Nationals Arm Race

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

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Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Syracuse

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Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

I slacked on minor league pitching analysis this off-season.  But i’m as excited as ever to see the four full-season affiliate rosters announced ahead of the beginning of the minor league season this weekend.  And i’m ready for another season of tracking minor league arms (kind of the bread and butter of this blog).

So lets take a look at the four staffs, guess the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.  I’ll do these in four posts to break them out and get more content/discussion.  First up: Syracuse.

Quick links for rosters for each full season affiliate:

And don’t forget the invaluable work of SpringfieldFan maintaining the Nats Big Board, now in its 12 season!

Note: in the below list, “missing” means that the player was on a 2016 roster, is still listed as active but is not found anywhere on a 2017 full-season roster as expected.  Most are still sitting in Extended Spring Training (abbreviated XST throughout) with the intent of getting assigned as injuries or releases occur, but some may be release candidates.   Other abbreviations I use often: MLFA == Minor League Free Agent, OOO = Out of the Organization.


AAA/Syracuse 2017:

  • starters: Cole, Voth, THill, Turner, JRoss
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Adams, Gott, Grace*, Martin, Albers, Antolin, Broadway, Cotts,
  • dl/restricted: Swynenberg (still restricted), Barrett, Collins*, Harper*, McGowin
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016: Laffey*, Espino, Giolito (trade), RLopez (trade), EDavis, De Fratus, Arroyo, Harmening
  • missing from 2016: none

Discussion:

As often happens with AAA squads, this group of players is about half home-grown (I count 8 drafted players out of the 17 on the roster) and half MLFA or acquired depth.  And this group is missing more than a few names that we know will eventually be here and play major roles; Jeremy Guthrie probably slides into the rotation spot that Joe Ross is temporarily holding.  But XST also currently holds players like John Lannan and Josh Outman, both of whom were MLFA signings this past off-season with the intent of providing AAA depth.

And as you often see in AAA, there’s huge turnover from last year.  Eight guys on the AAA rosters at the end of last year are out of the organization now, 6 by free agency and two by the much discussed Adam Eaton trade.   I was kind of bummed to see Paolo Espino go in particular, but I like the potential of former major leaguers like Jacob Turner and the aforementioned Guthrie (who looked pretty good in spring training, for what that’s worth).

Rotation guess: not too hard to squint and see this rotation go A.J. Cole, Austin Voth and Taylor Hill at the top.  After that i’m assuming it goes Turner-Guthrie (after Ross gets called back up).  Perhaps we’ll also see 2017 MLFA Kyle McGowin after he returns from whatever ailment has him on the D/L.

Reliever thoughts: I was happy to see the team re-sign Aaron Barrett; he may not ever contribute again but it was a good gesture to bring him back into the fold.  Interested to see what Lannan can provide.  The four relievers on the 40-man roster all seem to be on thin-ice with the org; are we expecting anything of value from any of Adams, Gott, Grace or Martin any more?  I don’t mean to sound like a debbie downer, but at this point those four guys are my first four to get cut if space is needed.  Its kind of amazing to me that this team has so little reliever depth at the upper level of the minors given the ridiculous amount of pitching they’ve drafted in the past few  years.

Interestingly, Matt Swynenberg remains on the AAA restricted list, where he’s been since he retired on 5/1/15.  I’m not sure why at this point the team doesn’t just release him, if only to clean up the official MILB.com roster on the web page.  :-)

Who am I focusing on: Voth, Turner, Adams and Gott to see if they’ve got any future value, Guthrie, Lannan when they get there, McGowin when he gets off of the D/L.

 

Collier’s Inbox 1/4/17

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Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Is this the best we can do for backup infielders? photo via offtherecordsports.com

Happy New Year!

Nats Beat reporter Jamal Collier posted another inbox; here’s how I would have answered the questions he took.


 

Q: The Nationals and A’s have proven to be strong trade partners over the years, and I believe the A’s have a few players to fit the Nats’ needs. Do you think Washington could trade for Sean Doolittle and Stephen Vogt?

A: We mentioned this in passing in the comments discussion recently; it does make sense to try to acquire Oakland’s closer Sean Doolittle.  Acquiring Stephen Vogt makes less sense right now, given that the Nats have guaranteed Jose Lobaton money for 2017 and have signed Derek Norris to be the starter.  For similar reasons as to why the “Nats are still interested in Matt Weiters” arguments make no sense, acquiring Vogt wouldn’t make much sense either.  If you acquire Vogt, you tell the league that you need to trade either Lobaton (no options/5-year veteran who cannot be sent down and who has a guaranteed 2017 contract) or Norris, and it isn’t exactly the best way to go about maintaining a player’s value when the whole league knows you need to make a deal.  That’s why we got very little in return for Danny Espinosa, and that’s why signing a third catcher to a guaranteed deal wouldn’t make any sense.

The one issue that may be blocking a Doolittle deal is the farm system; as in, we’ve gutted it this off-season already.   Billy Beane knows how valuable closers are; he just watched Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen cash in and he has seen what the likes of Andrew Miller and Wade Davis fetch in trade.  I’m not saying Doolittle is in that class of pitcher … but he’s not chopped liver.  The price tag just may be too high for Mike Rizzo to consider.

Collier says Doolittle would be a good fit, but that Oakland isn’t shopping its players right now.


 

Q: Wilmer Difo is the only middle infielder on the 40-man roster, other than the starters. It seems to me the Nats need another infielder on the bench. Emmanuel Burriss seems to be the only other option. What do you think?

A: Yes, the Nats definitely need another MLB quality backup infielder.  Emmanuel Burriss is not that; he’s a 4-A guy who only played last year because Philadelphia isn’t really trying right now.  Wilmer Difo is not the guy you want to be injury option #1 either.  This is why I want Stephen Drew back, as discussed ad naseum in the comments recently.  But I also admit Drew may have priced himself out by virtue of his 2016 performance, and it may be an outlier season.  Who else is out there?  Not much at this point.  I think the Nats are kind of thin right now all the way around; if we lose any of these key players for any length of time, the alternatives are pretty poor.  Imagine giving 400 ABs right now to Difo or to Michael Taylor?   I mean, what does this team do if Anthony Rendon, not exactly known for being a rock heathwise, misses 2 months?  Who plays 3B for that time?  Matt Skole?

I think the team needs a bit more depth both in INF and OF right now, honestly.

Collier says the Nats are comfortable with Difo as a bench option, as evidenced by his presence on the NLDS roster.  But I don’t buy that; i think he was on that roster as basically a 25th man/pinch runner guy, not because he had earned it.


 

Q: The offseason trades seem to point to the Nats believing Stras is going to be healthy, why would they think that?

A: Because he’s not the first player to suffer a Strained Flexor Mass, because its not nearly as severe an injury as other arm injuries, and because the team is probably hyper-monitoring Stephen Strasburg‘s recovery.  Its basically a 1 month injury, 2 if you’re being really cautious.  Had the Nats made the World Series i bet he woudl have pitched.  I can’t imagine any reason he won’t be ready to go by 4-1.

Collier notes that both he and his agent have said multiple times there’s no issues, plus Strasburg was throwing bullpen sessions in the post-season…. he’ll be fine.


 

Q: With the trade to the White Sox, I’m concerned that the Nats have denuded their farm system of Major League-ready top prospect pitchers. In case of injury to any of the top six Major Leaguers, it seems that there will be no “next man up” to fill in.

