Nationals Arm Race

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2014 playoff team payroll analysis

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An annual post done at the end of each season.  Here’s 2013′s version.

Money can’t buy me love.  And, in baseball, more and more we’re seeing that Money also can’t buy playoff spots.  Of the ten teams that made the 2014 MLB playoffs, only half of them were among the top 10 spenders in terms of opening day payroll (payroll numbers courtesy of Spotrac.com).  Here’s the full list:

Team SpotRac Opening Day Payroll SpotRac Opening Day Rank Final W/L W/L Rank Playoff Status Payroll/Record Delta
Los Angeles Dodgers $232,899,930 1 94-68 4 NL West -3
New York Yankees $194,460,757 2 84-78 13 -11
Philadelphia Phillies $177,729,966 3 73-89 22 -19
Detroit Tigers $163,285,500 4 90-72 5 AL Central -1
Boston Red Sox $155,912,125 5 71-91 25 -20
San Francisco Giants $148,589,474 6 88-74 8 NL WC -2
Los Angeles Angels $146,647,750 7 98-64 1 AL West 6
Washington Nationals $133,319,078 8 96-66 2 NL East 6
Toronto Blue Jays $133,070,557 9 83-79 14 -5
Texas Rangers $131,657,214 10 67-95 28 -18
St. Louis Cardinals $112,768,000 11 90-72 5 NL Central 6
Atlanta Braves $112,658,731 12 79-83 16 -4
Arizona Diamondbacks $112,298,833 13 64-98 30 -17
Cincinnati Reds $111,694,938 14 76-86 21 -7
Baltimore Orioles $104,045,833 15 96-66 2 AL East 13
Milwaukee Brewers $103,397,967 16 82-80 15 1
New York Mets $96,554,970 17 79-83 16 1
Colorado Rockies $94,079,071 18 66-96 29 -11
Seattle Mariners $91,739,642 19 87-75 11 8
Kansas City Royals $90,837,000 20 89-73 7 AL WC 13
San Diego Padres $90,361,600 21 77-85 18 3
Chicago White Sox $89,792,166 22 73-89 22 0
Chicago Cubs $89,046,356 23 73-89 22 1
Minnesota Twins $85,465,000 24 70-92 26 -2
Cleveland Indians $84,809,134 25 85-77 12 13
Oakland Athletics $80,360,900 26 88-74 8 AL WC 18
Tampa Bay Rays $76,746,916 27 77-85 18 9
Pittsburgh Pirates $71,929,833 28 88-74 8 NL WC 20
Houston Astros $50,032,900 29 70-92 26 3
Miami Marlins $44,136,900 30 77-85 18 12

As you may have already surmised, the “delta” column to the right quickly shows which teams were badly over or under performing their payroll ranks.  Specifically:

  • Boston, Philadelphia, and Texas are three obvious teams that badly underperformed their payroll.  We’re all well aware of Philadelphia’s problems: too many long term contracts given out to guys in their 30s, locking that franchise into transactional inertia for the past few years.  Texas suffered from injury problems that were beyond ridiculous; they ended the season with 10 players on the 60-day D/L, used 15 different starters and no less than *40* pitchers on the year.  Fourty different pitchers!   Texas started the year with $130M payroll and finished with a worse record than their in-state rivals Houston, who have been *not* trying for years.
  • Arizona is a sneaky under performer, but also merits discussion.  Ownership finally has admitted that the brain trust that has been running players out of town for 50 cents on the dollar for years because of “character” or “make-up” issues has, well, not worked (see Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer most famously, but also see the moves that jettisoned Tyler Skaggs, Ian Kennedy and Brandon McCarthy in the same vein).  Gone are former GM Kevin Towers and the on-field managerial staff who has valued “grit” over “capabilities” for years, led by Kirk Gibson.  However, now running the show in Arizona is a newbie GM Dave Stewart whose accomplishments during his brief front-office experience in Toronto were not exactly well thought of by his former staff-member Keith Law.  Nonetheless; they’ll have the #1 overall pick in 2015 thanks to their ineptitude, and a chance to put some depth into a middling farm system.
  • The three teams who have already replaced their GMs this off season (Colorado, Atlanta, Arizona) all were on the under-performing list.  Colorado had the second worst record with a mid-sized payroll but has replaced its odd executive structure from within (which some pundits think will lead to more ineptitude).  Arizona’s odd choices are discussed above.  Atlanta’s GM switch is surprising to me (as i’ve mentioned before) and seems to be the result of an odd power-struggle going on within the Atlanta executive suite.  How do you fire a guy who constructed a team that has gone to the playoffs three out of the last five years on a budget immediately following a season when he lost 3/5ths of his starting rotation to injury before the season began?

How about on the “good” side?

  • Three of your four WC teams are among the smallest payrolls in the game.  Oakland, Pittsburgh and Kansas City rank 26th, 28th and 20th in 2014 payroll.  Also worth mentioning as overachievers are Cleveland (who missed out on the AL wild card by a game), Baltimore (who won 96 games with the 15th ranked payroll) and (of course) Miami (who sported the lowest payroll *by far* but still won 77 games).  Miami in particular seems like it is ready for another boom and sell-off cycle; they have a good team without the services of its best pitcher nearly all year; one or two more acquisitions and/or successful call-ups could have Miami competing for a divisional title again, and soon.
  • Washington Nationals: 8th highest payroll, 2nd best record.  That’s certainly good news.  Our opening day payroll of $133M may have been on the high side to some observers, but the team lived up to its reputation.
  • The Angels bashed their way to the best record in the league on just the 7th highest payroll, ironically, considering the over-spending they’ve been accused of in the past few years.  Don’t worry though; the Angels payroll will begin to have its own issues when Trout’s $30M/year contract years hit.  $30M a year.

What happens next year?

  • The Nats may be holding steady; LaRoche‘s $12M and Soriano‘s $14M salaries go away, but huge increases to Desmond and Zimmermann‘s salaries in 2015, stepped-up increases for Gonzalez and Span (who I’m assuming we’re going to exercise for 2015), and arbitration cases for a number of key and expensive players (Fister, Strasburg, Ramos, Clippard, Storen) will probably  more than make up for the $26M coming off the books.
  • The Phillies, to my constant amusement, already have $127M committed to just nine players for next year.  They’ll continue to be a top payroll, bottom performer for at least two more years.
  • The Yankees, who dipped underneath $200M for 2014 thanks to a gift-wrapped Bud Selig suspension for Alex Rodriguez and an equally generous $14M payoff from the cubs to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands, have $161M committed next year for just 10 players, with five of those players each earning north of $20M a year.  Wow.   Plus, they stand to lose their closer, two of their five SPs (Kuroda and McCarthy), and several position players to either FA or retirement.  They could be a train wreck again next year.

 

 

Nats 2014 draft = failure

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Suarez is heading back to school.  Photo via 247sports.com

Suarez is heading back to school. Photo via 247sports.com

I’m sure, based on comments in the previous thread, that some will think the results of the Nats 2014 draft will be overblown.  Fair enough.  Yes the draft is a crap shoot, especially after the first round.  You can take that angle and tell your self that its not that big of a deal that the team blew its 2nd and 8th round picks.

But this fact remains: At the draft signing deadline for the 2014 rule-4 draft, out of 315 players taken in the first 10 rounds (and supplementals), just six players were unsigned.  And two of them belong to the Nats.  This team is doing squat in the international market and, outside of a few marquee names, has a pretty thin farm system right now, and needed to get high-end talent out of this draft.  But they didn’t.

Here’s my (glass is half empty) summary of the top 10 rounds for this team now:

  • An overslot starter coming off of Tommy John surgery (which doesn’t have a 100% recovery rate, lets remind ourselves) who may or may not have even been a top-15 talent (as he was paid) before he got hurt.  Every draft pundit I saw had him in the late 20s factoring in his injury.
  • Four college senior/throw away signings who all scream “org guy” and likely all wash out within a couple years.
  • A massive over-slot HS catcher who, if everything goes *perfectly* for the kid’s development, we may see at the big league level 5 years from now.
  • A Juco pitcher who so far is getting *hammered* in the rookie league.
  • A 6th round pitcher from a middling college in a low-end division 1 league.
  • A compensation pick in the middle of the 2nd round next year.

Wow.  I’m overwhelmed with anticipation to see how our 2014 class turns out!  To say that Mike Rizzo has gambled this entire draft on the future potential of Erick Fedde is an overstatement.  Most scouting reports on him have his ceiling as a 3rd starter at best, not exactly the same as drafting a Tyler Kolek or a Carlos Rodon.  If Fedde flames out or is converted to a reliever (as more and more it seems last year’s pick Jake Johansen will be doing thanks to his apparent inability to pitch more than 4 innings at a time without getting blasted), we’ll be talking about the “hole” this draft leaves in the system for some time.

Two of the other unsigned players from this draft are far more high visibility: the situation with Houston and Brady Aiken (and its fall-out consequences of costing them Jacob Nix and to a lesser extent 21st round pick Mac Marshall) is a huge problem for baseball.  I agree with Keith Law wholeheartedly; the Astros reneged on a draft-day deal with arguable “findings” in the medicals, and that haggling cost them another pre-arranged deal with Nix.  Both players have serious cases for a greivance; the Astros pulled back on verbal agreements that may end up being legally binding, AND both are highschool kids who failed very high-profile professional negotiations, likely negating their NCAA eligibility/accepted scholarship offers to UCLA.  Its a mess all around.

Personally, I hope both players file a greivance with the union and are declared free agents, free to negotiate with whoever they want.  Certainly there will be another team that looks at Aiken’s medicals and has no problem giving him far more than the $6.5M bonus (approx) that was pulled back.  I read an opinion yesterday that said he could get a 6yr/$20M deal given his capabilities.  It highlights the grave need for a “player combine” similar to what the NFL does, where players showcase for scouts all together and get consistent medical advice that is available to all teams.

Sorry to sound so negative, but taking a high-profile/high-chost injury-risk pitcher for the 3rd time in 4 years (Giolito, Purke), missing on your 2nd rounder, and missing on the one potential “over slot” guy that you should have been saving your pennies for by drafting throw-away college seniors in rounds 5 through 9 is a failed draft for me.  The Nats are going to have to get some “finds” out of this crew, or out of the rest of the class, to make up for these mistakes.

