Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ask Collier 5/22/17 (i’m back!)

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Our newest little Nats fan!

Our newest little Nats fan!

So, after nearly a 3 week hiatus, i’m back.  And what better way to get back into the swing of things than to do a mailbag!  Nats mlb.com beat reporter Jamal Collier was kind enough to post a mailbag last night.

(In case you were wondering where I was, we traveled to China to adopt a little girl.  The above is a picture of her the day after we met her for the first time as we were walking the streets of Jinan, the capital city of the province where she was living in an orphanage :-).  She’s a natural in the curly-W hat).


 

Q: Any sense of urgency from the front office to get pen support? could we see a trade soon or will Rizzo play it cool and wait a bit more?

A: I don’t know how there isn’t a sense of urgency at this point.  We’re nearly a third of the way through the season and the bullpen is in shambles.  As we speak, the Nats bullpen ranks 29th in ERA, 27th in FIP, and 27th in fWAR.  Their best reliever so far in 2017 was a scrap-heap NRI pickup in Matt Albers, who now seems to be closing.  Five different guys have saves.  The two guys who we thought would be in the “closer” discussion ahead of the season (Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen) have ERAs of 6.08 and 7.78 respectively.  The bullpen has 8 blown saves already, some of which were really, really egregious (like May 9th’s scuttling of Max Scherzer‘s 8 inning shut-down effort in Baltimore).

But its not exactly trade season yet.  You very rarely see trades during this time of year; front offices are preparing for the draft.  Then they’ll spend most of June negotiating with draft picks and making roster decisions on short season squads.  Then there’s the International Signing period leading up to the beginning of July.  Then there’s the all-star break.  Only THEN do you really get into “trade season,” the period in-between the all-star break and the trade deadline on 7/31.  So I’d be kind of surprised to see the Nats pull off a trade right now.  More likely you’ll see more of what they’re doing with Erick Fedde: looking at their AAA and AA teams and wondering who might be able to help.  Fedde could be a nice little 7th/8th inning helper, kinda like Koda Glover was last year.  Perhaps there’s another starter down there who might make sense to do the same in a pinch.  The team still has several options in AAA and on the 40-man roster that they’ve yet to explore: Austin Adams has 31 Ks in 19 innings with a 1.42 ERA for Syracuse so far in 2017 …. to go along with 17 walks (but hey, Enny Romero was able to fix his walk issue, right?).  Trevor Gott‘s numbers aren’t awful.  So perhaps there’s some options.

Oh Side note; the rumor that the Nats had a deal with the White Sox to move David Robertson (AND salary relief!?) for Jesus Luzardo and Drew Ward?   That came from Bob Nightengale from the USA Today, who is one of those reporters who seems to get a lot of “anonymous quotes” from unnamed front office types looking to air dirty laundry, especially from the slimy Chicago White Sox organization (go google his reporting on the Adam LaRoche situation for a decidedly pro-ownership take on that whole situation, trashing the player without anyone taking any credit for the quotes).  So i’m not sure how much credit to give it.  But if its true … then you have to scratch your head as to why the Nats didn’t pull the trigger on that one.  Ward is a limited prospect, completely blocked at the MLB level  and who is Rule-5 Eligible this coming off-season and Luzardo is a lottery ticket coming off TJ surgery who has yet to throw a pitch.  I’d have made that deal in a heart beat; you’re telling me the Nats balked because they didn’t get *enough* money coming back?

Collier says the team is well aware of the issue, is poking around, but as noted above its two months from the trade deadline so there’s not a lot of urgency from other teams.


Q: Does Eric Fedde have a chance that to join the Nats bullpen soon?

A: Duh, yes.  Why else would the team have taken its absolute best starting pitcher prospect  in Erick Fedde and put him in the bullpen mid-May?  I don’t think it was to see how he liked it.  I think it was clearly to fill a need at the MLB level.  And soon.  I’d say they’ll give him a call as soon as he a) shows he can handle pitching back to back days, and b) he clears the super-2 deadline.  When will Super-2 deadline be?  Well, its generally been falling in the 2yr, 135day range.   So we’re right in the range as we speak of being at the super-2 cutoff; to be really safe, teams could wait until the first week of June to do call-ups and likely be clear of the cut-off.  So that works  out well; Fedde gets 3 weeks or so in the bullpen, then gets the call.  That’d be my prediction.

