Nationals Arm Race

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DC-IBWA pre-season predictions for Nats 2014 individual leaders

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Happy Opening day!

Every season David Nichols (editor in chief of DC Pro Sports Blog) organizes the unofficial DC Chapter of Nats bloggers to do some surveying about will happen, and then a post-mortem about what happened.

For 2014; here’s how the DCIBWA members voted in total.

And here’s how I voted:

1. Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2014?  Hard not to go with the kid Bryce Harper.  I’ll predict he manages to stay healthy, stop running into walls, and hits 32 bombs out of mostly the middle of the order.  Last year’s leader was Ryan Zimmerman, who I like for 20-25 homers again but not as many as Harper.

2. Who will lead the Nats in RBI?  I’m going with Ryan Zimmerman here, mostly because I feel like he’s going to be the beneficiary of many guys getting on base ahead of him and will have plenty of RBI opportunities.  Last year’s leader was Jayson Werth by a hair; something tells me he’s more of a table-setter this year (a #2 hitter) rather than a middle of the order bat.  I could be wrong though.  (Insert obligatory argument about lineup construction and dazzle us with your proof of why your best hitter should be batting 2nd while the 3rd place hitter should be one of your lesser batters…)

3. Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases?  I’ll go with 2013 leader Ian Desmond again; Denard Span is the obvious choice here but he seems to have lost a step.  All in all, speed on this team seems to be lacking on this team; will Matt Williams be a more- or less-aggressive manager on the basepaths?

4. Who will lead the staff in wins?  Stephen Strasburg, who I feel is destined for a break-out season with no leashes and no afterthoughts of his injury.  He’s two years removed from TJ recovery; when 2013 staff wins leader Jordan Zimmermann was in his 3rd year back he went 19-9 and got Cy Young votes.  I predict a 20 win season for Mr. Strasburg, some serious consideration for a Cy Young, and a significant arbitration fight next off-season.

5. How many games will Ryan Zimmerman play first base?  I’ll go with 10-12, maybe fewer.  Perhaps once a week he’ll go over to the other corner.  Something tells me that Adam LaRoche in a contract season will step it up and make it really tough to take his bat out of the lineup.  And something else tells me that Zimmerman may return to his plus-defense now that his shoulder issues are seemingly behind him, and we’ll be talking about how we can stick with him at 3rd for the long haul when the season is over.  (I may be eating my words on Zimmerman here; he’s already shown some air-mailing tendencies during Spring; such a shame that his arm is affecting his overall defense so badly).  For what its worth, Zimmerman has played a grand total of 2 innings at first this spring.

6. Who starts more games: Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf?  Tanner Roark.  The winner of the 5th starter spot will pitch to a relatively non-descript league average for months, while the loser (Taylor Jordan) toils in obscurity in Syracuse, waiting for Roark to fail or someone to get hurt.  Ross Ohlendorf‘s trip to the 60-day D/L means he’s likely a non-factor for the first half, and Ross Detwiler‘s trip to the bullpen looks permanent.  (When I wrote the first draft of this in Mid Feb, it was Detwiler).  Even given what has transpired at the end of spring (Fister’s D/L trip meaning both guys are in the rotation), I feel like Roark is going to stick when Fister comes back.

7. Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Danny Espinosa or Jamey Carroll?  Danny Espinosa obviously, since Carroll has already been released.  But even in my first draft of this post in Feb, I was predicting that Espinosa would win the backup middle infielder battle with Jamey Carroll.  I just didn’t think the team was ready to punt on a former 20-home run guy with superior defense.

8.  Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season?  Instead of copping out and saying an obvious name from our consensus top 3 prospects (Giolito, Cole and Goodwin), I’m going to throw out a couple other names that really intrigue me.  Matt Skole lost all of 2013 by virtue of a freak injury but impressed last year; i’d like to see him bash his way into consideration for a call-up.  I’d like to see what 2013 draftee Austin Voth can do in a full season; I like this guy as a sleeper, a potential Tim Hudson-esque mid-rotation starter who doesn’t get a ton of credit because of his size but suddenly is posting double-digit wins for your team.  I’d like to see what Matthew Purke does this year; the shine is off this guy; I’d really like to see him put himself back into relevance with this organization.  Like everyone else Stephen Souza has really elevated his status; what can he bring to the table if he gets an opportunity?  And lastly we now know that fireballer Blake Treinen is in the AAA rotation; is he a behind-the-scenes important piece of rotation depth for this farm system now?

9.  Who will reach majors first: Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito or Matt Purke?   Well, this one is easy to me; Sammy Solis is on the 40-man, is 25, and is already being talked about as being a potential loogy in 2014.  After that I’d predict Purke (also by virtue of  his 40-man placement); if Purke shows the team something or anything this year, he could earn a Sept 1 call-up to help in the pennant race.  After that say Cole since he will be put on the 40-man this coming off-season (if not before) and then Giolito last; he’s not rule-5 eligible til 2016 and would have to pitch his way into relevance before then (much like Taylor Jordan did in 2013).

10. How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who?  I’ll predict three: Strasburg, Desmond and Harper.

11. Total wins and what place in the division?  94 wins, 1st place in division.  This could trend higher with every new Atlanta injury.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

Hitting in the clutch.  The 2013 team to score 80 fewer runs than the magical 2012 team despite a lineup that seemed better on paper.  A lot of this regression was due to the drop-off in bench production, but an awful lot of it was due to coming up weak in the clutch.  In high-leverage batting situations (as defined by fangraphs), the Nats were dead last in 2013.  This team needs to do better all the way up and down the lineup.  We need Harper healthy.  We need Span producing like he did in September.  I’d like to see something better out of LaRoche in 2014.  Give us that and all these great pitchers will look that much better.

 

Ask Boswell 3/10/14

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How bad is Fister's injury?  Photo via wp.com

How bad is Fister’s injury? Photo via wp.com

Another week, another Boswell chat (this time 3/10/14).  Not much reaction to my big rotation rankings post yesterday; maybe 4800 words is too many :-)  Here’s about a 1000 instead about Nats stuff instead of overall baseball stuff.

Q: Interested in your thoughts on the Fister  elbow inflammation? 

A: I’d say that I’m cautiously concerned about Doug Fister.  It wasn’t a grimace-induced injury like what happened to Kris Medlen.  You could easily explain this away as a typical spring training injury.  I think the best answer is “we just have to wait and see.”  If Fister misses his next start … and isn’t throwing between starts, watch out.  As we have already learned … he’s already feeling good enough to throw today (Tuesday 3/11/14) so maybe it was just a scare.  Boswell accuses the Nats of being “underly worried” about its players’ ST maladies in the past, and then says we’ll have to wait and see.  He does also reference Medlen though.

Q: Does Ross Detwiler being the only lefty in the 5th starter competition give him any advantage?