Written by Todd Boss

July 19th, 2014 at 10:26 am

With Tanaka’s injury, will Yankees come calling?

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Free Ross Detwiler!  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Free Ross Detwiler! Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Heard an interesting trade idea floated in Buster Olney‘s daily podcast last week while talking with Keith Law.

In light of Masahiro Tanaka‘s possible season-ending injury further depleting the Yankees rotation (which is already without projected 2014 starters CC SabathiaMichael Pineda and Ivan Nova and is depending on two 15th round picks who you couldn’t pick out of a lineup in Shane Greene and Chase Whitley right now), could the Yankees come calling the Nationals looking for Ross Detwiler in trade?

Despite all their rotational issues, the Yankees at the All-Star break sit 5 games back of a weak AL East and just 3.5 back in the Wild Card.  The Yankees don’t “pack it in,” ever, and have never shied away from spending to get what they need.  They’ve already made one shrewd starter acquisition in Brandon McCarthy (traded for cash and ineffective starter Vidal Nuno) and look like they could now use another (Greene has looked ok, but Whitley has not, and the Yankees starting pitching depth in the minors looks pretty bleak).

I’m on record saying the Nats should cash in on Detwiler.  And I still am.  My arguments are still the same; opportunity cost of an underutilized and replaceable pitcher versus filling a need for a team trying to mask issues at second base and a thinned farm system.  And i’m not alone (Adam Kilgore in April and May on the topic, Thomas Boswell said that “Detwiler has been wasted” in his June 23rd chat).  There’s now more than a few options for a Detwiler replacement in our system, a guy who can start or relieve, throw low-leverage innings in blowout wins or losses and still develop.  In fact, I’ll bet that our most recent 40-man addition Taylor Hill would *love* that role right now instead of pitching in upstate New York (even if the Chiefs are in first place).   If you wanted a lefty like-for-like replacement, look no further than Aaron Laffey, off-season MLFA who’s 11-3 for Syracuse on the season and who has 6 years of MLB experience starting and relieving.  Heck, maybe the Nats can trade Laffey if they’re so committed to Detwiler; Laffey pitched briefly (and somewhat effectively) for the Yankees in late 2011.

Why not see if the Yankees can give up something that the Nats could use?  Minor league depth.  Backup middle infielder.  Something, anything.

Detwiler, in the meantime, looks like he could be a nice fit in Yankee Stadium.  Lefties mitigate the short-porch in right field there, and Detwiler’s sinking fastball sports a decent ground ball rate (45.7% this year, right in line with his career average of 46.5% but below his 50% figure the last year he was healthy and starting in 2012) that could help keep the ball in the park.

(coincidentally … while googling for one of the links above, I discovered this link at the Washington Nationals Fan Forum: someone took my 5/9/14 article on this same topic and posted it there, where it got a ton of commentary.   Well shoot; why didn’t those people come and comment here?  I would have loved the discussion.  I had no idea it was there.  But the conversation continues today.  I’ll post this link there and see what happens).

 

 

Nats all-star review: 2014 and years past

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Congrats to Zimmermann on his all-star selection.  Photo dcist.com/(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Congrats to Zimmermann on his 2014 all-star selection. Photo dcist.com/(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Here’s my annual Nationals All Star selection post.   As with last year’s post (which also links to subsequent years), I’m including a retrospective on our “illustrious” All Star representative history from years past.  If you read on and it sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of it is cut-n-pasted from previous versions of this post.  Even so, reading backwards to see who our All-star representatives were in the lean years is an interesting exercise.  There were many years that the “one representative per team” rule was bent pretty far in order to include a member of our lousy teams.

Discussion item for the comments: Do you feel that the Major League all-star game should be a collection of the games biggest and best stars year after year, or should it represent who’s having the best current season?  I’ll put in my two cents: right now (thanks partly to the one player from each team rule) the rosters are somewhat of a mix of these two philosophies but are leaning more and more towards “who is having the best season.”  This year for example, future hall of famers like Albert Pujols are not on the team while 2-month flash in the pans like Charlie Blackmon are.  But I feel like a showcase event like the All-Star game needs to highlight the games biggest stars.  And I don’t feel like it does.

Keith Law is right: when (to use our local examples) marquee/famous players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are not selected in lieu of middle relievers who have a great ERA through 20 innings in the first couple months of the season, it does a disservice to the game.  Harper can’t open his mouth without it making national news and he’d be a draw at the game.  Same for Strasburg just on fame factor.  In this respect I always thought the NBA all-star game did the best job of making its event an actual “All Stars” event.  If you want to have an event that rewards players for the best SEASON … then do what the NFL does and have the all-star game after the season.  Right now we give all- star spots to guys who have a couple of hot months and who might be hitting .220 again by the end of the season.

The most egregious example of this lately probably was 2012′s Cubs representative Bryan LaHair, who made the all-star game thanks to a scorching first half in 2012.  You know where LaHair is now?  Chicago *released* him at the end of 2012; what all-star gets released in the season in which they make the team?  He played in Japan in 2013 (perhaps why he was released but still indicative of what the team thought of his true talents), hit .230 there, and is currently sitting on Cleveland’s AA roster (having hit .113 for their AAA team and getting demoted).  I dunno; is this the kind of “all star” you want to see in your league’s marquee event?  I don’t think so; even if Joey Votto is having a down year, I want to see him suit up and not some flash in the pan.

One other quick point.  If the season ended today, here’s your playoff teams and the number of players they have in the ASG: NL: Atlanta (3), Milwaukee (4), Los Angeles (4), Washington (1) and San Francisco (2).   And AL: Baltimore (3), Detroit (3), Oakland (6), Los Angeles (1) and Seattle (2).   Wow; looks to me like both the Nats and the Angels have some serious griping about player selection.  The Angels have the 2nd best record in the league and got just one representative (Mike Trout of course).

Anyway, on to the Nats historical representatives.


Here’s a link to the All Star Rosters for 2014, prior to the “last man in” voting and any pending injury replacements.

2014

  • Nationals All-Star representative: Jordan Zimmermann (Update post-publishing: Zimmermann strained a bicep, and had to withdraw from the ASG.  For a bit it looked like the Nats wouldn’t even have a representative, until Tyler Clippard was named on 7/13/14).
  • Snubs: Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen
  • Narrative: Zimmermann’s been the best starter on the best pitching staff in the majors this year, and thus earns his spot.  I find it somewhat odd that a first place team (or near to it) gets just one representative on the team (as discussed above).  Rendon tried to make the team via the “last man in” voting, but historically Nationals have not fared well in this competition (especially when better known players from large markets are in the competition, aka Anthony Rizzo from the Chicago Cubs), and indeed Rendon finished 4th in the last-man voting.  LaRoche is having a very good season, almost single handedly carrying the Nats offense while major parts were out injured, but he’s never going to beat out the slew of great NL first basemen (Joey Votto couldn’t even get into this game).  Soriano has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any closer in the game; at the time of this writing he has a 1.03 ERA and a .829 whip; those are Dennis Eckersley numbers.  But, the farce that is the all-star game selection criteria (having to select one player from each team) means that teams need a representative, and deserving guys like Soriano get squeezed.  Then, Soriano indignantly said he wouldn’t even go if named as a replacement … likely leading to Clippard’s replacement selection.  The same goes for non-closer Storen, who sports a sub 2.00 ERA on the year.  Advanced stats columnists (Keith Law) also think that Stephen Strasburg is a snub but i’m not entirely sure: he may lead the NL in K’s right now and have far better advanced numbers than “traditional,” but its hard to make an argument that a guy with a 7-6 record and a 3.50+ ERA is all-star worthy.

All Star Game Trivia Challenge: Thanks to his 2 month absence, Bryce Harper will not make the 2014 all-star team, thus he drops off as an answer to one of my favorite baseball trivia questions.  Prior to this season, Harper had been selected as an all-star in every season in which he has appeared in a game.  As far as I can tell in baseball history, there’s now just 4 players in Major League History who can say this.  Name them (discuss in comments):

2013

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Bryce Harper, Jordan Zimmermann
  • Snubs: Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond
  • Narrative: Harper comes in 3rd in the NL outfielder voting, ahead of some big-time names, to become only the second Nationals position player elected as an All-Star starter.  He was 4th in the final pre-selection vote, so a big last minute push got him the starter spot.   Harper also becomes the first National to participate in the Home Run Derby.   Zimmermann was 12-3 heading into the game and was on mid-season Cy Young short lists in July in a breakout season.  Strasburg’s advanced stats are all better than Zimmermann’s, but his W/L record (4-6 as the ASG) means he’s not an all-star.  It also probably doesn’t help that he missed a few weeks.  Desmond loses out to Troy Tulowitzki, Everth Cabrera and Jean Segura.  Tulowitzki wass having a very solid year and wass a deserving elected starter, while Cabrera and Segura are both having breakout seasons.  Desmond was on the “Final vote” roster, but my vote (and most others’ I’m guessing) would be for Yasiel Puig there ([Editor Update: Desmond and Puig lost out to Freddie Freeman: I still wished that Puig finds a way onto the roster but ultimately he did not and I believe the ASG was diminished because of it).   Gio GonzalezRyan Zimmerman,and Rafael Soriano are all having solid but unspectacular years and miss out behind those having great seasons.

2012

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Stephen StrasburgGio GonzalezIan Desmond, Bryce Harper
  • Possible Snubs: Adam LaRocheCraig Stammen
  • Narrative: The two starters Strasburg and Gonzalez were the obvious candidates, and my personal prediction was that they’d be the only two candidates selected.  Gonzalez’ first half was a prelude to his 21-win, 3rd place Cy Young season.  The inclusion of Desmond is a surprise, but also a testament to how far he’s come as a player in 2012.  Harper was a last-minute injury replacement, but had earned his spot by virtue of his fast start as one of the youngest players in the league.  Of the “snubs,” LaRoche has had a fantastic come back season in 2012 but fared little shot against better, more well-known NL first basemen.  Stammen was our best bullpen arm, but like LaRoche fared little chance of getting selected during a year when the Nats had two deserving starters.