Collier agrees; says absolutely Fedde is coming up in a relief role for 2017 to fill a need, similarly to the way the team moved Trea Turner last year.


Q: When can we expect solis to rejoin the team?

A: Beats me.  Sammy Solis just can’t stay healthy, and his current injury is listed on b-r.com as having “no time table for return.”

Collier reports that Solis is not even throwing yet; i’d say we’re at least a month from seeing him back.  Not good.


Q: Are Trevor Gott, Joe Nathan, and Bryan Harper being considered for call ups in bullpen? 

A: I discussed Gott above: his numbers aren’t stellar but they’re not awful either.  Joe Nathan has been looking his age in AAA: 1.60 WHIP, 5.65 ERA but getting a K/inning.  Does this sound like the bullpen savior?  Bryan Harper had TJ Surgery in November; he’s out the entire year for sure.  So he’s not an option either.

Collier notes that both Gott and Nathan’s numbers are from earlier struggles and both have pitched better lately.  Fair enough; the team has gotten lucky with NRIs so far this year, perhaps Nathan is another possibility.  


Q: When is Dusty going to name Glover as the closer? I think it needs to happen. Let him have a real shot since there are no better options.

A: Who cares who the “Official Closer” is?  You know who has the best bullpen in the Majors?  Cleveland.  You know who Cleveland’s best reliever is?  It isn’t the “closer.”  Its time people started realizing that bullpen usage is evolving.  I don’t care who the guy is getting the useless “save” statistic; I want my best arm pitching in the highest leverage situations, irrespective of what inning it is.  Does Dusty Baker get this?  Probably not … which holds the team back.  But at least  he’s not Matt Williams in terms of bullpen usage idiocy.

Right now Glover seems to be pitching well, but Albers is pitching better.  So those are my late-inning/high leverage go-to guys.

Collier says Baker danced around the issue when most recently asked.  Which isn’t a surprise for a team with 5 different guys who have gotten saves so far this year.


Q: The RHH bench consists of Chris Heisey (0-14 as PH) and Wilmer Difo (1 PH hit?). Upgrades?

A: SSS.  You’re grasping at straws if you’re worried about this team’s offense right now.   Nats team offense is #1 in the majors in BA, #3 in OBP, #1 in Slugging, #1 in wOBA and #3 in wRC+.  For a National league team, that’s astonishing considering that they’re basically punting the Pitcher slot in the order while AL teams have beefy designated hitters in their stead.  So if you asked me if i’m worried about the right handed pinch hitting options, i’d say no.  Heisey was just fine last year, earned his spot this year, and he’ll be ok eventually.   You can’t expect your bench guys to be awesome, all the time; if they were, they wouldn’t be bench guys.

Collier agrees; its early.


 

Q: With Adam Eaton out even as Zimmerman makes a resurgence doesn’t it make this team the exact same team that lost in NLDS?

A: Not really; last year’s team was good offensively but not this good.  Last year  Bryce Harper struggled most of the year; this year he’s back in 2015 form.  You replaced last year’s empty ABs given to Ben Revere and Danny Espinosa with theoretically “better” at-bats from Trea Turner and Adam Eaton to start.  Even with Eaton gone, Michael Taylor hasn’t been completely awful.   But this team won’t go far in the playoffs without some reliability in the bullpen, no matter now many pitchers their starters throw.  That’s your concern right now.

Collier thinks its pretty much the same team, also noting the bullpen as a weakness.

 

 

 

 

Ask Collier; what’s up with the bullpen?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why is the bullpen struggling?

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

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

Meaning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nats Prospects: Where to see them in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts by Level:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ask Collier Inbox; just ahead of the start of the season

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Glover is on everyone's mind. Photo via mlb.com

Glover is on everyone’s mind. Photo via mlb.com

A last gasp mailbox from MLB.com beat reporter Jamal Collier, starting off with the question on everyone’s mind….

Q: Dusty says the Nats have basically chosen their closer, but they have not told the guy.  Who do you think it is?