A: Maybe.  Maybe a little.  I wouldn’t mind having a 2nd lefty starter instead of a 4th righty starter, but the real reason Ross Detwiler will win the 5th starter role will come down more to options and performance versus his handedness.  This is well-worn territory though (see previous Boswell chat here and rotation projections here) so we won’t go into it greatly.  Boswell has a good point; Detwiler’s being left-handed is a disadvantage b/c the team knows they can stick him in the pen and he’ll instantly be a valuable reliever.  And then I believe Boswel predicts that Tanner Roark is winning the 5th starter spot and Detwiler is heading to the pen.  Wow.

Q: Is MLB stalling on the MASN issue b/c they’re waiting for Peter Angelos to die?

I didn’t want to phrase this “question” this way, but it was the most succinct.  Answer is, “No even the bastards that run MLB aren’t that crass.”  At least not overtly.  I think the real answer is that Bud Selig realizes just how impossible this situation is (and, frankly, the SF-Oakland-San Jose issue as well) from a legal standpoint and he’s going to just keep on waiting for one side to call out “chicken” and propose something.  We talked more at length about this issue a month ago when the Jonah Keri revalation surfaced, and (of course) nothing new has happened since.  Boswell does call this an “ultra cynical” view. 

Q: Why was Matt Skole cut so quickly?

A: Because he needs at-bats, and he’s not going to get as many of them the further we get into spring training as the veterans want 3ABs/game instead of one.  He wasn’t going to make the team; why does anyone care when he was “cut” from the major league squad?  I dunno; the whole “cuts issue” in spring training is faintly ridiculous for me anyway; is the guy on the 40-man roster?  No?  Then he’s not making this team out of Viera.  This isn’t the cattle-call that we had for pitchers in 2008 when “cuts” actually meant something closer to when your high school team had cuts.  Boswell agrees … and then gushes about Stephen Souza.

Q: Does Strasburg’s new slider put undue stress on the elbow?

A: What google article did this guy find that told him that??  I’ve never bought that argument and here’s why: I never really learned how to throw a curve ball.  I didn’t really realize this until I was an adult, but the “curves” I always thought I was throwing as a kid?  Yeah; they were sliders.  I held the ball with a curve grip and just let it tumble out of my arm, bringing my arm across my body without snapping my wrist.  And lemme tell you what: throwing a slider in this fashion was a heck of a lot easier on my arm than it was to violently snap my wrist and throw a curve ball, as I learned later on.  Personally I’ve always thought the adage, “sliders hurt your arm” was B.S.   Boswell hedges, saying that there’s different ways to throw a slider.

Q: Does it seem to you that Tanner Roark doesn’t get the respect his stats would seem to deserve?

A: Yes, absolutely.   I wish I had a nickel every time I heard someone completely discount his 50+ innings of stellar work last September and invent some reason why some minor leaguer with 12 innings of experience (ahem, Christian Garcia) should be in the MLB bullpen instead of Roark.   Why does this keep happening?  Probably because he was an afte- thought, a lowly right-handed middle reliever without an eye-opening velocity or pitch.  All he does is command his fastball, keep it low and earn grounders.  Yes Detwiler (his 5th starter competition) was a first rounder … but I think at this point in everyone’s development, the team wants the best 25 guys on the field and aren’t really that concerned about how much bonus money they were paid 8 years ago.  I think we should all look up the definition of “sunk cost” and move on.  Boswell thinks Roark is a classic late bloomer.

Q: Bryce Harper said that, with a healthy knee, he should be able to stay in on left handed pitching. What type of performance should we expect to see with him against lefties, that will be indicative of a breakout season from him?

A: I hope this is true; he was pretty bad last year against lefties.   I couldn’t easily find his lefty splits for just April before his injuries … that’d be an interesting split.  I have no idea if this is true; it could be.  Something tells me his knee pain was worse than he really let on about, all season.  Boswell points out Bryce’s rookie season splits against lefties were better.

Q: What is going to happen with Tyler Moore this year?

A:  At this point I have no idea; maybe just PH duties off the bench and occasional mop-up duty?  We’ve covered this territory many times before.  Does it make sense to keep a third outfielder on the bench over a utility guy?  Not to me … if I was constructing this team i’d be sending Moore to AAA or looking for a trade and keeping another guy who can play infield.  Boswell thinks a trade to a second division team that can start him is in order.

Q: If “the window” is only open for a short time, how do you justify not finding a way to keep Strasburg going in 2012?

A: (the question was a bit longer but basically calls out Boswell for advising a double standard in terms of approving the Stephen Strasburg shutdown but also urging the Nats to “hurry up” and take advantage of this current “window” of opportunity).  Another topic that’s well-oiled; the Strasburg shutdown.  Honestly I don’t think the Nats truly feel that they have a finite “window” right now; yes there’s a huge transition year after 2016 … is that the end of a window or merely a way to move onto the next phase?  Boswell points out some facts supporting the Nats 2012 shutdown decision … it is nice to hear someone arguing FOR the health of a player.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

Ask Boswell 6/24/13

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Lots of grief for Espinosa and Haren this week.  Photo Nats official.

Lots of grief for Espinosa and Haren this week. Photo Nats official.

We’re now almost 3 months in, the team is still stuck at .500 and the natives are getting restless (see Haren, Dan‘s forced D/L trip as penance for his performance lately and Danny Espinosa‘s forced demotion to work on his batting).  I wonder what the tone of Tom Boswell‘s weekly chat questions on 6/24/13 will be?

As always, I answer here before reading Boswell’s answers and edit questions for clarity.

Q: Should the Nats move Ian Desmond up in the order?

A: Ian Desmond has mostly been batting 5th or 6th (depending on injuries to the 3-4-5 guys).   Frankly there’s no place else to put him.  They bought Denard Span so he could bat lead-off, and now suddenly Anthony Rendon is the prototypical #2 hitter; hits to all fields, good bat control, high average and some pop.  3-4-5 are set in stone when they’re healthy.   The only question is whether Desmond merits batting before or after Jayson Werth.  I’d say he will stay in the #6 hole.  Boswell says #6 is the best spot for him and he’ll stay there until Adam LaRoche‘s contract is up.

Q: Why do fans boo home-town players who are struggling?

A: The genesis of this question is the cascade of Boos rained down on Dan Haren after his latest meltdown.   I think fans are fans: they pay good money and expect this team to be successful.  When a guy lets in 7 runs in 3 and a third innings … well that’s a game spoiled.  Are they booing the player or the team, really?  Should they boo?  Eh; you certainly hear “good baseball town” crowds booing players.  Boswell says he’d have booed Haren too, but also notes what a class act and competitor he is.

Q: Where do we go with Dan Haren now?/Will Ohlendorf get the spot start?/Is Haren getting DFA’d?

A: Just answered a lot of this myself in a post yesterday.  Short answer; spot start from someone, extended rehab assignment for Haren, and probably a long-man role in the bullpen if we find a competent starter replacement.   I don’t think he’s getting DFA’d because any one of a number of pitching poor teams would snap him up in a heartbeat despite his crummy numbers.  Boswell thinks the team is going out on the open market to replace Haren and notes he’s hearing Taylor Jordan is getting a shot this weekend, and thinks that summarily demanding that a struggling player be released is cruel.

