Nationals Arm Race

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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?

2017 Rule-5 Addition analysis/predictions

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Will Gushue get the call this weekend? Photo via mlb.com

Will Gushue get the call this weekend? Photo via mlb.com

We do this every year.  We argue about it every year.  This is now the 8th version of this post (see the bottom for links/summary of the first seven).  Thanks to long-since implemented service time changes the Rule-5 draft remains mitigated in importance.  Yet here we are talking about it again, because we’re some of the few people out there who obsess about the edges of the 40-man roster, and who have meticulously studied our prospects for years and who don’t necessarily want to see the promising ones head out the door for a pittance.   So here we are.

Next Monday at 8pm is the deadline to set 40-man rosters ahead of the Winter Meetings, which include the Rule-5 draft.  With so many teams purposely tanking there’s going to be lots of usage of the draft this year.  Lets take a look at who is eligible, who might get protected and make some predictions.  I’ve got the Nats 40-man roster at 35 now, so there’s plenty of room to add names and do their off-season work.

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.   Also incredibly useful is Roster Resource’s Nats Roster, which keeps track of options, rule-5 status and the like.

The quick Rule-5 rules for 2017; any college-aged draftee from 2014 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 2013 or before is newly eligible this year, assuming they were at least 18 as of June 5th of that year.


 

Newly Eligible 2014 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Austen Williams: he has featured at High-A 3 years running, got moved to AA for the 2nd year running this year and still continues to struggle with that leap.  I don’t think he’s a candidate to protect but is worth mentioning since he’s a long-serving starter in the organization.  The team sent him to the AFL perhaps as an audition for consideration.
  • Tyler Mapes: the 30th round pick continues to be found gold for this team … but he missed the entire 2017 with an injury.  Because of that he’s clearly not a rule-5 danger, but he could fit into the teams plans as a rotation member in AA or AAA this year.  He has a career 2.68 ERA in the minors, vastly outperforming most of the rest of his draft class.
  • Taylor Gushue: the 2017 trade acquisition had a solid year in High-A, is a catcher in a system that needs them, and seems like a lock to add.  He wasn’t set to the AFL for nothing.

Not mentioned: several other draftees from this class that are marginal prospects right now: Dale Carey, Matthew Page, Austin Davidson, Alec Keller, Robbie Dickey, Weston Davis, James Bourque.  All these guys are still in the lower minors.  Dickey represents the biggest investment ($400k signing bonus) and is one of the biggest disappointments from this draft.

Erick Fedde would have been the big name here to protect had he not already been added.  Trea Turner was also a 2014 college draftee.


 

Newly Eligible 2013 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection

  • Drew Ward: he is literally the only 2013 HS draftee remaining in the system and is an interesting protection case.  He had a great 2016 (making the All Star team and shining in High-A) but has not translated that success to AA.  But, he’s only 22, and a 22-yr old struggling in AA isn’t that surprising.  Question is; do you protect him?  He’s blocked at the major league level by Anthony Rendon but that means little in a game where his value might be in trade versus production for the big league squad.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he got protected.

 

Newly Eligible 2013 signed IFAs under consideration for protection:

  • Edwin Lora: SS who has progressed neatly one level at a time for 5 years.  But he’s a career .238 hitter.  We need a backup utility fielder and he fits the bill, but he doesn’t seem to be ready.  I also don’t see him as a threat to get drafted.
  • Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B recently of the AFL who has shown some promise.  He’s a lock to get protected based on his production and his presence in Arizona.
  • Luis Reyes, RHP who started 26 games for Potomac this year.  He’s a bit wild, but he’s also a solid starter who projects to AA in 2018.  Is that enough to be a draft threat?   Maybe.
  • Anderson Franco, 3B: highly touted on prospect boards, but hit just .201 for low-A this year.  Not a draft candidate but someone to watch/hope for a rebound 2018.

Not mentioned: many 2013 IFA signings throughout the lower levels of the system.  This includes Aldrem Corridor, Joshual Ramirez, Luis Vilorio, Oliver Ortiz, Francys Peguero.  Honestly, I had not even heard of most of these guys and wouldn’t be surprised if I had their eligibility wrong.  They’re mostly in the very low minors.


 

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note: 2013 or prior college draftees still hanging out in the system, or 2012 and prior HS/IFAs.

  • Wander Suero: the 2010 IFA exploded onto the scene this year as the closer in AA and then AAA, posting a 1.79 ERA for the year and heading to the AFL.  He was already added to the roster two weeks ago.
  • John Simms: I’ve always liked this guy; he’s now worked his way to AAA and made 8 starts there last  year.  He isn’t a big K/9 guy, perhaps is seen as an org arm, but he’s got a good pedigree (Rice) and has made it to the cusp of the majors.  Is that enough to protect him?  Probably not.
  • Spencer Kieboom: he struggled enough in 2016 to get DFA’d in early 2017 … but then he hit pretty well in AAA this year.  Is that enough to get him back into the mix?
  • Dakota Bacus: he pitched pretty darn well in relief across High-A and AA this year, and was sent to AFL to get more innings.  Is he an option to add?  He didn’t have the numbers that Suero did, but perhaps the team thinks he could be an option out of the pen.
  • Kyle McGowin: an interesting case since he was sent to the AFL: he struggled badly in 2017, getting demoted to AA at one point and posting a 5.95 ERA for the year.  I don’t think we’d shed a tear if he was drafted, but I don’t think he’s meriting a 40-man spot right now.
  • Joan Baez; power arms don’t grow on trees, and even though he was “only” in high-A this year he’s well known enough to perhaps merit protection.

2013 or before College Draftees that are Rule-5 holdovers include David Masters, Isaac Ballou, Justin Thomas, Matthew DeRosier, Robert Benincasa, Derek Self, Brian Rauh, Ronald Pena, Robert Orlan, Steven Perez, Bryan Mejia, Osvaldo Abreu, Wirkin Estevez, Hector Silvestre, Jefry Rodriguez.  Perhaps at some points in their careers some of these guys seemed like locks, but for now they all toil in the lower minors (for the most part) hoping to put themselves into contention.

MLFAs who are technically Rule-5 eligible:  Yadiel Hernandez,  Irving Falou, Greg Ross, Jaron Long, Jordan Mills.  Long in particular has worked in AAA for three years now, but may be considered an org arm at this point.  Ross looked promising for a while, but struggled badly in 2017.


 

So, who would I protect?

  • Wander Suero (already added)
  • Kelvin Gutierrez
  • Taylor Gushue
  • Drew Ward
  • Joan Baez

Who would I consider: Kieboom, Bacus.  Maybe.

If they added these four additional guys they’d be at 39/40 on the roster, still leaving them immediate room for a FA signing or trade.   But there’s more than a few names on our 40-man currently that could be cut (starting with Voth, Gott, Bautista).  So we could see some manouvering this off-season.

Did I miss anyone?  this is kind of tough analysis without a massive white board with every name in the organization listed … something none of us have time to do for free.

Nats official protection announcement: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez in kind of a shocker.


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis post for 201620152014201320122011, and 2010.

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

  • 2017: Predicted: Gutierrez, Gushue, Ward, Baez.  Actual: Gutierrez and Jefry Rodriguez.
  • 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 :-)

A weekend of injuries, moves and trades

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Ross down and out. Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

Ross down and out.
Photo Getty Images via federalbaseball.com

As I mentioned in the comments on the previous post, I was away from computer all weekend so I missed the opportunity to comment on all the major things that went down.

So this is a clearing house of thoughts.