A: I still think its the veteran Shawn Kelley to start.  Koda Glover waits in the wings though.  I don’t like Blake Treinen‘s historic splits against lefties (career .834 OPS) enough to trust him as the closer yet.  I say this less thinking about Kelley’s twice-cut elbow, or as any indictment of Glover’s stuff.  I say this primarily because Dusty Baker seems like the kind of manager to stick with the “established veteran” until proven otherwise.

Collier thinks its Glover from day one.  He mentions the organization’s repeated discussion of Kelley’s durability and Treinen’s ground ball rate.  We’ll see!

Q: I know innings totals are big deal for rookie starters. Not an issue for relievers? I believe Koda has never pitched more than 45 innings. Would a 60-inning season (w/ playoffs) be a concern for a reliever?

A: IP workload for relievers?  No way; nearly 100% of these guys were starters in HS and College, only converting to relief in the minors due to lack of a complete repertoire or injury.  The bigger concern for reliever arms in my view is the ability to go multiple days in a row.  Two on, one off, another two to three on, then one to two off.  That’s a different kind of wear and tear on arms … but (not to be cynical) that’s why you ride reliever arms like a work-horse; they’re replaceable.

Collier says not a concern for now .. but perhaps a concern for Glover later this year since he will be throwing a career high as a professional.

Q: Is Trea Turner playing good shortstop this spring? He looks good to me. —

A: Well, based on my extensive time watching Nats spring training games (which’d be practically zero), I’m going to recuse myself like a politician who secretly met with the Russians recently.

Collier says Turner looks inexperienced and needs patience.  Not to call the man out, but that sounds like cliche’d sportswriter BS to me.  Turner’s likely been playing shortstop since he was 6 or 7.  Yeah everything is faster in the majors, blah blah, but the scouting report on him coming out of college hasn’t changed.  He’s got a good but not great arm, good range, good fielding and 70 speed.

Q: What impact if any will Fedde have this year and for years to come?

A: I think Fedde’s presence at MLB camp easily jumped him to the top of “best SP prospects in the system” line (if he wasn’t already there thanks to the Eaton trade).  But it also may have jumped him to the top of the “who do we call up to cover for 6-weeks of injury” list.  In reality: I think he gets a couple months in AA, and then either goes to AAA or gets called-up if there’s a rotation spot opening.  If someone goes down with injury early then its probably still A.J. Cole, but at this point, I think we may know what we know about Cole.  Where this leaves Austin Voth i’m not sure; perhaps Voth is the guy who will cover a spot start in May.  Either way, Fedde gets called up at some point in 2017.

Collier says he was impressed by Fedde this spring … and that he may have trade value this summer?!?  If the Nats trade Fedde, their last remaining “anywhere close to the majors halfway decent” starting pitching prospect, after shedding their other three best starting pitching prospects, I’ll be rather irritated.

Final Week of Spring training; placeholder for chatting

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Robinson is out. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Robinson is out. Photo via minorleagueball.com

We’re getting down to the wire; still no idea who the last bullpen spots will be, who the last outfielder will be, nor who the closer will be, but we did get an expected if unfortunate piece of news today: fan favorite Clint Robinson given his outright waivers today.

Who do I think will get the call for these last roster questions?

  1. I still like Vance Worley for the 7th spot … though Enny Romero might be tough to cut.  We may see a “soft” D/L injury, or perhaps carrying 8 relievers for a bit.
  2. I am not entirely buying the buzz out there that Koda Glover will be “the closer.”  Dusty Baker is too much of a player’s manager to give that spot to a rookie (for all intents and purposes) over either of the other two candidates, both of whom have a ton more experience.  I still think its Shawn Kelley until otherwise proven inadequate.
  3. Final OF spot still goes to Michael Taylor even if Wilmer Difo is playing the OF this spring.

Otherwise, lets use this as a running commentary on the final moves as they happen prior to the 25-man roster announcement.

ps: Robinson’s waiving now leaves not one but two open spots on the 40-man roster … perhaps room for a NRI to slip in?

