-7 august … they need to take 3 of 4 against Atlanta this week.

Here’s the pitching match-ups they’ll go to war with:

  • Game 1: Max Fried versus Jefry Rodriguez.  Hmm.  Not a good start, having to call up a guy who has now fallen behind Tommy Milone on the depth chart.  I see the Braves jumping out to a quick 4 run lead and the “veteran leadership” packing it in early to regroup for the nightcap.
  • Game 2: Sean Newcomb vs Max Scherzer.  Scherzer will probably be unhittable, but Newcomb nearly threw a no-hitter against the Dodgers his last time out.  I see this as a close Nats win.
  • Game 3: Mike Foltynewicz vs Tommy Milone: Atlanta’s best pitcher in 2018 versus the Nats … #10 starter?  #9?  Foltynewicz has already started against the Nats four times, throwing a 2-hit shutout against them in June (albeit in Atlanta).  Odds are he’ll give up a few runs on the road against the Nats … can Milone keep up his magic show?
  • Game 4: Anibel Sanchez vs Gio Gonzalez.  Sanchez has been pretty good.  Gio has not.   Any guesses how I think this one will go?

So, you squint at these match-ups and … well a series split seems like an optimistic outcome.  Frankly, I could see just winning the Scherzer start and the other starters getting bombed by Atlanta’s youthful, powerful lineup.

The Phillies head to Arizona (tough), then to San Diego (not so tough) … but a 2-2 or even a 1-3 series here could really spell the end of it.

how are you feeling, heading into this series?

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 6th, 2018 at 4:33 pm

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

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"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.

Panic time for 2018

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The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

The time has come to officially panic, both about Harper and this team. Photo via ftw/usatoday

I’ve certainly been among those making excuses for this team, and for players on the team, for a while now.   These points are true:

  • They are better than their pythagorean record; by runs scored versus runs against, they should be 45-39, in 2nd place ahead of the luckier Phillies but still 5 games back of the surprising Braves.
  • They’ve been incredibly unlucky in one run and extra inning games.  This is a direct input to the pythag record; they’re 8-16 in one run games and 2-4 in extra innings.  Both the teams ahead of them in the NL east have wildly better one-run records (13-6 and 18-7 respectively)
  • They’ve been just slaughtered with injury, at various times this year leading the NL in total players on the D/L and total man-games lost.
  • They’ve experienced a complete gutting of last year’s middle of the order, with Ryan Zimmerman disappearing for weeks on end with little-to-no idea when he’d come back, Daniel Murphy taking nearly half a season to recover from his surprise off-season knee injury, and Bryce Harper putting up one of his worst seasons … clearly pressing, expanding his zone and being amazingly unlucky in terms of BABIP thus far this season.

To add insult to injury, #2 starter Stephen Strasburg threw his annual arm injury into play early this year, our mid-rotation guys have struggled, and our #5 starters keep going down with injury.

What else is true?  This is a team that’s kinda old; average age 29.1 (which is only 10th), but which is helped greatly by the presence of youngest-guy-in-the-league Juan Soto.  And Old teams get hurt, a lot.  Meanwhile  young teams (like Atlanta at 5th youngest and Philly who are the absolute youngest teams) don’t get hurt a lot.

This season is starting to remind me of a couple of past seasons:

  • 2012, when the Nats were significantly improved from 2011 and took the league by storm, frankly, a year before they thought they would.  To me, this is the 2018 Braves.   The Braves only won 72 games last year; now they’re on a pace to win 94 games.  That’s a massive difference year over year and they’re doing it with almost  no off-season moves; all internal.
  • 2015, when the Nats themselves showed similar season-long malaise and only came to life at the end of the season when it was too late and all they managed to do was cost themselves draft position the next year.

So what now?  They just finished a relatively brutal section of the schedule, playing a ton of AL East teams.  AL teams are bad match-ups for any NL team thanks to the DH’s impact on roster construction … even if they’re playing a crummy AL team like Tampa or Baltimore.  But to face off against the likes of Boston and New York, who are juggernauts, with a sputtering offense and missing a couple of key arms … well its no surprise to me they got swept.

The next 3 weeks will be the season.  They have 3 series against poor teams where they should be able to go 8-3 or 9-2 if they’re a legit team.  The should get at least one arm back in Hellickson and maybe Fedde can be replaced like for like with the surprising Jefry Rodriguez until Strasburg shows back up.   Then we have to hope for a post-all star game bump and take it to Atlanta in the first season post ASG to make up some ground.

Now, what does this team have going for it?

  • Harper just cannot continue to hit this badly; at some point he should have a solid month.
  • This team was dominant in May; it can play .600 ball when it needs to
  • Strasburg returns likely after the ASG
  • The Nats have one of the easiest remaining schedules in baseball; slightly easer than Philly and significantly easier than Atlanta.   The Nats have no more interleague games either.
  • Furthermore, the Nats have already done all their West Coast trips; their worst remaining road trip is to Colorado the last series of the season.   Both their NL East competitors still have big west coast trips to make.

So the big question is this: can this team get it together a little now, a little in August and put themselves in a position to take back the division?   If they scuffle and go just .500 between now and the ASG … then no way.

 

 

Written by Todd Boss

July 5th, 2018 at 11:18 am

Nats Pitching depth to now be tested…

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It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Well, we can’t really seem to go a season without a Stephen Strasburg injury … and this annual affair hit us over the weekend, with Strasburg looking ineffective, getting pulled, going for an MRI and quickly hitting the 10-day D/L with “right shoulder inflammation.”

This comes on the quick heels of two other SP issues for this team:

  • miracle MLFA off-season signing Jeremy Hellickson yanking his hamstring and exiting precisely one batter into his friday start, also hitting the D/L.
  • Off-season SP depth re-signing Edwin Jackson opting out of his minor league deal and departing the team (he signed with Oakland soon after).

So, it seemed like we could stand the absence of Hellickson thanks to the schedule over the next week and a half (plenty of off-days and no need for a 5th starter), and since his injury is listed as “mild” meaning he may only miss the minimum time … but with the loss of Strasburg we’ll need to reach into our depth.  So who’s getting the call?

(oh, btw on top of this, on 6/9/18 Brandon Knitzler strained his forearm and seems likely to be at least unavailable for a bit, if not on his way to the D/L too, so they’re needing reinforcements stat.  He was officially put on the D/L just after posting this on 6/10/18, resulting in both Trevor Gott and Wander Suero getting their tickets for a DC return…).