 

Joe Ross to undergo Tommy John; I don’t think anyone saw this coming, but then again nobody saw it coming with Stephen Strasburg either.  With Stras it seemed to be a one-pitch injury.  Ross’ pitch f/x data for his last start indicated that he was definitely off his typical velocity; compare his 90mph average on July 9th to his July 4th start, where he started routinely in the 93-94 range, before dropping off a cliff towards the end of his outing.  If I had to guess, I’d guess he might have injured his arm somewhere in the 7th inning or so of his July 4th start and tried to give it a go the next outing before his teammate Max Scherzer spotted his distress.  Ross finishes a struggle of a 2017 season where he got an amazing 10.55 runs per 27 outs of support; in 6 of his 13 starts the team scored more than 10 runs for him.  He clearly had settled down from early season issues, throwing four consecutive quality starts and again looking like perhaps the best #5 starter in the league.  Now he’s out until the all star break of next year at best, likely until September of 2018.  He’s only 24, mind  you, but this injury comes at a tough time for him; he’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2018 season, one in which he may only  make a handful of starts.  So this will cost Ross millions of dollars…. and will save the Nats at a time when they may be looking to save pennies for Bryce Harper.

Looking at the rotation for 2018; as we’ll soon find out (read on), there’s not a whole lotta help on the farm, so the Nats are probably shopping for starters this coming off-season, unless you guys think Erick Fedde will be ready for prime time next April.

In the meantime, it leads to a sticky situation in the near term yet again for this team.  They traded away all their near-to-the-majors starting depth last off season, and have had to give starts already this season to three non-rotation guys (Jacob TurnerA.J. Cole and the ill-fated Jeremy Guthrie start early on).  Well, now their starting depth in the minors is even weaker; A.J. Cole’s AAA era this year  is a nifty 6.00 and the only other 40-man roster starter (Austin Voth) is even worse; he’s pitched to a 6.38 ERA in Syracuse this year and is either doing a rehab assignment or is being outright demoted to Harrisburg as we speak.

 


 

So instead of going with an internal option, the brain trust is enlisting the help of MLFA Edwin Jackson, who eternally owes Mike Rizzo a bottle of champagne for NOT offering him a qualifying offer when he became a FA after his run-of-the-mill 2012 season for us.  The lack of the QO enabled Jackson to get a 4 year deal he never would have gotten otherwise, but cost the Nats a pick that they probably could have used … heck a junior college starter drafted towards the end of the first round in 2013 … probably would have been Sean Manaea, currently dominating for the same Oakland As who just sent us our next wave of bullpen reinforcements (more on that in a moment).  But I digress.

We plan on giving Edwin Jackson another shot in the majors, despite his giving up 11 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings for Baltimore earlier this year, despite his pitching to a 5.89 ERA in San Diego last year (where everybody looks like a Cy Young winner).   I’ll say this: if the Nats can score in double digits for Jackson the same way they did for Ross … maybe it won’t matter than his ERA sits in the 6-7 range.  It’ll look like a slow-pitch softball game.

But what choice do the Nats have?  Erick Fedde you say?  Have you seen his inconsistency in Syracuse?  Its like the Nats didn’t learn from jerking Tanner Roark around a couple years ago; Starting pitchers are creatures of habit.  They eat the same meal 2 hours before they pitch, they do the same running and lifting sessions in-between outings.  If you have a successful starter, you don’t suddenly decide he’s a middle reliever.  So it should be of no surprise that Fedde’s all over the road right now.

Jacob Turner?  Well, he’ll be around too; I’m guessing he’s option 1-B to Jackson as 1-A.  But Turner is no savior; you don’t get DFA’d and pass through waivers and accept an outright to AAA as a pitching prospect in the modern game unless the rest of the league really, really doesn’t like you.  To say there’s a lack of quality starting pitching depth in the league right now is kind of an understatement.

Who else is starting for this team in the upper minors?  Here’s the rest of the Syracuse rotation right now: Sean O’Sullivan, Jared Long, Greg Ross.  Her’es their current AAA ERAs respectively: 4.40, 5.29, 6.34.  Here’s how we acquired them, again respectively: MLFA  in May of this year, MLFA in April of last year, and again MLFA in April of last year.  So three org guys just eating up AAA innings, none of which are pitching especially well.  No wonder Luke Erickson over at www.nationalsprospects.com has given up tracking the AAA team this year.

Maybe we drop down to AA: how’s that look?  Bleak.  Taylor Hill is already demoted once this year and is closer to a release than a promotion.  Austen Williams: 6.85 ERA.  Matthew Crownover is pushing a 5.00 ERA.  They just got Wirkin Estevez off the D/L: he’s only got 26 innings of 4.10 ERA pitching above A-Ball.   Lastly there’s  John Simms, the “Ace” of Harrisburg’s staff who is pitching there for the *fourth* successive season.  He’s got solid numbers: 4-6 with a 3.57 ERA but middling K/9 rates  and some hittability; would you rather roll the dice on a grizzled veteran with more than 1700 innings on his MLB resume or go with a guy who you refuse to promote even to AAA despite the same decently solid numbers year over year?  I think you have your answer.

So lets see how it goes.  Jackson’s Syracuse numbers for 2017 are pretty nifty; 20 innings, 9 hits, 22 ks.  Oh and 10 walks; we’ll just say that last part a little more quietly and focus on the positive.  As I noted in the comments section in another blog … we’re about to see just what the difference is between AAA and the majors.


Meanwhile, after more and more ridiculousness in the late-innings of games (including a 7 run collapse late last week that nearly blew a 10-run cushion), the Nats finally made their move to bolster the bullpen (and hopefully grease the skids for a wholesale shedding of deadweight off the 40-man roster by everyone involved in the latest debacle).  Rizzo called up his best buddy Billy Beane and pulled off what I think is a pretty good trade:

  • Acquire: Sean DoolittleRyan Madsen: both mid-30s one inning guys with excellent numbers this year and neither being one-year rentals.
  • Give up: Blake TreinenJesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse

Treinen just needs a mental D/L trip; there’s nothing appreciably different with his stuff from last year (when he was good) to this year (when he has been awful).  Classic change of scenery guy who returns to his drafting team and probably has a solid rest-of-2017.  Luzardo and Neuse are good prospects but  young and several years away; perfect for what Oakland wants.  I’m bummed they’re leaving (especially Luzardo, who by all accounts has come all the way back from TJ surgery and had looked solid in his early GCL outings).  Prior to 2017, Neuse was generally about our 8th best prospect and Luzardo 12th or so.  Both have improved their rankings with their play this year, so this may look more foolish if Luzardo becomes a #2 starter in a few years.   But as they say, you have to give up stuff to get stuff.

As others noted, the Nats managed to get these two guys without giving up any of their top ranked prospects (Robles, Soto, Fedde, Kieboom), which is a huge win.


 

Crazy weekend.  Sorry I missed it in realtime.

Ask Collier; what’s up with the bullpen?

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I'd like to note that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6'1", 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

I’d like to note (using this picture as reference) that Matt Albers is officially listed as 6’1″, 225lbs. photo via outsidepitchmlb.com

A mid-April mailbag from Nats MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Probably spurred on by these ugly numbers: 6.00, 6.43, 3.18, 6.75, 10.80, 8.10, and 11.57.  Those are the current (as of 4/18/17) ERAs of the seven “original” bullpen members of your 2017 Nationals.   The only one under 6 is Koda Glover, and for completion I should add that NRI Matt Albers has managed to throw 3 clean innings to help keep the bullpen ERA down.