A: Me too!  The Nats gave no less than 20 starts to pitchers outside the opening day rotation in 2016.  That same number was 28 in 2015, 13 in 2014, 25 in 2013 and just 12 in 2012.  So that’s an average of 19.6 “extra” starts per year thanks to injuries and unplanned absences.  You’re absolutely right; the first two likely candidates to take those starts in 2017 (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) were both flipped for Adam Eaton.  Now we’re looking at those starts going to A.J. Cole and to Austin Voth initially, and the pickings get slimmer from there.  “Slim” as in, there’s only really 7 starters on the 40-man at all, so if you really get stuck you’re looking at Oliver Perez getting stretched out, or putting someone like Blake Treinen back on a starter routine.  And past that?  We’re talking a MLFA type like Jacob Turner or our own already-outrighted-once Taylor Hill.  In reality we’d never get that far; we’d promote Erick Fedde or maybe hope that reformed knuckeballer J.D. Martin has something in the tank.   But those are not really confidence-inspiring options.  Here’s hoping for a healthy 2017 from the rotation!

Collier acknowledges the same and thinks the team may sign some starter depth before spring training starts.


Q: Perhaps the Nats could bring in some veteran starters to Spring Training, like they did last year with Bronson Arroyo, to compete for rotation spots and as insurance in case of an injury. What will it take to get Trout? Sure he would like to play for a winnèr.

A: See above, yes.  2016 Syracuse had some decent alternatives: Paolo Espino and Aaron Laffey both seemed to be good alternatives.  Espino signed with Colorado, Laffey is still a FA.  But there’s a slew of veteran FA starters out there who would probably take a non-guaranteed deal.  I could see Mat Latos coming back b/c of his Dusty Baker connection.  I could see an injury-case like Kris Medlen or Matt Harrison look at the SP depth and say to himself, “gee, I can probably beat out Cole and Voth for the 6th starter job!”  So yeah you never know.

Trout trade; that’s just internet click bait.  He’s not going anywhere.  Owner won’t trade him, and putting together a package of prospects to acquire him could never work out; it’d either be not enough for the Angels, or too much for the acquiring team.

Collier tries to speculate on a package for Trout, coming up with Turner, Robles, Ross and perhaps Fedde.  Think about that trade, what it would do to the current team, and what it does for the future of the team versus what you acquire, and ask yourself if its worth it.  

 

 

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!

 

 

Spring Training 2016 NRI discussion

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Arroyo could be a surprise NRI making the 25-man roster. Photo via google images

Arroyo could be a surprise NRI making the 25-man roster. Photo via google images

We discussed Non-Roster Invitees (NRI) last year (link to 2015’s post) at the behest of reader forensicane, and it was such a good topic that, upon seeing yesterday’s announcement from the various Nats beat writers (here’s James Wagner from the WP’s post), I thought I’d put up a post where we could discuss.

Reminder from last year; there were 20 NRIs; two made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson), two others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss) and two others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino), so these are not throw-away players.  The odds of several of these names playing a part in this team’s future is high, even past the obvious candidates (i.e. those listed at or near the top of prospect lists).

Like last year, we’ll go by position and discuss their chances for making the team, staying with the franchise, and (depending on their roster status) their future plans with the team in general (the below format is cut-n-pasted from Wagner’s post).

Catchers (1)

  • RHH Jhonatan Solano

Discussion: Solano, the long time Nats-farm hand, returns to the fold after being released ahead of an options crunch in Nov 2014 and spending 2015 toiling for Miami’s AAA team alongside his brother.  He did get 20 MLB at bats in 2015 … and went 1-for-20.  He’s back, though his odds of breaking ahead of any of the four catchers we have on the roster seems very slim right now, even given the known offensive limitations of both MLB-projected catchers.  Now, were one of Ramos  or Lobaton go down with injury … that might open things up.  Would you rather depend on one of the two rookies on the 40-man as your backup or at least go with someone like Solano, who has at least a few MLB at bats over the past few years under his belt?  Neither A or B are good options, and you might think that the “Jonathan Lucroy to Washington” future plan may pick up speed at that point.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Negligible unless there’s an injury.

Future plans: Solano back to AAA once again as depth if there’s an injury; he may be flat out released if not since both Severino and Kieboom seem destined to head to AAA to split catching duties.


Infielders (4)

  • RHH Jason Martinson
  • RHH Brendan Ryan
  • RHH Scott Sizemore
  • LHH Matt Skole

Discussion: The team is quite familiar with both Martinson and Skole; both being draft picks and both being relatively close to the end of their tenure here.  Martinson has quietly climbed the ranks but hit just .218 in AAA last year; what he has though is power.  21 homers and corner infield capabilities (he was a SS coming out of college but quickly moved to 3B).  I view him as “Tyler Moore” insurance and the team likely has him at camp to see if he’s at all a possible option in case something bad happens.  Skole has long been a personal favorite, a former Nats minor league player of the year whose promising career was derailed by a season-long injury in 2013.  He took a big step back in 2015, not making the AAA team out of spring but eventually getting there mid-season.  He also has power (20 combined homers last year) but from the left hand side while also playing corner infield.  I view him as “Clint Robinson” insurance.

Meanwhile, both Ryan and Sizemore seemingly are competing for the second “backup utility infielder” role on this team, one that without any other moves would go to someone like Wilmer Difo or perhaps Danny Espinosa were the team to decide to go with Trea Turner from day one.  I don’t see that happening; I think Difo showed he needs more seasoning, I think the team wants a veteran at short and either Sizemore or (more likely) Ryan makes this team as the 2nd utility guy.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: High: I think Ryan breaks camp with the team.

Future plans: Martinson and Skole back in AAA, Sizemore may have an opt-out but may not since he was in AAA most of last year.


Outfielders (4)

  • LHH Tony Campana
  • RHH Chris Heisey
  • RHH Reed Johnson
  • LHH Logan Schafer

Discussion: Schafer was brought in presumably to compete with Matt den Dekker as a speedy CF-capable 5th outfielder type.  Problem is that Schafer can’t hit: career .212 hitter with a meager career .319 slugging.   Campana?  Same story; the 5’8″ backup outfielder didn’t even appear in the majors last year and has just one homer in 477 career MLB appearances.  den Dekker showed some promise at the end of last season and seems like he’s the first guy to get called up if/when there’s an injury in the outfield.

So lets talk about the two guys who do have some consideration.  The team knows exactly what it has with Johnson: an aging scrappy veteran who can play a corner OF and be a good clubhouse presence.  Sounds like Jayson Werth minus 6 inches of height and $120M of contract.  I think they invited him just as saying “thanks and sorry about last year.”   Meanwhile, some are talking about Heisey having a shot at this roster: I think maybe.  If the team is looking to upgrade the Tyler Moore “right-handed pinch hitter off the bench” role, then Heisey is his competition.  He’s somewhat accomplished; he has never really started in his career but hit 18 homers as a part-timer in Cincinnati a few years back.  But his bat has been just as meager as Moore’s lately: he hit just .223 combined across several AAA levels last year.  Of course, all of those figures are better than what Moore has done lately, and Heisey likely is cheaper than Moore for 2016 (Moore signed a pre-arb deal of $900k but of course could be released mid-spring training without the Nats having to pay a ton of his guaranteed salary).

The question becomes; is Heisey’s positional flexibility (he’s an OF who can play CF in a pinch while Moore can basically only play 1B) going to win out over Moore’s long tenure with the team?  Maybe.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster:  Pretty good: Heisey seems like he could beat out Moore for the RH bench bat.

Future plans: we don’t have a ton of depth at the OF position in AAA; i’m sure one or both of Schafer/Campana could stick around.  Johnson could elect to retire if he doesn’t make the team at his advanced age.  Heisey could stick around or could have an opt-out if he doesn’t make the squad.