Q: Is Ian Desmond a flawed player?

A: The question arises because of Desmond’s small delta between his BA and his OBP (.280 and .318) and his approach in clutch situations.  I think Desmond has taken a small step back from last year’s break out season but otherwise all three of his slash line numbers are right where they were last year and in the same relative ratio as last year. His 2012 OBP was about 40 points higher than his average (same as this year), and his slugging is about at the same slightly lower figure.  He’s on pace to hit the same number of homers and actually increase his total extra base hits.  I see no issues here.  I’ll take a 120 OPS+ shortstop who plays plus defense anyday.  Boswell agrees, saying Desmond is a complete player and an all-star.  Nuff said.

Q: Is Werth’s groin strain another example of a Nats player coming back too soon?

A: It doesn’t seem so.  Different injury, and one that does tend to bedevil older players like Werth.  Lets just hope it isn’t too long.  Boswell does kind of scoff at Werth’s excuse of “playing dehydrated.”  As if there wasn’t enough ways for a professional athlete to hydrate themselves during the day.

Q: Will either Haren or Espinosa get another start in 2013?

A: I think the answer is likely yes.  This team has shown itself to be incredibly brittle so far (Saw a stat that the opening day lineup hasn’t played together since the 2nd week of April).  The odds of another guy going down with injury and requiring the return of either guy seems high.  The better question is likely what happens after 2013.  Haren’s one year deal is clearly over, and the Nats can’t possibly offer him a Qualifying Offer.  Danny Espinosa will be sans position and will be traded (even more proof of this?  The fact that Espinosa is playing SS in Syracuse).  Boswell interpreted the question more of a “rest of their career question” and said that Espinosa clearly has more career but Haren, maybe not unless he adjusts his approach.

Q: Why is there a disagreement between Harper and Johnson on his rehab?

A: Much to-do about nothing?  Either way, it doesn’t sound good when you have media members scurrying from one guy to another to play “he said, she said” in the papers.  Those two need to get on the same page, whether Bryce Harper is going on a rehab assignment Tuesday, Wednesday or three Fridays from now.  turns out: he’s going out on rehab tonight.  Boswell thinks its just Davey Johnson being too positive on how long it takes guys to come back.

Q: Why hasn’t Espinosa gotten surgery, if it has so clearly impacted his performance?

A: Probably two words: “Anthony” and “Rendon.”  I think Espinosa’s been reading the tea leaves and knew that his spot was the most likely destination for Rendon, and that Rendon (once arriving) likely wouldn’t give it up.  So far, that scenario is playing pretty much exactly as in Espinosa’s worst fears.  Boswell talks about how the Nats evaluated Espinosa’s injuries now and at the time.

Q: If the Nats were to pursue someone like Lee or Gallardo in the trade market, what would it cost them?  And who is untouchable?

A: Cliff Lee is owed so much money that it may not take as much in prospects as one would think.  But, the Philles have to declare that they’re out of it first … and they’ve got basically the same record as the Nats right now.  Gallardo is signed through 2014 with a 2015 option for about the same money we’re paying Haren right now .. and he has limited no-trade.  The thing is; is he worth trading for?  He’s only so-so this year, better the last two years.  I think Yovani Gallardo probably rates a bit below Gio Gonzalez on the trade market b/c of his salary  and being slightly less on the field, so perhaps two good prospects plus a young guy.

Who is untouchable at this point?  Rendon, Karns (they like him too much), Jordan (gotta see what they have now).  Brian Goodwin (he’s Span’s replacement in two years).  A.J. Cole (they worked pretty hard to get him back).  I don’t think they want to part with Matt Skole either.  But that’s not leaving a lot to work with in terms of prospects.

Boswell doesn’t really talk much about these guys or who the Nats are keeping … but fantasizes about getting David Price.  Dream on; the Tampa Bay Rays don’t trade unless they know they’re winning the deal.

 

Time to pull the plug on Haren yet?

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How much longer is Haren going to be wearing this hat? Photo nats official via espn.com

The Nats management waited and waited, but finally gave in and dealt with season-long performance issues in Henry Rodriguez, Zach Duke, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore in the first two weeks of June, DFA-ing or demoting as needed and bringing in replacements to try to do a better job and turn this season around.

So, when will it be time to talk about the train-wreck season that Dan Haren is having?  For $13M, here’s what the team has gotten in his first 12 starts, including June 12th’s meltdown:

  • a 4-8 Record with a 5.70 ERA and a 67 ERA+ (his ERA is 6th worst in baseball for qualified pitchers).
  • A 6-10 team record in games in which he’s started
  • a league leading 17 home runs allowed

A quick glance at his advanced stats doesn’t give much credence to any apologists that may try to excuse his line either; his BABIP is slightly elevated but not overly so (.320) and his FIP is still an unsightly 5.06 (5th worst among qualified starters).  Only his expected xFIP and SIERA numbers are relatively respectable, but xFip is just an estimator stat and often times never comes to pass, since it assumes silly things like the fact that Haren can’t possibly keep giving up this many home runs… an assumption that continued to be disproven as he gave up two more in his most recent loss in Colorado.

Game-Log analysis: Haren has yet to have a start where he shut out the opponent.  He’s only got 5 quality starts out of 12.  In half his starts he’s allowed 4 or more runs (not good when your team’s offense is only scoring 3.4 runs a game).  Haren’s only really had a couple of starts that were “grade A” in my book (his best start of the year was an 8 inning 4 hit performance in Atlanta of all places).  In his defense, he has gotten awful run support (2.84 runs per start), heavily indicating team losses every time he pitches.

I’ll admit it; I talked myself into the Haren deal big time after it was announced.  I ignored his 2012 struggles, looked back to the near Cy Young guy he was in 2009 and thought this was the move that could push the Nats to a 105 win team.  Now clearly whatever excuses we made for his performance in 2012 (back injury leading to diminished velocity leading to loss of his sinker leading to crummy numbers) seem like they’re covering up for an aging sinkerballer who never had lights out velocity and who now looks dangerously close to extinct as his very-hittable fastball flattens out and gets hit harder and harder.

So what’s the answer here?

Don’t talk to me about his salary; that $13M is out the door already.  Kaput.  Gone.  Look up the definition of a “Sunk Cost” in economic terms.  If you were worried about $13M in annual salary then you shouldn’t have bought a $15M a year closer who isn’t exactly a complete shutdown guy (Tyler Clippard has almost identical stats this year to Rafael Soriano for a third of the price and he didn’t cost us a 1st round draft pick, which as it turned out could have been spent on one of two pre-draft top-10 talents).  The decision needs to be made; do you still want to try to “win now” in 2013 as all the other off-season moves seemed to indicate?  Because the solution likely is going to be a bit more money and a few more prospects.

