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Nats Rule-5 protection thoughts

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Walters already got added to the 40-man; who else may join him?  Photo unk via wp.com

Walters already got added to the 40-man; who else may join him? Photo unk via wp.com

Who might the team protect ahead of the Rule-5 Draft this year?  The topic came up recently in the comments so I thought i’d publish this post to open up the debate again.  I’ve got a rule-5 history post as well that i’ll post later this week.   And, as it turns out, Nov 20th is the deadline for adding players to the 40-man, so today’s as good a day as any to discuss.  (Kilgore’s analysis here, Baseball’s off-season calendar here).

The Nats off-season rule-5 protection debate really started in late August with an observation made about Zach Walters from Adam Kilgore in his pre-Sept 1 callup piece on 8/27/13.  It was continued by the announced list of Nats AFL participants, which included a couple of significant Rule-5 protection candidates.  Walters was subsequently added to the 40-man and called up, ending any Rule-5 speculation.

As (allegedly) was Steve Souza, who hit the cover off the ball in AA in 2013, with power to go with his CF defensive capabilities.  He followed that up by hitting .357 in the AFL, trailing just mega-prospects Kris Bryant and C.J. Cron for top hitting honors in Arizona.  I say Souza was “allegedly added” to the 40-man because, while news of his 11/1/13 40-man addition was widely published at the time, but his name does not appear on MLB.com’s 40-man roster for the team nor does there exist an 11/1/13 transaction (Editor’s update: it was posted 10/31/13 and the MLB 40-man database was missing him in error; it was eventually fixed).   I don’t know if its just a procedural thing or if all the beat reporters mis-reported the event and it should have been characterized as a “planned future” move.  But I’ll assume for the rest of this article that Souza is going to be put on the 40-man before the rule-5 draft.

Two of the most obvious Rule-5 candidates (even if Souza was technically a minor league free-agent to be) are now protected.  Who else might we see added?

Using the indispensable sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then giving some thought to prospect acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts.  The quick rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2010 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 from 2009 or before is newly eligible this year.

Newly Eligible Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Rick Hague: 2B/SS from Harrisburg; .673 OPS in AA, not good enough OBP for a middle infielder and no power.  He’s well down the pecking order of backup middle infielders in this organization right now, and wouldn’t be a great organization loss even if he was selected.  Chances of being drafted or protected: very slim.
  • Jason Martinson: SS from Potomac/Harrisburg: Martinson finally earned a promotion above A-ball, where he promptly hit .185 in AA in 54 games.  He showed a ton of power in 2012 for a SS (22 homers) but it was in Low- and High-A ball.  Maybe he is a late bloomer.  However he’s not in jeopardy of being protected or drafted at this point.

No other 2010 college aged drafted hitter has even made it to Harrisburg; so they’re not going to get drafted or protected.  This includes three draft picks in the first 10 rounds of that draft; understandable in that the team committed millions to 3 top guys in 2010 and skimped elsewhere.

  • Sammy Solis: LHP with Potomac: coming back from injury in 2013 he pitched in Potomac the whole season.  He was a bit “old” for A-ball but its understandible considering where he’s been.  He excelled in the AFL and is being mentioned as a possible Loogy with the big-league team, so I’d have to think he’s a lock to be protected ahead of the draft.
  • Harrisburg middle relievers Matthew GraceAaron Barrett and Neil Holland: all three have good to excellent numbers in relief this year for AA Harrisburg.  Barrett especially as the closer.  Grace is left-handed and could feature as someone’s loogy.   Tough calls here; you can make a case that the team would like to retain all three guys as bullpen reinforcements in the coming years.  You can also make the riskier case that all three guys, while valuable and skilled players, may not stick on a MLB roster the entire year so perhaps they’re good bets to be left unprotected versus someone already on the 40-man roster.

The rest of the remaining 2010 college-age draftees are all either currently on the DL or are in Hagerstown or below, making them very slim candidates to be protected or picked.  Cameron Selik was one guy who could have made some noise, but he got hurt this year and isn’t going to get picked.

  • 2009 High School-age drafted players newly eligible: just Michael Taylor, who has a ton of speed (51sbs) and an improved OBP (.340) while repeating high-A this year.  I know there are readers here who like Taylor a ton, so this isn’t spoken out of disrespect.  I think Taylor has potential.   Maybe he “made the leap” in 2013.  Maybe he’s going to light up AA next season and suddenly we’re talking about him being Denard Span‘s replacement and not Brian Goodwin.  However, I can’t see someone rolling the dice with him in a rule-5 situation.   He’s never played above A-Ball.  In today’s modern game, with 12 man bullpens and thus shortened benches, I just can’t see someone like Tayler getting carried for an entire year.  I think the team may very well roll the dice and leave him exposed in December, and revisit 40-man protection in 2014.