We’ve now seen all three of our non-active roster 40-man starters get MLB action this year … and they looked promising enough to have the loss of Jackson or even the presence of Tommy Milone in AAA seem like after-thoughts.  So who gets the call to cover for Strasburg?  Options:

  1. Erick Fedde: got one spot-start this year and looked solid: he gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3rds but pitched a lot better than his stat line.  He hasn’t looked as great for Syracuse; a 4.76 ERA and a 1.48 whip showing how he’s giving up too many base-runners.  Do you believe what you saw in the majors, or look at his AAA line for the year?  His most recent start: in Gwinnet, 5 1/3, 2runs, 9Ks but 10hits allowed.
  2. Austin Voth: has turned his career around, going from “next guy to get DFA’d” to a MLB call-up earlier this year (he did not appear).  His AAA ERA of 4.35 is a bit inflated; he’s giving up less than a hit/inning.  He had two bad outings in a row just after his call up/send-back, giving up 12 ER in 2 innings … but his last out ing (6/6/18) was stellar; 7IP, 4hits, 6Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs.  That’s the kind of stat line GMs like to see.
  3. Jefry Rodriguez: he was thrown into action when Hellickson went down and did awesome: 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut.  Can’t ask for more than that.  He’s been good for AA Harrisburg this year; 12 starts, 3.57ERA, a bit wild though (24 walks in 63 innings).  Its interesting that he’s gotten MLB time but has yet to get pushed to AAA; perhaps they’re waiting for the typical Nats mid-season shuffle.  His most recent outing?  6/9/18: 5ip, 1 hit and just 65 pitches thrown (a hint?  why would he have gotten  yanked so quickly?)

You have to think it’ll be Fedde first.  Maybe what they do is promote Fedde, move Rodriguez to AAA.  Then if you need a second starter … it seems like Rodriguez has jumped Voth in the pecking order and is next in line.

It isn’t a very opportune time for this sudden loss of their second ace; their next nine games are AL East interleague play … which will be tough games even though both Toronto and Baltimore are struggling.  After that they get 6 games versus Philly interspersed with five more AL East games (including three at home against Boston) … so this might be a pretty crucial stage for this team.  Lets hope our depth stands up.

Minor League Staffs – one month check-in

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Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com official

Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com official

I havn’t been doing regular check-ins with the minor league staffs for a few years, but I have always maintained little “cheat sheet” notes on the staffs of the levels day in/day out (thanks in no small part to the daily work of Luke Erickson over at Nationals Prospects of course).

It occurred to me, doing updates this week, that the four full season rotations have been about as stable as I can ever remember them this year.  So I thought i’d do a quick swing through the four staffs, with quick notes on who has looked good or bad and what we may see in terms of movement going forward.

Syracuse (stats link here: http://web.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&cid=552&stn=true&sid=t552)

  • Opening day rotation: Voth, Milone*, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • Current rotation: Milone*, Voth, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • spot starts/swingman: Simms, Goforth
  • bullpen: Collins*, Cordero, CSmith, Miller, Adams, Valdez
  • promotions: Torres, Gott, Suero
  • up-and-back: Adams, Voth
  • demotions: Long,
  • dl/restricted/TIL: Barrett, Satterwhite

Rotation thoughts: A month in and the only change we’ve seen to the AAA rotation was the flipping of Milone and Voth thanks to Voth’s brief call-up earlier this week.  Voth has absolutely re-made his career so far this year, going from possible “first man to be DFA’d” off the 40-man to a guy who is forcing his way into the conversation the next time the Nats need a starter.  For May he’s posted a 0.76 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, has a 30/3 K/BB ratio in 23 innings and has given up just 13 hits.  Man, is he found gold for a team who has traded away an awful lot of pitching prospects over the past couple of seasons?

The veteran insurance policies Jackson and Milone are both pitching about as I’d expect them to be: Milone slightly better, with better base-runner control, Jackson with more wildness and worse stats.   Erick Fedde has not been either good or bad, giving up a hit an inning and maintaining a 4-1 K-BB ratio but not showing any real dominance.  My guess is that he’ll be sticking in AAA for a while.

The last guy in the rotation may be the most interesting: Cesar Vargas was a low-key spring MLFA signing after bouncing around San Diego’s system last year.  He’s come out in 2018 looking serviceable and might be putting himself ahead of the veterans in the pecking order.

Bullpen thoughtsJohn Simms has looked great in a long-man role.  He’s quietly been serviceable at every level in his journey upwards and you have to wonder if he’ll eventually push for a 9/1 call up.  Most of the rest of the bullpen is too SSS to make real judgements, though we have seen three relievers get pushed to the majors right now (Torres, Gott, Suero) and fourth who was up and is now in AAA (Adams).  Cordero still shows the same issues that have plagued him for a while; he’s got 16/8 K/BB in 11 innings.  Barrett remains  with the system and we hope he can get back to his former self; he’d certainly help out at the MLB level.

Who is making a push for promotion?  Voth

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Smith, Cordero


 

Harrisburg (stats = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=547)

  • Opening day rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Darnell*,  LReyes, Estevez
  • Current Rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Long, LReyes, Estevez
  • spot starts/swingman: AWilliams, Darnell*
  • bullpen: Fleck, Guillon*, BHarper*, RMendez, Self,  Ames
  • promotions: Valdez
  • dl/restricted: Brinley, Bacus
  • Missing from 2017: NLee*

Rotation thoughts: The only substantive change in the rotation from the first pass through was to replace Darnell with Long.  Dragmire and Jefry Rodriguez  have both excelled thus far, though Rodriguez’s stats look more like a guy who might be pressing for promotion (more Ks, fewer hits).  Dragmire is showing more of what he displayed last year at AA and he may need the additional challenge of AAA soon.  Estevez and Reyes are not faring as well thus far, with elevated ERAs and WHIPs.  And Long, upon his demotion from AAA, has been poor in his three AA starts, with just 6 punch-outs and a 1.85 WHIP in 13 innings.  Rodriguez seems like the first starter in line for promotion.

Bullpen thoughts:  Austen Williams has looked great since getting moved out of the rotation.  Kaleb Fleck has some interesting stats: he’s got an 18/1 K/BB ratio in 10 innings but has an ugly 5.91 ERA (I’m sure his FIP is like 3 points lower).  Fleck is too good for AA; he spent all last  year in AAA and isn’t proving anything here.  Bryan Harper‘s return from injury is going ok .. he’s got nearly a 2.00 WHIP though.  Long serving Nats farmhand Dakota Bacus got shelled in four appearances and currently sits on the D/L; he had excellent numbers in 2017 but is getting a bit long in the tooth for AA and I wonder if he’s running out of time.  One big name still sits in XST: Nick Lee, who looked promising before injuries derailed his progress.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Fleck, JRodriguez, AWilliams

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Bacus



Potomac

(stats link: http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=436)

  • opening day rotation: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, Mapes, Crowe
  • starters: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, ?, Crowe
  • spot starts/swingmen: Pantoja, Howard*, Guilbeau*, McGowin
  • bullpen: JMills*, Bourque, Klobosits, RPena, Peterson, Rivera
  • demotions: Fuentes
  • dl/restricted: Borne*, Mapes
  • Missing: Romero*

Rotation thoughts: The only change to the opening day rotation literally happened yesterday, with Mapes dropping to the D/L and (likely)  McGowin (freshly taken off the AA D/L and demoted to Potomac) likely to take his place.  Mapes has the best starter ERA … but the worst WHIP.  Crownover may have the nicest looking stat line, with a nifty 28/4 K/BB ratio and solid peripherals.  Perhaps the most important high-A arm may be Wil Crowe and so far he’s more than handling high-A; the 2017 2nd rounder  has a great whip, good ratios and is looking like an excellent draft pick.   Baez and Sharp fill out the rest of the rotation; both showing mid 4 ERAs and not really being good enough or bad enough to comment on thus far.  The one big notable missing name here is Seth Romero, who should be featuring in this rotation as we speak but instead apparently still sits not at XST but at home in Houston.  Its hard to prove the “i told you so” guys wrong when it literally took less than a season for his well-publicized maturity issues to come to the forefront.