Starting Pitchers (6)

  • RHP Bronson Arroyo
  • RHP Paolo Espino
  • RHP Lucas Giolito
  • RHP Taylor Hill
  • LHP Aaron Laffey
  • RHP Austin Voth

Discussion: Thanks to FA departures and starter conversions, the Nats now have just seven starters on their 40-man roster.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark, Cole, Jordan.   Where as last year the team could afford to send a 5-win starter to the mop-up role, this year they’re one injury from really having to answer some very serious questions.  Which is probably why they have signed Bronson Arroyo honestly; despite throwing up low-to-mid 80s heat, he has remained relatively effective deep into his 30s.

In reality though, the Nats real SP depth is seen directly in the NRIs; in order Giolito, Voth and Espino.  These three guys are who this team likely turns to if the injury bug really bites the projected rotation.  I’m on record saying that Giolito is going to be up in 2016; might as well get him used to seeing MLB hitters (or close to it, depending on when they give him innings).  In reality, nobody on this list projects to have a shot at cracking the 2016 rotation save for injury.  The big question really comes down to Arroyo versus Roark for the 5th spot.  Is it likely that Roark gets dumped back to the bullpen again, causing a cascading series of bullpen moves (Petit to middle relief, Treinen likely to AAA)?  Not that likely but you never know, and Dusty Baker certainly goes way back with Arroyo.  I think its a certainty that the NRI prospects don’t break camp with the squad … but Arroyo could have a shot.

Can’t wait for Spring Training games though to get a glimpse of Giolito on the mound…

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Decent for Arroyo.

Future plans: Four of these six NRIs will form the bulk of the Syracuse rotation (Espino, Hill, Laffey, Voth), to be joined with Cole and Jordan for the core rotation in upstate NY.  I’ve projected Giolito to start back in AA and prove he can dominate that level before moving up and bumping someone like Laffey or Hill from the AAA rotation.  That leaves Arroyo; if he doesn’t make the team, I’m guessing he’s opting out instead of lowering himself to riding buses in AAA.


Relief Pitchers (5)

  • RHP Michael Brady
  • LHP Sean Burnett
  • RHP Erik Davis
  • RHP Nick Masset
  • RHP Wander Suero

Discussion: While the 40-man roster of starters is thin (7), the Nats now have no less than thirteen (!) relievers on their 40-man roster.  That’s a lot of arms.  Only 7 of them are making the MLB bullpen, and for the most part you can ink in the opening day rotation by looking at the acquisitions the team has done since July of last year.  So not a lot of room in the inn for NRI relievers.  Davis gets the invite despite getting dumped off of the 40-man roster probably as one last ditch effort to show the MLB staff he can still pitch.  Long time Nat Burnett returns to the fold coming off of a second TJ, probably given the NRI for sentimental reasons more than anything.  Brady and Masset are new acquisitions (one by trade, one by MLFA) who both project to be Syracuse middle relief (where my pre-season analysis also showed a massive glut of arms), while Suero’s callup seems like an audition to be added to the 40-man roster ahead of next off season’s rule 5 draft, since Suero just finished his 6th pro season and will be exposed next December.

Odds of any of these NRIs making the 25-man roster: Nil: the Nats have way too many relievers already and none of these guys projects to be better than what we already have on the 40-man.

Future plans: Brady, Davis, Masset to AAA, Suero to AA, Burnett opts-out looking for a MLB loogy job after proving he’s healthy again on the Nats spring training meal money dime.


Summary

I think there’s a good chance of at least one and perhaps two NRIs to make the 25-man roster.

 

 

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Voth was your unquestioned AA star pitcher in 2015. Photo via mlbdirt

Voth was your unquestioned AA star pitcher in 2015. Photo via mlbdirt

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.

In this series, we have already published the 2015 MLB review and the 2015 AAA review.

For some AA review historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Nathan Karns), here’s 2012’s version (featuring Danny Rosenbaum) and 2011’s version (featuring Brad Peacock) of this post specifically for Harrisburg/AA.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either A.J. Cole or Matt Grace.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Harrisburg 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Harrisburg 2015 Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015, though these are more useful for the AAA squad frankly.

Harrisburg Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg
  • End-of-Season Rotation:  Bates, Voth, Rauh, Simms, Giolito
  • End of Season spot starts/swingman:  Purke*
  • End of Season bullpen: Mendez, EDavis, Suero, Lee*, de los Santos, Demny
  • 9/1 promotions: Bacus, Roark
  • Mid-Season promotions: Swynenberg, Espino, Ross, Demny, Simmons, Solis*, Bleier*, Runion, Harper*
  • up-and-back: de los Santos
  • down-and-back: Spann*
  • demotions: Self, Dupra, Mapes, Amlung
  • dl/TIL: Benincasa, Alderson
  • cut/released/FAs/traded: Sisk, Ambriz, Pivetta (traded)

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg.  Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters.