Rule-5 holdovers from before of Note

  • Last year’s selections Erik Komatsu and Danny Rosenbaum: Komatsu has been hurt all year, Rosenbaum was decent but not over-powering in AAA.  Neither guy seems worth protecting since they already were selected and failed to stick.  But, they’re both AAA-level talents who could be someone’s bench player/swing man so they may get plucked again if not protected.
  • Justin Bloxom and Sean Nicol are both college-aged 2009 draftees with run-of-the-mill numbers in AA; they’ll play out the string until they get pushed out at this rate.
  • Patrick Lehman ended the season on the DL, making one think he’s not likely to get drafted.  Well that and his numbers were not good.
  • Matt Swynenberg has looked better in AA than he did in high-A; has he done enough to garner some interest from another team?
  • Destin Hood: our 2nd round pick in 2008 just seems to be spinning his wheels; his batting average has dropped as he’s repeated a level.  He’s officially in bust status.
  • Adrian Nieto has earned a placement in the Arizona Fall League and was Rule-5 Eligible last year, but was not drafted.  He’s yet to rise above high-A and seems a long shot to be taken (though, the Nats did pretty well plucking one Jesus Flores out of the Mets high-A team one year).

 


So, who’s getting protected?   As of the time of this writing, the Nats roster sits at 39 of 40 (again, assuming Souza is really there), so there’s just one empty spot.  But there’s at least a few guys on the fringes of the 40-man who I think could be waived and have a high likelihood of being kept (namely, Tyler Robinson and Corey Brown) if the team thought it needed room for either protectees or free agents.  The back-end of this roster is getting a bit clogged.

Depending on how many spots the team keeps open, in order I’d protect Solis, Barrett, Tayler, Grace, and Holland.   For me, only Solis is a lock.  The rest (for reasons described above) may be calculated omissions.

 

Nats 2012 Rule 5 Protection Analysis

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Is Nathan Karns a 40-man roster addition candidate ahead of the rule-5 draft? Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

In part I on this topic yesterday, we talked about the Nats Rule 5 draft history.  Today we’ll talk about Parts II and III: who the Nats may think about protecting ahead of this year’s Rule 5 draft, and what the team may be seeking if they participated and drafted a player or two in the Rule 5 draft themselves.

Part II: Nationals Rule-5 Draft Protection Candidates.

I kvetched a little bit about this topic in this space earlier this off-season, talking about the lack of roster space for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I suspected that as a result of MLB deals given to guys like Anthony Rendon and Matthew Purke, in addition to the glut of guys we had to add mid season, we may be seeing some guys not getting protected this year that would be in other years.  As of today, the Nats 40-man roster sits at 36 players with a bit of immediate room to spare (we could non-tender the likes of John Lannan, Tom Gorzelanny or Jesus Flores (speaking of Rule 5 additions) in a pinch, and I think Carlos Rivero may be imminently DFA’d), but we also have several 25-man roster spots departing via free agency that need to be filled, quickly filling back in those empty spots.  So, perhaps the issue isn’t as bad as I thought it might be.

That being said, here’s a look at some of our Rule 5 eligible guys that may warrant protection.  For “official” opinions here’s Mark Zuckerman‘s Rule5 post, along with Adam Kilgore‘s version of the same analysis.  This is a combination of first-time eligible guys for the 2012 draft (mostly, guys who were college junior draftees from 2009 or high school draftees in 2008), prior year eligible guys who have suddenly worked their way onto the radar, and any International FA signing from 2008 or before (they are treated the same way as high school age draftees).  Working off a list that Luke Erickson posted LAST november, along with his post on the same topic this week, and of course referencing the two great nats farm system resources maintained by “SpringfieldFan” (and formerly by Brian Oliver): the Nats Draft Tracker and the Nats Big Board, here’s some thoughts on protection candidates:

Stronger Candidates to protect

  • Nathan Karns: he finally had an injury-free season, and he put up numbers as expected when the team gave him an above-slot deal in 2009.  He is older, and only projects as a AA starter in 2013, but he is an intriguing starter prospect for the Nats in 2014.
  • Destin Hood: I don’t think the team is ready to give up on the long-term 2008 2nd round project.  His numbers have been increasing as he reportedly is learning the game better.  I suspect the team protects him to protect their investment.
  • Danny Rosenbaum; the “Ace” of Harrisburg this year, and our furthest advanced legitimate starter prospect, Rosenbaum projects more like a Tommy Milone or John Lannan right now.  I’d suspect that the team may protect him, thinking that someone could stash him as a loogy for a year.  I’m not sure his ceiling is in the Nats rotation, but he could be a good trade candidate.  He hit the DL late last year, which makes it slightly less likely that a team would take a flier on him, but his track record warrants his mention.
  • Patrick McCoy: he just repeated AA and despite already being Rule-5 eligible last  year he improved on his numbers in 2012.  Why protect him?  Because this team needs a Loogy, and McCoy may be the leading lefty reliever in our upper-minor leagues.
  • Jeff Kobernus has put up consistent numbers his whole career, but still projects as a power-less middle infielder.  Would the team protect him, thinking he has a chance to become the next Steve Lombardozzi?  Would the team protect him just to protect their bonus money?