2011

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Tyler Clippard
  • Possible Snubs: Danny EspinosaMichael MorseDrew StorenJordan Zimmermann
  • Narrative: While Clippard was (arguably) the Nats best and most important reliever, I think Zimmermann was a more rightful choice.  He was 10th in the league in ERA at the time of the selections and has put in a series of dominant performances.  Meanwhile Espinosa is on pace for a 28homer season and almost a certain Rookie-of-the-Year award (though a precipitous fall-off in the 2nd half cost him any realistic shot at the ROY), and perhaps both players are just too young to be known around the league.  Lastly Morse is certainly known and he merited a spot in the “last man in” vote sponsored by MLB (though he fared little chance against popular players in this last-man-in voting).

2010

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Matt Capps
  • Possible Snubs: Adam DunnJosh WillinghamRyan Zimmerman, Steven Strasburg
  • Narrative: Capps was clearly deserving, having a breakout season as a closer after his off-season non-tender from the Pirates.  The 3-4-5 hitters Zimmerman-Dunn-Willingham all had dominant offensive seasons as the team improved markedly from its 103-loss season.  But perhaps the surprise non-inclusion was Strasburg, who despite only having a few starts as of the all-star break was already the talk of baseball.  I think MLB missed a great PR opportunity to name him to the team to give him the exposure that the rest of the national media expected.  But in the end, Capps was a deserving candidate and I can’t argue that our hitters did anything special enough to merit inclusion.

2009

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Ryan Zimmerman
  • Possible Snubs: Adam Dunn
  • Narrative: The addition of Dunn and Willingham to the lineup gave Zimmerman the protection he never had, and he produced with his career-best season.  His first and deserved all-star appearance en-route to a 33 homer season.  Dunn continued his monster homer totals with little all-star recognition.

2008

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Cristian Guzman
  • Possible Snubs: Jon Rauch
  • Narrative: The first of two “hitting rock-bottom” seasons for the team; no one really merited selection.  Zimmerman was coming off of hamate-bone surgery in November 2007 and the team was more or less awful across the board.  Rauch performed ably after Cordero went down with season-ending (and basically career-ending) shoulder surgery.   Guzman’s selection a great example of why one-per-team rules don’t make any sense.  Guzman ended up playing far longer than he deserved in the game itself by virtue of the 15-inning affair.

2007

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Dmitri Young
  • Possible Snubs: Ryan Zimmerman, Shawn Hill (though I wouldn’t argue for either)
  • Narrative: Young gets a deserved all-star appearance en route to comeback player of the year.  Zimmerman played a full season but didn’t dominate.  Our rotation featured 6 primary starters, none of whom are still in the league now, though Hill showed flashes of dominance throughout the year.

2006

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Alfonso Soriano
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonRyan Zimmerman
  • Narrative: Soriano made the team as an elected starter, the first time the Nats have had such an honor.  Our pitching staff took massive steps backwards and no starter came even close to meriting a spot.  Cordero was good but not lights out as he had been in 2005.  Soriano’s 40-40 season is a poster child for “contract year” production and he has failed to come close to such production since.  The team was poor and getting worse.  Johnson had a career year but got overshadowed by bigger, better first basemen in the league (a recurring theme for our first basemen over the years).

2005

  • Nationals All-Star representatives: Livan HernandezChad Cordero
  • Possible Snubs: Nick JohnsonJohn Patterson.
  • Narrative: The Nats went into the All Star break surprisingly in first place, having run to a 50-31 record by the halfway point.  Should a first place team have gotten more than just two representatives?  Perhaps.  But the team was filled with non-stars and played far over its head to go 50-31 (as evidenced by the reverse 31-50 record the rest of the way).

Nats Draft History; what were the rumors on draft day historically?

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Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick.  Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

Zimmerman was the Nats first ever pick. Photo unknown credit via fantasyknuckleheads.com

I thought I’d do a different take on the “history of Nats drafts.”  What was the mood/feel around the team approaching draft day year after year?  Who do we think they were focusing on as the big day rolled around and why?  We focus mostly on the first round pick, where so many of the mock drafts focus, but we’ll also mention significant moves further down.

To be honest, I didn’t really start closely following the draft and track who the Nats were “rumored” to be with until the 2008 draft.   So if you remember something differently than me, please feel free to chime in.  I also focus pretty heavily on the early picks here, simply because teams generally get the most value out of their 1st round picks, and the thought processes in taking the first round pick often is the focus of draft analysis and mock drafts posted head of each actual draft.

The Draft Tracker xls (created by Brian Oliver, now maintained by SpringFieldFan) is vital for any Nats fan interested in tracking the teams’ drafting history.

  • 2005: Nats picked 4th overall and did not have a 2nd or 3rd round picks (the 2nd round pick went to Colorado for the Vinny Castilla FA signing and the 3rd round pick went to Minnesota as compesation for the Cristian Guzman signing)).  The team was also under MLB control and was (presumably) given quite strict financial guidelines over signings.  Given those considerations, they knew they needed a splash with their #1 overall pick, they needed someone affordable and they needed someone that would speak to their new fan-base.  They wanted college draftees, quick to the majors.  The team was looking at the three top 3rd Basemen in the draft.  Ryan ZimmermanRyan Braun and Alex Gordon.  All three were playing at good schools with good numbers.  Gordon went 2nd overall to Kansas City and the Nats snapped up Zimmerman.  Zimmerman signed quickly for an acceptable amount ($2.9M as the 4th overall pick) and was playing in the majors by September.   Zimmerman’s selection made sense geographically (he grew up in Va Beach and attended UVA) and it made sense considering the talent available at the Nats pick.  MASN’s David Huzzard printed a retrospective of the 2005 draft ahead of 2014′s draft.
  • 2006Thanks to a couple of FA losses (Hector Carrasco and Esteban Loiaza), the team had two extra picks in the first two rounds.  The team had a roller coaster 2005; first place at mid-season and then a collapse as MLB refused to allow reinforcements.  By draft-day 2006 the team was firmly under the control of Jim Bowden, and his philosophy had always skewed towards “toolsy” players, potential over actual.   But the team didn’t have an owner yet, so were still operating under MLB’s guidelines.  These two facts were quite evident by looking at the haul the Nats had with their early picks.  6 picks in the top 4 rounds and they were all high school players.  Chris Marrero, Colten Willems, Stephen Englund, Sean Black, Stephen King and Glenn Gibson.    The team got Marrero for a relatively cheap $1.6M deal mid-way through the first round, failed to sign Black altogether, and got 5 of these 6 players to sign for around $5M all told.  The team on the field was under-performing thanks to a limited MLB-dictated budget, but Bowden was drafting for the longer run.  Unfortunately none of these high school players ever amounted to much of anything, with only Marrero ever reaching the majors and Willems retiring before ever advancing out of A-Ball.
  • 2007: The team had another haul of upper-end draft picks, thanks to their acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and his type-A free agency sending them both an extra first rounder and a supplimental first rounder.   The team took lefty Ross Detwiler from small school Missouri State with the 6th overall pick, a selection that has been lampooned based on who else was available at the time (Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward in particular), but literature from 2007 supports his selection at 6th overall.  After Detwiler, the nats spent their two supplimental first round picks on high school raw talents (as was Bowden’s custom), neither of which ever panned out (Josh Smoker and Michael Burgess).  This draft turned into one of the more productive in Nat history, with at least four current major leaguers picked (along with Detwiler, Stephen SouzaDerek Norris and especially 2nd round pick Jordan Zimmermann, so it is unfair to focus on the misses out of 2007.  This was easily Bowden’s best draft while in charge in Washington.
  • 2008: The year of Aaron Crow.  Crow had a strong summer and a strong spring and was the 2nd best college arm in the draft, no question.  There was apparently antagonism between Bowden and Crow’s agents from the moment that he was drafted, and the negotiations between the sides never really came together.  The signing deadline came and went with no signature, and Crow went to Indy ball before getting picked the following summer.  There was talk about how the Crow non-signing was purposeful; the Nats spent significantly less money in the draft in 2008 than they had in 2007 and the ownership group was still being labeled as “cheap.”  Either way, this lack of signing was one more bullet in the ammunition guns of opinion makers in the industry about the state of the Nationals organization under the leadership of Bowden.  This would serve to be his last draft; he was embroiled in the bonus scandal over the off-season and relinquished his job ahead of the 2009 season.
  • 2009: We all are quite familiar with the story by now; Stephen Strasburg was a laconic out-of-shape hurler in high school who barely merited a college spot, then re-made himself into the “greatest pitching prospect of all time” while at San Diego State.   Despite his reported bonus demands (he ended up with more than $15M deal) and his representation (Scott Boras), the Nats never seriously considered not selecting him with the first overall pick.  For me the big question was who the Nats were going to take at #10. I wanted another starter, and there were some significant college pitchers projected to be available at #9.  Kyle GibsonAlex White,  Tyler Maztek, Chad Jenkins and Tanner Scheppers were all left on the board to draft a Stanford reliever in Drew Storen.  Keith Law had Storen ranked as his 28th prospect, a guy who was clearly “good” but who was over-drafted by nearly 20 spots.  This had “signability pick” written all over it, a thought that was even more proven when the team drafted college senior Trevor Holder with their 3rd pick and signed him for 1/2 of slot.  Holder wasn’t even his team’s friday starter and had a 4.48 ERA.  So, the team got Strasburg and paid him significant money, and the 2008 draft misstep turned into an effective closer in Storen, so the draft wasn’t a disaster, but with a bit more money allocated (remember, this was the same year they were paying Guzman $8M to be a mediocre shortstop) the team really could have hit it out of the park.
  • 2010: After another 100+ loss season, the Nats were fortunate to have another no-brainer, consensus #1 overall pick in Bryce Harper.   But the real story of the 2010 draft was Mike Rizzo’s finally convincing the ownership group and Ted Lerner of the power of the over-slot pick.  The Nationals gave Harper a 40-man deal and a lot of guaranteed money … but they also bought two high-end high school arms out of their college commitments for 1st-2nd round money (A.J. Cole and Robbie Ray).  The Nats were quickly becoming a team that was ignoring the advice of the penurious commissioner Bud Selig, known for railing against teams and owners who ignored his “slot recommendations.”  The Lerners tried to be friends with Selig and play by the rules, only to watch other teams out-spend and out-sign them.  Remember this fact when we see the next CBA come out, assigning slot deals ahead of time and implementing draconian policies on teams that over-spend in the draft.
  • 2011: The Nats were looking at a handful of players with their #6 pick; George Springer, Sonny Gray, Taylor Jungman, Jackie Bradley, and the like.  In a pretty shocking draft-day shake-up, teams passed on former college player of the year Anthony Rendon and suddenly he fell into the Nationals’ lap.  The sliding of Rendon to the Nats was amazing; Rendon was considered a clear consensus 1-1 pick for nearly 2 seasons, and the pro track record of BA college players of the year is pretty solid.   The Nats had two extra first rounders (compensation for type-A FA Adam Dunn) and the selection of Alex Meyer with the #17 overall pick was a given; some pundits had the Nats taking him at #6 overall, so much they were enthralled with the huge right hander from Kentucky.   As with 2010, the team continued to write big checks to convince Brian GoodwinMatt Purke and Kylin Turnbull to leave school early.  The Purke pick in particular showed that the Nats were willing to spend money to get big-time players and were willing to risk the dice on injury concerns.  The Nats had no 2nd rounder (lost as compensation for Adam LaRoche but with three 1st/supp-1st rounders got plenty of cracks at top-end talent.
  • 2012:  The Nats had a mid-draft pick after their .500 record in 2011 and were focusing on arms.  By now, Rizzo’s drafting mentality has been made evident; he focuses on college players, and more specifically college arms, unless an outlier falls into his lap.  Well, the definition of a draft-day outlier fell into the Nats lap in 2012 when Lucas Giolito, a big-time prep prospect who was under consideration of being the first ever high school right handed pitcher to go 1st overall early in the process.  Giolito’s size, power and secondary offerings were the makings of a 1-1 pick, but his senior prep season was derailed by what was initially called an “elbow strain” but which turned out to really be a “small elbow ligament tear.”  Nonetheless, the Nats grabbed him, signed him for over-slot money (nearly $3M), and they had their man.  Years later, Rizzo revealed that the next guy on their draft board was St. Louis sensation Michael Wacha … a “what if” question for this team that may be asked for quite a while, given Wacha’s quick rise and overall dominance at such a young age.  The rest of the Nats draft class was entirely about saving dollars to over-pay Giolito and buy him out of his college committment (as is seen by the bonus figures and senior draftees for the rest of the first 10 rounds), and we’re already seeing the after-effects of this strategy; the team has already released 10 of its 2012 draft class after just two pro seasons, and outside of Giolito its hard to see any potential impact players out of the entire class.  The Nats may get a couple of RHP bullpen arms, but little else.
  • 2013: The team knew it didn’t have a first rounder thanks to its signing of Rafael Soriano (though to be honest, knowing that they were picking last thanks to their MLB-best record in 2012, they probably weren’t as reticent about losing that pick), and the new CBA had taken affect, meaning that the team had a very limited budget for signing players.  Their first pick wasn’t until the end of the second round, and they went with a big power college arm in Jake Johansen.  It was impossible to predict who would be available to the Nats at the 68th pick (their first pick), so the Nats draft philosophy seemed to revert to default; lots of college players, lots of college arms.  Of their first 15 selected players, just one prep player was selected (Drew Ward) and a number of their guys signed  for significantly under-slot to pay Ward and a couple of other players.
  • 2014: After a disappointing 2013 season, the team kept its first round pick in a draft that seems deep on college arms but thin in other areas (especially college hitters).  The Nats farm system, after years of drafting predominantly college arms for the past few drafts, has plenty of arms but is thin on hitters, leading some pundits to presume the Nats are looking at college bats.  But a couple of late spring elbow injuries on significant names (James Hoffman and Erick Fedde) also has other pundits thinking that the Nats will have no concerns about taking a pitcher who is known to need Tommy John surgery (given their handling of the likes of Strasburg, Solis, Zimmermann and their picking of Giolito in 2012).  Mock drafts frequently have the Nats selecting Fedde at #18.  And indeed that is who the Nats select.  A run on high-end college arms just prior to the Nats pick probably sealed their fate on taking Fedde.  They take a good balance of pitchers and hitters in the top 10 rounds, almost entirely out of the college ranks (as is their custom).  Like 2013 and 2012, they gambled on one prep player in the top 10 (this year Jakson Reetz) and bought a high-end prep prospect out of his college committment, but otherwise stayed the course drafting college players.