  • Austin Voth not only was the opening day starter, he led the team in IP and in starts.  He posted a 6-7 record with a 2.92 ERA, 1.11 whip, 3.07 fip and had a 148/40 K/BB ratio in 157.1 innings.  Nobody else had more than 15 starts on the year for the Senators, meaning Voth was the unquestioned leader of this pitching staff all year.  He proved that his precipitous rise in 2014 was no fluke by posting solid numbers.  Thanks to a glut of starters above him, I can’t quite see him breaking into the MLB rotation (ala Jordan Zimmermann, who jumped straight from a solid AA season to the majors), but I can see him jumping ahead of some of the AAA starter-in-waiting guys (Cole, Jordan, Hill) if/when the opportunity arises to provide injury cover in the majors.  Outlook for Next season: AAA rotation and a MLB debut at some point in 20116.
  • Joe Ross threw 9 solid starts in AA before getting called up and solidifying his place in the 2016 MLB rotation; see the MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: Nats #4 starter.
  • Paolo Espino threw seven decent starts in AA before getting plucked to move up, spending the rest of the season in AAA.   See AAA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AAA rotation.
  • Tim Alderson had just 5 starts as a Feb 2015 MLFA signing before getting hurt and spending essentially the rest of the season on the D/L.  He has already elected free agency.  Outlook for Next season: in another organization.
  • Matt Swynenberg made just two AA starts, got bumped to AAA to provide cover and then apparently elected to retire, spending the rest of the season on Syracuse’s restricted list.  See AAA write-up for more (though there’s not much more to tell).  Outlook for Next season: retired
  • Colin Bates returned to Harrisburg for his second stint, converting more to a long-man/spot starter in 2015 than the pure reliever he was in 2014.  Results are mixed: he was 6-6 with a 4.28 ERA in 111.1 innings across 28 games/15 starts.  1.37 whip, 4.25 fip.  62/29 K/BB in those 111 innings.  A pretty low K/9 ratio for today’s power-heavy pitching game lends me to believe that Bates has reached his peak; I could see him pushed to the AAA bullpen or staying in AA bullpen again as a swingman based on the numbers, but either way he stands to play out 2016 as an org guy before hitting MLFA.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
  • Richard Bleier gave AA 15 effective starts before getting pushed to the AAA rotation;  See the AAA write-up for more.   Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization
  • Dakota Bacus started in Potomac but got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season (he was a 9/1 call-up to AAA to provide a few days of bullpen cover).  For Harrisburg he was 6-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 22 appearances and 11 starts.  1.29 whip in AA, 4.11 fip and a 53/29 K/BB in 89.2 AA innings.  Not bad, not great.  Bacus was the return for Kurt Suzuki trade in late 2013 and has steadily climbed the ladder; I can see him in the AAA bullpen next year.  He’s still just 24 and we have a couple more years of control, so he could still have an impact.  He’s survived one Rule-5 draft already; his goal in 2016 should be to put himself in a position to earn a 40-man spot.  Outlook for Next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Matthew Spann bounced freely between High-A and AA this year, throwing slightly more innings in High-A but getting 10 starts in AA.  In those 10 AA starts, he was 2-2 with a 4.66 ERA, 1.61 whip, 3.70 fip and had a 35/25 K/BB ratio in 56 innings.  He ended the year where he began it; the High-A rotation.  Spann was the return for David DeJesus and already has 6 minor league seasons in him, so he may have found his peak level.  I could see him back in the mix for the AA rotation for one more season before hitting MLFA/getting released.  The fact that he’s a lefty though gives him a bit more of a stay of execution; his lefty vs lefty numbers are a bit better than against righies, so perhaps he could convert to relief if need be.  But he’s stuck as a starter for an awful long time; most guys wouldn’t last 6 seasons as a starter in the low-minors unless there was something there.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Lucas Giolito had 8 starts for Harrisburg after a mid-season promotion from High-A.  He was 4-2 with a 3.80 ERA in those 8 starts, with 1.37 whip, 3.18 fip and 45/17 K/BB in 47.1 AA innings.  Gioloto took a bit of time to adjust to AA; 10 of the 20 earned runs he gave up (and 6 of his 11 walsk) in his 8 AA starts were in his first two appearances.  It took him weeks to get a home start, and he only made two home starts during his AA season.  Eventually he adjusted; throwing 7 innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts in his home debut for Harrisburg.  Giolito got hit; he certainly wasn’t as dominant in AA as he was in High-A, but he’s also just turned 21 and there’s no mistaking the potential in his arm.  I think the team starts him in AA again, hoping for a 5-6 week earned promotion to AAA and perhaps a mid-to-late season call-up potential for 2016.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation to start.
  • John Simms earned his promotion from High-A to AA the same day as Giolito and also got 8 AA starts.  His results were mixed: 2-3 with a 4.40 ERA, 1.42 whip, 3.82 fip and 34/15 K/BB in 45 AA innings.  Simms showed more K/9 in AA than he did in High-A oddly, but wasn’t appreciably more hittable.  This was his second stint in AA and improved slightly from his 2014 numbers (where he had 11 starts with a 5.03 ERA).  Nonetheless, good progress for the 2013 11th rounder.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Brian Rauh had an interesting tour of the Nats minor league affiliates in 2015, starting the season in Potomac, getting quickly promoted to Harrisburg, struggling, getting hurt, going to the D/L, doing a rehab assignment in Viera, then working his way back up the chain from Low- to High-A and ending the year back in the Harrisburg rotation.  He proved twice he was too good for High-A, and proved twice why he may  not be ready for AA.  Total AA stats on the year: 8 starts, 4.83 ERA, 1.41 whip, 4.95 fip and 29/10 K/BB in 41 AA innings.   2016 is sink or swim time for Rauh in AA; he can’t go back to Potomac for the fourth straight year.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
  • Matthew Purke had a whirlwind off-season, getting DFA’d off the 40-man roster but then quickly re-signed to a MLFA contract for the 2015. season to give it one last go for the former big-money bonus 2011 3rd rounder.  He rose to AA where he pitched as a swing-man, getting 10 games and 5 starts, and did not impress.  6.29 ERA, 1.64 whip, 3.76 fip.  19/7 K/BB in 24 AA innings.  His lower minors numbers were much better … but at this point in his age 25 season, he needs to be competing well at the higher levels.  I think its clear that he’s not going to recover from his shoulder issues and it seems unlikely he’ll rise much above where he already has.  He has already declared as a MLFA and has signed with the White Sox as a MLFA for 2016.  Thus ends a long, drawn-out saga for a guy who I thought was a huge draft day coup for us.  Outlook for Next season: AA in the White Sox organization.
  • Others who had a few starts for AA Harrisburg:
    • Nick Pivetta had 3 AA starts after getting promoted from Potomac before getting flipped for Jonathan Papelbon: see High-A write-up for more.
    • James Simmons threw a couple of spot starts in Harrisonburg, inbetween his regular reliever duties.  See reliever section for more.
    • Solis, Fister, Strasburg, Janssen and Roark each had one “start” during rehab assignments in Harrisburg; see MLB write-up for each.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Gilberto Mendez keeps moving on up the system, posting a 3.84 ERA in a full season (61 innings) as a middle reliever in AA.  1.38 whip, 3.51 fip and 52/17 K/BB in those 61 innings.  Mendez’ numbers inflated somewhat dramatically from his last two years, his whip jumping from 0.94 to 1.38 with the jump to AA.  His K/9 stayed impressive though.  His BAA and BABIP look inflated so perhaps he had some bad luck going.  He’s still young (turned 23 after the season), and he could be a middle relief option in the majors relatively soon.  One thing I like about him is the way he keeps the ball on the ground: just one homer allowed in those 61 innings.  I think the team starts him in AA bullpen again looking for a 5 week promotion to AAA where he can hone his craft against more advanced/mature hitters.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in AAA, but right now the team has so many MLB-experienced arms that won’t make the 25-man roster that there might not be enough room in Syracuse for Mendez.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen to start.
  • Abel de los Santos was a surprise callup in mid July, getting a premature add to the 40-man and a call-up so that he could throw to a handful of batters, then return back to AA.  Perhaps not the best use of an option.  Nonetheless, he was a 22yr old in AA holding his own (much like Mendez; in fact their birthday is just days apart in November).  For the year in AA; 3.43 ERA in 57.2 innings, 1.13 ERA, 3.39 fip and 55/12 K/BB in those 57 innings as an 8th/9th inning guy (he had 8 saves in 11 opportunities).  His numbers look similar to Mendez’s at first, but I think the team starts him in AAA since he’s on the 40-man, in order to get him some more experience against veteran hitters.  Side note: that trade of Ross Detwiler looking pretty good now eh?  de los Santos and new top10 prospect Chris Bostick for the OBE’d Detwiler, who didn’t last half the year before getting flat out released by Texas.  Outlook for Next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Paul Demny started the year in AAA, got demoted after 10 innings and spent the rest of the season in Harrisonburg.  He had fantastic numbers in AA this year; 1.88 ERA, 60 Ks in 48 innings splitting time as the closer with de los Santos.  But its also his EIGHTH minor league season in the system.  He’s already declared as a MLFA and you have to think he’s looking elsewhere at this point, given the fact that half the RH relievers between AA and AAA got callups last year and he didn’t.  Outlook for Next season: with another organization.
  • Bryan Harper, forever to be known as Bryce’s older brother, had a pretty darn good season, posting a 3.02 ERA in 45 innings with decent peripherals (33/15 K/BB, 1.18 whip, held lefties to a .185 BAA).  He earned a late-season call-up to AAA as well.   He survived the Rule-5 draft but sits behind several other lefty relievers at this point, two of which are already slated for AAA (Grace and Solis).  I could see him losing out on a numbers game and repeating AA in 2016, waiting for injuries to open up the log jam of lefty relievers in the organization.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
  • James Simmons signed out of Indy ball and stuck with the Nats farm system for parts of two seasons, serving as a rubber-armed utility guy between AA and AAA both this year and last.  Oddly, he was hurling for AA, got called up to AAA to make one spot start in July … and then was released soon after.  His numbers weren’t great in 2014 but were improved in 2015, but as a 29-yr old now out of affiliated ball, it may be the end of the road for him.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Erik Davis: returned from Tommy John surgery in 2014, got shelled in AAA and then was demoted to Harrisburg for the duration of the season.  He was effective in AA (2.65 ERA in 34 ip) but you have to ask yourself; where does the team go with him?  He’s now 29, still on the 40-man roster and doesn’t look like he made a full recovery in his first year back.  Given that he was a marginal right-handed middle reliever to begin with, I wonder if he’s ever going to have an impact with this team.  He still has a MLB option left (which he’ll use in 2016), but I have him as either option #1 or #2 to DFA if the team suddenly needs 40-man roster space.  If he survives on the roster to 4/1/16, I can see him tried in AAA bullpen again.  Outlook for Next season: AAA bullpen/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Davis was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Daniel Murphy: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Nick Lee earned a mid-season promotion after closing effectively for Potomac and showed some organizational intrigue while in AA.  While at Harrisburg he posted a 3.75 ERA with 29/19 K/BB in 24 innings.   Lots of walks, but also lots of Ks especially for a lefty.  On a whole, the team liked enough of what they saw to not only send him to the AFL but to also protect him on their 40-man roster.   He seemingly slots in as a lefty specialist in 2016 but sits behind Solis and Grace.  I think he starts in AA with an idea of moving up to AAA.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen to start.
  • Hector Ambriz was signed in May, then released in June after getting hammered in 10 outings across four weeks.  He remains unsigned.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Other Relievers who got innings for AA/Harrisburg in 2015:
    • Wander Suero: Pitched the first half of the season in High-A: see High-A writeup for more.
    • Sam Runion: split time between AA and AAA; see AAA write-up for more.
    • Derek Self started in AA but was demoted to High-A, where he spent most of the year.  See High-A writeup for more.
    • Sammy Solis: 13.1 IP in AA in-between assignments to AAA and MLB.  See MLB write-up for more.
    • Brian Dupra was up and down between Potomac and Harrisburg; See High-A writeup for more.
    • Robert Benincasa threw four innings in April and spent the rest of the season on the D/L.  A lost season.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen again.
    • David Carpenter appeared briefly for Harrisburg on a rehab stint; see MLB write-up for more.