Bullpen thoughts:  Some good and some bad in the bullpen; Rivera and Howard have gotten dinged so far, while Bourque, Mills and Pantoja look solid.  Bourque in particular now boasts a 22/4 K/BB ratio in 12 relief innings; like that ratio.  36th rounder Klobosits still looking solid; how exactly was he still around that late in the draft if he’s already succeeding in high-A?

Who is making a push for promotion?  Bourque

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Rivera perhaps


 

Hagerstown (stats = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=563

  • Opening day rotation: BHill/Braymer*, Raquet*/Acevedo, Tetreault/Bogucki, Alastre/Troop*, Stoeckinger*/Johnston
  • Current rotation: Troop*, Raquet*, Acevedo, Tetreault, Alastre, Stoeckinger*
  • spot starts/swingman: Johnston, Bogucki, Held, Braymer*
  • bullpen: McKinney, Brasher, Fuentes
  • promotions: Guilbeau*
  • dl/restricted: Howell, BHill
  • Cut/Released/FA from 2017: Engelbrekt (retired)
  • missing from 2017/XST: YRamirez*, DeRosier, CPena, Simonds, Barnett*, Morse, Dickey, WDavis,

Rotation thoughts: It was clear to this observer that the first few turns through the rotation were in the “tandem starter” configuration, with each of the names in the “opening rotation” throwing roughly 3-4 innings each.  That has now settled into the current 6-man rotation, all of which now seem to be getting the lion’s share of the innings each time through.   Of the “starters,” only really Raquet has acquitted himself well, though i’m concerned about the lack of swing and miss in his game (19/8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings supporting a 2.28 ERA and a 1.05 whip).  The rest of the starters are struggling: Stoeckinger hasn’t walked a soul yet in 24 innings … .but has given up 37  hits for an ugly 7.50 ERA.  Tetreault, Alastre and Acevedo  each have ERAs north of 7.00.   Troop and Hill (both 2017 top-10 round draftees) have been less bad but have room for improvement.

The “tandem” starters have been a different story though.  Bogucki and Braymer each have been solid, with Braymer sporting a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a 0.81 WHIP and Bogucki sporting a 20/3 K/BB ratio.  I wonder how long it’ll be before these guys become the “starters” instead of the “finishers.”

Bullpen thoughts: There’s really only a couple of real “relievers” in Low-A, but one of them has been quite solid.  McKinney has a 14/1 K/BB ratio in just 8 2/3 innings and has yet to give up an earned run.

There’s still a slew of guys technically in “XST” or assigned to the Short-A roster who could fill in here, most of whom have prior Low-A experience and could contribute.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Braymer, Bogucki, McKinney

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Acevedo, Alastre


 

That’s a quick run through the systems.  Did anyone want to point out someone in particular who they think needs to be talked about?

Nats 2018 #5 Starter competition

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Is Cole the 2018 5th starter?  Photo AP

Is Cole the 2018 5th starter? Photo AP

Interesting news on 1/11/18: Edwin Jackson has re-signed a split minor league deal  with decent compensation if he makes the major league team ($1.5M plus another $1.4M in incentives).

Lots of rumors about the team eventually buying a more established 5th starter, either on the open market or in trade.  There’s too many names still out there to even begin to discuss, from marquee 8-figure free agents (Yu Darvish) to Nats-favorite Scott Boras clients he’s likely to go over Rizzo’s head about (Jake Arrieta) to trade candidates from rebuilding teams (Tampa, Miami, Pittsburgh and their  valuable arms like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, though inbetween the time I started this post and published it, Cole had already been traded to the keep-getting-richer Astros).  Bur for now, we don’t have any of these guys … so we’re still projected for a fun spring training competition.

So, what does the #5 starter competition look like right now?  Basically there’s four primary candidates now in-house and signed for 2018.  Lets rank them in likely order of winning the job:

#1: A.J. Cole

I think right now Cole has the inside track, even given the Milone and Jackson signings.  Cole’s 2018 numbers were decent at the MLB level: 3-5 with a 3.81 ERA even if his periperhals were bad (5.88 fip, 1.50 whip).  His AAA numbers in 2017 were awful (5.88 ERA in 18 starts), but then again the entire Syracuse rotation was awful in 2018.  But, he did show some promise last  year and he’s out of options, so I can’t help but think that he’ll get a shot to stick on the MLB roster until he proves he’s either staying or going one last time.

#2 : Edwin Jackson:

He made an ok case for the job based on what he was able to do last  year.   No, he wasn’t awesome: in 13 starts he was 5-6 with a 5.07 ERA and even worse peripherals (5.88 FIP, 1.4 whip).  That’s about what he did for San Diego in 2016, so It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.   But he’s a known quantity, he throws hard, he never gets hurt.  He also clearly will work in the minors to get another shot at the majors and didn’t sign back up with this team on a whim, so odds are he could get stashed in Syracuse for a bit and wait out his chance.

#3 Tommy Milone: the prodigal son returns to the fold.  Initially sent away in the Gio Gonzalez trade 7 years ago, he pitched well for both Oakland and Minnesota before falling off a cliff in 2016.  His 2017 was not pretty: a combined 7.63 ERA for two different teams.  He also signed a minor league deal that I suspect may have an opt-out if he fails to make the team.  Hopefully not; he did log some AAA time in the last two seasons and may also opt to stick around.  Is it possible he returns to his career form (a 4.37 ERA and a 91 ERA+ figure)?  Maybe; he’d have to do a lot better though to make his case for t he 5th starter.

#4: Erick Fedde; our top starting pitcher prospect and sole arm in AAA or AA (or perhaps even  high-A at this point) which represents a significant draft investment (outside of Mariano Rivera Jr that is … who is already a reliever).  And he did not look ready in his debut last fall.  3 starts. 9.39 ERA … even if two of those starts were against tough competition (home to Colorado, then away vs the Cubs).  Short Sample Size, yadda-yadda, he got knocked around.  He needs more AAA time and you’d have to think he’s starting the year either in XST (if its too cold in Syracuse) or in upstate NY.


So, what about our minor league depth past these four guys?  Honestly: there’s not a ton of depth we can count on in AAA or AA.  The 40-man names are Fedde, Cole, Voth and Jefry Rodriguez.  That’s it.

Here’s a quick glance at our other minor league starters out there who are more likely to be AA or AAA fodder (in rough order of their consideration for the job/likely 2018 assignments)

AAA projected rotation (over-top of those four names above who miss out and who don’t opt out, that is):

  • Jared Long (he may or may not be a MLFA still; rosterresource.com shows him on the Nats roster but milb.com shows him as a FA): if he’s still with us, he showed two years running he was better than AA.  I’d like to see him with a long run in AAA to see if he’s a viable candidate to move up.
  • John Simms: this home grown product (2013 11th round draftee) has earned promotion after promotion and should start 2018 in AAA.  He doesn’t have shutdown stuff, but could be a sneaky candidate for spot starts.
  • Logan Darnell; this 2018 MLFA signing from Tampa had good AAA success several years running for other organizations and seems like a clear AAA arm eater for now.  Can he be more?
  • Austin Voth; two years ago looked like he could be the next Tanner Roark, but a brutal 2017 season got him demoted to AA.  He posted a 3.15 ERA in AAA in 2016; can he get back there?   If not, then he’s in clear danger of being first man off the 40-man roster if a spot is needed.
  • Greg Ross: as with Voth, the Greg Ross train got derailed in upstate New York in 2017, also earning him a demotion.  He re-signed though for 2018 to give it another shot and might start in AAA given past success in AA.