The following links were crucial to doing this post:

Local Draft Prospects: Post-draft summary

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Jacob Bukauskas was among the area's highest ranked draft prospect.  Where'd he go?  John McDonnell/Washington Post via getty images

Jacob Bukauskas was among the area’s highest ranked draft prospect. Where’d he go? John McDonnell/Washington Post via getty images

We started looking at DC-local draft prospects early this spring with a comprehensive pre-season review of all local draft prospects.  Then at mid-spring season we took at look at just the best local prospects.   Now that the Rule 4 draft has occurred, lets talk about some of these big-time names from DC/MD/VA and who went where.

I’ll list these players with local ties in the order they were drafted, which it should be noted, turned out to be vastly different from their pre-draft ranking order.  Like with other posts, I’ll put in rankings for the player from four reputable ranking sources pre-draft for prospects: Keith LawBaseball AmericaMLB.com and MinorLeagueBall (though, as we’ll see by the rankings below, I’m not sure I think MinorLeagueBall’s rankings are worthy; they’re *way* off on some players who went in the upper rounds).  After the 10th round, we’ll just focus on “name players” or high schoolers who got previous mention; lets be honest, the odds of a high school star being bought out of his college commitment drastically drops after just the first few rounds.

Editor’s note: post-signing deadline I updated this with signing status and bonus for first 10 rounds of picks.  Actual bonus tracker from MLB.com here, slot values for each pick here.

The MLB Draft Tracker is the best tool out there for finding info on players and is used heavily here.

  • 1st Round/#19 overall by Cincinnati: Nick Howard, UVA rhp reliever (Law #63/BA #25/MLB #31/MinorLeagueBall #40).  Jim Callis reports that Howard’s stock was rising fast ahead of the draft, and MlbDraftInsider predicted an early 2nd round pick for Howard.  Shocking everyone, he went right after the Nats picked at #19 in the first round.  A surprise pick; he was projected to be just the third UVA player selected and perhaps a 2nd rounder.   He was a Sunday starter for UVA but moved to the bullpen in 2014 and showed a significant strike-out tool (he had a 15.88 K/9 rate on the year, albeit in just 28 innings closing games for UVA).  I wonder if Cincinnati is thinking they can move him back to a starting role, because drafting a reliever this high is (in some pundit’s minds) a waste of a first round pick.  Signed for $1.995M, $100k under slot.
  • Supp-1st Round/#37 overall by Houston: Derek Fisher, UVA OF (#15/#31/#26/#31).  Keith Law video breakdown.  Law predicted back of first round despite his ranking him as the 15th best prospect.  Scout.com predicted the same.  MlbDraftInsider predicted mid-first round.  They were all wrong; Fisher lasted until the mid supplemental 1st round, and odds are that Houston got a steal of a player here.  Fisher’s production was hampered by a broken hamate bone this season, causing him to miss time and lose power, so this pick was projecting his excellent sophomore season.  I think Houston will find a quick-to-the-majors corner outfielder who can slot nicely into a #2 or #6 slot.  Signed for $1.534M, exactly slot.
  • Supp-1st Round/#38 overall by Cleveland: Mike Papi, UVA 1B/OF (#43/#43/#45/#81.  Keith Law video breakdown.  Law predicted mid 2nd round.  MlbDraftInsider predicted early 2nd round.  But Papi’s strong finish clearly jumped him on Cleveland’s board, who nabbed him in the supplemental first round.  He profiles as a professional hitter, lots of line drives, lots of walks (I think of Nick Johnson).  Signed for $1.25M, about $250k under slot.
  • 2nd Round/#45 overall by Chicago Cubs: Jake Stinnett, SR RHP from U of Maryland (#51/#67/#72/#213??).  Stinnett clearly made himself a ton of money with his showings at the ACC tournament (8ip, 3 ER and 10ks versus UVA) and the CWS regional (8ip, 3runs against ODU).  He is the first college senior off the board, to a team (the Cubs) that is trying to rebuild itself, so one may wonder if this is a pre-negotiated/below-slot deal with a guy who won’t have a ton of leverage so that the Cubs can throw extra cash later on.  Either way, Stinnett was likely to go in the 2nd round regardless, so the Cubs don’t do much of an over-draft here.  Signed for exactly $1M, about $250k under slot.
  • 3rd round/#78 overall by Chicago Cubs: Mark Zagunas, C from Virginia Tech ((Law out of top 100/#111/#149/#106).  Zagunas profiles as a Jason Kendall like catcher; good defense, contact hitter who doesn’t strike out a ton.  But Law thinks he projects as a backup catcher and thinks this is a bit of an over-draft.  No matter; Zagunas became one of the first players to sign when he took an under-slot deal over the weekend.  Signed for 615K, about $100k underslot.
  • 3rd round/#83 overall by Toronto: Nick Wells is a LHP from Battlefield HS in Gainesville (Law out of top 100/#119/Out of MLB’s top 200/#343) who has a College of Charleston commit and who sits low-90s on the gun.  He’s popped up from being just a good HS pitcher to being a potential 3rd-4th rounder.   Slot is $661k.  Might be signable; that’s a lot of money.   Battlefield lost in the 6-A north regional quarters to McLean; i’m not sure which game Wells pitched (perhaps their first round game, a 4-0 win).  UPdate: named to Baseball America’s 2nd team All-American team for 2014.  Signed for $661k, exactly slot.
  • 4th Round/#111 overall by Seattle: Ryan Yarbrough, a senior LHP from ODU (na/#407/na/na) who I hadn’t seen on any pre-draft rankings.   I was surprised to find him at least on BA’s list.  He was a weekend starter (some Friday, some Saturday) for ODU this year but struggled to a 6-7, 4.50 ERA on the season.  In the CWS regional he pitched in relief in the first of their two-and-out losses to Maryland.  No offense to Yarbrough, but a 4th round senior draftee (slot value $471k) who likely is an org-arm more befitting of a mid-20s round pick looks like a complete money-saving move by Seattle to free up cash for other picks.  Signed for just $40k, more than $430k under slot.  Seattle went WAY over-slot with its 1st rounder and supp-2nd rounder and needed to make up for it with a ton of under-slot guys.
  • 4th Round/#116 overall by Milwaukee: Troy Stokes from Calvert Hall College in Baltimore (na/#316/na/#260).  He profiles as an undersized lead-off/CF and is committed to Maryland.  I can see him signing for slot frankly based on this draft position.  Maryland loses a recruit that could have really helped them.  Signed for $400k, about $50k underslot.
  • 4th Round/#127 overall by Tampa Bay: Blake Bivens is an RHP from George Washington HS (aka GW-Danville near the NC border) (na/#124/na/#140).  He’s committed to Liberty but has been consistently 90-93 on the gun with reports of good secondary stuff.  Projected as possible 3rd-4th rounder and indeed that’s where he went.  GW-Danville is a 4-A school that got upset in their conference semis, hence his absence from the prep radar.  His slot value is $404k; is that enough to get him out of going to Liberty?  I would think so, even given Liberty’s run to the CWS this year we’re not talking about a big-time program (though, that being said, I don’t know jack about Bivens personally, and he might be quite religious, which would explain his commitment to small-school liberty despite his talents).  Named to Baseball America’s 3rd team all-american.  Signed for $462k, about $60k above slot.
  • 7th Round/#213 overall by Kansas City: Brandon Downes, CF from UVA.  I’d accuse this of being a money-saving senior sign draft pick, but Downes is a junior.   Slot is $176k; if he gets slot he may sign.  That’s a lot of money.  Signed for $150k, about $25k under slot.  Not bad for a senior sign.
  • 7th Round/#222 overall by Oakland: Brandon Cogswell, ss/2b from UVA (na/228/na/268).  MLB’s profile projects him as either a 2nd baseman or a utility guy professionally.   I wonder if he’ll sign; slot figure is $164k and he’s a college junior.  Maybe this is a peak for him.  Signed for $200k, about $35k over slot.
  • 8th/#226 by Houston: Bobby Boyd, an undersized junior CF from West Virginia U (not ranked on any list) but who hails from Silver Spring and who went to St. Johns.   Completely unnoticed by any pre-draft ranking team; is this a punt of a draft pick?  .356 average (good) but just a .389 OBP (bad … just 10 walks all year).  Signed for $140k, about $20k under slot.
  • 8th/#250 by Detroit: Artie Lewicki, UVA’s mid-week/4th starter who got a ton of work in the ACC and regional tournaments.  A nice senior draftee for Detroit.  Signed for $60k, about $90k underslot.