Written by Todd Boss

March 28th, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Pitching Depth looking good, Norris waived, and other ST observations

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Norris won't get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals Insider.com

Norris won’t get a shot at redemption here. Photo Mark Zuckerman via Nationals Insider.com

Some big player news rumors hit the airwaves this morning; Derek Norris, who two months ago we thought was our opening day starter, is reportedly being put on waivers for the eventual purpose of releasing him.  The timing is no accident; his contract is not fully guaranteed for the year and the Nats can get out of paying the full freight and only be on the hook for $700k by doing this.  I think Norris obviously gets picked up by another team, but they’ll be waiting so they won’t have to pay hin north of $4M.  He’s too good defensively to not get a job, and some team may think he’s a great reclamation project given his past hitting.

(Quick links: ST 2017 hitting stats and pitching stats for the Nats)

Quick implications of the move:

  • Looking obvious that our 1-2 catching punch will be Matt Wieters and Jose Lobaton.  Hard to see Pedro Severino as anything but AAA insurance for the time being.
  • This also thins our Catcher ranks: past Severino is just Raudy Read in terms of depth.  I’m hoping Spencer Kieboom makes it through waivers …
  • This puts the Nats 40-man roster at 39/40, leaving one spot for a quick add for someone at the end of spring training.  We’ve been talking about Vance Worley being an arm that makes sense at the back of the bullpen, but he’s not impressed so far this spring; 8ip, 5 runs and just two strikeouts.

I’d like to talk about two other important arms though; Erick Fedde and Austin Voth.  Fedde now has 7 IP, has given up just 3 hits and zero runs.  Voth has fewer innings (4 2/3) but has zero runs and a 5-0 K/BB ratio.  Meanwhile their competition for “first in line for a spot start” A.J. Cole has been shredded this spring: 8 2/3 innings, 10 hits, 7 earned runs.  Yes I know you often cannot trust spring training stats … but not in the cases of minor leaguers looking to impress while they’re in the presence of major leaguers.  These guys are trying.  And right now I’m feeling a ton better about our near-to-the-majors starting pitcher coverage post Giolito-Lopez trade than I was at the beginning of spring.  Is it time to see if Cole makes more sense as a reliever?

(Tangent: in case you’re not on ten-zillion RSS feeds about baseball and don’t know how Giolito/Lopez are doing: Giolito has by all accounts cleaned up whatever damage the Nats did to his mechanics and looks solid this spring: 9IP, 2 runs, 6-2 K/BB.  Lopez has struggled; 8 2/3rds innings, 6 runs, 7-3 K/BB.

Other interesting ST stat lines to point out:

  • Both Adam Lind and Clint Robinson have struggled badly: Lind is 4-20, Robinson is 4-21.  Matt Skole is missing an opportunity here; he’s just 2-13 on the spring, with one of those two hits being a homer in the opener that had MartyC all hot and bothered.
  • Brian Goodwin is not impressing in his attempt to win the spare OF job; he’s just 2-19 on the spring while “King of Spring Training” Michael Taylor is tearing the cover off the ball (he’s 11-26 with two homers).  Looking more and more like Taylor is getting another shot at the title … and inevitably starting when old-man Jayson Werth hits the D/L at some point.
  • Jhonathan Solano, now starting for Columbia in the WBC, is 10-12 with the Nats.  That’s right; he’s hitting .833.  Good to know; my comment above about us suddenly being rather thin at catcher may not be so bad if Solano keeps it up and earns a 40-man re-call.
  • Wilmer Difo may not have a realistic shot at the opening day roster, but he’s doing the most he can, hitting .400 so far.
  • Lastly, Ryan Zimmerman.  0-13 so far this spring.  At least he’s putting the ball in play (just 3 punch outs).  Too bad all the 1B types in camp that may push him to the bench are also struggling.
  • We all know about Koda Glover and how he’s crushing it.  4IP, one hit, 7-0 K/BB.  If he keeps this up, we’ll have a closer for $550k instead of the $15M that Melancon and Jansen earned.  And that, my friends, is how you build a closer.