Summary

20 guys got starts for Harrisburg in 2015, though the rotation as it were really was dominated by one crew for the first half, one crew in the second half.   A lot of the guys who featured for Harrisburg in 2015 seem like good bets to return for at least the start of 2016 thanks to the log-jam above them.   At some point though we’ll start to see movement through the system; a good number of these guys in AA need to move up or move on.

 

 

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

Espino probably had your best overall season out of the AAA staff. Photo via milb.com

After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015.  I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.  In this series, we have already published the MLB version for 2015.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Tanner Roark), here’s 2012’s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011’s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.  In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either Taylor Hill or Rafael Martin.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.  And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker.  And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015.

Syracuse Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)

  • Opening Day Rotation: Cole, Jordan, THill, McGregor, Billings
  • Closing Day Rotation:  Espino, Bleier*, McGregor , THill, Jordan (Cole 9/1 callup)
  • End of Season Swingmen: Walters, Billings
  • End of Season bullpen:   Runion,  Gutierrez, Harper*
  • 9/1 promotions: Solis*, Martin, Grace*, Cole
  • Mid-Season Promotions: Rivero*,  Ross, Treinen
  • Up-and-back: Martin, Grace*, Cole, Jordan, THill, Solis* (not counting 9/1 call-ups)
  • Down-and-back: Bleier*, Runion
  • Demotions: Spann* (was up for spot start), AWilliams (up for spot start),  EDavis, Demny,
  • DL/restricted: Swynenberg
  • Cut/released: Delcarmen, Lively (Japan), RHill*, Simmons, Meek (Korea), Valverde (opt-out), Fornataro

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, and Billings.  It finished the year with Espino, Bleier, McGregor , THill, Jordan and Cole.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original five starters.

  • A.J. Cole was Syracuse’s opening day starter in 2015.  On the year, he was 5-6, 3.15 ERA, 1.18 whip, 3.90 FIP and 76/34 K/BB in 105.2 innings.  Cole got yanked up and down a couple times on the year, with one ill-fated spot-start for the major league team where he looked completely out of his depth against Atlanta (not exactly the ’27 Yankees).  His K/9 is down, BB/9 is up from his stint in AAA in 2014, though his BAA improved significantly.  I’m struggling not to write him off; after all he’s only 23, he’s still listed in or near the top 100 prospects in all of the minors, and he still could have value.  I just don’t think its going to happen with the Nats.  He’s been pushed down on the starter depth chart and (save an injury) has no chance of making the 25-man roster in 2016.  So is there value in having him pitch another year in upstate New York?  I could see Cole getting flipped to a team that could use a cheap 5th starter candidate.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse’s opening day starter again, unless moved.
  • Taylor Jordan was 5-6, 2.95 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.41 FIP and 61/27 K/BB in 103 IP.   He’s slipping further and further away from a rotation job that seemed rather likely after his 2013 sterling debut.  His AAA numbers were pretty good this year but he got lit up in his one 2015 spot start (to be fair, it was against Toronto and the best offense in the majors).  His margin for error is just so much lower because he doesn’t get the K/9 that other guys do.  Unlike Cole though, Jordan doesn’t necessarily wow the scouts and may be tougher to move.  I think he plays out his options string as a AAA starter with occasional big league cover and then gives it a go in another organization.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill was 3-10 with a 5.23 ERA, 1.62 whip, 3.85 fip and 70/29 K/BB in 118 IP.  Not a good year for Hill, who got a handful of mop-up bullpen gigs in late May/early June and wasn’t entirely impressive while doing it.  See all that we’ve said for Cole and Jordan, but lower expectations a bit more.  I have Hill near the top of my “guys to get DFA’d to make room on the 40-man roster” at this point and he needs to figure out what changed between 2014 (2.81 ERA) and this year (5.23 ERA, both at Syracuse).  We won’t really know if he’s getting pushed out of the rotation until deeper dives into the AA rotation.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse rotation/release candidate.  1/6/16 update: Hill was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Stephen Drew: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
  • Scott McGregor (boy I have a hard time typing that w/o remembering the old Baltimore Orioles hurler from the mid 1970s) was 6-6 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.43 whip, 4.67 fip and 63/35 K/BB in 107 IP split between starting and relieving.  He started in the rotation, having signed as a MLFA in June of 2014 originally then re-upped with the Nats over last off-season to continue his role as AAA 5th starter/long-man.  But his performance slipped considerably this year.  I don’t see him listed on the MLFA tracker so its possible he’s signed through 2016 with the team, so we’ll assume he’s reprising his role again in 2016.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse long-man/spot starter
  • Bruce Billings was 8-5 with a  3.63 ERA, 1.26 whip, 3.23 fip and 90/28 K/BB in 121 IP.  The MLFA produced well in a season spent in a similar role to McGregor; 4th/5th starter who made way for prospects as they got moved up but who eventually spent most of the year in the rotation.   His numbers are about what you’d expect for a veteran minor leaguer/classic AAA org guy; he’s declared again and will look to build on his decent 2015 with an organization where he has a better shot at getting called up.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • Paolo Espino had a nice season, getting promoted up from AA and giving Syracuse 20 starts of 3.21 ERA, 1.15 whip, 3.68 fip pitching (88/19 K/BB in 117 AAA innings).  The 2014 MLFA signing (as with McGregor) stuck with the team for 2015 and could be an interesting piece going forward.  Question is; is he a MLFA for this upcoming season?  My records and research disagree with each other: he’s *not* listed in the BA MLFA tracker nor is he on the official MLB declared MLFA list (links at the top), but the drat tracker says he’s a MLFA.  I’ll assume our private files are not better than MLBs and assume he’s still under team control.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse Rotation.
  • Richard Bleier was 14-5 with a 2.57 ERA between AA and AAA this year.  65/16 K/BB in 171 IP.  Bleier had a nice season, working his way out of AA and finishing the year in the AAA rotation.  His K/9 is shockingly low given his stat line, perhaps why he’s not likely to draw much attention from the team’s executives on 1/2 street.  He’s a declared MLFA already for 2015 and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization.
  • P.J. Walters was acquired mid-season from the Dodgers for cash: for the Chiefs he threw 60 innings of 5.35 ERA and got 5 spot starts towards the end of the year.  52/23 K/BB in his 60 innings for Syracuse on the year.  Walters has significant MLB experience, with 152 IP across several organizations dating to 2008.  He’s yet to really have a decent MLB stretch thought, and his AAA numbers are starting to look just as bad.  Given the team’s dearth of RH bullpen depth options though, I think its safe to say they’ll keep him around to see if he’s an option to consider.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Joe Ross had 5 starts before getting called up to the majors.  See MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Nats #4 starter.
    • Matt Swynenberg had exactly one AAA start of 3 innings this year before spending the rest of the year on the restricted list, which usually indicates retirement.  We’ll see if he gets an official release this coming off-season.  Outlook for next season: retired/out of the organization.
    • Mitch Lively had 2 spot starts but was mostly a reliever; see the reliever section.
    • Sam Runion and Eric Fornataro each had a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.
    • Matthew Spann, James Simmons and Austen Williams each got called up to AAA from lower levels to provide exactly one spot start.  See High-A for for Spann and Williams, AA for Simmons writeups.
    • Strasburg and Fister had one-two rehab starts for Syracuse in 2015.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least.  Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.