Note: at least one of these names likely gets pushed down, especially since Fedde likely isn’t winning the 5th starter job.  Jackson and Milone as veterans may have opt-outs and are not likely to stick around, but you never know.  And if Cole doesn’t make the team, he’s passing through waivers before he gets to AAA and may not make it.  So the AAA rotation will be in flux right up until 4/1/18.

AA projected rotation (on top of whoever above might get pushed down, likely Ross then Voth)

  • Wirkin Estevez had good AA numbers in 2017 (3.63 ERA in 11 starts after promotion from high-A) and re-signed a ML deal to stay with the organization.   He’s probably first AA starter for a need-based promotion.
  • Tyler Mapes missed all of 2017 after a very solid AA 2016 season; if he’s healthy, he starts here looking to repeat his 2016 performance before getting moved up.
  • Kyle McGowin; our trade bounty for Danny Espinosa has shown two years running his inability to succeed in AAA.  He likely starts in AA again in 2018 given the log-jam in Syracuse.
  • Matt Crownover had a 4.50 ERA in a full AA season; nothing to really prove he needs to move up (especially given his weak K/9 rates), so likely starts in AA again looking for a mid-season promotion.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: the newest member of the 40-man roster, Rodriguez will hope to harness his high-A success from last year at the next step up.

Nobody in AA right now who looks like he could help immediately; Rodriguez though may get some spot-start/double header duty since he’s on the 40-man and doesn’t require a corresponding move.


 

So; are you satisfied with a ST 2018 competition or do you think we need to spend money or prospects on another arm?

Keep in mind; the division is a mess, with Atlanta not really trying, Miami actively getting worse and Philadelphia making curious moves.  Only the Mets will challenge, and their big move this off-season has been to sign Adrian Gonzalez .  So we don’t need a $20M/year 5th starter.  And there’s the luxury tax considerations that keep coming up.

thoughts?

Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Potomac

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Baez is the highest profile hurler in Potomac to start the year. photo via milb.com

Baez is the highest profile hurler in Potomac to start the year. photo via milb.com

We’re looking at the four full-season staffs, guessing the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.  Next up: Potomac.

See here for Syracuse 2017 review, here for Harrisburg 2017 review.

(Note: I know that there’s the most likely chance I have something wrong for Potomac since many readers here attend their games regularly; remember, i’m just a guy sitting at his desk scouting the score line so feel free to tell me where i’m wrong…)

Quick links for rosters for each full season affiliate:

And don’t forget the invaluable work of SpringfieldFan maintaining the Nats Big Board, now in its 12th season!

Note: in the below list, “missing” means that the player was on a 2016 roster, is still listed as active but is not found anywhere on a 2017 full-season roster as expected.  Most are still sitting in Extended Spring Training (abbreviated XST throughout) with the intent of getting assigned as injuries or releases occur, but some may be release candidates.   Other abbreviations I use often: MLFA == Minor League Free Agent, OOO = Out of the Organization.

((h/t as always to Mr. Erickson for the link to insidenova.com with the planned rotation, which I’ll use to correct my predictions below).


High-A/Potomac 2017

  • my predicted starters: Baez, Crownover*, Guilbeau*, Sylvestre*, LReyes, JRodriguez
  • purported rotation per insidenova.com: LReyes, Sylvestre*, JRodriguez, Baez, Estevez
  • spot starts/swingman: Guilbeau*, Bacus, Borne*, Crownover*,
  • bullpen: Orlan*, RPena, Rivera, Schepel
  • dl/restricted: Peterson, Turnbull*
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016: Whiting (FA), MSanchez (traded), Holland (FA)
  • missing from 2016: Mayberry, Thomas*, Mendez

Discussion

Rotation discussion: In Potomac we start to see the log-jam of starters from recent drafts.  I count 6 guys who could be starting and another 3 guys who have mostly started in the past.  As it turns out, a couple of the long-time lefty starters from the 2015 draft have been pushed into bullpen roles, perhaps for the longer term.  The burgeoning investment the team is making in the D.R. is evident here; all 5 rotation members are from the island, along with a huge chunk of the roster.

Of the starters listed above, i’d say that Luis Reyes and Jefry Rodriguez are probably on the thinnest of ice to stay in that role, given last year’s results.  Reyes had a 5.60 ERA in half a season in Potomac last year and Rodriguez had a 4.96 ERA in a full season starting in Low-A.   Wirkin Estevez feels like he’s been around forever; this is his 7th pro season in the system yet is only in High-A; he had a couple spot starts last year and I’m kind of surprised he made the rotation over especially Matthew Crownover and Taylor Guilbeau.   I could also see Grant Borne move into the rotation if one of the stated starters fail; Borne had a nifty 3.34 season in long relief in Low-A, pitching an average of 3 innings a stint, so perhaps he’s in line for getting stretched out.  I guess the old adage “you can never have too much pitching” holds true for Potomac; its nice to have 9 different guys who you know could give you a start.

The preponderance of guys used to going longer stints leaves just a handful of known “relievers” in the pen.  R.C. Orlan was Potomac’s effective closer last year and returns to that role, while Hagerstown’s closer Mariano Rivera Jr. rises up to form a nice 8th-9th inning lefty-righty combo.  Amazingly Ronald Pena returns for this 6th pro season, and returns to Potomac where he started half a season in 2014.  No offense to Pena, but I remain surprised that he’s lasted this long with the org.  The last non D/L name is a 2017 MLFA by the name of Kyle Schepel who I had completely forgotten about until I looked him up.  Kylin Turnbull, who has not thrown a pitch in anger since 2014, remains on the D/L in Potomac along with Tommy Peterson, who had an excellent 2016 season in relief and could be a good reliever if he is healthy.

The guys who are listed as “missing” include three guys who all finished the 2016 season in High-A and seem like they’re intended to start there again.

Who am I focusing on: I want to see what Joan Baez has; we know he can bring the heat but can he be an effective starter?  I’ve always liked the trio of lefty veteran college starters we picked in the 2015 draft early rounds; Hearn (since traded), Crownover, Borne and Guilbeau (picked in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 10th rounds respectively), so I look forward to them all moving up a level in 2017.  I want to see what the two closer-quality relievers (Orlan and Rivera) can do.