Lastly, since i’m clearly trolling specific people by calling out Giolito and Skole stat lines, lets look up some other lightening rod ex-Nats and their spring stats:

  • Future Hall of Famer Max Schrock: only 7 ABs for Oakland this spring training, but he did go 2-7.  He was an NRI but clearly seems set to return to the minors.  No surprise there.  The question is whether or not he can repeat his performance at the AA level in 2017.
  • Nick Pivetta, which bought us the tumultuous Jonathan Papelbon era, has a 2.25 ERA in 8 IP for Philadelphia.
  • Tony Renda is crushing it as an NRI for Cincinnati: he’s 11-25 this season.
  • Felipe Rivero‘s statline resembles Glover’s so far this spring: 4IP, 1hit, 0 runs and 5 Ks.  You have to give up talent to get talent right?

anyway; what do you guys think about some of these guys?

Your 2017 Bullpen

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Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the Joe Blanton signing, one has to think the team is done augmenting its bullpen until the trade deadline.

Instant Tangent: Blanton is actually an excellent example of why i’m pretty much A-OK with the Nats not overpaying for a closer.  Here’s Blanton’s career splits as a starter and reliever:

  • Starter: 1553 innings, 4.47 ERA, 1.354 whip, 6.2 K/9 and a 2.65 K/BB ratio.
  • Reliever: 169.2 innings, 3.24 ERA, 1.138 whip, 8.9 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB ratio.

Last year specifically as a middle relief workhorse for Los Angeles: 80 innings across 75 appearances, 2.48 ERA, exactly a 9.0 K/9 rate.

So basically Blanton was a sub-mediocre starter; his starting career was with Oakland (pitcher’s park), Philly (National league) and then stints starting for both Los Angeles clubs (again, both pitcher’s parks and/or NL teams facing pitchers and weaker lineups).  But suddenly he’s a stud when moved into relief.

This is nothing new.  Go look at Mariano Rivera‘s stats starting; in one brief season for the Yankees he got 10 starts and threw to a 5.51 ERA.  The next year he’s moved into the bullpen and he posts a 2.09 ERA and comes in 3rd in Cy Young.  After that, eleven seasons where his ERA for the year was sub 2.00.  Not to be too blunt about it, but Rivera was a failed MLB starter who turned into a Hall of Fame reliever.

There’s no reason the Nats can’t find their own Mariano Rivera.

I’m not saying Shawn Kelley is the answer.  For a while i’ve thought that Blake Treinen was the answer.  Maybe now Koda Glover will be the answer.  Or perhaps Joan Baez will rocket up the system and throw 100 mph bee-bees by September.

In any case … I’m happy with the bullpen now, moreso than I was yesterday, and I still think it’d be a mistake to trade valuable assets for a mediocre closer like David Robertson.

So, to the question at hand.  How’s our Bullpen looking?

Here’s the relievers on our 40-man roster now, in rough order of depth:  Kelley, Blanton, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Romero*, Adams, Gott, Martin, Cordero, Grace*

So what do I think is going to happen?

  • Closer: Kelley.  Good stuff in short bursts, veteran guy to meet the “pressure” requirement of a closer.
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen and Blanton: no arguments here; they’ll both throw in 70-80 games this year, switching off and perhaps spelling Kelley in the 9th.
  • 7th Inning guys: Glover and Solis: I like Glover’s stuff, I think his downturn in performance last year was entirely related to the unreported hip issue, and I think he could be the closer in waiting.  Solis is lefty but offers more than just a matchup; he’s not that far removed from starting and he’s not unlike Andrew Miller in that he depends on a good pitch (his two seamer) slung from a lower arm-angle to get guys out.
  • Lefty specialist: Mr. Swashbuckler Oliver Perez.  He can also pick up the slop in a pinch and give the team twisty-turny rubber armed high sock slinging mud as needed.  (Yes, I like Perez).

Ok that’s 6 guys who are practically guaranteed their slots.  Maybe Glover isn’t a guarantee to you but he is to me if he’s healthy.