  • Rafael Martin was Syracuse’s closer for a good portion of the season, getting 12 saves in 50 IP across 46 games.  We discussed Martin at length in the MLB writeup but will repeat our prediction here.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/MLB reliever depth.
  • Eric Fornataro was a waiver claim last off-season, then DFA’d off the 40-man roster before the season started.  He then failed to impress, posting a 5.54 ERA in 50 innings before getting released in July.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Matt Grace had a 2.40 ERA in 48 IP and spent a decent amount of time on the MLB roster (17 ip across 26 appearances).  See MLB writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen/lefty reliever coverage.
  • Evan Meek posted a 2.15 ERA across 37.2 innings in the early part of the year, effective if a bit wild (33/19 K/BB in those 37 ip) and, after not getting consideration for a call-up, asked for his release to sign with a Korean team.  Outlook for next season: still in Korea or with another Organization.
  • Sam Runion posted a 2.91 ERA in 65 IP across AA and AAA after getting picked up in June of 2014 as a MLFA.  1.43 whip, decent K/9 rates, just not enough to get a sniff at a MLB call-up.  Just a classic org guy who is a MLFA this year and likely plies his trade elsewhere next year.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, re-signed per BA ML transactions so AAA bullpen again (updated 12/29/15)
  • Mitch Lively was in basically the same boat as Meek; put up good numbers (2.31 ERA, 0.97 whip, but wasn’t called up and decided to go overseas.  He was released on 6/17/15 so as to sign with a Japanese team.  He posted a 6.75 ERA in 16 games in Japan; not sure what the future holds for him.  Outlook for next season: still in Japan or with another Organization.
  • Juan Gutierrez was signed off the AAA waiver wire in August 2015 and threw 34 mediocre innings (3.47 ERA)for Syracuse down the stretch in a classic “we need someone to pitch innings for us to finish the season” move.  He’s a MLFA and likely keeps on moving for 2016.  Outlook for next season: in another organization.
  • Jose Valverde signed a month into the 2015 season with a typical veteran MLFA contract that guaranteed an opt out after a couple of months if the big club didn’t use him.  Valverde closed effectively for Syracuse until July, when he opted out.  He did not sign elsewhere for 2015.  He’s playing in the DWL but I wonder if he’s done; his last two MLB stints were both ugly.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Manny Delcarmen had an 8.14 ERA in 21 IP across 18 appearances before getting released in early June.  He played out the rest of the season in Mexico.  Outlook for next season: in another organization/out of baseball.
  • Rich Hill signed as a MLFA late in the 2015 spring from the  Yankees, pitched decently as a middle reliever in Syracuse and likely had an “out clause” forcing the team’s hand, who released him in late June.  He picked up with Boston, pitched well for their AAA squad, got promoted back to the majors, pitched lights out in 4 starts in the end of the season … and signed a $6M contract to pitch for Oakland in 2016. Go figure.  Did the Nats miss the boat here?  This isn’t the first time they’ve had a guy in their AAA rosters who went on to have significant success for another club (Colby Lewis, Marco Estrada, Chris Young).  Maybe they should have given Hill a 40-man job while they were trying out everyone else in late May/early June.  Maybe you could say the same thing about a whole bunch of the MLFA MLB-experienced veterans who passed through Syracuse’s roster in 2015.  Outlook for next season: Pitching for Billy Beane out in Oakland on a $6M deal.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Solis, Treinen and Rivero each had a nominal amount of AAA innings: see MLB writeup for them.
    • Demny and Davis spent more time in AA than AAA: see Harrisburg write-up.
    • Everyone else not mentioned had 5 or less IP in AAA and were mostly in other levels.

Summary

34 different hurlers passed through the Syracuse locker room this year.  Phew.  And it seems like a huge percentage of them have already churned out of the organization, looking for their next stop.  I guess this is the way AAA teams go these days.  We may see more MLFA veteran arms coming into the system for 2016 given the number of guys they’re losing.

Its hard to say whether we really learned much from the AAA staff this year; the team kind of already knew what it had with its highest-end prospects in AAA (the likes of Cole, Jordan and Hill).  Almost the entire bullpen was veteran MLFAs who likely won’t be back, most of whom never got a chance to contribute to the major league team in its time of need in 2015.

Operation Bullpen Makeover Status Report

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Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

Welcome to the Nats Mr. Gott. Photo via gettyimages

At the end of the 2015 season, our (primary 7-man not including 9/1 callups) bullpen looked like this:

  • Papelbon, Janssen, Treinen, Thornton*, Rivero*, Fister and Solis* (Stammen, Barrett, Storen on the D/L)

Then half these guys (Janssen, Thornton and Fister) hit the road via Free Agency, already leaving huge holes to fill.  In fact as of just a week ago after this was what our Opening Day 2016 bullpen would have looked like:

  • Papelbon, Storen, Treinen, Stammen, Rivero*, Solis* and Martin as a long-man I guess (Barrett to go to the 60 day D/L as soon as  he’s eligible).

After a flurry of moves in the past 10 days, here’s what we’re looking at now:

  • (Papelbon, Storen) Gatt, Kelley, Treinen, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit

And presumably there’s more work to be done (you have to think we’ll acquire a Proven Closer™ to replace the Papelbon/Storen combo).   But, so far, not a bad week for Mr. Rizzo.