 

Top 10 Arms; Starters and Relievers separately ranked

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Fedde probably #1 arm in the system ... and its tough after that. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Fedde probably #1 arm in the system … and its tough after that. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Every year, Luke Erickson over at NationalsProspects.com does a crowd-sourced ranking of the Top 10 “bats” and “arms” in the Nats farm system (link to the “Arms” post)

This year, I had such a hard time deciding upon my top 10 arms for Luke’s survey that I thought it would be worth doing my own post on the subject, temporarily stealing Luke’s idea.  I think its an interesting time for our farm system arm development; we’ve spent the off-season trading away a significant amount of arm depth, and what we have left made it kind of tough for me to even find 10 “arms” that were worth ranking.  Furthermore, how do you really compare starters and relievers?  Isn’t a mediocre starter prospect who has reached AAA better than a high-end reliever prospect in the lower minors?   Is our best reliever prospect (Koda Glover) a “better” or “worse” prospect than a really good-looking starter who is in A-Ball (like a Tyler Watson?)  How do you compare a good starter prospect in A ball with what looks like an org-arm in AAA?  Its potential versus reality, ceiling versus floor.  In the end, you have to make kind of a rolling judgement call to put PlayerA above PlayerB … leading to excellent arguments in the comments section.

So, taking these thoughts into account, here’s my top 10 ranked Arms, splitting guys into starters and relievers.  My rules: a “starter” is someone who was “predominantly” a starter this year.  A reliever is someone who, well, was a reliever and wasn’t getting starts unless there was some weird situation going on.  And since the lowest levels generally were doing tandem starting, if you were clearly a “pitch every 5th day” guy even if you weren’t starting, then i’m calling you a starter for these purposes.  This only comes into play with a couple of guys who were in and out of rotations this year; i’ve put them into the Relievers section.

My Nats top 10 Starters:

1. Erick Fedde: He’s clearly come back from TJ, dominated for most of 2016, and probably debuts in the later half of 2017.
(1a. A.J. Cole, if you still think he’s got prospect status.  He exhausted his rookie status by service time in 2016 … but has yet to reach 50 IP in the majors, so Baseball America qualifies him as a prospect still.  I don’t view him as a prospect anymore; to me he’s a 6th starter/long-man candidate for 2017).
2. Austin Voth: he’s more than earned it, has nothing to prove in AAA, and frankly should have gotten a 40-man addition last September and gotten innings instead of Mat Latos.
3. Tyler Watson: had a great season competing against guys well older than him; could be looking at a jump to high-A in 2017 and he’s yet to turn 20.  I like his potential.
4. Weston Davis: I’m going with Davis over the more highly regarded (on prospect lists) Baez because of a slightly cleaner stat line.  Davis had a nice 2.67 ERA in Short-A as a 20-yr old.
5. Joan Baez: Full year starting in Low-A as a 21-yr old, good K/9 numbers, some wildness.  A step-up to High-A will clear the waters on him.
6. Matthew Crownover: great in Low-A, struggled in High-A.   Should be in the Potomac rotation for 2017, may turn into a useful lefty reliever if he can’t maintain stats as a starter.
7. Jesus Luzardo: entirely based on pre-draft reputation; hopefully he comes back strong, but he’s several years away from even doing what Watson is doing.
8. Tyler Mapes: the fact that a 30th round draft pick is on this list is, well, the obvious evidence of the current thin-ness of our pitching depth.  I love what Mapes has done, don’t get me wrong, but does anyone really expect him to  become an impact player in the majors?
9. McKenzie Mills: I could see Mills a bit higher here, but honestly anyone in the 6-10 rank here could be argued to be higher or lower.
10. Andrew Lee: solid for Hagerstown before hitting the D/L.  His spot here is assuming he didn’t blow out his rotator cuff or something that affects him longer term.

Honorable Mentions: Kyle McGowin, Yonathan Ramirez, Carlos AcevedoJaron LongAusten Williams, Jefry Rodriguez.  I could probably see arguments for Ramirez above perhaps Lee or Mills, but barely.  I don’t really bother looking at GCL or DSL guys, so if you want to argue that someone who got 40 innings of complex ball is better than someone who put up stats in an A-ball league … well i’m going to argue with you :-).

So, clearly there’s a huge gap between the AAA-calibre guys at the top and Watson, both in terms of service time and in career minor league achievement.  Our trades have resulted in this gap.  There also seems to be a pretty significant potential gap right after Baez; you go from prospect to lottery tickets and org-guys pretty quickly it seems.  Prior to these trades, I would likely have had Giolito 1, Lopez 2, Dunning right after Voth and perhaps Avila in discussions for being at the #10 spot.  Still, that’s half of your best starter prospects gone in a couple of weeks.

Nats top 10 Relievers; these are going to be more heavily aligned towards guys who are near the top of the system, for obvious reasons.  If you’re in A-ball and already a reliever … you’re in trouble unless you’re striking guys out at 12 K/9 clip … and we seem to have a habit of trading those guys (Hearn, Sanchez).
1. Koda Glover: for obvious reasons.  Despite how much we’ve talked about him this year, he’s only got 19 MLB innings and still has rookie status by service time.  We were mostly mystified by his drop-off of talent, until learning that he tore his hip labrum.  I, like many others, like him for a future closer.  Grow ’em, don’t buy ’em.
2. Austin Adams: our return bounty for Danny Espinosa: he had 61 Ks in 41 AA innings in 2016.  That’s 13.3 K/9.  That’s crazy.
3. Bryan Harper: he was clearly moving himself ahead of other lefty options in AAA before getting hurt; lets hope he recovers from TJ and puts himself back on the map.
4. Jimmy Cordero: pretty solid AA numbers for two seasons running; i’d like to see him in AAA to see if he’s a bullpen option in the mold of an Aaron Barrett/Craig Stammen role.
5. Matt Grace: may be on the downslope of his Nats career, given that he wasn’t depended upon in 2016 and the Nats felt the need to flip a future Hall of Fame prospect to acquire a 5-week loogy rental.  But he’s still an effective AAA reliever, which the rest of the guys below him cannot say.
6. Trevor Gott: our return bounty for Yunel Escobar was relatively effective for AAA this year, had good MLB numbers, but is anyone counting on him competing for the 2017 MLB bullpen?  He and Grace are my “first two guys to go” off the 40-man if we need room right now.
7. Andrew Robinson: this MLFA signing put up great AA numbers and seems to be sticking around; I think he competes for the AAA bullpen.
8. Wander Suero: Another guy who put up nice AA numbers for the team this year as a RH middle reliever.  He’s a bit old (25) and has been around the system forever (IFA signing in 2010), but should feature in AA or AAA this year.
9. Ryan Brinley: others have him higher based on his High-A dominance; he’s another Tyler Mapes-esque draft success story, a 2015 27th rounder who has rocketed up the system.   I’d like to see what he can do in AA in 2017.
10. John Simms: another one of the Nats great 11th round picks, he really may be a starter, but for now he’s here.  If he was being counted as a starter he’d probably be around the same ranking in the above list.
Honorable Mentions: Nick Lee, Mariano Rivera Jr., Grant Borne, Taylor Guilbeau, Steven Fuentes, Tommy Peterson, Jorge Pantoja: all guys who put up decent numbers for A or AA teams.
What do you guys think?  Did I miss anyone egregiously?

Rule 5 protection analysis for 2016

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Austin Voth seems like the most likely rule-5 protection candidate. Photo mlb.com official

Austin Voth seems like the most likely rule-5 protection candidate. Photo mlb.com official

Here’s our annual ritual.  Discussing the Rule 5 draft and the impact it has on rosters.