Short term (as in, the next week): see how Ross Ohlendorf does in his spot start (Answer: uh, he did awesome, holding a good hitting team to two hits through 6 in the best hitters park in the league).  If he’s anything remotely close to effective, I think you look at an invented D/L trip for Haren and send him on a rehab assignment tour of the minors.

Mid-term (as in, for the next couple weeks): do we have anyone else in the minors worth checking out?  Not on the 40-man and not with enough experience.  Maybe we give Danny Rosenbaum a shot if another spot-start is needed after Detwiler and Strasburg come back.

Longer term (as in, the next two months); Look at the trade market and look at who may be available leading up to the trade deadline.  We’re already seeing some teams completely out of it and clearly some guys will be available:

  • The Cubs probably will look to move Scott Feldman and especially Matt Garza.
  • The Astros probably will cash in on Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris (nobody’s likely interested in Erik Bedard at this point).
  • The Marlins would listen for offers for Ricky Nolasco, though perhaps not intra-division.
  • The Mets aren’t winning this year and could be moving Shawn Marcum (though perhaps not intra-division).
  • I think eventually Seattle becomes a seller: Joe Saunders and Aaron Harang should be dangled.
  • I also think San Diego eventually realizes they’re not going to win the NL West: Edinson Volquez, waiver pickup Eric StultsClayton Richards and our old friend Jason Marquis all make for possible trade candidates.

A few other poorly performing teams are probably going to be too stubborn to wave the white flag, which cuts down on the number of guys that will be available (see the Los Angeles Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto specifically).

The only problem with a trade market move is this: all these teams are going to want prospects back.  And the Nats prospect cupboard has been cleaned out recently to acquire all these fools who are underperforming so far in 2013.  I’m not an opposing GM, so I can’t say for sure, but from a quick look at the Nats best prospects in the minors right now (basically in order: Giolito, Goodwin, Cole, Karns, Garcia, Skole, Purke, Solis, Perez, then guys like Hood, Taylor, Walters, Ray and Jordan round out the list) and I see a lot of injured guys or players on injury rehab, backups or guys barely above or still in A-ball.  I’m not trading a valued asset for an injury-risk guy who has never gotten above AA.  Who on this list is going to fetch us a quality major league starter?

Maybe we trade Haren along with a huge chunk of his remaining salary and multiple prospects to one of these teams in order to get one of these 5th starters back.  But that’d be an awful trade when it was all said and done (about as awful as, say, the Giants trading Zack Wheeler to the Mets for 2 months of Carlos Beltran in a failed effort to make the playoffs in 2012; with all the Giants 2013 pitching issues do you think they wish they had Wheeler back right now??)

Or, it very well may be that the Nats are stuck; we knew going into the season we had no starter depth and those MLFAs we did acquire (Ohlendorf and Chris Young basically) probably aren’t the answer.  But something has to give; we can’t give away every 5th start like we seem to be doing now and claw back into the NL East race.

DC-IBWA Pre-2013 Season Predictions

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I took part in the DC-IBWA’s pre-season survey this year (despite this blog being missing from the “participants” page on the result link…) along with many of our fellow Nats bloggers.  The full results are here; I gave both a player and a guess on the totals, and compared my guesses to the poll results.

1) Who will lead the Nats in home runs in 2013? Bryce Harper, 35hrs.  Makes sense that Harper takes the lead; Morse is gone, Zimmerman has only shown 30-homer power in one injury-free season and I think Harper is a dangerous bet for a 30/30 season in 2013.  (Harper was the poll leader as well).

2) Who will lead the Nats in RBI?: Adam LaRoche, 105rbi.  The #5 hitter behind a slew of high OBP guys in front of him is going to get plenty of RBI opportunities.  Most people said Zimmerman; I just constantly worry about his ability to play 162.

3) Who will lead the Nats in stolen bases? Ian Desmond, 25sbs.  Most people guessed Span, but he hasn’t been the SB machine that people think.  Desmond is a better bet.

4) Who will lead the staff in wins? Stephen Strasburg, 20wins.  As good a guess as any.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of our top 3 pitchers broach 20 wins.

5) Who will make more appearances for the Nats this season: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard or Craig Stammen? Tyler Clippard, 70games.   The addition of Soriano allows Clippard to go back to his work-horse self, and he’ll lead the team in appearances again.  Soriano will only get save opps, Storen is too close to being the closer to get the workhorse treatment, and Stammen isn’t going to throw unless the starter gets yanked early.   (Clippard was the poll leader as well)

6) Who will get more at bats for the Nats this season: Kurt Suzuki or Wilson Ramos? Hmmm.  Tough one.  I’ll go with Suzuki with 400ab.  I don’t think Ramos can stay healthy.  I could be wrong; Ramos seems to have won the starter role at least from the onset.  Poll favored Ramos.

7) Which minor leaguer are you most interested in keeping tabs on this season? Matt Purke.   We know what our top two guys can do for the most part (Rendon and Goodwin).  Giolito is basically out all year and Cole needs a full season in A-ball to regain confidence.  Purke needs to show us something in 2013.  He seems to be healthy, and we need to know if the monetary investment is going to pay off.  A close second may be Matt Skole; can he make the leap from over-aged low-A slugger to a legitimate power prospect who could take over 1st when LaRoche’s contract ends?  So far from spring training, it seems like the answer could be a yes.  (Poll winner was Rendon easily).

8 ) Date of Anthony Rendon’s Major League debut? July 1.  Long enough to ensure one additional year and avoid super-2.  The club gives Espinosa 3 full months to show he’s healthy and can hit better than .240.  I could easily see more Espinosa struggles, a DL trip to repair his shoulder and Rendon taking over 2B for the 2nd half.  I hope not; he’s my fantasy shortstop :-) .   Poll winner was Sept 1.

9) How many all-stars will the Nats have? Who? 4; Strasburg, Gonzalez, Harper and Desmond.  The Poll results were all over the road, but lots of support for Zimmerman to re-gain his all-star stature.  Problem is … there’s a few big names at third base in the NL that Zimmerman would have to out-perform to get votes.  David Wright and Pablo Sandoval first among them, perhaps David Freese and Chase Headley as well.

10) Total wins and what place in the division? 100 wins, 1st in division.  Most people have the team pegged for slightly fewer.

Essay: What should be the single most important development for the Nats this season?

I think the overall health of the Rotation is going to be the biggest factor for the team.  We have no starting pitching depth to speak of, and a lengthy injury to any of the front line pitchers will affect our win total.

Observations of Nats from early televised ST games

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Carlos Rivero looks like a valuable utility guy so far this spring. Photo Brad Barr/US Presswire via bleacherreport.com

I have to admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the two Nats spring training games that managed to find their way to MLB Network TV thus far (NatsJournal live blogs for the 2/23 game here and 2/25 game here).  Not so much because we got to see Harper, Strasburg and Gonzalez … we all know what these guys can do.  No; I’m interested in seeing the young guys, the guys who we rarely get to see play.  This year’s spring training is a week longer, meaning that there’s going to be an awful lot of playing time devoted to these AA and AAA guys who got spring training invites, and that’s many more looks at the likes of Matt Skole, Chris Marrero, and Carlos Rivero.