Quick thoughts on each move (in chronological order)

  • Craig Stammen non-tender: discussed at length in the Non-tender deadline preview post comment section.  I didn’t like it for reasons discussed ad naseum, but agree that the team must have decided the risk was too much.
  • Oliver Perez signing 2yrs/$7M: good 2015 numbers in the NL with Arizona, then not so much in 12 innings with Houston.  His LHP-LHB splits are good while righties hit him at an .881 OPS clip in 2015.  I guess that’s as good of a Matt Thornton replacement as we need.
  • Yusmeiro Petit signing 1yr/$2.5M after getting non-tendered by SF.  An odd move by SF; his 2015 regular season numbers were just fine to me.  An ERA+ over a 100, flexibility to go long or go short.  And the Nats certainly remember getting shut down by him in the 2014 NLDS.  A good move for me as a near like-for-like replacement for Stammen (with the exception that Petit can go longer than Stammen could so he could be the long-man as needed).
  • Shawn Kelley for 3yrs/$15M (as reported); three straight years of fantastic swing and miss stuff (11-12 K/9 rates).  Great option to add as an 8th inning guy/eventual setup role, eventually replacing what Casey Janssen never did.
  • Trevor Gott in trade for Yunel Escobar: it seems like an underwhelming return for Escobar on the face of it.  Escobar was our 2nd leading hitter last year and played multiple infield positions.  But his batting average was pretty “empty” (he slugged .415) and his defense was abhorrent (not that he ever should have been playing 3B once Anthony Rendon came back … but that’s another gripe).  I think what it does indicate is the rising cost of good relievers and the fact that Escobar has one year of control while Gott has just 114 days of service time and is thus controlled for at least *six* more seasons, three of which will be at the pittance MLB minimum.  Gott’s numbers as a 22  yr old were pretty good; 125 ERA+, an ERA right around 3.00.  Not a ton of swing and miss so far in the majors but he was a closer in the minors and seems like a good 6th/7th inning guy (in other words, a Barrett replacement for the time being).

This configuration leaves a slew of projected relievers set to start in AAA or on the D/L:

  • D/L: Barrett (60dl), likely lost for the whole year
  • RH middle relievers: Martin, eDavis, de los Santos,
  • Loogies: Solis*, Grace*, Lee*
  • Long Men options: Jordan, Hill, Espino

What’s left to do?

  • Flip Storen for value
  • Dump Papelbon for a couple of pizzas
  • Find a for-real closer; its going to cost some serious stuff, based on the Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles trades.  Be ready for it.
  • Sign some more veteran relievers for AAA like we always do.

Questions for the group;

  • Do you like the configuration of this bullpen so far?  Assuming we get a for-real closer and dump Storen and Papelbon, would you say that its an improvement over last year?
  • Is this too many new players to gel properly?  Don’t we always hear about how pitchers are creatures of habit and how “Teams” take a while to gel and play well together?  We’re basically throwing out a bunch of guys in that pen who will have never even met, let alone build camaraderie.  Do you worry about this?  Or do you believe that “winning builds chemistry” and that players are just cyber machines who you charge up in the morning with Red Bull and then slot them into their roles and they magically produce?  (If you couldn’t read between the lines in that sentence of sarcasm to tell what I think … well I can’t help you :-)

 

Nats Full Season Pitching Staffs

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A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth.  Photo AP

A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth. Photo AP

All our full-season squads have been announced, and its time to start looking at the pitching staffs.

I never got to doing my massive reviews of the rotations of the various farm system teams this past off-season (job change, less free time at home, they being a ton of work, etc).  Which also led to my not doing any predictions on where our pitchers would start the 2015 season.  Which is a bummer, because it is always fun to see if my predictions were decent and to see how player movement has affected the squads.  Lets go team by team and (focusing on the rotations) look at how things have changed since the end of last season.


MLB (25-man roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, Roark

Discussion: We’ve certainly talked this through.  Quickly;  Fister‘s 2014 spring training injury opened the door for both Roark and Jordan to duke it out for the 2014 5th starter job, eventually won by Roark, who gave the team a 5-win season as the 5th starter.  That wasn’t enough for the Nats though; committing $210M on Scherzer for the next decade or so, pushing Roark to mop-up guy/insurance starter for opening of 2015.

Manager Matt Williams also shook up the 2015 rotation order, installing the starters by accomplishment, not by reputation.  Thus 3-year running opening day starter Strasburg is dropped to the #3 hole, and last year’s #2 Gonzalez is now basically the #5 starter.

Enough about the MLB discussion though; lets get to the minor league rotations.

 


All four full season minor league squads are announced here by Nats Journal.   In some cases we know who the rotation will be, in other cases the below is a huge guess.  Especially at Hagerstown (as we’ll see).

AAA (Syracuse roster announcement link)

  • 2015 Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, Billings (with Lively, Rivero (L) as swingmen)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Hill, Tatusko, Treinen, Poveda
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Laffey (L), Hill,  Treinen, Lively, Cole (Espino 9/1 call-up)

Discussion

A late spring training injury to Casey Janssen has called presumed AAA starter Blake Treinen into action in the Nats bullpen, perhaps for the long run.  Which has opened up a couple of spots in the Syracuse rotation … and they’ve been surprisingly filled.  Instead of installing who I presumed to be the 5th AAA starter (trade acquisition Felipe Rivero), the team has announced that 2014 MLFA signing/rubber-armed swingman Scott McGregor and 2015 MLFA Bruce Billings will fill out the rotation.

Changes from 2014?  Rosenbaum traded for catcher depth, Tatusko to Korea, Poveda remains an unsigned MLFA, and Laffey signed a new MLFA deal with Colorado.

One has to think that McGregor/Billings are temporary holds in the rotation until Treinen returns.  The conversion of Rivero to the bullpen is more interesting; the team is rather short on lefty starters in the system right now (thanks to a slew of upper-end draft pick lefty starters failing in the past few years … ahem Solis, Purke, Mooneyham, Turnbull).  As we’ll see later on, there’s nobody really that makes sense to supplant any of these guys as a starter from AA or XST.


AA (Harrisburg roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg (with Bleier (L) perhaps as a swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L), Cole
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Dupra (sort of), Voth, Rivero (L), Poveda, (Espino 9/1 promotion), Kroenke

Discussion

Harrisburg went through an awful lot of starters last year.  19 guys got starts, 15 of which were not just one-offs.  From last year’s opening day, Schwartz got demoted after putting up a 7+ ERA and then hurt, Gilliam got hurt, and Purke had Tommy John surgery.  By the end of the season, only Rivero remained in the rotation, though he spent a good spell on the D/L as well.  Dupra got 12 starts and 24 appearances and was medicore (5.60 ERA), Poveda had great ratios (39Ks in 32innings) but an ugly era (5.34), and MLFA Kroenke was abhorrent (6.72 ERA).

Returning for 2015 are Austin Voth, the 2013 draft pick who shot up two levels last year, and last year’s MLFA Paolo Espino, who has re-upped with the team for 2015.  They are joined by newly acquired Joe Ross, MLFA Tim Alderson and the surprising Matt Swynenberg (who was closer to retirement than a rotation gig this time last year).   I have 2015 MLFA Richard Bleier as a swingman/spot starter for now.  This rotation may be augmented by some of the Missing/XST arms (see later discussion).


High-A

  • 2015 Rotation: Bacus, Pivetta, Spann (L), Suero, Rauh (with Schwartz as swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee (L)
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Bacus, Spann (L), Dickson, Sylvestre,  Rauh,

Discussion

Lots of turnover in the Potomac rotation as well; 14 guys got starts from last year.   Dakota Bacus, Brian Rauh, and Matthew Spann are reprising their roles as starters from the end of last season, while two others (Dickson and Sylvestre) remain in XST limbo for now.  What happened to the rest of these guys?  Brett Mooneyham and Nick Lee posted ERAs of 7.36 and 10.05 respectively and were both demoted.  Encarnacion was nearly as bad and was outright released by the organization earlier this past off-season.