 

  • 10th and 14th rounds: the only two JMU players were taken; Ty McFarland and Chris Huffman.  McFarland is a senior third baseman and son of the longtime JMU coach Spanky McFarland while Huffman is a junior RH who may opt to return in hopes of a bigger bonus next year.
  • 15th/#454 by Washington: Ryan Ripken, 1B from Indian River CC but more famous for being the son of Cal Ripken, Jr.  You can’t help but make mention of this pick, not only because it was the Nats, but because of who it is.  I can’t find much of any scouting reports on the guy.  MLB.com has a story with some more data.
  • 17th/#540 by Washington: Alec Keller, a senior CF out of Princeton but who went to Douglas Freeman in Richmond.   I had never heard of Keller, but then again I didn’t really start following prep baseball closely until recently.  Of interest; perfectgame lists him at 5’6″, 110lb but mlb.com lists him at 6’2″, 200lbs.  That’s one heck of a college growth spurt :-) .  I hope Keller gets some playing time in Viera and earns another summer of pro ball.
  • 20th/#600 by Arizona: Jacob Bukauskus, RHP from Stone Bridge HS in Ashburn.  Keith Law video breakdown.   The local area’s top ranked prospect, projected as a mid-to-late first round pick, goes 600th overall.  Bukauskas had informed all interested teams that he’s honoring his commitment to UNC.  the thought was that a team might draft him early 2nd round and offer him a huge-overslot deal (as Law thought would happen, with a potential $2M bonus).  Alas it did not, and this 20th round pick seems like a waste of a pick frankly.  In late May he was named the Gatorade State player of the year.  Baseball America 1st team All-American for 2014.  Stats for the season: 7-0, 0.00 ERA.  Word came out during the regional tournament that Bukauskas was being shut-down due to shoulder tendinitis; this likely was the reason he didn’t get drafted earlier.  It looks like he’s getting his wish and going to school.  UNC must be ecstatic.
  • 20th/#614 by Boston: Devon Fisher is a catcher from 6-A south champions and state favorite Western Branch HS (Portsmouth).   UVA commit.  Projects as a 4th rounder, not picked til the 20th.  Another likely victim of the new draft rules; in years past a saavy team like Boston would just throw $1M at him in the 20th and he’d sign.  Instead UVA likely gets a big-time player coming to school.  Update: Fisher signed with Boston instead of going to UVA.
  • 21st/#634 by Washington: Conner Bach, SR LHP from VMI.   I had no recollection of him previously, but NatsGM Ryan Sullivan reports that he played in the Cal Ripken league and left an impression.
  • 22nd/#675 by St. Louis: Derek Casey is an RHP from Hanover HS (Mechanicsville) with a UVA commit.  93-94 on the gun.  Projects as possible 3rd rounder.  Casey led Hanover to the 2013 AAA Virginia state title and Hanover is the favorite to win the 4-A title this year.  Another great sign for UVA; Casey likely is going to school.
  • 32nd/#958 by San Francisco: Hunter Williams is a two-way lefty player from Cosby HS in Chesterfield, VA who has skills both on the mound at at the plate.  He’s limited to first base in the field, which may make it tougher for him to get drafted and developed.  91 on the gun.  UNC commit, it should be interesting to see which way he focuses.   Projects as a 4th-5th rounder.
  • 35th/#1050 by Arizona: Justin Morris is a C from DeMatha HS who plays for the 2013 PerfectGame national champions EvoShield Canes traveling team (east-coast based travel team with a ton of big-time names matriculating these days).  He’s a Maryland commit but didn’t improve his draft stock much throughout the year.  He was #295 on minorleagueball’s pre-season list but doesn’t get picked until garbage time in the draft.  Pre-season PG all-Atlantic 1st  team.
  • 35th/#1054 by Washington: Flint Hill’s Tommy Doyle, a UVA commit who I didn’t think was a draft prospect, but who the Nats picked up in the 35th round likely to curry favor to a local interest.
  • 40th/#1096 by Milwaukee, Taylor Lane, a shortstop from Chesapeake but attending HS in Florida at the IMG academy.  Florida commit.

Local Names of note not drafted at all:

  • Charlie Cody is a 3B from the same Great Bridge HS in Chesapeake that just graduated Connor Jones.  He’s committed to UVA.  His stock seems to have dropped this spring and he’s joining Jones at UVA; he did not get picked at all.
  • Jeff Harding is a senior RHP from the Cambridge-South Dorchester school that just made it to Maryland 1-A’s state semis (after winning the title last year).  He’s committed to South Carolina.  I thought he’d at least get a late-round courtesy pick, but I guess not.
  • Brodie Leftridge is an OF from Highland MD who played for St. Johns in DC with a Tennessee commit.
  • Zach Clinton is a RHP from Forest, VA, plays for Liberty Christian HS (the Virginia state private schools champ) and is committed to Liberty.  On 5/27/14 he was named the co-state player of the year for private schools (along with Tommy Doyle).  No love from MLB teams though; he went undrafted and looks like he’s heading to his home town college.
  • Hunter Taylor, a C from Nandua HS in Olney, VA.  Named to the Baseball America 2nd team all-American list, was not drafted.  Committed to South Carolina.
  • Pavin Smith is a big lefty 1B/OF two-way player from Florida who will attend UVA after not signing.  It seems like he could slot right into the departing Mike Papi/Derek Fisher lineup holes.
  • Bennett Sousa is a LHP from Florida who now will attend UVA.  93mph, seems like he will slot into their rotation in a year’s time.

Summary: UVA has a ton of players drafted (no less than 8, and 7 of them likely are signing).  But they have a ton of commits from major names who didn’t get drafted and/or who got drafted so late that they stand little chance of signing.  Devon Fisher, Derek Casey, Tommy Doyle and Charlie Cody are all UVA commits likely going to school.  UNC also makes out like a bandit, getting both Bukauskas and Williams to school.  And Maryland looks like it will get at least two very decent players coming to school in Morris and Harding.


Some useful draft links for you:

 

First Look: Nats top 10 draftees from 2014 Rule-4 Draft

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Suarez is the Nats 2nd round pick.  Photo via 247sports.com

Suarez is the Nats 2nd round pick. Photo via 247sports.com

As we did last year, here’s a quick introduction to the Nats top 10 picks for 2014.

A quick glance on our high-end draftees from 2014 draft.  I’ll put in the rankings from several prospect ranking shops (Keith LawBaseball America, MLB.com and MinorLeagueBall).  overall player ranking after the player name where appropriate (though as we’ll see, Keith’s top 100 quickly runs out of names).  Here’s a link to the draft order, and here’s a link to MLB.com’s fantastic draft tracker database for reference.

As he did last year, NatsGM.com‘s Ryan Sullivan is live-blogging and does a great job of pulling up stats on each of our picks.  I depend on his reports as well as those from the four links above to give a quick overview of our draftees.

Note: I wrote most of this over the weekend as the guys were picked; we’re already hearing plenty of rumors about signings.  I havn’t updated this post with such intel but I’m sure its readily available from Ladson and Kilgore and the like.