So who is 7th reliever?  Maybe its easier to talk about who I do NOT think it will be:

  • Grace: I think he’s not long for the org, clearly now 4th in line for lefty relievers for a team that only needs two.  DFA candidate if it comes to it.
  • Martin: He doesn’t seem to have the same magic he had when he first got called up; he’s also fallen down on the depth chart, now behind the above named guys plus recent acqusitions.
  • Adams, Gott, Cordero: all are new(er), all have things to prove, make perfect sense to start in AAA
  • Romero: option-less, could be on the opening day roster just to avoid a waiver wire exposure … but we paid little for him so there’s little lost cutting him.  Maybe he starts on the roster in lieu of a 5th starter for the first few days (we don’t need a fifth starter until like the 6th or 7th game of the season, assuming everyone is healthy and making the roster).

So who is 7th guy?  Someone who’s not even on the 40-man; Vance Worley.  He sots into 7th man, long guy, spot starter, insurance guy.

That’s what i’m going with for now.  But good or bad spring performances could scuttle this by the time we hit April 1.

Ladson’s, er I mean Collier’s Inbox 12/22/16

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Kelley may be first in line for in-house closer options. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Kelley may be first in line for in-house closer options. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I was excited to see an “Inbox” in my MLB.com RSS feed for the Nats today, and assumed it was venerable long time Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson poking his head up post winter-meetings to do some work.

But no!  Its a new guy: Jamal Collier, listed as “Nationals Beat Reporter.”  I don’t think Ladson has been replaced; maybe the Nats are big time now and need more beat reporters!

Nonetheless, Collier did an inbox.  Here’s how I would have answered his questions.  I love these inboxes because they’re great debate points for the comments, with people asking questions (some good, some dumb) that we all ask ourselves from time to time.  Here we go.  As always, I write my answer to the question before reading his and edit questions for clarity if needed.


Q: Last year, general manager Mike Rizzo had a Plan A and Plan B, but he seemingly settled for Plan C more than once. What are Plans B and C this year?

A: If Mike Rizzo had to fall back to plan “C” last year (presumably Daniel Murphy in lieu of the litany of bats that he missed on), then that’s a heck of a plan C.  This year he didn’t miss on a big acquisition; the Adam Eaton trade is by far the “biggest” he’s ever made in his Nats career, eclipsing the big Gio Gonzalez trade in terms of significant prospects dealt and impact players brought back.  Yeah he missed on Sale .. but he didn’t *need* Sale, and he made it clear he was only shooting for him because of the rarity of a true Ace getting dealt.

Rizzo really had a short “to-do” list this off-season: resolve CF or SS one way or another, get a Catcher, and get some bullpen help, up-to and including a closer.  He’s done two out of three, “missing” out on vastly overpaying for a 50-IP “proven closer” to the big-spending clubs.  Is that the worst thing in the world?  I don’t think so.  I’m guessing his “plan B and C” for closer now is to buy a couple of former closers off the FA market and see how they look side by side with in-house options like Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley.  I’m ok with that; as I’ve mentioned time and again, the Nats organizational chasing of over priced closers has cost us more than a few good prospects in the last few  years, and yet we’re still sitting here thinking we have a closer problem.  I also wouldn’t be shocked if Rizzo calls up one of his favorite trading partners and moves another prospect or two for a mid-range closer.

We havn’t traded with Billy Beane in a few weeks; maybe we make a move for his closer.  Does Oakland even have one?

Collier basically says what I said, then throws out the names we keep hearing about in terms of closer trades (David Robertson, Alex Colome) and FA options (Greg Holland).


 

Q: With Jayson Werth‘s contract ending soon, who do you see as emerging leaders in the clubhouse? Max Scherzer? Anthony Rendon? Bryce Harper? Others?

A: To be a leader you kind of have to be guaranteed to be around for a while.  Certainly that’s not Harper, who (lets be honest) is likely gone in 2 years.  Rendon isn’t far behind.  The three guys on the longest deals are Ryan ZimmermanMax Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  Zimmerman is the guy who would make the most sense but he seems like a background guy.  Its hard for a starting pitcher to be a “leader” since he’s only doing it every 5 days, but Scherzer is the best possible candidate based on his gregariousness.  Strasburg has always been reserved; he’s not a good candidate.

Truth be told … this clubhouse is going to do a serious turnover in the 2018-2019 time-frame, and a whole new slew of guys will be defining the makeup; only the two SPs are really going to be there for it.  I’d say Scherzer is going to define the soul of this team for the next generation.