It is also good to see some of these arm prospects that we’ve been hearing so much about, and it has been instructive to see some of the minor league veterans invited to spring training.  Some observations on our guys (arms then bats):

  • Stephen Strasburg‘s first 7 pitches on 2/23/13; all fastballs, all 96-97.  Clearly he was working on his spots.  I’m not sure he threw a change-up the entire outing.  As is always the case in spring training, guys work on pitches, work on location, and stats are meaningless.  He gave up a wind-aided homer to a guy who’s hit like 1 his entire career; no cause for concern.
  • Gio Gonzalez was amped up; he over threw his fastball in the first and (if you believe the broadcast) reached 97 in the second.  He struggled with his release point clearly.  However, his curve looked in mid-season form, breaking sharply and serving as a nice out pitch against the few regulars that the Mets did bat on 2/25/13.
  • Bill Bray looked, well, awful.  His mechanics were always odd-looking, but he got hit hard by the Mets lineup of rag-tag regulars.  Not a good start for Bray’s spring.
  • Cole Kimball back on the hill …. where was his fastball?  It generally was coming in 90-91.  That’s clearly a step back from 2011, when he was averaging 93 and peaking at 95.8.  Lets hope this is Kimball working himself in slowly and not a permament velocity loss from his shoulder surgery.  Either way, he’s not going to displace his RHP competitors for the bullpen spots unless he can hump it up a bit more.
  • Pat McCoy was scheduled to throw 2/23, and I would really have liked to see him, but the Mets were ahead in the 9th and didn’t need to bat.  I’m convinced that McCoy could be a sleeper candidate for a left-handed specialist in this organization, if the cattle-call of guys we’ve signed to ML deals falls through.
  • Ross Ohlendorf put in two clean innings, but I don’t like what I see from him necessarily.   Not a lot of velocity (90-91) but a big guy (6’4″) who gets downward plane on his fastball.  But he just seems very “hittable.”  His numbers from the last two years in the majors show it; ERAs of 8.15 and 7.77 in 18 starts.  Not good.
  • Nathan Karns: the beat reporters raved about his performance overall; 2 innings, 3 Ks against a MLB-heavy part of the Mets order.  It was great to finally see Karns throw; he has easy arm action, runs the ball in 94-95, and spotted the ball on the corners well.  What I didn’t see was anything resembling a quality second pitch.  He attempted a number of sliders (I’m guessing sliders; they were generally 84-86, which would be a very hard curve) and he couldn’t get over-top of them at all.  He did throw one particular breaking pitch that was sharp and nasty.  I didn’t see anything resembling a 3rd or 4th pitch though.  Is he destined for the bullpen?  That’s not the worst thing in the world; to be the next Ryan Mattheus, a hard-throwing 7th inning right hander.

Now for thoughts on our minor league hitters:

  • Eury Perez is, well, really fast.  If he turns out to be anything close to a servicable hitter, he’s got leadoff/center fielder written all over him.  The question could become; which speedy CF prospect do we hope for more; Perez or Brian Goodwin?  Denard Span‘s contract has a convenient option for 2015, just about the time that Goodwin is likely ready for the majors on a full-time basis.  Of course, that being said Perez is further along than Goodwin (who likely starts 2013 at AA).  Goodwin has power to go with his speed, while Perez seems to have very little power.  Which would you prefer to be the longer-term CF solution?
  • I like Matt Skole; sweet swing, not overpowered by facing MLB pitching.  It makes you wonder about scouting sometimes; how come guys like Skole and Tyler Moore get no love from scouts?  Its like a 30-home run minor league guy is somehow a liability.  Of course, Skole’s problem is the same as Anthony Rendon‘s; positional blockage at 3B.  Yes Skole was playing low-A as a college junior when he hit 27 homers … but if you’ve seen Hagertown’s stadium, you know its a monster park to hit balls out of.  27 homers is no mean feat down there.   I’ll be curious to see if Skole can hit with that kind of power at High-A or AA (wherever he starts 2013).
  • Chris Marrero has looked pretty good, making good solid contact a number of times.  I don’t like his haircut though :-) .
  • Carlos Rivero is impressing me; he’s playing the outfield (after having played first SS and then 3B in the minors).  He has good hands, is a big guy, and seems like he can be a servicable backup utility guy who can fill in at any corner.  He’d be more flexible Moore or Chad Tracy in this respect (when judging our projected utility guys) but of course needs to show he can hit at the same levels.  Still, he is likely to be a numbers game victim unless someone like Bernadina gets hurt this spring.

Ladson’s Inbox 1/14/13

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Free Michael Morse! Photo Jacqueline Martin/AP via federalbaseball.com

Another edition of Bill Ladson‘s Nats inbox, dated 1/14/13.

Q: Who will replace Davey Johnson once he retires after the 2013 season?

A: Who knows and who cares?  Can we wait until the end of the 2013 season to see if Davey Johnson actually retires?  I’m not convinced that he actually will retire if the Nats don’t win the World Series.  Even if he does retire, I think its pointless to speculate who in the baseball universe the team could possibly look to as a successor.  It could be a current TV pundit, a bench coach, someone elses manager, someone who just got fired, a minor league manager in our system, one of our current coaches, Mike Rizzo‘s uncle.  About the only person I think it will NOT be is Jim Riggleman.  Ladson says internal candidates Randy Knorr and Trent Jewett are good candidates, and throws out Joe Girardi‘s name based on his contract status coinciding with the end of next season.

Q: Is there any validity to the Nationals having interest in Javier Vazquez? If the Nats were to sign him, would they move Ross Detwiler to the bullpen so he could be their second lefty?

A: This topic as so irked me that I’m penning an entire post dedicated to it.  Check back later.

Q: If Michael Morse is only making $6.7 million, why not keep him around as insurance and a right-handed bat off the bench?

A: An excellent question.  Much like the team paid John Lannan to sit around in Syracuse for a year, they could do the same with Michael Morse.  Except that Morse is FAR more valuable in trade than in sitting around and wondering what he’s done to earn his fate.  He’s by all accounts a great clubhouse guy, but keeping him here would be detrimental to everyone involved.  I think the team needs to move him for lefty bullpen help and some farm system starting pitching depth.  Ladson says the team needs to do Morse a favor and trade him.

Q: Who do you see as the Opening Day closer — Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen?

A: Drew Storen.  Tyler Clippard had his shot at the title and lost it down the 2012 stretch.  I think the team goes back to its winning formula with Clip-Store-and Save in 2013.  Ladson thinks Johnson will go with “the hot hand” and split the role.  I don’t.  I think he’ll go right back to what he was doing before.

Q: With Adam LaRoche now signed, what are the Nats’ long-term plans for Tyler Moore?