1st round/#18 overallErick Fedde, UNLV RHP (Law #27/BA #24/MLB #33/MinorLeagueBall #70).  Most of the credible mock drafts had the Nats drafting Fedde here, and that’s exactly what happened.  In my quickie preview post, I thought Fedde would be an overdraft and hoped that either Tyler Beede or Brandon Finnegan would drop.  Well, Beede went 14th and Finnegan went 17th.  I liked Touki Toussant as well as a prep HS that may drop to the Nats, but he went 16th.   I’m not sure I agree with pundits who say that Fedde was a “top 10 talent” prior to his injury; I still think this is an overdraft on Fedde given the fact that he’s rehabbing a blown UCL.  Look at the placement of Fedde on the four prospect ranking shops; that’s an awful lot of trust being placed into the hands of the surgeon, the rehab process, and the recovery.  That being said, looking at the next several players picked, there wasn’t a name that really stood out as someone that I would have rather had who at the same time was a prototypical Mike Rizzo pick  Maybe Connor Gillaspie would have worked (he went #20).  Ryan Sullivan thinks we got a steal here; i’m not so sure.  I think the Nats were looking at their board while the Giants were picking at #14, and then had their next best three names get snatched out from under them, leaving them taking a gamble on Fedde.

On the player himself; Fedde is tall (6’4″) but *skinny* (listed at between 165 and 180), sits 91-93 and touched 95 with excellent movement.  Secondary pitches can flatten out because of his lower arm slot, but he’s listed with a decent slider and decent change.   ESPN thinks he projects a 65 fastball and a 60 slider but needs to work on his command.  Very preliminary ceiling/projection is as a mid-rotation starter.   The thought is that he can fill out his frame and add velocity, though he’s done neither in his three college years.

He’s a Scott Boras client, he was a HS teammate of Bryce Harper, and he’s rehabbing a torn UCL, so he fits in nicely with the Nats on several levels.  It was easy to see why the mock drafts were all over the Nats taking Fedde.  In reality, I’ll bet the war room was rather dejected watching the three a-forementioned pitchers drop off the board in the 4 preceding picks to #18.

2nd round/#57 overall: Andrew Suarez, LHP from U-Miami (Law out of top 100/BA #75/MLB #86/MinorLeagueBall #103).   A re-draft (he was picked in the 9th round out of HS but chose to go to school), he suffered a torn labrum early in his college career but reportedly picked up velocity this past season and held it through most of the year.   Law alludes to other medical issues that clearly had him down on Suarez (Law ranked him lowest of my 4 resources).  He spent the year as Miami’s saturday starter (aka, their #2 starter).  BA mentioned him in their draft preview specifically because of his fantastic control; he had just a 1.34 BB/9 rate despite throwing a low 90s fastball that can reach 95.  He pitched a shut-out in game 1 of the Coral Gables regional, a 7-hit, 10K, 0 walk outing that matched his career high; nice way to finish off your college career (Miami was elminated from CWS play before Suarez could throw again).   Scouting reports say he profiles as a 4th starter.  (Note: my fingers just automatically typed Luis Suarez, aka Liverpool and Uruguay’s striker.  Part of me is in World Cup mode already).

3rd round/#93 overallJakson Reetz, prep Catcher from Nebraska (#38/#62/#40/#36).   A prep catcher isn’t who you normally expect to see this high on the National’s draft results, but his pre-draft rankings show that he’s clearly a steal at the mid-3rd round.  The question is; is he signable here?  $567k is his bonus slot figure; he might be a tough sign unless the Nats have a pre-draft deal with Fedde to save some money for a guy like Reetz.   His pedigree is good: MVP of the PG all-american game, member of the same world champion U-18 team that #1 overall pick Brady Aiken was on.   In prep games he was showing 91 from the mound and reportedly has a great arm, but some scouting reports say he may struggle to stay behind the plate.  As pointed out by NatsGM.com’s Ryan SullivanBA did a “day in the life” piece on Reetz that is worth checking out; once you watch this you’ll really like Reetz.  Last note: Keith Law even likes the pick and says he’ll sign.

4th round/#124 overall: Robbie Dickie, juco RHP from Blinn college in Texas (na/210/179/173).  95-97 on the gun, led his team to the Juco World Series, but he may project as a reliever thanks to questionable mechanics.   Quite a pop-up guy, but an over draft based on the rankings in the major publications.  He’s committed to Texas State if he doesn’t sign, which isn’t exactly a baseball powerhouse, so is this a value/slot saving pick?

5th Round/ #154 overall: Drew Van Orden, a senior RHP from Duke (na/395/na/na).  Good numbers on the year as Duke’s Friday starter (6-5, 3.19 ERA, more than a k/inning).  He finished off his college career with a 5-hit complete game shutout over Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament, Duke’s only win in their post-season tournament.  I like his pedigree despite the fact that he’s a senior 5th round pick with zero leverage.  Who are the Nats saving all this money for?  Update: Van Orden quickly signed, terms undisclosed.

6th Round/#184 overall: Austen Williams, junior RHP from Texas State ( na/#276/na/na).  Nats clearly saw something in Williams that other draft pundits did not; even MinorLeagueBall (who ranked to 350) didn’t have him listed.  Texas State’s friday starter continues a long trend of the Nats plucking talent out of Texas.  Williams posted solid numbers as Texas State’s Friday starter (8-3, 3.65 era, good K/9 rates).  I’m sure he’ll take a bit more than slot to sign, but the Nats should have some pennies saved.

7th Round/#214 overall: Dale (D.K.) Kerry, a senior Center fielder from the U of Miami (na/#332/na/#133).  MLB’s scouting report on him says he’s a great athlete and he has a “4th outfielder” projection.  Sounds like the perfect senior 7th round draft pick to me (sarcasm).  Ryan Sullivan is more bullish on him than I.

8th Round/#244 overall: Jeff Gardner, senior corner OF from Louisville (na/498/na/na).  He may be a senior, but he’s also the clean-up hitter for a CWS-bound team and had great stats on the year (.321/.403/.538 with 9 homers).   Not a bad find for the 8th round.

9th Round/#274 overall: Austin Byler, junior 1B from Nevada (94/123/166/271).  Well, now we see why the Nats are saving their pennies; getting Byler here is a find.  He should have been taken in the 3rd or 4th round if you believe the pundits, and he may take an over-slot deal to buy him out of his senior year.  He’s got serious power (he led his conference in homers and is an offensive threat) and would be a great find if he signs.

10th Round/#304 overallMatthew Page, senior RF from Oklahoma Baptist (na/na/na/na).  A d-2 pick for a team that a) loves guys from the south west already and b) has shown itself more than willing to gamble on non D-I players.  I can’t imagine he’ll be expensive to sign.  He’s also the first player the Nats have picked that didn’t appear anywhere on any of the draft previews.

Summary: Through the first 10 rounds the Nats picked 5 pitchers and 5 hitters for good balance.  Of these 10 players selected, 9 are college.  So, in other words, this is exactly the type of draft we expect to see out of a Rizzo-run organization (with the possible exception of perhaps predicting a few more arms). 

Of these 10 draftees, I’d say that at least 5 are “expected under slot guys” (Dickie, Van Orden, Kerry, Gardner and Page).  You have to think the team may play some slot hardball with Fedde.   Suarez and Williams should sign for about slot.  That leaves two guys who may take over-slot deals to sign; the sole HS draftee in Reetz and the decently ranked Byler.  I’ll bet it works out and all 10 guys sign.


Some useful draft links for you:

Who are the Nats targeting at #18 plus Mock Draft review of top5 picks

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Lots of pundits think the Nats are taking Fedde at #18.  Photo via chicagonow.com

Lots of pundits think the Nats are taking Fedde at #18. Photo via chicagonow.com

The annual amateur/Rule-4 draft is upon us.  Wendy Thurm posted a nice overview of the festivities, kicking off today, June 5th.   Who is going at the top, and who do we think the Nats are going to take with their first round draft pick (#18 overall?)

Lets check in with some experts and pundits.  Unlike in years past, there’s no real consensus #1 overall pick this year thanks to a host of factors.  But the top-5 is relatively consistent no matter who the pundit.  We’ll talk about predictions for the first few picks plus who they think the Nats will end up with.  (Link to the draft order for the first few rounds to show all the missing picks and supplemental additions from MLB.com).  Note that all the Keith Law and Jim Bowden links are ESPN insider.  Profiles on the frequent top-5 picks and the names being associated with the Nats potential picks are below the list of pundit’s mock drafts:

  • MLBDraftInsider’s Chris Crawford has done a host of Mock Drafts this spring (the sixth version dated 5/28/14 and the “near final” version on 6/2/14, his penultimate mock on 6/3/14, his “really final” board on 6/4/14 and his “final mock ever” on 6/5/14)  and in his last mock has come down on the Nats taking Hoffman. Predicted top 5 in final mock: Aiken, Rodon, Nola, Conforto, Gordon.  Same movements that Law is projecting at the final minute.
  • ESPN’s Keith Law put out his first mock draft on 5/16/14, his second on 5/27/14, his third on 6/4/14 and his final/last on 6/5/14 and had the Nats on Erick Fedde, calling it a “lock” in the industry.  Top 5 in the latest mock: Aiken, Rodon, Nola, Conforto, Gordon (only list on here without Kolek in top 5).
  • MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo posted a mock on 5/16/14, another on 5/30/14.  One last one 6/5/14.  In his latest he went Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Kolek, Gordon.  He has the Nats taking Jeff Hoffman, saying that it could come down to “financials” and who is willing to go over-slot.
  • MLB.com’s Jim Callis posted his latest mock on 5/23/14 and one last one 6/5/14.   He went Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Gordon, Kolek.  He has the Nats on Hoffman as well, but in the description basically says he says Hoffman could go top 10 and/or the Nats could take Fedde.
  • MinorLeagueBall’s Matt Garrioch posted his first mock draft early (3/10/14), his second on 5/19/14.  His top 5: Rodon, Kolek, Aiken, Jackson, Gordon.  He has the Nats on Kyle Schwarber.
  • ESPN’s Jim Bowden posted his Top-10 picks on 5/28/14, trying to think like the GM of each top-10 picking team, and went Rodon, Aiken, Kolek, Jackson and wildcard Freeman.
  • BaseballAmerica’s John Manuel has posted mock drafts on 5/9/14, 5/16/14 and v3.0 on 5/25/14 and his final the day of the draft 6/5/14.  His top 5 in his most recent mock: Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Conforto, Gordon, with the Nats on Fedde.
  • GradingontheCurve’s Shaun Kernahan put up his mock draft 5/29/14.  He went Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Jackson, Gordon with the Nats on Gatewood.
  • MinorLeagueBall did a community Mock Draft on 5/30/14 (so, not full of expert opinion but interesting nonetheless to see what the crowd-sourced opinion on players is).   They went Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Kolek, Gordon with the Nats taking Conforto.  Based on where Conforto is now being projected, there’s little chance he survives to #18.
  • BaseballInstinct’s Thomas Belmont has a top-200 draft board that isn’t a mock draft but lists top 5 as Aiken, Jackson, Kolek, Rodon and Toussant.  #18 is Grant Holmes, who I would be surprised if the Nats picked despite his pedigree.  He posted his mock draft on 6/4/14 where he follows his board, but I have a problem with his rankings considering what the professional reporters above are showing for top 5 and for the Nats.
  • PerfectGame’s Patrick Ebert posted a bunch of mock drafts; in his last one on 6/4/14, he went top-5 of Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Gordon, Nola with the Nats on Bradley Zimmer.
  • Si.com’s Dave Perkin (a former professional scout who does some writing) posted a last-minute mock 6/5/14 online.    He goes Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Freeland, Jackson with the Nats on Beede.  I like this scenario.