Collier makes a great point; new acquisition Adam Eaton is a big presence in the clubhouse, will be around longer than practically any other bat in the clubhouse, and is in a position to take the reigns.


 

Q: Will the Nats get free-agent catcher Matt Wieters and then use their extra catchers to get Robertson from the White Sox as closer?

A: This theory doesn’t make a ton of sense to me; if the Nats buy Wieters, aren’t they killing Derek Norris‘ trade value?  They not only tendered but signed a deal with Jose Lobaton for 2017 … he’s now got 5 years (and was out of options), so he can’t get sent down … so do they plan on just lighting that money on fire?

Plus, the assumption that they can just flip their spare parts for a quality reliever is foolish.  What did we trade to acquire Norris?   Pedro Avila, a guy who pitched in low-A last year.  Now, I know the White Sox don’t exactly have awesome options at catcher, but in today’s reliever market why would anyone think we could get a bonafide closer for a couple of backup catchers?

Collier expresses the same doubts I do about the acquisition and the trade.

 


Good thoughtful answers from Collier.  I say this of course because he agreed with me :-)

By the way, this is probably the last post before Xmas, so If I don’t see you Happy Holidays.

Top 10 Arms; Starters and Relievers separately ranked

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

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

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

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

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

My Nats top 10 Starters:

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

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

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

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

Updated Master Prospect List in Google XLS

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The official Logo of the St. Louis Prospects. Apropos to this post.

The official Logo of the St. Louis Prospects. Apropos to this post.

Since we’ve been talking a lot about prospects, i thought i’d note that I’ve been catching up the Master Prospect rankings list (here’s the direct Google xls link) that I maintain.  Major edits lately:

  • I’ve noted those who have lost Rookie status in 2016: Trea Turner and Wilmer Difo, even if Baseball America and MinorLeagueBall insist on ranking him.  I’m not sure what to do with A.J Cole in this regard, nor Pedro Severino.  Koda Glover still seems to be a “prospect” by everyone’ standards so he’s still ranked.
  • I’ve noted those traded in 2016: Taylor Hearn, Max “future hall of famer” Schrock, Chris Bostick
  • I’ve noted those former “prospects” who were DFA/Waived/released in 2016: Abel de los Santos, Matthew Spann, Cutter Dykstra
  • I’ve noted those post-2016 MLFAs who at some point were ranked: Erik Davis, Paolo Espino, Kevin Keyes, Jason Martinson, Drew Vettleson, Neil Holland, Michael Brady.  If they re-sign, i’ll un-do the “out of the system” categorization.
  • Lastly, we’ve noted those prospects traded in the Winter Meetings: Dane Dunning, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez
  • I’ve now put in a couple of the early rankings from major pundits that have come out post-2016: BA top 10, minor league ball top 30, MLBpipeline’s top 30 as of the end of the 2016 season, and JP Schwartz’ post-2016 list.  We expect a ton more to hit in the Jan/Feb time-frame.

The Spreadsheet now has more than 100 “lists” from various sources dating to the beginning of the Nats franchise (Nov 2004 BA list, ahead of 2005 system).

Each off-season I generally expect to get 7-8 rankings lists from what I call the “major pundits” who follow prospects:

  • Baseball America/BA Prospect Handbook (J.J. Cooper, John Manuel, formerly Aaron Fitt)
  • Baseball Prospectus (Chris Mellon/Jason Parks/Ezra Wise):
  • MLB/MLBpipeline.com (Jim Callis/Jonathan Mayo/Mike Rosenbaum)
  • MinorLeagueBall.com (John Sickels/Nick Melotte)
  • Fangraphs (Dan Farnsworth, formerly Marc Hulet/Kiley McDaniel)
  • ESPN (Keith Law)
  • Prospect Digest ( Joseph Werner)
  • TopProspectAlert.com (J.P. Schwartz)

I’ve seen other pundits rankings in the past but not consistently year over year like the above seven lists.  If you know of any pundits who i’m missing, please let me know.

This year we’ll start to see a new #1 prospect in Victor Robles, after seeing 47 straight lists with Giolito ranked #1.  Robles becomes the 11th distinct player to be ranked #1 in our farm system at any point.

Enjoy!