You  may be saying to yourself, “Man, the Nats bullpen has been the worst in the majors!”  You’re close, but wrong.  There are several teams by any measure that have actually been worse than Washington, believe it or not.  By ERA, there are 3 worse teams.  By fWAR, there are 2 worse teams.  And by FIP there’s one bullpen worse than ours.  In every case, Philadelphia’s bullpen has been even worse.   So we have that going for us.

Lets get to the question.  As always, I answer the question before reading Collier’s answer and sometimes edit questions for clarity.

Q: Why is the bullpen struggling?

A: Because its mid-April, because everything is Small Sample Sizes (SSS), because the Nats struck lightening in a bottle in 2016 while completely remaking their bullpen on the fly but may have struck out this year.  Here’s the opening day roster bullpens over the last few years to highlight just how much turnover we’ve had:

  • 2013: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Mattheus, Stammen, Rodriguez, Duke
  • 2014: Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Blevins, Barrett, Detwiler
  • 2015: Storen, Janssen, Stammen, Thornton*, Cedeno*, Barrett, Roark
  • 2016: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • 2017: Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis*, Romero*, Perez*

Meaning:

  • From 2013->2014: 4 holdovers, 3 new guys
  • From 2014->2015: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys.
  • From 2015->2016: 0 holdovers, 7 new guys
  • From 2016->2017: 3 holdovers, 4 new guys

Frankly, the fact that a 100% remade bullpen was so successful last year was amazing.  Perhaps now we’re seeing the downside of this lack of consistency.

I trust most of the guys in the 2017 bullpen, based on prior history.  I think I know what to expect out of Treinen, Kelley, Glover, Blanton, Solis and Perez.  Romero we all knew is/was a lottery ticket, and he may be DFA fodder soon.  Albers the NRI could be this year’s Todd Coffey; a successful middle reliever who we got for peanuts.  I think we just need some time.

That being said, lets look role by role and ask ourselves if we think this year’s bullpen is “better” than last.

  • Will Treinen (as closer) be better than Papelbon?  I like his chances.
  • Will Kelley repeat his success of 2016?  No reason not to think so
  • Will Glover give the team what Treinen did last year?  I’m confident.
  • Is Blanton better than Belisle?  Undoubtedly yes.
  • Can Solis match Rivero’s lefty production?  Seems like it based on what he did last year
  • Is Perez the same guy he was last year?  Probably.
  • Can Romero be as bad as Petit was last  year?  Yeah, he probably could.

Maybe you don’t agree with me on these quick takes … but on a general level the message is this: the bullpen this year should be just as good as last year’s.

Collier delves into FIP to find some unluckiness, also notes its SSS.  And he notes that its a MLB-wide trend; bullpens are awful everywhere for some reason this year.


 

Q: How much rope does Blake have left? Is he staying put only because the other options have also struggled?

A: See above: its April 18th.  Treinen has 4 save opportunities, blew one (where he gave up just one hit to blow it), but his most recent outing was an ugly one necessitating some Bryce Harper heroics.  My choice to close would have been Shawn Kelley honestly; more experience, more swing and miss stuff, more proven capabilities of getting guys out on both sides of the plate.  But the team chose otherwise, mostly due to Kelley’s twice-repaired elbow and the need to go back to back nights.  Ask yourself; how often do we need a closer to go back to back nights?  Lets look at last year’s closer Mark Melancon and count how many times he pitched in back to back games for the entirety of 2016: I counted 16 times in 75 appearances.  And in most of those cases, he then got several days off.  I just can’t believe Kelley’s arm is SO FRAGILE that he can’t throw back to back nights.

Do you know how many times Kelley threw on back-to-back days in 2016?  Take a guess.  13 times.  So 13 times last year (or nearly as many as the closer Melancon) Kelley threw on back to back days, but suddenly in 2017 he’s too fragile to depend on to throw back to backs as the closer.

To get back to the question; I’m sure Glover will be closing sooner or later.  It was always looking that way.  How much rope does Treinen have?  Probably at least til mid May.

Collier says its early, that while Treinen has had some issues there’s no change coming anytime soon.


 

Q: Who do you see as potential options in the Minors in case the current bullpen members don’t figure things out and changes need to be made?

A: Great question.  When Albers got called and added to the active roster, it was a severe indictment of all remaining 40-man roster relievers.  That’s be Rafael Martin, Trevor Gott, Austin Adams, and to a lesser extent Jimmy Cordero and Matt Grace.  The first three guys are right handed options, all with MLB experience, all passed over for a guy the team signed for nothing.  That tells me that the team has little to no trust in any of those three guys at the major league level right now.  So who might the team call upon?  Here’s some thoughts:

  • From AAA: Adams is the only guy having a halfway decent season thus far; in 7 2/3rds innings he’s given up just 1 hit (!), walked 6, struck out 12.  The team just re-signed Joe Nathan but I sincerely hope he’s not a legitimate option.
  • From AA; the 5 best guys by WHIP are … the five starters.  So that’s good I guess.  Braulio Lara was an offseason MLFA with a lot of AAA time; he’s got decent AA stats right now and could be an option to move up, but not straight to the majors for me.  Then there’s Ryan Brinley, who is sharing in closing duties but is young and is a total lottery ticket; a 27th rounder from 2015 who is a shock to have even made it this far.  40-man member Cordero is down here… and has a 19.62 ERA right now.  Nice.
  • From XST: there’s three potentially interesting names that could make sense for the bullpen: Derek Eitel, John Lannan, and Josh Outman.  Eitel had solid AAA numbers last year and has been around for a while (age 29); he might be an option to look for.  Outman has parts of 7 years MLB experience, some starting, some relieving and could be an option.  Lastly, the new side-slinger Lannan could be a back-fill for an under-performing Loogie.

I guess the other option would be to take a starter from AAA or AA and bring him up in relief.  But the AAA starters are really struggling right now.  Hill is getting bombed, Voth has given up 15 hits in just 6 1/3 innings, Cole walked 5 guys in his first start, and Turner has a 1.73 whip through 2 turns.  And none of these guys are really known for their blazing fastballs; they’re all command and control starters.  The AA starters look better than the AAA starters, but a couple of them strategically have to stay as starters (namely Erick Fedde and Austen Williams, John Simms to a lesser extent).  Jaron Long and Greg Ross are both MLFA signings who the team may not have as much invested in … perhaps they could be put into shorter relief modes and considered for bullpen spots.  But that’s digging deep.

In other words … there’s not a lot of reinforcements that the team trusts right now.  The MLB bullpen will be given plenty of rope to straighten themselves out.

Collier mentions Albers’ success, Nathan signing, Cotts, Adams and Gott.

 

Nats Prospects: Where to see them in 2017

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Robles is #1 on every list ... and he's finally within driving distance! Photo via milb.com

Robles is #1 on every list … and he’s finally within driving distance! Photo via milb.com

(2016’s version of this post2015’s version of this post)

Now that we’re basically through Prospect Ranking season, and now that the four full season rosters have been announced, here’s a fun little look at where all our “top” prospects are assigned to start out 2017.  By “Top prospects” I basically mean anyone who has gotten more recent prospect rankings (so for example, Taylor Hill in Syracuse is not listed).  Even an “honorable mention” in Sickel’s lists, which go nearly 40 deep.  I have it organized not by general ranking, but by the level.

Also, Here’s a link to every Nats prospect ranking list I know of dating to 2004 along with their respective starting locations going back 3 years (the below table only has this year’s and last for comparison purposes).