How do I think the top 5 will go?  I like Aiken #1, Rodon to the Marlins (for the cuban-american/quick to the majors factors), then Kolek.  From there I have no idea; the Cubs by all accounts want a college arm but the next best one (Nola) isn’t worth the #4 spot.  Maybe they take a college bat (Conforto?), maybe they go BPA.  I’m guessing they bite the bullet and play the hand that they’ve been dealt and get Jackson or Gordon 4th, with the other going 5th.

A quick overview of the names in discussion for top 5 selection:

  • Carlos Rodon: lhp from NC State; was the heavy consensus 1-1 overall pick all winter, but a rough spring and high pitch counts have dropped him on most people’s mock boards.  Scout.com has a detailed scouting report and video.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Brady Aiken is a prep lhp from San Diego who could be just the third high school pitcher ever picked #1 overall.  Scout.com has a detailed scouting report and video.  Keith Law scouting video.
  • Alex Jackson is a prep C also from the San Diego area.  Scout.com has a detailed scouting report and video.  Scouting video from Keith Law.
  • Tyler Kokek is a prep RHP from Texas with big time stuff; 100mph velocity on his fastball.  Scouting video from Keith Law.
  • Aaron Nola is a polished RHP friday starter for LSU who may not overpower you with velocity, but is a good pitcher.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Nick Gordon is a prep SS from Florida.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Michael Conforto is a junior OF from Oregon State.
  • Kyle Freelan is a lhp junior starter from Evansville.  He has good velocity, a good slider and great control.
  • Max Pentecost is a C from Kennesaw State who may be a stretch to go top-5 but should be top-10.
  • Touki Toussaint is a prep RHP from Miami, FL who is considered the second best prep RHP arm behind Kolek; he doesn’t quite have the velocity but he has better secondary stuff.

MLB.com reports that seven of these guys will be in-studio during the draft (all high schoolers), including a couple that may drop out of the first round (could be a bit embarassing for both them and MLB).

The names associated/predicted with the Nat’s #18 overall pick:

  • Erick Fedde was UNLV’s friday starter before going down with the dreaded Tommy John injury, diagnosed on 5/10/14.  Before his injury Fedde was projected in the same general area where the Nats are picking … which makes me question this prediction.  I could understand if Jeff Hoffman falls (a projected top -5 pick) to #18 grabbing him … but here I don’t know if I’d agree with picking a guy who you won’t see for a year and a half in uniform.  Though that being said, BA had Fedde ranked #8 in their top-200 pre-injury draft rankings, so perhaps grabbing him at #18 could be appropriate.
  • Tyler Beede: RHP Vanderbilt starter, who was a projected top-10 pick thanks to his amazing sophomore season (14-1, 2.32 ERA and a Golden Spikes finalist), before a rough season (7-7, 3.49 ERA and 92/41 k/BB in 91 innings) dropped his draft status.  He turned down a big bonus out of HS as a Toronto 1st rounder and that apparently (combined with unknown/unstated “make-up” issues) has him dropping fast.  Personally, I think he could be a steal at #18.  BA’s Aaron Fitt profiled Beede on 5/29/14.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Kyle Schwarber, C/1B power hitter from Indiana.  Listed as 6’0″, 240.  .340/.450/.623 on the year with 12 homers, 27/41 K/BB ratio in 215 ABs.  Great numbers if he’s really a catcher; some listed him as C, others at 1B.  Question: Big10 baseball isn’t exactly the SEC; are his stats padded thanks to playing a bunch of weak programs all year?
  • Jeff Hoffman was ECU’s friday starter and a consensus top-5 predicted pick (perhaps as high as #3) before being felled by TJ surgery (diagnosed on 5/8/14).  I think he’s a huge long-shot to make it to #18 because Toronto picks twice in the top 11 picks and it makes complete sense for them to use their 2nd pick to take Hoffman, save some slot money and basically temper their draft risk by virtue of having a second high pick.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Jacob Gatewood is a prep SS from Fresno, California who has a ton of power for a middle-infield bat (he won the prep home run derby held during last year’s all-star game festivities), even if he has to move off Short to 3B.  Gatewood gets some mention as a potential Nats pick, but this seems very much out of Mike Rizzo‘s style.  I cannot see the Nats taking a high school player unless someone falls to them unexpectedly.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Casey Gillaspie is a 1B from Wichita State with huge power numbers in 2014: .389/.520/.682 with 15 homers and 28/58 K/BB ratio in 211 ABs.  But, like with Schwarber, do you draft a guy who is already locked into first base?  Are his numbers a mirage thanks to the weaker Missouri Valley Conference?
  • Michael Chavis is a prep OF/3B from Georgia who Crawford has the Nats taking in his mock draft … but which I cannot believe will happen.  I just don’t see Rizzo taking a HS player, practically ever, unless there’s huge upside or value.
  • Brandon Finnegan: friday LHP starter for national seed TCU.  Undersized but a big-time arm.  Not the prototypical pick for Rizzo (he likes big, tall guys).
  • Grant Holmes is a big RHP prep pitcher from South Carolina who likely goes before #18, but if he’s sitting here he could get a look.
  • Bradley Zimmer is an OF with a brother already in pro ball from San Francisco.

Who do I like for the Nats at #18?  Honestly, I think picking TJ surviver Fedde at #18 might be an overdraft.  Now, if Hoffman fell there I’d grab him … but most pundits put Hoffman at #11 (Toronto’s extra 1st rounder).  I’d love to take a crack at Tyler Beede; he was so good last  year and I don’t think he’s forgotten how to pitch.  I like Finnegan too.  Maybe they go with a college bat.  But one thing seems certain; I just cannot see one of these HS names at #18.  I think they’ll take someone whose quicker to the majors.

TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet. Photo via thestar.com

Its the biggest story in baseball so far in 2014.   We’ve had nearly 20 MLB pitchers get diagnosed with torn elbow ligaments so far this calendar year.  All of them have or are set to undergo “Tommy John” surgery (also known as ulnar collateral ligament/UCL replacement surgery).  That’s nearly as many as who got the surgery ALL of 2013 and we’re just 6 weeks into the season.  There’s an alarming trend upwards over just the past few seasons of pitchers getting this surgery.  There’s been plenty more minor leaguers (two Nats farmhands in Erik Davis and Danny Rosenbaum have already gotten it in 2014) and already a couple of very high-profile draft prospects as well (including as discussed in this space potential 1st rounders Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde just in the last week).

Lots of people are talking about this story, especially some heavy-weights in the baseball world.  A sampling:

  • Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the most famous sports doctor in the world, attributes the growing trend to the rise in year-round baseball competition in the US.
  • SI.com’s Jay Jaffe reviews Dr. Andrews comments and had other excellent stats about the trend in this April 2014 piece.
  • The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin did an excellent piece in the paper a few weeks ago about the injury, which he attributes to youth usage.
  • Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci effect”) proposed a solution in a column this week after the Jose Fernandez announcement.  His idea?  Lowering the mound across all levels of the sport.  He draws this conclusion after hosting a very interesting round-table on MLB Network.
  • Jayson Stark teamed up with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell and former player Alex Cora to discuss the rise in arm injuries in this ESPN.com video, and they follow Andrews’ theory of year-round pitching.
  • Chris O’Leary, king of the Inverted-W (whether you believe his theories or not, I’ve included this link here) has his own theories as discussed here.  He doesn’t really have much in the way of explanation, just more whining about how every pitcher’s mechanics has something you can complain about.
  • Jeff Passan basically calls out baseball executives for not having any answers.
  • If you want an index of all of ESPN.com’s stories on the topic, click here.  It will have columns, analysis and press releases for individuals getting the surgery.

Some interesting stats about Tommy John surgery:

So what the heck is going on??  Lets talk about some theories.  I’ll highlight them in Blue.

The new “hot theory” is essentially this: Over-throwing at Showcase events, which have become crucial scouting events for kids raised in the United States, are to blame.  Thanks to the rise in travel leagues and select teams, scouts spend less time sitting at high school games and more time at these all-star events.  To prescribers of this theory, it isn’t so much about the amount of innings or pitches that kids throw … its the nature of the “showcase” events and the high pressure situations that those events put kids under.  Kids are throwing year-round, and they’re ramping up max-effort pitches at national competitions multiple times per year, and in some cases out of “season.”  This leads to serious damage to kids’ arms done as 16 and 17 yr olds, which then manifests itself over the years and results in blown ligaments in pro ball.

Do you buy this explanation?  It certainly makes sense to me, but how do you prove this?  And, it doesn’t explain the similar rise in elbow injuries to non-American pitchers.

Is it less about the showcase events and more about the Larger Increase in Youth pitched innings thanks to the rise in Travel Leagues?   This theory also makes some sense to me: thirty years ago kids played an 18-20 game spring Little League season, at best would pitch half those games and that was it.  Maybe they played in the fall too, but there were specific innings limits in place that protected kids.  Now instead of playing limited spring and fall seasons, kids are playing AAU travel teams that play 40-50 games a summer, plus weekend tournaments, plus (eventually) the above showcase events as they get closer to matriculation.  This theory certainly is supported by a startling rise in youth arm injuries, as noted in this 2010 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

But, if its “bad” to play more baseball … then shouldn’t we be seeing even MORE injuries from players who grew up in third-world baseball hot beds like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where by all accounts kids play baseball from sun-up to sun-down 12 months out of the year in tropical climates?