According to my Off-Season Baseball Calendar teams have just a few days (Nov 18th) to add players to the 40-man rosters ahead of the Rule-5 draft (which occurs the last day of the winter meetings (this year, at the Gaylord Hotel in the Maryland waterfront in early Dec).

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then looking up candidate acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts on who might merit protection.  The quick Rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2012 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee/International Free Agent from 2011 or before is newly eligible this year.

This year’s Draft class Stat overview posts were especially  helpful too; here’s the 2013 version for College draftees and the  2012 version for high school-age draftees that are now Rule-5 eligible.


 

Newly Eligible 2013 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Jake Johansen:  Only listed because of his draft round and bonus; Johansen has been a huge disappointment and will not be protected.
  • Austin Voth: Absolutely has to be protected and should have been added on 9/1 to get him some MLB innings.
  • John Simms: Put up solid numbers in AA and could feature in AAA this year, but isn’t a shoe-in to immediately contribute at the MLB level.  Arguable whether he’s worth protecting.  I would, but then again, i’m pro-prospect.

Not mentioned: several other draftees from this class that are marginal prospects right now: Cody Gunter, David Masters, William (Isaac) Ballou, Justin Thomas and Matthew DeRosier.  All of these guys are scuffling or trending down in my analysis and are not risks for being drafted.  Also did not mention any MLFA’s picked up that were 2013 draftees (Philip Walby, Jake Mayers) since they’re both in the low-minors.

Newly Eligible 2012 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • None: the only HS-age draftee from 2012 that remains in our system is Lucas Giolito, who was added to the 40-man mid 2016 season.

Newly Eligible 2012 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Osvaldo Abreu: slashed .247/.328/.346 as the starting SS for Potomac.  Has neatly risen one level every year, so seems project-able to AA for 2017.  I can’t see  him getting drafted though considering he had a .674 OPS figure in High-A this year, even given that he could provide MIF cover for a MLB team.  Has gotten some notice on prospect lists.
  • Rafael Bautista: slashed .282/.344/.341 with 56 stolen bases in 136 games playing mostly CF/RF for Harrisburg.   A CF with that kind of speed who maintains his BA and OBP is worth protecting.  Turns 24 before next season though.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: went 7-11 with a 4.96 ERA in 25 starts for Low-A Hagerstown.  Rodriguez was on our lips for a while as a potential high end prospect … until he couldn’t succeed outside of short-season ball.  2016 was the third year he’s competed in Hagerstown and a 4.96 ERA isn’t going to cut it.  He’s no threat to get drafted but probably keeps moving up the system.
  • Philips Valdez: went 12-7 with a 4.24 ERA across two-levels and 27 starts this year.  He turns 25 in a few days.  Despite being a AA starter, I’m not sure any team would really roll the dice on him in Rule-5.  He “only” had 109 Ks in 152 IP this year, not exactly overpowering stuff.  He also got hit in AA; i can see him starting in AA rotation again next season.
  • David Ramos spent most of 2016 on the D/L in Auburn and has never pitched above low-A ball.  Not a candidate to be protected.

Not mentioned: several 2012 IFA signings throughout the lower levels of the system.  This includes Andres Martinez, Darryl Florentino, Mario Sanchez, Brayan Serrata.

One other significant 2012 IFA signee is already on the 40-man: Reynaldo Lopez.

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2012 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2011 and prior HS/IFAs.

  • Raudy Read: slashed .262/.324/.415 in a full year catching in High-A.  Promising, but he’s also already 23.  Considering a rule-5 draft of a player like Read brings back memories of our own drafting of Jesus Flores.
  • Bryan Mejia: slashed .241/.279/.347 starting a full year playing 2B for High-A.  Not a ton of power there; little chance of being drafted, no prospect buzz.
  • Jose Marmolejos (no longer -Diaz): slashed .289/.370/.475 between High-A and AA while earning his 2nd straight Nats minor league hitter of the year award.   Good slugging percentage showing lots of gap power and some  home-run power, but he’s already 1B-only and is 23.  
  • Hector Silvestre: spent most of 2016 doing short stints/rehab assignments after missing all of 2015.  9 starts, 1.42 ERA amongst all A-ball affiliates.  Looks promising for us, but no need for Rule-5 protection at this point.
  • Gilberto Mendez: nice numbers as a late-inning reliever for High-A (2.09 ERA, 8 saves).  Turns 24 tomorrow and is an undersized RHP reliever; no risk of being picked.
  • Wirkin Estevez (2010 IFA): 5.03 ERA as a swingman for Potomac after missing all of 2016.  No risk of being drafted.
  • Wander Suero (2010 IFA): 3-0 with a 2.44 ERA, 48/21 K/BB ratio in 55 AA innings.   Solid numbers … but not a lefty so seems  unlikely to get drafted.  But he’s really no different than Simms, so he’s a maybe.

2012 College Draftees that are Rule-5 holdovers include Perez, Benincasa, Self, Pena, Orlan; none are really worth protecting.  There are no 2011 HS draftees still remaining in the system.  Other 2011 IFAs still around but not mentioned: Anderson Martinez, Diomedes Eusebio, Randy Encarnacion, Jorge Tillero.  2010 IFAs still hanging around not otherwise mentioned: Adderling Ruiz, Narciso Mesa.   All are so low in the system they’re not worth mentioning.


So, who would I protect?  As of today,  the team has a ton of open slots on the 40-man roster to work with (32 of 40 as of this writing), but has to “save” some room for some clear FA/trade acquisitions.   There’s also (arguably) a bit of wiggle room there; I see at least 4-5 additional guys on the current 40-man who could make way if need be.

  • Locks: Voth, Bautista
  • Maybes: Simms, Abreu, Read, Marmolejos, Suero, Valdez

Who would I protect?  Probably Voth, Bautista and Marmolejos.  I’d roll the dice leaving the likes of Abreu and Read unprotected despite their presence on prospect lists, and I’d roll the dice leaving Simms, Suero and Valdez unprotected since they’re all RHP and none has pitched above AA.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Did I forget anyone and/or am I considering the wrong guys?  These IFAs are always iffy in terms of eligibility, and some of the MLFAs are confusing too in terms of their status.  So let me know if I’m missing someone.

MLBpipeline posted its Rule5 analysis and mentioned (for the nats) the four names we’re bouncing around here as well.  We don’t have any super-high ranked prospects to protect like other teams.

11/18/16: official announcement: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.  Most surprised by Skole, who I didn’t even bother to do analysis about above thanks to his lack of a 9/1 call up this year.


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.