Last NameFirst NamePosition2017 Starting Level2016 Starting Level
GloverKodaRHP (reliever)MLBHigh A
MarmolejosJose1BMLB D/LHigh A
ColeA.J.RHPAAAAAA
VothAustinRHPAAAAAA
SeverinoPedroCAAAAAA
BautistaRafaelOF (CF)AAAAA
GoodwinBrianOF (CF)AAAAAA
SkoleMatt1B/3BAAAAAA
FeddeErickRHPAAHigh A
StevensonAndrewOF (CF)AAHigh A
WardDrew3BAAHigh A
AbreuOsvaldoSSAAHigh A
ReadRaudyCAAHigh A
WilliamsAustenRHPAAAA
JohansenJakeRHP (reliever)AAHigh A
SimmsJohnRHPAAAA
CorderoJimmyRHP (reliever)AAAA
SelfDerekRHP (reliever)AAHigh A
PerezStephenSSAAAA
KieboomSpencerCAAAA
RoblesVictorOF (CF)High-ALow A
GutierrezKelvin3BHigh-ALow A
BaezJoanRHP (Starter)High-ALow A
WisemanRhettOF (corner)High-ALow A
AgustinTelmitoOFHigh-ALow A
LoraEdwinSSHigh-ALow A
CrownoverMatthewLHP (StarterHigh-ALow A
SagdalIanUtilHigh-ALow A
DavidsonAustinInfHigh-AHigh A
ReyesLuisRHPHigh-AHigh A
RodriguezJefryRHPHigh-ALow A
BacusDakodaRHP (reliever)High-AAA
Rivera Jr.MarianoRHP (reliever)High-ALow A
SotoJuanOF (corner)Low-AGCL
KieboomCarterSSLow-AGCL
NeuseSheldon3BLow-AShort A
FrancoAnderson3BLow-AGCL
PerkinsBlakeOF (CF)Low-AShort A
ReetzJaksonCLow-ALow A
WatsonTylerLHPLow-AShort A
BanksNickOF (Corner)Low-AShort A
JohnsonDanielOF (Corner)Low-AShort A
NollJake2BLow-AGCL
BarreraTresCLow-AShort A
GarciaLuisSSXSTDSL
LuzardoJesusLHP (StarterXSTXST
AntunaYaselSSXSTDSL
UpshawArmondOF (CF)XSTGCL
LeeAndrewLHP (reliever)XSTLow A
PimentelDavinsonCXSTGCL
FuentesStevenRHPXSTShort A
DickeyRobbieRHPXSTLow A
MotaIsraelOFXSTGCL
GunterCody3B (now a RPH)XSTLow A
BallouIsaacOF (Corner)XSTAA
BenincasaRobertRHP (reliever)XSTAA
SanchezJose?DSL?DSL

Thoughts by Level:

MLB: Koda Glover‘s amazing 2016 rise from High-A to the majors is well documented.  Now it looks like  he may get closing chances sooner than later.  For procedural reasons Jose Marmolejos has to be on the major league D/L, but you’d have to think he goes to AA when he’s off of it.  His injury, in case you were wondering, is a “Left Forearm Strain” and he should be eligible to come off the 60-day D/L on or about April 24th.

AAA: Of the 6 “prospects” in AAA … 5 of them were there last year.  Only Rafael Bautista is making “progress” into the upper-most level of our minors.  All six are on the 40-man and all 6 should get call-ups at some point this year (even if its 9/1 for someone like Bautista).  We’ve talked these guys to death really; no real surprises on this list.

AA: Lots of guys on the AA roster who have gotten mentions in the past.  About half of them are Nats draftees making expected progress from High-A -> AA (Fedde, Stevenson, Ward, Abreu, Read).  There’s 5 guys who are seemingly stalled at AA for the moment: Williams, Simms, Cordero, Perez and Kieboom all started last year at AA.   And then there’s the two oddities in terms of assignments: Johansen (as previously discussed) and Self (who is now in AA for the fourth season).

High-A: 10 of the 13 guys here are making year-over-year expected progress from Low-A.  Two more (Davidson and Reyes) are repeating the level, and then there’s Bacus, who started last year in AA and seems to be moving backwards.

Low-A: 6 guys making expected Short->Low-A jumps, another 4 making the more impressive GCL->Low-A jump.  Only Reetz languishing here, repeating Low-A and looking more and more like a draft disappointment.  And its reflected in his system rankings; upon his drafting he was back of the top 10 … now he’s 18-20 range, if ranked at all.

XST: contains the expected mix of guys coming off injury and youngsters who were in either the GCL or the DSL last year and were not really ever candidates for Hagerstown.  Some of these guys likely get assigned to full-season squads as injuries occur, others will slot into short-season squads in a couple of months.  Biggest names here are Luis Garcia, Jesus Luzardo, Yasel Antuna, and Jose Sanchez (who might still be in the DSL as a 2016 IFA signee).

 

Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Harrisburg

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Fedde is the most prominent name in AA to start. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Fedde is the most prominent name in AA to start. Photo via minorleagueball.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: Harrisburg.  See here for Syracuse review.

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.

Quick Note: just prior to publishing word came out (h/t as always to Mr. Erickson) that a shake-up has already occurred in Harrisburg’s rotation.  I’ll strike-out existing text and replace it with updated.


AA/Harrisburg 2017:

  • starters: Fedde, Valdez, AWilliams, GRoss, Arias, Blackmar
  • spot starts/swingman: Long, Simms
  • bullpen: Brinley, Cordero, Johansen, Lara*, Self, Suero
  • dl/restricted: NLee*, Mapes, ARobinson
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016 (all FAs): Brady, Lively, Runion
  • missing from 2016: JDMartin, Blackmar, Benincasa, Rauh

Discussion

There’s some familiarity with this staff from the end of 2016: seven of the guys on this staff were there last September.  The Nats continue their trend of having their high profile players aim for mid-season promotions as opposed to the beginning of the season: Erick Fedde only had 5 AA starts last  year but by all accounts from his spring performance is ready to test himself at least at AAA if not doing a Jordan Zimmermann like jump straight from AA->Majors.

Rotation discussion: There’s more “starters” than there are spots; Phillips Valdez got 16 so-so starts in AA last year and will look to improve.  Austen Williams is probably getting his last shot to start before getting pushed to the bullpen.  Local guy Greg Ross (from Baltimore, went to Frostburg State) was a 2016 MLFA pickup who dominated … i’m kind of curious to see how how does in a full season.  MLFA signing Gabriel Arias has a ton of AAA time and may be over-qualified for this rotation, and got sent to the D/L just before season’s start.  He’s been replaced by 2016 rotation member Mark Blackmar, who re-signed to extend his MLFA deal in the off-season.  I’ve listed both Jaron Long and John Simms as “spot starters” for now, though I think both deserve a shot at starting on a regular basis.  We’ll see if they switch places with some of the more shaky starters here.  30th round draftee Tyler Mapes starts on the D/L after a great season at AA last year; perhaps he gets pushed to AAA when he comes off the D/L.

In the bullpen, some surprises.  Why is 40-man roster member Jimmy Cordero in AA?   How did top 2013 draft pick Jake Johansen make the AA squad despite never succeeding anywhere outside of Low-A?  Derek Self will be spending his fourth successive year at Harrisburg; there’s more than 40 arms sitting in XST right now; does it make sense to have a guy who clearly isn’t rising up taking a full-season roster spot at this point?   Off-season MLFA Braulio Lara in AA after years in AAA?  Am I being too critical here?  It just seems like some curious picks for our AA squad.