A: Once Morse is traded, Moore becomes the big bat off the bench and does some fill-in work at 1st base and (maybe) LF.   I see his opportunities limited though unless we see some injuries.  Longer term, I think he’ll have to hit his way into full time playing time; if he does perhaps he’s the first baseman of the future.  I don’t see it though; I think he’s likely to find his way off the team through trade at some point.  The OF is full and 1B is blocked.  Ladson agrees, mentioning an interesting wrinkle; with Bo Porter now in Houston, perhaps a trade would be in order.

Q: Which Minor League player do you think will have a breakout season this year?

A: A good question.  Borrowing from Luke Erickson‘s NationalsProspects watchlist for 2013 (a very handy one-page summary of all the top/interesting prospects throughout the Nats farm system), I’ll pick three names that could press for quick promotion and big impact in 2013: Rendon, Skole and Goodwin.  Ok that’s a cop out.  I will say this: I *hope* that Rendon breaks out and finally hits like his draft pedigree.  Lets keep an eye this year on Nathan Karns and Erik Davis, two rising arms that could both feature in the bullpen in 2013.  I’d like to see Robbie Ray rebound.  For a deep-cut, i’m really interested to see what Kevin DiCharry does in 2013.   Ladson goes with the two obvious candidates Rendon and Goodwin.  I don’t think he follows the farm system that closely, so we’ll give him a pass.

Q: Is Ryan Zimmerman expected to be healthy for Spring Training?

A: I saw nothing in his surgery detail that indicated that the 2013 season was in jeopardy in any way.  Ladson confirms.

Q: If Jayson Werth bats in the middle of the order, what right-handed hitter is the best choice for No. 2 after Denard Span?

A: I’d probably say Jayson Werth is still the best option at #2.  The lineup that seems to make the most sense goes Span-Werth-Harper-Zimmerman-LaRoche-Desmond-Espinosa-Suzuki.  That allows the team to go L-R-L-R-L-R-S-R, a perfect balance.  Perhaps you switch Desmond and Werth.  Ladson thinks Harper is batting second most of the time.  Can’t see that; can’t see Johnson purposely going lefty with 3 of the first four guys in his rotation.  That seems to scream out easy Loogy matchups every night.

Q: Will Christian Garcia do any starting for the Nats next season? I know Johnson would love to see that.

A: A man can wish; I’d love to see Christian Garcia starting and bringing his stuff for 7 innings a night.  Unfortunately I don’t think he’s got the stamina in that arm (surgically repaired more than once) to start, no matter how much Johnson may want him as starter depth.  I think Garcia starts the year in AAA starting but soon finds himself back in the MLB bullpen.   Ladson says he’s getting stretched out and will provide cover for any injuries.




Nats Franchise Draft history; biggest, best, worst Draft Picks

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Face of the Franchise Zimmerman easily represents the best player drafted in the Washington era (by WAR). Photo team official

This is the Third in a long-delayed series of “Best of” posts, breaking down the transactions of both the club’s General Managers.  Previously:

1. Biggest/Best/Worst Trades in Nats History (March 2012)

2. Biggest/Best/Worst Free Agent signings in Nats History (November 2012).

Here’s Part 3: looking at the Biggest, Best and Worst Draft picks the team has made since arriving here in Washington.

Ground rules for this article:

1. Unlike the trades and free agent posts, assiging “credit” or “blame” for draft picks on the General Manager is not entirely straightforward.  Baseball teams rely heavily on Scouting Directors and their staffs when it comes to the draft, especially once you get past the first few rounds.  So, perhaps for the purposes of this article it is better to talk about the “Reign of Jim Bowden” and the “Reign of Mike Rizzo” instead of insinuating that every draft decision was made by the GM during these times.  Much like the President of the US gets credit/blame when  the US economy as a whole rises or falls (whether or not you’d like to argue that a president’s decisions can influence a multi-trillion dollar economy), so does the GM get the credit/blame for his staff’s draft picks.  Most baseball pundits that I’ve read generally say that the GM/Team Ownership is always directly involved in making any 1st round and supplemental first round picks (because of the money), and will be involved if over-slot bonuses come up in later rounds, but that by the 5th round or so the entire draft is being conducted without the GM’s involvement.  Which leads us to point #2…

2. Related to #1; Mike Rizzo, whom Bowden hired in July of 2006, may not have been the Scouting Director but he certainly had a say in the drafts (coming from a scouting background in Arizona).   I’ll list scouting directors tenure here as well, related to #1 and #2.  But, it probably isn’t going to be entirely fair to the GM to say that such-and-such a pick was “good” or “bad” if it was actually being done by his staff.

3.  It is entirely “hindsight is 20/20″ in nature.  But, it is what it is.  If you draft a 1st rounder who flames out in low-A, he’s a failure.  If you draft a major leaguer in the 21st round, he’s a fantastic success.  Mostly here in judging the “best draft picks” I’m looking for value in later rounds.  As it turns out judging “worst” draft picks mostly will be around first round busts.

Just for review, here’s the tenure period of both GMs:

  • Nov 2004 – Mar 2009: Jim Bowden
  • Mar 2009 – present: Mike Rizzo

And here’s the tenure period of Scouting Directors during our time here in Washington:

  • Mid 2002 – Mar 2009: Dana Brown
  • Mar 2009 – Present: Kris Kline

The quintessential Nats Draft resource is the Draft Tracker Spreadsheet, initially created by NatsFarm.com’s Brian Oliver and now maintained by “SpringfieldFan. ” It has all our draft picks, where they came from and signing bonuses.  A file I’ve kept recently (The Draft Prospects Worksheet) is a file I started to create when the Nats started getting some upper-end draft picks as a way to track who we may take.  Lastly, you can query the entire amateur draft results per team at baseball-reference.com (the link will go to the 2009 draft by way of example).

Jim Bowden Tenure: Nov 2004 – Mar 2009

Bowden’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2005 1st rnd: Ryan Zimmerman, $2.975M
  • 2007 1st rnd: Ross Detwiler, $2.1M
  • 2007 6th rnd: Jack McGeary: $1.8M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Chris Marrero: $1.6M
  • 2006 1st rnd: Colten Willems: $1.4M

Bowden’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2005 11th rnd: John Lannan out of Siena College.  A durable and servicable lefty starter with MLB average numbers out of a small college in the 11th round is a great find.
  • 2005 12th rnd: Craig Stammen out of Dayton.  He didn’t look as if he’d be successful until his transition to the bullpen, where his arm action and movement have baffled hitters during his shorter reliever stints.
  • 2006 41st rnd: Brad Peacock out of a Florida HS as a “draft and follow” guy (which enabled teams to take late round fliers on good talent, so this isn’t exactly the same as finding a true 41st round player who made the majors, since Peacock likely wouldn’t have been taken without the DDE rules in place and would have been an upper round draft pick the next season he was eligible).
  • 2007 2nd rnd: Jordan Zimmermann out of U Wisconsin Stevens Point (not because of his draft position, but because of the scouting out of such a small school).  Zimmermann survived TJ surgery and now looks like a hidden Ace in the making.
  • 2007 4th rnd: Derek Norris out of a Kansas HS: possibly the best HS player the team has drafted since arriving in DC.
  • 2008 10th rnd: Tommy Milone out of USC.  Rizzo may not have rated him, but he looks to be in Oakland’s rotation for many years to come.
  • 2008 16th rnd: Tyler Moore out of Mississippi State.  Scouts continually have downplayed Moore’s power; I have never read a scouting report on Moore that didn’t focus on “holes in his swing” or “defensive liabilities.”  All he’s done is mash the ball at every level he’s been challenged with in his career.
  • 2008 19th rnd: Steve Lombardozzi out of St. Petersburg JuCo.  Despite his pedigree (his father played in the Majors in parts of 6 seasons), Lombardozzi was lightly pursued and surprisingly signed as a late round JuCo draftee.  He’s scraped his way to the top though and could find himself starting if the team decides to move Espinosa.