Luckily, we kind of already know that the opening day rotation is going to change: we know where two of the organization’s brightest arms are heading.  Giolito and Lopez should supplant Bacus and Rauh, making for a rather formidable Potomac rotation.


Low-A

  • 2015 Rotation: AWilliams, LReyes, Van Orden … and then who knows.  Orlan?  Ullman?
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Pivetta Voth, Giolito, Silvestre (L)/Anderson, Johansen,
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Pivetta, RLopez, Ott, Dickey, Suero,

Discussion

Well; Hagerstown’s rotation should be … interesting.  When you look at the assigned arms, there’s only three clear-cut starters from last year.  So clearly either the Hagerstown team will be getting reinforcements from the XST list or there’s guys being converted from 2014 relievers to 2015 starters.

Pivetta and Giolito were the mainstays from last year; both will be in high-A at some point soon.  Ott was flipped as a throw-in with the Steven Souza deal.   Its hard to pass judgement on this rotation until we talk about those in XST.


Missing/XST

There’s a TON of arms who are currently unassigned.

Starters: JRodriguez, Dickey, Dickson, Estevez, Lopez, Giolito, Simms, Silvestre, Bourque, Amartinez, Gilliam
Relievers: Purke, Bates, Holland, Lehman, Mooneyham, Pena, Simmons, Solis, Turnbull, Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

Where might these guys end up?   Well, based on their performance from last year, here’s some guesses for the starters:

  • AAA: nobody who isn’t already there
  • AA: Simms, Silvestre, Gilliam
  • High-A: Dickey, Dickson, Lopez, Giolito, Dupra (already on the Potomac D/L)
  • Low-A: JRodriguez, Estevez, Bourque, AMartinez

And the relievers?

  • AAA: Purke (already on the AAA D/L), Holland, Lehman (release candidate), Simmons (release candidate)
  • AA: Bates (release candidate), Pena, Solis
  • High-A: Mooneyham, Turnbull
  • Low-A: Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

We’ll see how things go; I guess we could start seeing some minor league releases soon enough.

 

 

Rule 5 Protection Analysis for 2014

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A.J. Cole seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft. Photo AP

A.J. Cole seems like a lock to be added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft. Photo AP

After talking about 2015 payroll projections and then 2015 options analysis, and coming to the conclusion that:

  1. We’re payroll heavy and might see some shedding this off-season, and
  2. Our 40-man is full and we have a ton of guys without options.

Thus, the next logical step is to talk about who might get shed off the 40-man roster in order to protect incoming players ahead of the Rule 5 draft.

This post is a bit earlier than we normally do it; Teams have until 11/19/14 to add players ahead of the rule-5 draft (which occurs the last day of the winter meetings (this year, 12/11/14 in San Diego).  All these dates and more are on the off-season Baseball Calendar for 2014-15.  But, because we’re talking about it, lets get into the analysis.

As always, using the indispensable Nationals resource sites Draft tracker and the Big Board, and then giving some thought to prospect acquisitions made via trade, here’s some thoughts.  The quick Rule-5 rules; any college-aged draftee from 2011 or before who isn’t already on the 40-man roster is Rule-5 eligible this coming off season, and any high-school aged draftee from 2010 or before is newly eligible this year.

Newly Eligible 2011 draft College Players this year worth consideration for protection:

  • Brian Goodwin: Supp-1st round pick from 2011, paid like an upper 1st rounder, who has been a continual presence on top-100 prospect lists but who hit just .219 in AAA this year, didn’t play after July 1st, and has been clearly passed on the organizational OF depth chart by both Steven Souza and Michael Taylor.  Do the Nats protect their $3M bonus investment and find room for Goodwin on the 40-man?  I think they do.
  • Matt Skole, 5th rounder who blasted his way into the Nats minor league hitter of the year in 2012, then suffered a freak injury in the 2nd game of the year in 2013, costing him a whole season.  His OPS dropped more than 200 points from 2012 in 2014.  He’s almost a 3-true outcomes kind of hitter (good power, a TON of strikeouts but a lot of walks).  I’m in agreement with others; because of his lefty power and a distinct lack of lefty power elsewhere, I feel like he’s a potential future contributor.  I’ve always liked Skole and hope we don’t lose him in a rule-5 gambit.

There’s a whole slew of guys who were college draftees in 2011 who are still in the system.  No one else has even matriculated to AAA yet, and some are still in high-A.  The one name that sticks out as someone who “should” be in this conversation is 2011 4th rounder Kylin Turnbull. But no one else on this list merits any discussion for protection at this point.

Newly Eligible 2010 High School-age drafted players under consideration for protection:

  • Just one: A.J. Cole.  Who, it goes without saying, is a lock to get added.  In fact, there was only one other HS draftee in that entire 2010 class who signed; Robbie Ray.

Newly Eligible IFAs under consideration for protection (signed in 2010)

  • Wilmer Difo: just named MVP of the South Atlantic league, occupies a position of weakness in the system.  But would someone grab a guy from Low-A and expect to keep them on the 25-man roster all year?

A couple of other 2010 IFAs who sometimes pop up here: Wander Suero, Wirkin Estevez.

Minor League Free Agents of Note (it isn’t live yet, but this list will be at this link on BaseballAmerica eventually).  These are original draftees of the Nats who have now played in our org for 6 years.  They are basically guys who were drafted in 2008 and who have not yet been released or added to the 40-man.  Or they’re MLFA signings from last year.

  • Rafael Martin: frequently discussed here.  Great numbers in AAA this year.  Already 30.  Not a rule-5 issue necessarily, but a jeopardy to sign elsewhere.
  • Destin Hood: 2nd round pick in 2008.  So much promise, finally posted decent numbers in 2014.  Strategically, if you were Hood would you re-sign here though?  He’s at least 7th on the OF depth chart by now.
  • The whole Syracuse rotation: McGregor, Espino, Laffey and Lively.  Along with Delcarmen, Stange and Runion.  My initial impression is that the team’s going to have more than enough pitching to fill Syracuse’s rotation from those that aren’t going to make the MLB rotation (Cole, Jordan, Hill and Treinen to start, then throw in Rivero and maybe even Solis).  So the starters likely are gone; maybe we could use some more MLFA relievers though.

The only other 2008 draftees still hanging around are Jose Lozada and Paul Demny.  I’m guessing neither signs with us for 2015.

Rule-5 Eligible hold-overs of note:

  • Matthew Grace: had an excellent year in AAA, as discussed many times here.  Worth protecting?
  • Neil Holland: a decent year between AA and AAA; he does not seem a jeopardy to get picked so the team can hold onto him for one more year before he hits MLFA.

Did I miss anyone?  I hope not.


So, who would I protect?  I would protect Cole and Skole for sure.  I would highly recommend protecting Goodwin.

Past that, I’d roll the dice.  I like Grace and Martin, enough that I’d like to see how they look in the spring, but perhaps not enough to drop someone else.  I like Hood; maybe they try to re-sign him.  I think Difo is important, but they’ll risk not adding him since he’s only played at low-A.

They’re already looking at dumping 2-3 people to cover the above names; any more and you’re really digging deep, even withstanding the whole “7 guys are out of options” discussion we just had.

Thoughts?


For a fun trip down memory lane, here’s the same Rule 5 Protection analysis for 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

By year, here’s who I predicted we’d add and who we did add.  My “predictions” are kind of iffy, because in some cases I clearly hedged in the post and said something like “if it were me I’d add X,Y and Z but I think they’ll only add X and Y.”