Listed as “Missing” include the return of J.D. Martin as a knuckleballer; he’ll remain in XST until a spot opens up in AA or AAA.  2016 MLFA signing Mark Blackmar ended the year in AA but didn’t make the team; i’m guessing they’re trying to figure out how he fits in after dominating High-A but struggling in AA.  Lastly two guys who I have as “release candidates” are not assigned but not yet cut in long time Nats farm-hands Robert Benincasa and Brian Rauh.

Who am I focusing on: Fedde obviously.  Ross and Simms intrigue me, as does Mapes.  Brinley was *so good* in Potomac; really want to see him succeed in AA as a 27th rounder.  Want to see what we have in Cordero.

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?

2016 Season Statistical review of the 2013 Draft Class

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Austin Voth remains the "class" of the 2013 draft class. Photo mlb.com official

Austin Voth remains the “class” of the 2013 draft class. Photo mlb.com official

(Coming back to this series post Winter Meetings hoopla).  Fourth in our set of Draft class Reviews for the 2016 season.  First was the 2016 class, then the 2015 class then the 2014 class.

Web links to use while reading:

This review is especially important to follow because the college-age draftees in this 2013 class are Rule-5 eligible this coming off-season.  I think its a big reason why several of these guys are in the AFL right now, and their performance may or may not influence the team’s decision to protect or leave exposed.  We’ll put a pin in this post when we eventually do Rule-5 Analysis later this month.

With out 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 (the Cardinals actually took Kaminsky, but I doubt the Nats would have; i think they would have taken Manaea).  Here’s a quick summary of 2016’s season for the guys I liked at the time in that spot (Rob Kaminsky, Sean Manaea, Ryne Stanek, Ian Clarkin):

  • Kaminsky:  11-7 with a 3.28 ERA in a full season starting for AA in his age 22 year.  Was flipped in 2015 to Cleveland from St. Louis (his drafting team) in the Brandon Moss deal.
  • Manaea: 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA in 24 starts for Oakland this year.  Was flipped in 2015 to Oakland from Kansas City (his drafting team) in the Ben Zobrist deal.
  • Stanek: split time between AA and AAA, was removed from the rotation and struggled in relief.
  • Clarkin: went 6-9 with a 3.31 ERA in High-A as a 21-yr old after losing all of 2015 to injury.

I’ve more than said my peace on how much I disagreed with the Soriano signing and its opportunity cost.  Lets move on.

Round 2Jake Johansen, Coll Sr. RHP (Starter, now a Reliever) Dallas Baptist U. 4-1 3.19 ERA across 3 levels in 2016.  29/22 K/BB in 36 2/3 mostly middle relief innings.  1.64 whip.  Johansen started the year in Potomac, walked 11 guys in 6 appearances and was dumped back to XST.  Once the GCL started he threw a few innings in Florida before joining Hagerstown for the rest of the year.   He had 11 appearances and 19 IP in Low-A with good numbers … but at this point in his career (he’ll turn 26 in a couple of months) and given where he was drafted, the fact that he can’t seem to cut it anywhere above Low-A ball seems like a pretty succinct judgement of the pick.  I’m guessing he hangs around until he hits 6-years in the system, but any hopes of him turning into even a marginal middle reliever seem shot.  If he was anything other than a big-bonus 2nd rounder he would have likely been released already.  He’s toiling in the AFL and (as of this writing) had only given up one run in 9 innings, but had a measly 3 punch-outs against the elite hitters of the minors.  With any luck, this confidence boost will carry over into 2017.   Trending Down.

Round 3Drew Ward, HS 3B.  Slashed .252/.348/.412 across 2 levels, ending the year in Harrisburg.  121/56 K/BB in 408 ABs, 14 homers.   Ward’s age 21 season went pretty well; he started the year in Potomac but posted an .868 OPS there in 53 games to force his promotion to AA.  He hit just .219 once he got there though, which means we’re likely seeing him back there in 2017.  His strikeout rate remains a problem: 121 Ks in 408 Abs is a 30% clip.  But the team clearly rates him; he’s in the AFL for the 2nd straight off-season and is hitting .327 against the best the minors has to offer.  And he was a 21 yr old in AA; lots of 21 yr olds are still in Short-A.  He’s also starting to get some prospect notice; generally getting ranked in the 12-15 range in the system.  I’m going to say Trending Up … lets hope he can put up .800 OPS figures in AA in 2017.

Round 4Nick Pivetta, Juco RHP (starter) New Mexico Juco.  Traded 7/28/15 to Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon.  He had a solid year starting between AA and AAA and could feature for the Phillies as a 9/1 callup next year.  For all of us that can’t stand these moves for closers (see above lost 1st rounder), this may have the jeopardy of haunting us for years if Pivetta becomes a regular rotation member of an NL East rival.  Maybe they’ll leave him off their 40-man roster this coming off-season and we can Rule5 draft him :-)

Round 5Austin Voth, Coll Jr RHP (starter) UWashington: 7-9, 3.15 ERA in 25 starts for AAA Syracuse.  133/57 K/BB in 157 IP, 1.24 whip, 3.53 FIP, .279 BABIP.  Another year, another solid season for Voth.  I’m not sure what else there is for him to accomplish in the Minors at this point; he seems to be the pitcher that he is.  His BABIP was in-line with his career numbers, he’s slightly regressed in a K/9 rate since arriving at AAA, and his ERA seems to be in line with his career numbers.  As discussed in this space earlier this year, I’m not quite sure why the team didn’t add him at the 9/1 roster expansion date; clearly they’re going to add him ahead of Rule-5 (which they did) but instead chose to leave him on the sidelines while they had September tryouts for Mat Latos.  Clearly he’s behind several of his AAA rotation mates on the depth chart, but I feel like he could still be a valuable rotation member for the Nats or someone else.  Given our starter depth, one has to think he’s trade bait at this point (he’s behind Lopez, Giolito and Cole clearly).  He seems like the kind of guy a team like Oakland would love.  Trending Up.  Post writing update: with the firesale of Nats SP candidates, Voth suddenly is like 2nd in line for getting MLB starts, so we look forward to seeing him in a Nats uniform at some point in 2017 and seeing if he’s the 2nd coming of Tanner Roark … or if he’s more like Taylor Jordan.

Round 6Cody Gunter, Juco 3B/RHP (reliever) from Greyson College: 0-0 in 2/3rds of an IP for GCL before getting shutdown for the season.  He looked halfway decent for Auburn in 2015 while converting from his drafted position (3B) to the mound, but 2016 is a big step-back.  I don’t know what to expect in 2017; perhaps a shot at the Hagerstown pen or an outright release.  Trending Down.

Round 7Jimmy Yezzo, Coll Jr 1B from UDelaware.  Released on 7/22/15.  Played a full season with the Washington PA team in the Indy Frontier League, hitting .220.

Round 8David Napoli, Coll Sr LHP (relief) from Tulane.  Released 3/16/16 after four seasons where he never got above A ball.

Round 9Jake Joyce, Coll Sr RHP (reliever) from Va Tech.  Released in 7/7/14.

Round 10Brennan Middleton, Coll Sr SS/2B from Tulane. Released on 6/30/15.