  • 2016: Predicted Voth, Bautista.  Actual: Voth, Bautista, Marmolejos, Read and Skole.
  • 2015: Predicted Kieboom, Bostick, Marmolejos-Diaz.  Actual: Kieboom, Bostick, Lee
  • 2014: Predicted Cole, Skole, Goodwin.  Hedged on Grace, Martin and Difo.  Actual: Cole, Goodwin, Difo, Grace.
  • 2013: Predicted Solis as the only lock (Souza already added).  Possibles mentioned in order Barrett, Taylor, Grace, Holland.  Actual: Solis, Barrett, Taylor.
  • 2012: Predicted Karns and McCoy, with Hood and Rosenbaum as maybes.  Actual: Karns and Davis.  I think we were all surprised by Davis’ inclusion, despite his good AA numbers that year.
  • 2011: Predicted Norris as a lock, guessed strongly on Moore, Meyers and Komatsu.  Actual: Norris, Moore, Solano, Perez.    This was poor analysis on my part; I did not consider the IFAs newly eligible.
  • 2010: Predicted Marrero, Meyers and Mandel.  Actual: Marrero, Carr and Kimball.
  • 2009: pre-dates my blog and thus no predictions, but Actual was Jaime, Thompson and Severino.
  • 2008: I might be wrong, but I don’t see any evidence of the team protecting *anyone* prior to the Rule-5 draft.  A bit of an indictment of the farm system at the time, I’d say :-)

Auburn/Short-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Fedde was probably the "pitcher of the year" for Auburn in 2015. Photo via chicagonow.com

Fedde was probably the “pitcher of the year” for Auburn in 2015. Photo via chicagonow.com

This is the 6th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Auburn/Short-A’s pitching staff for 2015.  Other parts of the 2015 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Jake Johanssen),  2012’s version (Brett Mooneyham was the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Auburn/Short-A.  Had we done this series in 2014, we likely would have featured Reynaldo Lopez, who had a 0.75 ERA in 7 starts and 36 innings.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Auburn’s 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Auburn 2015 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

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

Auburn Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Dickey/LTorres, JRodriguez, Fedde, Crownover*, Baez, Mills
  • End-of-Season Rotation: Gilbeau*, Borne*, Baez, DeRosier, Hearn*, Crownover*
  • End-of-Season spot starts/swingman: Valerio
  • End-of-Season bullpen: Mooney, Pirro, Overton, Boghosian,  MRivera, Johns, LTorres, Van Vossen
  • Mid-Season promotions: LReyes,  Bach*, KPerez, DWilliams, Glover, JMorales, Lee, Brinley,Fedde, Peterson, JRodriguez
  • up-and-back: Johns, LTorres
  • down-and-back: Feliz, Dickey
  • demotions: Reynoso*, Mills*, Baez, Gunter
  • dl/restricted: Bourque, AMartinez, McDowell, Sylvestri
  • cut/released/FAs: Ullman, Webb*, Plouck*

Auburn starters.  The rotation started the season with several “tandem” starter pairs, not quite going to a full A/B starter set but getting relatively close.  Here’s an overview of the 12 starters used in 2015, starting with the original starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.

  • Robbie Dickey had two bad starts in Hagerstown before getting dumped back to Auburn in time to get the ball on opening day.  From there the jury is kind of out: for the entire year: 6.65 ERA, 16/17 k/bb in 23ip (6 starts).  He was incredibly wild and then didn’t pitch after 7/25/15, accumulating just 23 IP on the year.  Was he hurt?  There was no record of a D/L trip, just an assignment back to XST after a while.  All in all, a pretty disappointing season for our 2014 4th round pick.  Where does he go from here?  Is the team just being too impatient with him, yanking him from Hagerstown after just a few innings?  Outlook for Next Season: attempting the Low-A rotation again.
  • Jefry Rodriguez bounced between Short-A and Low-A again this season, starting in Hagerstown but pitching most of the year in Auburn.  At the end of the season, he led Auburn in both IP and starts.  All told; 4-10 with a 5.42 ERA between the two levels.  While he maintained a 2-1 K/BB ratio in Short-A, he was nearly 1/1 in Low-A (27/25 K/BB in 42.2 low-A innings).  The team likes him as a starter … but this is the 2nd year in a row he’s posted a 6+ ERA in low-A.  He’s still young though (he turned 22 mid-season) so I can see him repeating his 2015 season; in the Low-A rotation.  If he struggles again though, I think it may be time to move him to the bullpen and look at converting him to a late-innings reliever.  He can definitely strike guys out (67 Ks in 68 Short-A innings against college competition), so perhaps there’s a new stage in his career if he can’t figure out starting.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Erick Fedde threw 8 effective starts in Auburn, going 4-1, 2.57 ERA in Short-A Auburn with 36/8 in 35ip (8 starts), 2.60 fip, .346 babip.  He then got bumped up to Hagerstown where he finished out the season.  See Low-A write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation to start.
  • Matt Crownover went 1-4, 3.81 ERA in Short-A with 34/9 K/BB in 49.2 ip (13 app, 10 starts), 3.40 fip, .301 babip.  His whip was decent on the year (1.17), mostly due to his great K/BB ratio (4/1).  Nothing bad but nothing mind blowing out of Crownover’s numbers in Short-A.  Not a bad return for an under-slot ACC lefty starter.  I see him competing for the Low-A rotation; there’s no reason not to keep him moving up as a college draftee from the ACC.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation competition, likely in the pen.
  • Joan Baez bounced around the system a bit in 2015, getting 5 starts in Auburn to the tune of a 7.13 ERA.  See GCL write-up for more.
  • McKenzie Mills got hit hard in 4 appearances in Auburn before spending the rest of the season int the GCL.  See GCL write-up for more.
  • Taylor Guilbeau went 3-3, 3.54 mostly in Short-A after starting briefly in the GCL with 31/9 K/BB in 51 ip (11/10 starts) .2.89 fip, .356 babip.  His FIP looks solid based on his competition but he may get bumped to the bullpen to focus on being a lefty reliever thanks to the large number of arms in the system.  I put him behind his fellow 2015 draftees Crownover and  Hearn in this regard thanks to his senior sign status and low club investment (fairly or otherwise; it is what it is).  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation competition, likely in the pen.
  • Taylor Hearn went 1-5, 3.56 in Short-A with a 38/13 K/BB in 43ip (10/10 starts), 3.40 fip, .346 babip.  Hearn joined his fellow lefty first 10 round starters in the Auburn rotation a couple of weeks into the short season and was completely effective, averaging nearly a K/inning with decent control.  He’s done nothing to jeopardize his advancement for 2016 and should compete for a low-A rotation gig.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation competition.
  • Grant Borne went 1-4, 3.59 in Short-A with 32/7 K/BB in 47.2 ip (15 apps, 5 starts), 2.99 fip, .321 babip.  Its amazing how similar Hearn, Crownover, Guilbeau and Borne’s numbers were, each profiling as a command/control lefty starter in Short-A.  Outlook for Next season: Low-A rotation competition with the rest of his fellow lefty 2015 draftees.
  • Mariano Rivera Jr. got 3 starts before it was clear he needed to be pushed to relief; see the reliever’s section.
  • Matthew DeRosier had two bad starts in Auburn before getting dumped back to the GCL; see the Rookie league write-up for more.
  • Maximo Valero had 4 appearances and one start in Auburn after a late season promotion: see the GCL write-up for more.