Weaker candidates to protect

  • Trevor Holder: a 3rd round pick roundly criticized at the time of being an underslot money saver, Holder had decent peripherals in high-A and AA this year.  But, he doesn’t seem to project as the dominant right-hander he was in college and seems likely to top out as an org-arm.  Despite his 3rd round pedigree, I don’t see a team taking a flier on him in rule-5.
  • Pat Lehman; a local guy (GWU), but despite having good numbers in AAA he remains a very common commodity; a right handed minor league reliever.  Even if he’s drafted, it isn’t that great a loss because of the depth we already have at the position.
  • Paul Demny; despite making the AFL team this year, I don’t quite see Demny as being a draft risk.  His ERA this year and in years past has been substandard.
  • Robert Gilliam; only really mentioned here since we just acquired him last off-season in the Gio Gonzalez trade and the team probably doesn’t want to lose him, but his 6.37 ERA in AA makes it extremely unlikely someone grabs him in the Rule 5.
  • Erik Davis: technically rule-5 eligible last year, he stepped up this year and put up pretty dominant AA numbers.  As with Lehman, he’s a righty reliever in AA so the odds of his getting picked (or protected) seem slim.

Players not worth protecting for various Reasons

Now, there’s a bunch of “good names” that are Rule 5 eligible in our system but who are not listed here, including guys who toiled as high as AA last year.  Anyone not listed here is probably not going to be missed, even if they are drafted.  Plus, the likelihood of a decent pitcher prospect who has never played above A-ball being drafted in rule-5 is extemely slim.  Most of the guys above are mentioned because of their capability to be “stashed” on a MLB roster.  This includes:

  • last year’s departures Brad Meyers (coming off injury) and Erik Komatsu (clearly been passed on the organizational OF depth chart).  Yes they got picked last year, but both got returned and I’d be surprised to see them picked again.
  • higher profile draft picks Josh Smoker and Jack McGeary: neither has advanced far enough in their careers to realistically stick with a MLB team.
  • Jeff Mandel may be an accomplished AAA pitcher, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that.
  • Rob Wort hasn’t advanced far enough up the chain to be considered.
  • Justin Bloxom could be a dark horse prospect next year, but only made it to AA the second half of last year.

Who would I protect, If I was the GM?  I’d protect Karns, Hood, Rosenbaum and McCoy right now, filling the four current openings on the roster.  If a move needs to be made (a FA signing or a trade), then you make one-for-one DFAs or non-tenders as needed.  You have 40-man room; might as well use it.  My order of protection is probably Karns, McCoy, Hood and Rosenbaum (from most important to least important to protect).  Odds are that the team only opts to protect a couple of guys to give immediate roster flexibility heading into the winter meetings.

Part III: Might the Nats participate in the Rule-5 draft this year?

This year’s Rule 5 draft has some intrigue for the team; unlike last year, we have definite holes in the bullpen and on the roster which can be “more easily” filled via the Rule 5 draft.  We need a lefty out of the bullpen, we need a backup middle infielder and we need a 5th starter.  The odds of finding the latter in the rule 5 draft are very slim, but the odds of finding one of the first two are better.  If you look at the last couple of Rule 5 drafts, nearly every player drafted is either a Pitcher or a Middle Infielder.  Most teams carry a second backup middle infielder who gets very little playing time, ideal for “hiding” rule 5 draftees.  And of course every bullpen has a “mop up” guy who pitches once or twice a week in low-leverage situations, also a great place to hide a rule-5 guy.

Besides, the “penalty” for drafting a guy and returning him is pretty small in baseball terms: $25,000 net (it costs $50,000 fee to select a player, then if you “offer” them back the original team has to refund $25,000 of that fee).   So I’d be surprised honestly if the team didn’t roll the dice with at least a flier on either of the two needs mentioned above.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Rule 5 draft any longer.  It was created as a way to liberate players who were stuck in farm systems behind established players (much the way that minor league free agency rules attempted to do the same), but now seems to be a cheap method of teams to get an extended tryout of players.  I’ve now come to believe that the draft is not necessarily in the best interests of the players or the teams; just read below for the organizational transaction chaos that followed players.  It also seems like a high number of players who get drafted in rule-5 immediately suffer season-ending injuries; coincidence or correlation?  If you’re a rule-5 drafted arm, the drafting team knows you must perform at a MLB level to stay in the organization.  Wouldn’t that imply there’s added pressure to compete, leading to overthrowing and arm injuries?  Plus, teams that lose players often get them returned damaged and having lost a season of service time.  I suppose players are the ones that are pro-Rule 5 draft, in that it immediately means a promotion to the 40-man roster, MLB service time and higher pay.

In the end, it makes for a good reason to write a 2,500 word blog post, and it may result in our team having new prospects to evaluate and dream about, so perhaps I protest too much.