Round 11John Simms, Coll jr RHP (starter) from Rice. 8-5, 3.30 ERA in 29 games (11 starts) for AA.  79/28 K/BB ratio in 92 2/3rds innings, 1.08 whip, 3.84 fip, .254 babip.  Simms was the opening day starter for Harrisburg in 2016, but never seemed destined for the rotation; he was mostly a long reliever/spot starter, never throwing even 90 pitches in an outing.  He did not go to the AFL this year after going last year; what is his planned usage going forward?  His numbers look good; is he destined to move up to AAA and be a 6th starter again?   He seems to be able to compete, so we’ll see how he does against more veteran/mature competition in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 12Andrew Cooper, Juco RH relief pitcher from Sierra College.  Released on 1/12/16, not even getting a chance to compete for a spot in the High-A bullpen.  Seems like the team let him try to earn his way up on the field and it never happened.

Round 13John Costa, Juco RH relief pitcher from Palm Beach CC.  Released 4/1/15.

Round 14David Masters, Juco SS/3B from Central Arizona College: Slashed just .174/.259/.280 with 56/23 K/BB in 236 ABs in High-A.  6HR, 1SB.  Masters seemed to play every other day in a utility role for Potomac, posting anemic batting stats but staying with the team the whole year.  I thought he was in trouble after hitting just .226 LAST year but he stuck around the whole season.   I said this last season, but it seems like Masters isn’t long for the organization.  Trending down.

Round 15Isaac Ballou, Coll Sr OF/CF from Marshall (via Germantown, MD). Slashed .255/.332/.386 mostly for AA Harrisburg.  77/42 K/BB in 373 AA at-bats, 6hr, 7SB.  Ballou split time between the corner OF spots and had a couple of stints covering for Syracuse.   Ballou didn’t stick as a starter in AAA, instead repeating AA for the most part.  Depending on how the MLB roster numbers shake out, he may have the same issue in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 16Willie Allen, Juco Corner OF from Oklahoma/Newtown, MA.  Did not sign; transferred to Lewis-Clark State (ID), where he played for a  year in 2015, then has apparently disappeared.  He was not on their 2016 roster, and he does not appear to still be playing.

Round 17Geoff Perrott, Coll Sr C from Rice.  Retired 1/5/2015

Round 18Cory Bafidis, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher from Texas Wesleylan.  Released 7/7/2014.

Round 19Niko Spezial, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher from Wake Forest.  Released 5/28/14.

Round 20Brenton Allen, Coll Jr Corner OF from UCLA.  Released 6/21/14.

Round 21Justin Thomas, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher from Southern Arkansas. 3-2, 4.75 ERA while repeating High-A.  36/21 K/BB in 47 1/3 relief innings, 1.37 whip, 4.50 fip, .281 babip.  Last year I liked Thomas and thought he’d easily move up to AA.  Didn’t happen; he repeated Potomac and his numbers went down.  His lefty-lefty splits aren’t especially good, which precludes his value as a lefty specialist, so I wonder what his role is going forward at this point.  I’d guess he’ll compete for AA spot but may be a release candidate.  Trending down.

Round 22Cody Dent, Coll Sr SS from UFlorida. Released 7/15/16 after getting demoted out of High-A and hitting just .195 as a 24-yr old in low-A.  Even his pedigree (he is the son of legendary Bucky Dent) couldn’t save him.

Round 23Garrett Gordon, Juco Corner OF.  Released in 3/26/15.

Round 24Matthew DeRosier, Juco RHP (starter/reliever) from Southwestern College (CA).  3-3, 4.54 ERA in 14 low-A starts before hitting the D/L on 6/30/16 for the rest of the season.  59/18 K/BB in 67 1/3 innings, 1.32 whip, 3.25 fip, .325 babip.  DeRosier was in the opening day rotation for Hagerstown and lasted there for 3 months before getting hurt.  DeRosier was a young JuCo signee; he just finished his 4th pro season but he turned 22 in July, so we’re not too worried that he’s still in Low-A.  But he needs to start making some progress before he ages out of the system.  His FIP is better than his ERA, but we have no idea what the injury was.  I’d guess he’ll compete for the Potomac rotation in 2017.  Trending Steady.

Round 25Travis Ott, HS LH starting pitcher.  Traded 12/17/14 along with Steven Souza in the Trea Turner/Joe Ross deal.  Repeated Short-A for the *third* year and was phenomenal in 2016.  Why keep him there?  I know Tampa is “conservative” when it comes to promoting pitching prospects, but keeping a talented HS pitcher in the same classification for three years running seems dumb.

Round 26Garrett Hampson, HS SS from Reno, NV.  Did not sign; honored commitment to Long Beach State.  Had a monster collegiate career and was drafted in the 3rd round by Colorado.  Signed a $750k bonus and had an .845 OPS in Short-A Boise.   Could be one that got away.

Round 27Bryce Harman, HS LH starting pitcher from Richmond, VA (Byrd HS).  Did not sign; honored commitment to East Carolina University.  Hit .242 his Junior year starting and was not drafted.

Round 28Joey Webb, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher.  Released 6/25/15.

Round 29Mike Sylvestri, Coll Sr RH relief pitcher.   Retired on 6/13/14.

Round 30Ryan Ullmann, Coll Sr RH Starting pitcher.  Released 6/25/15.

Round 31Willie Medina, Coll Sr SS.  Released in Jan 2015.

Round 32Pat Boling, Coll Jr LHP: Did not sign, chose to return to U. of Georgia for his senior season.  He posted a 4.94 ERA his senior year, was not re-drafted, and does not appear he played any independent ball.

Round 33Andrew Dunlap, HS C/RHP from Houston.  Did not sign.  Honoring a commitment to Rice University.  He has struggled to find the field for Rice, not playing in 2014 or 2015 and hitting .197 in limited PT his junior year in 2016.

Round 34Jake Walsh, Coll Sr LH relief pitcher. Released 3/16/16, before the season started.  This one I still do not get to this day.   Look at his minor league numbers: he has a career 1.65 ERA!!   All his peripherals look good.  I just don’t get this at all.  I thought he’d be at least in the AA rotation in 2016; instead he’s out of the game.

Round 35Lukas Schiraldi, Juco RHP from Texas.  Did not sign; instead transferred to U Texas.  Drafted in 2014 in the 15th round by Seattle; in 2016 he struggled with the jump to High-A (with the caveat that he’s in the California league).

Round 36Reid Humphreys, HS SS from Missouri.  Did not sign.  Honoring commitment to Mississippi State.  Drafted in the 7th round in 2016 by Colorado, signed for $227k, and threw a few games in the rookie league.  Btw, he converted to the mound in college and is now a RHP reliever.

Round 37Karsten Whitson, RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign, returned to U Florida for his senior/4th year.  Was drafted by Boston in 2014 as an 11th rounder (likely bonus; max of $100k), released on 3/9/16.  An ignominious ending to a career that started with him declining 1st round money.  As Keith Law says: “Always take the money.”

Round 38Caleb Hamilton, HS SS from Washington State.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to U of Washington.  He was drafted in the 23rd round this year by Minnesota and signed.  He  hit .207 for their rookie league team.

Round 39Robbie Tenerowicz, HS 2B/SS from California.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to UC Berkeley.  He was drafted in the 27th round this year by Tampa Bay and signed.   He hit .291 with some pop for their rookie league team.

Round 40Shaun Anderson, HS RH starting pitcher from Florida.  Did not sign; honoring commitment to U of Florida.  At Florida he was a significant part of their pre-season #1 team, serving as the closer.  He was drafted in the 3rd round by Boston, signed for $700k, and then gave up 12 hits and 9 runs in his Short-A debut.  He’ll try it again fresh in 2017.


