Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘josh bell’ tag

MLBPipeline’s Nats top30 Prospects

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by MLBpipeline. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

The 2021 season is almost upon us, which means that the pre-2021 “prospect season” is now winding to a close. One of the last two major prospect-analysis shops in MLBpipeline.com released their rankings for the Nats, so as we’ve done in the past lets take a look and comment on their rankings versus the collective hive of other analysts.

MLBPipeline’s analysis is primarily the work of three people: Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, and Sam Dykstra (formerly Mike Rosenbaum, who is now a baseball writer free agent apparently).

We’ve now seen Nats rankings from BA, BP, MLBpipeline, Espn/McDaniel, Athletic/Law, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Prospects1500, and Fantrax. The only major shop left is Fangraphs/Longenhagen, who is nearly done releasing team-by-team rankings, and when he does we’ll publish a post for his list like this one.

Thoughts on the MLBpipeline list are below; I won’t repeat the actual list of the top 30; that’s more easily seen here, with links to video and scouting reports by clicking on the player names. There’s been a ton of movement from the last time they ranked the system at the end of December in the wake of the Josh Bell trade.

  • At the top, Cavalli over Rutledge: they’ve switched these guys at the top since December. Rutledge is given a grade-70 fastball was also recently named the Nats prospect with the best FB, but doesn’t have the secondary pitch depth that Cavalli has.
  • Same top 3 as basically everyone else: Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry.
  • Antuna up to #4; three months ago they had him at #10, and this ranking is really in line with many of the other shops. I continue to believe he could be an impactful player this year at the MLB level, despite being optioned officially over the weekend to AAA with the team’s first cuts of 2021.
  • De La Rosa jumped up to #6; they’re the most bullish of the shops on this kid. All we have to go on is crummy 2019 GCL numbers when he was 17, so this will be an illuminating year.
  • Recent IFA signing Armando Cruz debuts at #7 … wow. That’s pretty frigging high for a 16yr old, no matter what $$ he just got.
  • Like most shops, they’ve dropped Denaburg nearly out of the top 10 at this point. I’d like to point out that Denaburg will turn 22 in August, is in his fourth pro season and has a grand total of 20 1/3rd professional innings pitched. I get that he’s been unlucky with injury, but man I’d like to see something out of the guy in 2021.
  • Infante comes in at #13, in line with other shops but drastically increased by MLBpipeline since Dec, when they had him #24. What changed? Did they suddenly decide his scouting reports merited this drastic increase?
  • Romero unceremoniously dumped from #7 in December all the way to #18. #18 in a prospect list for a farm system is basically saying, “this guy is lucky to have a AAA job.” By way of comparison, Tres Barrera is #19; does anyone consider Barrera a prospect anymore? I get the ranking; his velocity and performance in the majors last year was really concerning; if he can’t cut it as an effective starter, does he even have the arm to be an effective reliever? The team seems to be turning him back into a starter; does he have the stuff to be an effective starter? What happened to the guy with two 60-grade pitches coming out of college?
  • Braymer comes in at #21. If I were to hide draft pedigree and signing bonuses, and just put Braymer and Romero’s career accomplishments side by side … how in god’s name do you rank Braymer below him? One guy has a significant minor league pedigree of accomplishment and actually succeeded in 2020’s MLB appearances, while the other guy …. didn’t.
  • Fuentes: another guy who I feel gets downgraded when evaluators look at this bonus amount versus his results. He’s a worm-burner with a heavy fastball that just gets people out, at every level. If I told you that, at the age of 21, the Nat’s had a 1st rounder reach AA and put up a 2.69 ERA and a 63/15 K/BB ratio in 63 innings (Fuentes’ 2019 age-21 season AA numbers), we’d be talking about him being the next Strasburg. But since its Fuentes … he’s barely a prospect. He’s a guy I hope proves the pundits wrong.
  • Schaller’s ranking takes a nose dive, from #16 to #27. I’m not sure why; he was decent in 2019 in Low-A, he’s got a good pedigree (a starter from Vanderbilt). He missed some 2019 time with injury, but it wasn’t arm related. Why dump him so far? I think he could make a statement in 2021.
  • Sanchez, like with BA’s ranking, is thrown in at #30 almost entirely based on the spin rate on his curve (3,000 rpms, which is MLB elite). He’ll use his age-18 season hopefully to pitch in the GCL and impress the staff.

Nats 40-man Options status

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Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Post Publishing Update 3/23/21: an Arbiter has just ruled that Erick Fedde does NOT have a 4th option, meaning that he’s now out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the 2021 opening day roster.

Merry Xmas! The Nats got a Bell

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Bell joins his former Pittsburgh teammate Harrison with the Nationals. Photo via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Not unlike the little boy in The Polar Express, the Nats got a Bell for Christmas.

Let me just start out by saying, I love this move. Might as well get it on record.

The Nats made their first trade in nearly a year, and their first one with Pittsburgh in four years, by acquiring Josh Bell in exchange for two pitching prospects in Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean.

Bell is a middle-of-the-order stud, crushing the NL in 2019 to the tune of a 142 OPS+ and 135 wRC+. He crushed 37 homers playing in Pittsburgh’s pitcher’s park and despite missing a few weeks with injury. He struggled in 2020, so Pittsburgh is selling a bit low, but its also a typical move from the often-tanking franchise. Bell is arb-eligible, a Scott Boras client and probably is only a 2-year player here, but he fits an immediate and urgent need on this team.

Now for a bit on the players heading the other way. Crowe has been one of our top pitching prospects for several seasons, grinding his way up the chain and debuting in 2020. However (and yes this is small sample size and what not but it is still warranted), his MLB time did not inspire confidence. His fastball was just 92mph, his off-speed stuff in the low to mid 80s, and he got tattooed in his 8 innings pitched (14 hits, 5 homers, 8 walks). It was enough to cause Baseball America to drop him from 4th in their pre-2020 handbook to 10th in the post-season wake of his performance. The scouting reports say he sits 91-93 and touches 95; well, if there was ever a time for him to touch it, it would have been in his MLB debut. I hate to throw shine on a guy, but a life-time starter who can’t cut it in the low 90s and who projected as a 5th starter at best is not exactly a guarantee to be successful in relief either, not in an era where everybody throws mid 90s out of the pen. I think this was an indication that Crowe dropped so far down our starting pitcher depth chart that he became completely expendable.

Meanwhile, the marquee name heading the other way likely is Yean, a 2017 IFA who never appeared on a single prospect list until the post 2019 season, when he started getting top 10 buzz. MLBPipeline.com was the high man on him after 2020, having him all the way up to #6 in the system. He’ll be a solid starter prospect for Pittsburgh’s low-A team this year and might turn into a star for them. But, in terms of near-term needs, Yean is at least 3 years away and the team has 4 or 5 college aged studs who rank higher than him and who are closer to the majors, so he’s a years-away lottery ticket. Unlike other times when we’ve traded away young pitchers (Jesus Luzardo) I’m a-ok with this move.

Great move; we got a player we really wanted, didn’t break the bank in terms of FA signing, and the prospects we sent the other way were prospects we could afford to part with.

Written by Todd Boss

December 24th, 2020 at 3:22 pm