Despite the issues at the top of the 2008 draft, it may have been Bowden’s best.  He took no less than 6 guys who now are on 25-man rosters in this league (Milone, Moore, Lombardozzi, Espinosa, and Crow).  2005 wasn’t bad either, with 7 guys that have MLB appearances (though only 3 remain with the team).

Bowden’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2006: almost the entire draft.  Bowden blew the first 6 picks on high schoolers, the best of whom was Chris Marrero, who has contributed -0.7 WAR in his career thus far.  First round pick Colten Willems flamed out and just gave up playing in the middle of the 2010 season, Stephen Englund was released (but not before earning a 50-game suspension for Amphetemine usage), Sean Black didn’t sign and Stephen King has yet to succeed above A-ball despite being in his his 6th pro season (and, just for good measure, had his own 50-game drug suspension in 2009).  Only one player in the top 12 rounds of picks even played a day in the majors.  Just a complete debacle of a draft.
  • 2007′s high schoolers: Smoker, Souza, Burgess, and Smolinkski: all top 3 round picks, all busts.
  • 2007′s Jack McGeary, who insisted (admirably) on also going to college, but probably at the detriment of his baseball career.  I’m sorry; if someone pays you $1.8M dollars in cash, you probably should work for that money.   McGeary never was able to master anything above rookie ball and was so under-valued by the team that they failed to protect him in the minor league phase of the 2012 Rule 5 draft (where he was subsequently taken by Boston).
  • The 2008 Aaron Crow debacle.  Yes I know that this pick turned into 2009′s Drew Storen.  And yes I know that Crow has now been turned into a middle reliever while Storen has turned into an effective closer.  At the time, this move helped continue the “incompetent” labels that the organization was earning, as Bowden reportedly refused to negotiate with Crow’s agents and failed to do his due diligence before drafting the player.  Who is to say whether Crow’s electric arm wouldn’t have turned into a regular rotation member in our organization (Kansas City doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of developing pitchers).  In the end, getting Storen and also not losing the opportunity cost of missing a year’s development time of a first round pick (by virtue of the rest of the team being so awful) ended up not hurting the team.  But it still goes down as a draft failure for Bowden.

Mike Rizzo Tenure: Mar 2009 – present

Rizzo’s Biggest Draft Picks (in terms of dollars committed).

  • 2009 1st rnd: Stephen Strasburg: $7.5M bonus, 15.1M guaranteed
  • 2010 1st rnd: Bryce Harper: $6.25M bonus, $9.9M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd: Anthony Rendon: $6M, $7.2M guaranteed
  • 2011 3rd rnd: Matthew Purke: $2.75M bonus, $4.15M guaranteed
  • 2011 1st rnd (supplemental): Brian Goodwin: $3M
  • 2012 1st rnd: Lucas Giolito: $2.9M
  • 2011 1st rnd: Alex Meyer: $2M
  • 2010 4th rnd: A.J. Cole: $2M
  • 2009 1st rnd: Drew Storen: $1.6M

As we saw with the Free Agent post, Rizzo clearly had more money to work with from Ownership than Bowden did.  Spending $2M on a 4th round pick (AJ Cole) would have been unheard of in the Bowden reign.

Rizzo’s Best Draft Picks

  • 2009 12th rnd: Nathan Karns out of Texas Tech: Karns got 4th/5th round money in the 12th round but has been bedeviled by injuries until this year.  By now we know what he’s capable of; our organization’s Minor League pitcher of the Year earned a spot on the 40-man roster and could be in line for a 2013 late season call-up.  It could be too-early to tell, but right now this is looking like one of Rizzo’s best.
  • 2009 22nd rnd: Danny Rosenbaum out of Xavier; despite the team not protecting him and losing him in Rule-5, he had come out of no-where to be one of our best pitching prospects.
  • 2010 12th rnd: Robbie Ray out of a Tennessee HS; he had a great debut and has been steadily rising up the ranks.  The team was able to buy him out of a committment to the University of Arkansas by offering 2nd round money.
  • 2010 22nd rnd: Cameron Selik as a U Kansas senior has made it to AA and looks like a great later-round steal, especially for a college senior this low in the draft.
  • 2011 5th rnd: Matt Skole out of  Georgia Tech looks like he could be an excellent hitting prospect and is making it into the top 5 lists of Nationals prospects.
  • 2011 1st rnd supp: Brian Goodwin out of a Miami JuCo looks more advanced than anyone would have thought at this point, and could be pressing for playing time in 2013.  I don’t normally give plaudits for 1st round talents, but the team aggressively pursued and captured Goodwin at a time when it looked like he was heading to UNC.

Rizzo’s Worst Draft Picks

  • 2009 2nd rnd: Jeff Kobernus out of Cal Berkeley.  Perhaps less because of his production (which was mostly poor for his career), but moreso because the decision not to protect him and value your investment in the player, leading to his departure in the 2012 rule-5 draft.  No worries for Nats fans: Rizzo drafted almost the doppelganger of Kobernus in 2012: again taking a 2nd baseman from California in the second round (Tony Renda).  Lets hope it works out better this time.
  • 2009 3rd rnd: Trevor Holder out of Georgia.  A blatant punt on the draft pick to save money, Holder was a college senior with zero leverage and should have been offered closer to $1,000 instead of the $200,000 he got.  Holder has struggled for years in our system.  He did have a decent 2nd half in Harrisburg, so there is hope yet.  But 3rd round picks should have more promise than Holder has shown.
  • 2010 3rd rnd: Rick Hague out of Rice.  He hasn’t lived up to his 3rd round billing yet, though (to be fair) he has struggled with some injuries.

Rizzo’s Too Soon to Tell Draft Picks

  • 2010 2nd rnd: Sammy Solis was looking promising out of U San Diego, but has been side lined by Tommy John Surgery.
  • The 2011 college-arm gamble: Rizzo drafted dozens of college players this draft, stocking the system with experienced amateurs.
  • 2012 1st: the Lucas Giolito gamble won’t play itself out for a couple of years, but it is safe to say Rizzo went “all in” on this player.  A 1-1 talent but damaged goods upon drafting, the team is putting a lot of faith into its experience in dealing with hurlers going through Tommy John.
  • 2011 3rd: Matt Purke got a MLB deal and a whole lot of money, and has done relatively nothing to earn it because of lingering shoulder injuries.  I’m listing him as too early to tell, but the signs are not good.