Trending Summary:

  • Trending Up (2): Voth, Ward
  • Trending Steady (3): Simms, Ballou, DeRosier
  • Trending Down (4): Johansen, Gunter, Masters, Thomas
  • Did Not Sign in 2013 (11): Allen, Hampson, Harman, Boling, Dunlap, Schiraldi, Humphries, Whitson, Hamilton, Tenerowicz, Anderson
  • Released/Retired (17): Yezzo, Napoli, Joyce, Middleton, Cooper, Costa, Perrott, Bafidis, Spezial, Allen, Dent, Gordon, Webb, Sylvestri, Ullmann, Medina, Walsh
  • Traded (2): Pivetta, Ott

Executive Summary

Wow; this class is really looking poor.  Just two players who I still think are trending up in Voth and Ward.  And even though I rate Voth, I sense he’s perhaps he’s limited to being a 4-A/5th starter.  As noted before, no 1st rounder and a blatant fail on Johansen the 2nd rounder have made this class look pretty weak.  It’d look a bit better if Ward (3rd rounder) turned out, but the cashing in of the 4th rounder (Pivetta) for a short-term head case rental looks equally wasteful in hindsight.

On the bright side … it makes Rule 5 decisions pretty easy.  We’ll circle back to this post when we do the Rule5 analysis, but right now the only candidate here worth protecting is Voth.  (Update post-writing: we were right; the only one added was Voth and nobody here got drafted).

 

 

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 :-)

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

This is the 4th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2015.  Other parts of the 2015 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Taylor Jordan), here’s 2012’s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.  Had we done this in 2014, we would likely have “featured” Gilberto Mendez for his good work closing.

Note; while its relatively easy to do reviews for the upper levels of the system, once we get lower we’re usually talking about a lot of short sample sizes.  And i’m sure there’s people reading this who saw every pitcher on this post throw in 2015; by all means feel free to comment if you believe i’ve mis-characterized someone here.  Of all the write-ups I expect readers here to have better opinions of Potomac players by virtue of actually seeing them week in/week out, so definitely pipe up.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 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.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015, though these are more useful for the AAA and AA squads frankly.

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

  • Opening Day rotation: Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*
  • End of Season Rotation: Mapes, Dickson, AWilliams, Spann*, Howell
  • End of Season spot starts/swingman: Dupra, Thomas*,  Valdez
  • End of Season bullpen:  Self,   Walsh*, Johansen, Orlan*, MRodriguez
  • Mid-Season promotions: Dupra, Bacus, Suero, Pivetta, Mapes, Giolito, Purke*, Simms, Rauh, Roark
  • up-and-back: Mapes, Spann*, Dupra
  • down-and-back: Thomas*, Rauh
  • demotions: KPerez, Napoli*, Amlung, Orlan*
  • D/L: RPena, Turnbull*, Sylvestre*,  Lopez
  • cut/released/FAs: Mirowski, Henke, Encarnacion, Schwartz (retired), CDavis

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*.  19 guys got starts in 2015.  Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.

  • Nick Pivetta was your opening day starter, and by the end of the season he had gotten promoted and traded.  He earned his promotion, going 7-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts for Potomac.  He was not as successful upon his promotion to AA, but that was still enough to catch the eye of Philadelphia and be the bounty for them ridding themselves of Jonathan Papelbon‘s ego and contract.  If he was still with the team, he would have been the ‘featured” player above and not Mapes for his dominant season in High-A.  Outlook for Next Season: Philadelphia’s AA team in Reading, where he gets to go against Harrisburg and all his old teammates a few times a year.
  • Brian Rauh threw 7 excellent High-A starts before getting promoted to AA, where he spent most of the year.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
  • Blake Schwartz had three High-A starts, struggled, and retired.  After a fantastic 2013 season in Potomac, he just never could make the jump to AA and (not that I’ve ever talked to him or anything) perhaps got discouraged after not really progressing further up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: retired, out of baseball
  • Wander Suero pitched pretty effectively for Potomac in the first half in a swingman role, getting 16 appearances and 5 starts and posting a 2.41 ERA, 1.20 whip, and a 3.27 FIP.  Not much in the way of swing and miss though; 39/18 K/BB in 56 innings.  After moving up, he struggled in AA but inched up his K/9 rate while focusing more on middle relief.  No reason to think he can’t compete in AA in 2016, and is still relatively young (he turned 24 just after the season ended so he’ll still be 24 all next year).  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen, perhaps High-A bullpen again if he gets squeezed in a numbers game.
  • Matthew Spann bounced between High-A and AA all year, posting mid 4 ERAs in both places.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Reynaldo Lopez led the team in IP and starts for 2015, going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 99 IP across 19 starts.  His stats: 4.09 ERA, 1.22 whip, 2.95 FIP and 94/28 K/BB in those 99 innings, all as a 21-yr old.  It isn’t hard to see why Lopez is highly ranked on “top 10” lists for Nats prospects; he more than held his own in High-A as one of the younger hurlers in the league.  The team held him back in XST for a few weeks to keep innings off his arm.  While most scouting reports think he’ll eventually end up in the bullpen (no third pitch, iffy mechanics, big arm), he’s obviously worth giving more chances to stick as a high-velocity starter (in the same vein as Yordano Ventura for example).  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • John Simms threw an excellent half season for Potomac before getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Lucas Giolito threw an dominant half season for Potomac (86 ks in 69 innings) after being kept in XST for the first 5 weeks of the season (so much for those pre-2015 interviews where he proclaimed that he had no innings limits, eh?) before also getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Austen Williams blitzed the Sally league and forced a promotion to Potomac mid-season, where he continued pitching well.  In High-A he was 4-6 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.09 whip, 3.22 fip and 41/17 K/BB over 63 high-A innings.  The 2014 draftee is looking like a nice little find.  There does seem to be a bit of fortuitousness in his numbers (.253 BABIP and a delta between his ERA and FIP), so I could see the log-jam in the AA projected rotation keeping Williams back in Potomac for the first half of the 2016 season.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation to start with an eye on quick promotion.
  • Philips Valdez dominated the Sally league and earned a promotion after two months.  In Potomac he bounced in and out of the rotation, getting 10 starts across 22 appearances and posting a 3.77 ERA in High-A.  Other numbers: 1.44 whip, 3.26 fip, 48/25 K/BB in 59 High-A innings.  Valdez has been around for a while; this was his *seventh* season in the Nats organization.  He just turned 24.  But he has relatively few innings on his arm; just 260 IP across those seven seasons (he missed the entirety of 2012).  He’s looking like he could be a low-profile decent starter going forward, though he may run out of time in the system before the team is faced with a tougher decision on how to keep him.  For now, I think he repeats High-A to start, is tried out as a full time starter, and we’ll see if he can push forward to AA in 2016.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation
  • Tyler Mapes so far is a pretty good 2014 draft success story; he was a 30th round *senior sign* out of Tulane who was basically unhittable in Short-A last year, threw 6 clean innings in Low-A and was bumped up to High-A (the first 2014 draftee to get promoted that high) after just a couple of weeks.  Once in Potomac, he continued to pitch well in a swing-man role; 30 appearances, 8 starts, a 2.38 ERA across 90 innings, 1.22 whip, 2.78 FIP and 75/17 K/BB over 96 innings in High-A.  Not too shabby.  If it were me, I’d push him right to AA and stick him in the rotation, but as noted before I’m projecting an awful lot of starters to be in that Harrisburg rotation right now.  I’m curious to see how things shake out for someone like Mapes; he didn’t last to the 30th round as a favor to the Nats; is there something limiting in his capabilities that will cause him to suddenly top out like a lot of late-round senior signs?  We’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Ian Dickson was hurt the first half of the season and finished 2015 the exact same place he finished 2014: in the Potomac rotation with decent to effective numbers.  2015 totals for Dickson: 3-3, 3.60 ERA in 12 appearances/8 starts.  We see a problem though: 31 ks and 39 (?!) walks in 40 innings in Potomac this year.  Wow; that’s a walk an inning.  He never saw this kind of walk rate before, so hopefully its just a remnant of whatever injury kept him out the first half of the year.  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll be back in Potomac a third year until he can solve his walk rate issues.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
  • Dakota Bacus began the season in Potomac, had 5 starts and 8 appearances and got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season.  See AA write-up for more.
  • Jeff Howell is a pretty interesting player.  He’s a career minor league backup catcher, having toiled in the lower minor leagues since 2005.  He signed on with Washington in 2012 and hung around as a backup between the levels for a couple of years.  Then suddenly, at the age of 32, he decided to try his hand on the mound.  Perhaps he was inspired by other Catchers-turned-Hurlers like Jason Motte.  He (presumably) hung out in XST for most of the season learning how to pitch, then threw a couple of games in the Rookie league, then for Hagerstown, then finally for Potomac at season’s end.  He struggled once he got to Potomac, giving up 9 runs in 13 innings but more importantly walking 17 guys while he was there.  He’s now a MLFA and one may think that he’d re-up with Washington since we’re the ones who gave him a shot.  We’ll see how the off-season goes.  He may choose to pitch elsewhere where he can be guaranteed a rotation spot (a tough one in our system, since we’re completely overloaded with arms from pitching-heavy drafts over the past few years).   Outlook for Next season: continuing his conversion to pitcher in another organization.
  • Others who got starts in Potomac for 2015:
    • Matt Purke got three brief starts in Potomac before settling in Harrisburg for the year; see AA write-up for more.
    • Rehab starts for Potomac in 2015: Barrett, Roark, Janssen and Carpenter (though technically Roark’s were not rehab but “stretching out” starts).