Auburn Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Luis Torres was Dickey’s “tandem” starter for a while, getting zero “starts” but pitching mostly longer stints usually on the same schedule as Dickey.  We saw this with several others and will treat them as “relievers” for the purposes of this post.  Season stats: 5-1, 5.66 ERA, 4.54 fip, 1.37 whip, 22/17 K/BB in 35 innings.  Torres got bumped up at season’s end to provide a bit of cover in Low-A but didn’t merit the promotion based on his production.  In his age 21 season he showed he still has some work to do and regressed badly from his 2014 production in Short-A.  Where does he go from here?  I think he’s destined to miss out on the Hagerstown bullpen, spend more time in XST and try Short-A again in 2016.  Outlook for Next Season: short-A bullpen.
  • Mariano Rivera Jr, went 1-2, 5.45 ERA in Short-A with 26/3 K/BB in 33IP (19 app, 3 starts).  2.70 FIP, .388 babip.  Rivera was tried as a starter and quickly failed, getting moved to the pen, where he was much better.  Starter ERA: 13.00.  Reliever ERA: 2.63.  His seasonal ERA isn’t nearly as bad as it looks thanks to some bad luck; his FIP is good and his K/BB rate looks good as well.  He profiles like his father; slight, live arm, good stuff as a reliever.  I can see him moving up the ladder as a back-of-the-bullpen reliever.   Perhaps a disappointment that a 4th round pick was relegated to the bullpen after just three starts … but could be a quick moving arm on a team that clearly needs them.  Outlook for Next Season: low-A bullpen/closer.
  • Adam Boghosian went 3-0, 4.28 era across 2 levels with 16/18 k/bb in 27ip, 5.59 fip, .162 babip in short-A.  Anytime you have more walks than strike-outs, its a bad thing.  And he posted a mediocre ERA despite an unbelievably low babip; his numbers are likely even worse with a longer sample size.  Another senior sign that may get the axe once full-season rosters get set next spring.  Outlook for Next Season: low-A bullpen/release candidate.
  • Cody Gunter went 1-0 4.15 ERA, 23/8 K/BB in 21.2 IP for Short-A Auburn, 3.84 fip, .259 babip.  Gunter was drafted as a 3B and after two non-descript seasons in Auburn converted to the mound.  So far, results look promising; he maintained a K/inning ratio with good control and could be better based on the ERA-FIP delta.   I see him getting pushed to the Low-A bullpen in 2016.  Outlook for Next Season: low-A bullpen.
  • Kevin Mooney, was 1-0, 5.40 ERA in Short-A with a 15/13 K/bb in 21.2 innings, 4.95 fip, .333 babip.  Not a great debut for the local kid Mooney, who was last seen blowing both super-regional games that enabled UVA to surprisingly make its way to the CWS (where even more surprisingly they ended up winning).  Far, far too many walks given how many punch-outs he had, his FIP was still way up there even given a BABIP not really that out of line.  Needs to step it up if he wants a full-season job.  Outlook for Next Season: low-A bullpen competition/release candidate.
  • Tommy Peterson was 0-0, 2.66 in Auburn with 13/4 K/BB in 20 relief innings, 2.83 fip, .318 babip as part time closer.   Not too many innings to judge on here; looks like a good option for the Hagerstown 2016 bullpen.  He was one of the few Auburn hurlers from the 2015 class to get the bump up to low-A in 2015.  Outlook for Next Season: low-A bullpen competition.
  • Connor Overton went 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA (13/5 K/BB in 19.1 IP) after getting cut loose from Miami’s short-A squad and quickly getting snapped up last July.  He’s an oddity; a 22-yr old MLFA already making the rounds of the lower minors.  He briefly got called up to AAA at season’s end but is currently un-attached.  With Washington’s glut of arms, i’m not sure he did enough to make the team think he was worth keeping on for a full-season spot and I think the Richmond product goes elsewhere (Atlee HS in Mechanicsburg and then ODU in Norfolk).  Outlook for Next Season: in another organization.
  • Sam Johns blitzed short-A (1.42 ERA in 19 innings) after struggling in Hagerstown.  See Low-A write-up for more.
  • Matt Pirro was 0-0 3.71 ERA  across two levels, ending in Short-A.  14/11 k/bb in 17ip, 4.52 fip, .372 babip in short-A.  Not great numbers; too many walks, but his ERA/FIP likely the result of a bit of unlucky babip.  In a battle to stay employed though going into next year by virtue of his senior sign status.   Outlook for Next Season: low-A bullpen/release candidate.
  • John Feliz didn’t get a ton of innings in 2015: throwing just 17.1 across both short-season squads.  In Auburn he had a 4.38 ERA in 12 innings and didn’t pitch after July 28th (but didn’t go on the D/L).  He may have been hurt and just not officially gone on a D/L.  More or less a lost season for Feliz, who just turned 22, was an old IFA and has yet to perform outside of complex ball.  He may not get too many more chances; I see him getting one more shot at Short-A before getting cut loose.  Outlook for Next Season: short-A bullpen/release candidate.
  • Ryan Brinley was unhittable in 10 innings in the NY Penn league and was bumped up; see the Low-A write-up for more.
  • Other Relievers who had less than 10 IP in 2015
    • Jose Morales got blasted in two Low-A starts after three quick relief appearances (8ip total) in Auburn, then spent the rest of the year on the D/L.  See Low-A write-up for more.
    • Andrew Lee struck out 12 guys in 8 innings in the NY Penn and was bumped up.  See Low-A write-up for more.
    • Koda Glover struck out 11 guys in 6 innings in the NY Penn and was bumped up.  See Low-A write-up for more.
    • Mick VanVossen spent most of the season in the GCL; see rookie league write-up for more.
    • Cole Plouck got sent to Auburn, had two appearances in 10 days, gave up just 2 hits and one run in 5 innings … and then was released.  He had decent 2014 numbers in the GCL; this one is curious to me.  I guess the team saw all they needed to see in XST.  Outlook for Next Season: out of baseball.
    • Joey Webb was released 6/25/15, losing out in the numbers game when the 2015 short-season college draftees started flowing in.  He, like Plouck, clearly were not impressive enough during XST to merit any further consideration after run-of-the-mill 2014 seasons.  Outlook for Next Season: out of baseball.
    • Yorlin Reynoso pitched one game in the first week of the season, walked 6 guys and got demoted to the GCL.  See Rookie write-up for more.
    • Ryan Ullmann got stuck in XST to start the season, hooked up with Hagerstown 5 weeks into the season, got hit hard, was dumped to Auburn, had one appearance and then was summarily released.  Quite a quick downturn of events for Ullmann, who was always going to be a long shot (30th rounder out of a small school).  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
    • David Ramos threw 2.1 innings of rehab ball for Auburn before returning to Hagerstown: see low-A write-up for more.
    • Two guys (James Bourque, Anderson Martinez) both spent the whole season on the D/L; both are starters who should compete for spots in 2016 after the lost season.  Outlook for Next Season: Short-A rotation competition.
    • Another two guys (Chase McDowell, Michael Sylvestri) were put on the “restricted list” at some point in 2015, usually indicating voluntary retirement.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.

Summary

Auburn was not a good team this year; they were 35-58.  And a lot of that was due to the “brain drain” of the pitching staff; inside of a short season 11 guys got bumped up and beyond.  Some of them quickly dominated Short-A and earned their promotion, others trickled up as the season moved on.  In the end, the staff was anchored by a quartet of college lefty 2015 draftees with strikingly similar numbers, and it should be interesting to see how this group performs moving forward.