Are you concerned about the state of the Nats farm system?

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Will Giolito become the Nats #1 prospect? Photo Eric Dearborn via Win For Teddy blog

I know it seems silly to criticize the team with the best record in the NL, but I thought the question was worth asking, given a couple things I read this week prospects related.  Given the drain of prospects in the last 6 months (through the Gio Gonzalez trade and through graduation to the majors for several of the team’s better prospects), its safe to say that our cupboard is relatively thin right now.  This point was highlighted to me by two recent online articles;

1. ESPN’s Keith Law posted a mid-season review of farm systems on the Rise or Fall (sorry, insider only), and stated the obvious about our system.  His summary: Yes we got Lucas Giolito but it was essentially at the expense of any other high-end talent in the 2012 draft.  And, a lot of our high-end guys are taking significant tumbles on boards due to lack of performance or injury (see later on for a look at our top 10 prospect performances).

2. Baseball America’s Jim Callis posted an updated Midseason top 50 prospects post 2012 draft and included where he’d put the top-end talents drafted (including international signees) in his weekly Ask BA feature on July 16th.   Of note to me was the fact that Washington, even with the signing of the high-end Giolito, does not have a SINGLE player in his mid-season 50.   Luckily for us, our NL East competition didn’t fare too much better, with a grand total of 5 players between our divisional rivals.  This compared to teams like Seattle (5), Kansas City (4), and the rich-keep-getting-richer Rangers with 3 guys likely to become impact players within a year or two.

Why is this a concern if the team is in first place?  Two primary reasons:

1. If you’re not going to matriculate your prospects and depend on them for production, then you need to utilize them in trade to acquire needed talent.  There’s plenty of trade rumors right now mentioning the Nats desires for a starter to cover for Stephen Strasburg‘s innings limit.  But who are we going to trade to acquire said pitcher?   I’d go as far as saying that there’s not one guy on our 2012 top 10 prospect list (not including Harper and Lombardozzi of course) who, at this point in 2012, could be the centerpiece of a marquee acquisition.  Who is trading for our #1 prospect Anthony Rendon right now? 

2. This team has a LOT of money committed to players over the coming years, and won’t be able to depend on hefty production from salary controlled guys forever.  They will need a stream of up-and-coming players to offer cheap alternatives to free agents and players who have become too expensive.  For example; in the year 2016 the team has $47M committed to just THREE players right now, before considering at least that much in arbitration for just Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmermann.  $47M is nearly the team’s payroll just a few years ago!  Yes we will naturally grow payroll and revenues with success and the renegotiation of the MASN contract, but constructing a 25 man roster is about making choices.  The last thing we want is to see this team become the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies; a bloated, old team with a ton of injuries and the 2nd highest payroll in the league at $175M, but mired in last place.

For context of this discussion, here’s a list of Baseball America’s top 10 prospects for this team for 2011 and 2012 (compiled after the Gonzalez trade), and a status of where they are as of now:

Year Nats Rank Name, pos Status
2011 1 Bryce Harper, of In majors
2011 2 Derek Norris, c Traded
2011 3 Danny Espinosa, ss/2b In majors
2011 4 A.J. Cole, rhp Traded
2011 5 Wilson Ramos, c Out for Season (two knee surgeries)
2011 6 Sammy Solis, lhp Out for Season (Tommy John)
2011 7 Cole Kimball, rhp 60-day DL (shoulder surgery)
2011 8 Eury Perez, of .299/.325/.342 in AA Harrisburg in his 6th pro season
2011 9 Chris Marrero, 1b 60-day DL (torn hamstring)
2011 10 Brad Peacock, rhp Traded

That’s 2 guys who are starters in the Majors, 3 traded for Gonzalez, 4 guys on long term DL stints and Eury Perez with his meager .667 OPS in AA, in his 6th pro season.  How about 2012′s list?

Year Nats Rank Name, pos Status
2012 1 Bryce Harper, OF In majors
2012 2 Anthony Rendon, 3B Out for Season (broken ankle, his 3rd major leg injury in 4 years)
2012 3 Brian Goodwin, OF .324/.438/.542 in low-A.  Stellar season so far
2012 4 Alex Meyer, RHP 7-4, 3.10 Era, 1.13 whip and 107/34 k/bb in 90IP in low-A Hagerstown.  Just promoted
2012 5 Matt Purke, LHP Long term DL (Shoulder concerns); hasn’t thrown in 5 weeks.
2012 6 Sammy Solis, LHP Out for Season (Tommy John)
2012 7 Steve Lombardozzi, INF In Majors
2012 8 Destin Hood, OF .223/.296/.313 in AA Harrisburg, in his 5th pro season
2012 9 Chris Marrero, 1B 60-day DL (torn hamstring)
2012 10 Michael Taylor, OF .225/.314/.333 in High-A Potomac in his 3rd pro season

2012′s list includes 4 major injury concerns, two guys under-performing (Hood and Taylor), and two guys matriculated to the majors.  The two players putting up good statistical seasons may come with astericks though; Alex Meyer was compiling his stats in low-A, going against guys 2-3 years younger than himself.  His promotion to High-A was overdue and should be telling, to determine if his future lays as a dominant 12-6 starter or a high-leverage reliever.  Brian Goodwin’s excellent season is a great sign of things to come … but again, in Low-A.  I know he was a Juco signee, but he’s 21 now, turning 22 in November and is the same age as college juniors getting drafted now.  If he continues to produce upon promotion to better competition, I’ll feel better.

Now, I know there’s guys in our system who are coming back from injuries (i.e. Nathan Karns), or who are putting up good numbers despite being lower draft picks (i.e. Matt Skole, Cameron Selik, Danny Rosenbaum), and we have some guys who we acquired through trades and who are having surprisingly good seasons in the minors (i.e., Zach Walters, Ryan Perry and Corey Brown) but are these kinds of players going to step up and either be a) next year’s top prospects or b) eventual productive major leaguers?  I know we all love Rosenbaum for example, but most scouts think he’s a marginal prospect at best (and his lack of inclusion on our top 10 lists reinforces that notion).

This sudden lack of depth was one of the reasons I wasn’t the biggest fan of drafting Giolito.  With the new draft rules and specific limits on bonuses, combined with the significant injury issues we’ve had with high end draftees Rendon and Purke in 2011′s draft, I thought the team should have gone the safer route.  Yes I’m sure Mike Rizzo did a ton of due diligence and was confident in Giolito’s long term health.  But missing on three first rounders (or in Purke’s case, a first round talent given a significant bonus and a 40-man deal) could lead to a significant hole in player development for this team right at a time a couple of years from now when they desperately need a MLB-minimum impact guy.