Potomac 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.

  • Justin Thomas was the bullpen leader in IP for Potomac in 2015, throwing 57 innings across 28 games, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.21 whip, a 2.84 FIP and getting 50/18 K/BB in those 57 innings.  He’s a lefty but was used more as a long-man, not being limited to just short stints.  He’s looking great considering his limited draft pedigree (senior sign out of a small college in the 21st round) and I see no reason not to keep bumping him up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Jake Johanssen was 1-7 with a 5.44 ERA, 1.81 whip, 4.69 fip with 48/27 K/BB in 48 relief innings for Potomac.  Johanssen was our top draft pick in 2013, has already been “demoted” from a starter to the pen, and now seemingly can’t perform in a relief role either.  Where do you go from here with him?  You and I know that his large bonus is a “sunk cost” and shouldn’t dictate his usage, but teams don’t seem to see it that way.  Just look at how long the Nats kept Brett Mooneyham around after it became clear he wasn’t capable of performing, even at lower levels of the minors?  I see Johanssen repeating High-A and trying to get his career back on track.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Derek Self seems to be taking a step back in his career; after posting a 1.69 ERA through half a season in Potomac last year, he more than earned a promotion up to AA where he more than held his own.  However after just 14 innings in AA this year, he got dumped back to Potomac, thus repeating High-A for the third straight year.  He was solid again; a 4/1 K/BB ratio in middle relief, but where is his Nats career going at this point?  Obviously he needs to be in the AA bullpen next year, but you could have also said that last year and it didn’t work out.  There’s going to be a lot of AA bullpen competition; if he gets squeezed out does he get cut in 2016?  we’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release Candidate.
  • Brian Dupra is in a similar boat as Derek Self; he’s now 27 and spent most of his third successive year in Potomac.  He was promoted mid-season to AA but didn’t last long after getting hit hard.  Final Potomac stats for 2015: 2.79 ERA in 42 mostly later bullpen innings.  I think he’s going to be in a similar situation as Self this coming spring; if he cannot cut it at AA (and there’s plenty of competition for that bullpen), he may get cut loose entirely.  Not that it should matter, but it should be noted that Dupra was a senior sign for limited bonus money out of Notre Dame in 2011, so it could be a “make the team or get cut” situation.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release candidate.
  • Cody Davis was struggling early in the season, with a decent ERA but ugly peripherals (4.55 fip, 10/15 K/BB in 21 ip) and was released towards the end of June as upwards player movement started to need bullpen spots.  The undrafted MLFA signing from 2011 played parts of 5 seasons for the system but seemed to fall apart this year as he repeated High-A.   It does not look like he picked up anywhere and may be done.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Manny Rodriguez only threw 21 innings between two different D/L stints this year, and then was released soon after the end of the season.  It seems that the team believed he never recovered from the injury that cost him two full seasons early in his minor league career.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Jake Walsh threw 17 scoreless innings as a late-inning/closer in Low-A before getting bumped up to High-A in July.  From there out he posted a 3.66 ERA in 19.2 innings across 9 appearances with a 19/10 K/BB ratio.   There’s something odd going on with Walsh; why was he even in Low-A to start 2015?  He posted a sub-2.00 ERA across low- and high-A LAST YEAR, yet didn’t start in Potomac nor get considered for the AA rotation despite being a senior sign in 2013.  He now holds a CAREER 1.65 ERA and seems to me to more than have earned a shot at a look at a higher level.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
  • Kevin Perez spent the 2nd half of the year in  Hagerstown after struggling early on in Potomac: see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Robert Orlan spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted a 2.20 ERA in Potomac in 16.1 August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Justin Amlung, similarly to Orlan above, spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted an excellent 1.84 ERA in Potomac in 14.2 July and August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Other Relievers of note who had less than 10 IP for Potomac this year:
    • David Napoli had 8 IP for Potomac before getting demoted to Hagerstown:  see Low-A write-up for more.
    • Matt Purke threw 7 IP for Potomac during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2015: see AA write-up for more.
    • Erik Davis threw 3 re-hab IP in 2015; see AA write-up for more.
    • Tanner Roark threw one 4Ip start during his “stretch out” minor league stint; see MLB write-up for more.
    • Brenden Webb, normally an Outfielder, threw a 3Ip mop-up game (really?  they couldn’t find ONE reliever out of the 32 guys who threw innings for Potomac this year?)
    • MLBers Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and David Carpenter each had some re-hab innings; see MLB write-up for more.
    • A few guys spent the entire year on the D/L: Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull, Hector Sylvestre: all are looking at repeating Potomac next year if/when healthy.

Summary

Potomac certainly saw a lot of churn in its pitching staff; 32 total pitchers used (19 different starters including rehab starts by relievers).  Their leading IP was Lopez, who didn’t even hit 100 IP on the year.  There were at least 6-7 arms who earned their promotions to AA mid-season, a great sign for the rising tide of pitching talent in the system.  Lots of guys with ERAs that start with a “2” in the season-ending stats.  It didn’t help Potomac in the standings; they finished both halves several games under .500 and out of the playoffs.  This will create quite a competition for the AA staff next year: my projections at this point show at least 6-7 rotation candidates, 8-9 bullpen candidates and another 3-4 guys who are right at that age where they may be summarily cut if they don’t make the AA team in 2016.  Harsh, but good for the Nats, who could use all the bullpen help they can get.