Interestingly, of the list of 19 MLB players so far who have been diagnosed with a torn UCL (see next section), there’s 4 non-American developed pitchers (Rondo, Nova, Figueora, Cisnero).  4 of 19 = 21%, whereas about 22% of MLB pitchers are non-American developed (my 22% figure comes from this quick study that I did; I grabbed every active MLB pitcher as of early May 2014 and did a quick-and-dirty player upbringing analysis to determine that about 78% of players “grew up” in the current American system of player development).  It is small sample size … but the percentage of american versus foreign developed players are so far exactly in line with the total percentage of each type of player in the larger pool of MLB pitchers.  This doesn’t seem to support either of the two above theories.

We’ve all heard horror stories about pitch counts and pitcher abuse at  high school events in Japan (this came to light over the winter as we looked at Masahiro Tanaka and learned about these Japanese showcase events; this article here at thebiglead.com talks about one Japanese prospect’s 772 pitches thrown over 9 days, and Jeff Passan talked about Tanaka’s own pitch count abuse stories and his average pitch counts as a Japanese-league pro).   Unfortunately there’s not a ton of data available about this TJ theory and Japanese pitchers.  I can find a couple of instances of Asian pitchers getting the surgery (Kyuji Fujikawa in 2012 being the most recent example), but not enough to establish any trends.

But lets state it this way: you can’t have things both ways.  Both these stereotypes about player upbringing cannot be true:

  • Latin American poor youth plays baseball from sun up to sun down 12 months a year, building arm strength constantly, therefore his arm is “stronger” and he’s less suceptible to injury
  • American little leaguer plays limited schedules (18 games in the spring, perhaps fewer in the fall), has closely monitored pitch counts, therefore does not abuse his arm as a youth and thus his arm is “stronger” later in life as a result.

Here’s a list of the 19 MLB pitchers who have already gone under the TJ knife so far in 2014 (data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

Of these 19 pitchers, they are evenly split between being starters (10) and relievers (9).  So that doesn’t seem to lend itself to any Starter vs Reliever usage conclusion.

How about Pitching Mechanics?  We’ve all heard ad-naseum about the “Inverted W” and people talking about pronation and timing and elbow lift and etc etc.  Here’s a quick attempt to analyize the mechanics of each of these 19 guys (all photos grabbed as thumbnails from google images for the purposes of demonstration; no copyright infringement intended).

CisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landingFigueroaPedro landing

 

NovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landingGearrinCory landing

 

ParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landingMLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

RondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landingBeachyBrandon landing

 

MedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is choronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

But I’ll immediately add a caveat to these classifications; at various stop-points in a guy’s delivery, he may exhibit “good” or “bad” trends.   Maybe some of these “sideways-M” guys are actually “inverted-W” guys.  Maybe some of these inverted-W guys are ok and the stills make their mechanics seem worse than they are.

Nonetheless; there’s no trend among the 19 guys in terms of their mechanics.  In some cases they’re “bad” (Griffin and Gearrin’s look awful) but in some cases excellent (nobody should look at Moore’s mechanics and say they’re anything but clean, nor with Parnell or Corbin).  These pitchers are overhanders, 3/4-slot guys and even side-armers/submarine guys (Gearrin and Moylan).   These guys include hard throwers (Rondon had the 3rd highest velocity of *any* pitcher in 2013) and softer-throwing guys (Medlen had one of the lowest fastball velocities in the majors in 2013).  There’s starters and relievers almost equally represented in this list.

Conclusion; there’s no conclusions to draw from pitching mechanics analysis.  I think all attempts to look at guys’ mechanics and make judgements are useless.  I think (as does Keith Law and other pundits in the field) that the “Inverted W” is nonesense and that “research” posted online by concerned-fathers-turned-self-appointed-mechanics-experts is not exactly trustworthy.  The fact of the matter is this: throwing a baseball over and over is hard on the body.  Throwing a ball is an unnatural motion, and throwing a ball at max-effort will eventually lead to pitching injuries, no matter what your mechanics.  They can be “good” or “bad” according to someone’s pet theory on bio-mechanics and it has nothing to do about whether a pitcher is going to throw 10 seasons without injury or have two tommy johns before they’re 25.

Some historical context for pitching mechanics arguments: the pitcher who has the 2nd most innings thrown in the non-knuckleballer modern era (behind Nolan Ryan) was Don Sutton.  Sutton displayed absolutely *classic* inverted-W mechanicsnever hit the D/L in his career and threw nearly 5,300 innings over the course of 23 seasons.   Walter Johnson‘s mechanics were awful; he slung the ball sideways as he literally pushed backwards away from the hitter at the end of his delivery.  If someone saw Johnson’s mechanics today they’d talk about how over-compensated he was on his shoulder and how he lost velocity thanks to landing stiff and having zero follow through.  Johnson only threw 5,900 innings in his pro career; yeah those mechanics really held him back.  Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature, throwing at that velocity for as long as he did.  The point?  You just don’t know.


Maybe there’s something to the “showcase abuse” theory for some players.   Maybe there’s something to the travel-ball overuse theory for some kids.  But I think the answer may be a bit more simple.  We all know there’s been a rise in the average MPH of fastballs in the majors, both on starters and especially with relievers.  My theory is simply this: kids who “can” throw upper 90s spend all their time trying to throw upper 90s/max effort fastballs 100% of the time, and human arms just cannot withstand that kind of abuse over and over.  In prior generations, kids who “could” throw that hard wouldn’t, or would rarely try to throw that hard, and thus suffered fewer elbow injuries.

Side note: I also firmly believe that we’re “victims of our own success” to a certain extent with respect to modern medicine; 30 years ago would someone have just “blown out their arm” instead of being diagnosed specifically with a “torn ulnar collateral ligament?”  Would some kid in the low minors who hurt his harm even bother to get an MRI?  How much of the rise in these injuries is simply the fact that we’re better at diagnosing injuries in the modern sports world?

Why are these kids trying to throw so hard these days?  Because velocity is king, and that’s what scouts look for.   A kid who “only” throws mid 80s as a 17-yr old is dismissed, while the kid who can throw mid 90s at the same age is fawned over.   Guys like Greg MaddoxMark Buehrle, and Tom Glavine probably don’t even get drafted in the modern baseball climate thanks to the over-focus on pure velocity.

You can talk about upbringing and showcase events and pitch counts and mechanics all you want, but I think it comes down to Pitcher over-exertion thanks to the rising trend of fastball velocity and the human nature urge of prospects and farm-hands to show more and more velocity so they can advance their careers.

What do you guys think?  Do you dismiss the “inverted-W” arguments like I do?  Do you think its all about showcase events?

If Hoffman is there at #18, do you take him?

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Jeff Hoffman gets some terrible news; would you still draft him?  Photo via ECU Media Relations department.

Jeff Hoffman gets some terrible news; would you still draft him? Photo via ECU Media Relations department.

News came down on 5/7/14 that likely top-5 pick Jeff Hoffman, a RHP starter for East Carolina University, has a small tear in his UCL that will require Tommy John surgery (also reported here on PerfectGame and discussed on MLBTradeRumors).  Yet another high-profile starter in the sport befelled by this injury.   Keith Law believed that the Chicago Cubs (picking 4th overall) were highly likely to be drafting Hoffman … and now are re-making their draft strategy on the fly.

Here’s the question of the day: If you’re Mike Rizzo and you’re the Washington Nationals, and Hoffman drops to you picking in the first round at #18 … do you consider taking him?

Despite this injury, Hoffman likely will be drafted and will sign.  Why?  Because even if he gets the surgery tomorrow, he’s looking at least at a 12-month recovery time, which means he’d miss his entire senior season.  He could red-shirt so that he could play a 5th college season, but by the time he were to do that, he’d be pushing 23 and will have missed two full years of pro development time compared to his contemporaries.  If he signs a pro contract, he can rehab under the care of a pro baseball team that likely has had numerous other pitchers go through this surgery instead of rehabbing on his summer break from school, likely away from his college coaching and training staff.  Who may never have had to deal with an injury like this frankly.  By the time he recovers, it’ll be just in time for him to debut on a short-season squad in 2015 after having worked out since February in a team’s spring training facility.

If he’s getting any sort of decent representation, they’ll advise him to sign.

Now the question is; how far does he drop in the draft?  Mid first round?  End of the first round?  Further?  He’ll drop on everyone’s draft board; the question is just how much.  Law predicts he drops from about 4-5 to about #25 overall, citing players like Kyle Gibson and last year’s Sean Manaea as examples of players who got drafted while injured in recent years.

There is another important precident here, and it involves the Nats.  Lucas Giolito was in the discussion of going 1st overall in the 2012 draft before injuring his arm, and the Nats grabbed him at #16.  After attempting to rehab the arm all summer, Giolito’s one pro outing that year was stopped short and he had the surgery.   He returned ahead of schedule, got in 36 pro innings in 2013, and started this year in the low-A full season rotation.  One of the reasons Giolito signed was because of the Nats track record with the injury and its recovery, and its reputation for putting the player’s concerns over the teams (see Strasburg Shutdowngate and the similar handling of Jordan Zimmermann and Taylor Jordan).   Now, Hoffman is no Giolito; he’s older, his stuff reportedly isn’t quite as good, and ECU isn’t exactly in a powerhouse conference so the possibility exists that his stats are augmented.  But that’s why teams have scouts, and despite all of this he is widely considered the 2nd-best college pitching prospect in this draft (after Carlos Rodon).

I think the Nats might be tempted to grab a top 5 talent at #18, knowing that he’ll be ready to go by 2015′s short-season.  The question is whether they value that committment at #18 overall over another player.  My gut reaction is that the Nats will skip him and go a different direction, and that someone with a comp 1st round pick will grab him knowing that they have another first rounder in the bag.  But if he’s still hanging around in the mid-2nd round … I think he’d be a great roll-of-the-dice pick.