Nationals Arm Race

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

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Ladson’s Inbox 9/15/16

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Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me.  photo via wp.com

Turner is the biggest surprise of the year for me. photo via wp.com

Wow, what a treat!  I’ve been kind of slacking in the content department and suddenly our favorite beat writer Bill Ladson pops out an unexpected mid-September mailbag.  So here’s something to argue about this weekend.

As always, here’s how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Who do you think is the most pleasant surprise on the Nationals this year

A: Trea Turner without a doubt.  We knew he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew he was going to be *this* good.  Keith Law in his chat yesterday  pointed out a fun little fact about Trea Turner: he’s got a (now) 3.0 bWAR this year, which would rank him (unadjusted for position) as the 6th best ever for either the Rays or the Padres, the two teams that passed along Turner (and Joe Ross) in that trade two years ago.  What a steal.  And despite his only playing 57 games this year you have to think he’s in the mix for NL Rookie of the Year.  Corey Seager probably has it wrapped up, but a 2nd or 3rd place for Turner seems warranted.

Ladson said Stephen Drew, which I guess you could argue for … except that he’s a bench player who has missed a ton of time and isn’t a lock to make the post-season roster given his illness.

—-

Q: How far do you think the Nationals could go in the postseason?

A: Could?  They could go all the way!  :-)  In reality, I think the Stephen Strasburg injury really, really hurts them in their likely NLDS match up with Los Angeles.  If the Nats rolled out Scherzer-Strasburg-Roark-Gonzalez versus the Dodgers’ Kershaw-Hill-Maeda-random 4th starter i’d feel pretty good about our chances in that series.  Right now we’re basically auditioning pitchers for that 4th spot and Gonzalez has been shaky, and Los Angeles’ arms are daunting for a team that routinely gets shut down by starters from teams like Philadelphia and Atlanta.  Right now, I think we lose a close NLDS series to Los Angeles.

Even if Strasburg was healthy, I think we’d really be hard-pressed to beat Chicago in a 7 game series either.  We took 2 of 3 here, lost 4 out of 4 there this year (though as we’ve discussed here, that sweep wasn’t nearly as dominant as the press made it seem), but we still lost to them, and they’ve stayed at full strength basically the whole season.  I don’t see how anyone beats the Cubs this year.

Ladson hedges his answer, saying he wants to see how the bullpen and offense go the rest of the way.  Why is he worried about the bullpen?  Isn’t it one of the best in the game?  The Nats bullpen is #1 in baseball in ERA, #2 in Fip.   What more do you want?

Q: Do you think Stephen Strasburg will be ready to pitch in the postseason?

A: Nope.  Strained Flexor Mass is usually a 30 day injury; he got hurt on 9/7/16.  So at best t hat’s 10/7/16 … or basically at the end of the divisional series.  But … where’s he going to rehab?  There’s no more minor league games; i guess he could throw simulated or instructional league games.  But more importantly, this is a notably conservative team medically, especially with Strasburg over the years and especially since they just committed $175M to him.  No way do they rush him back from a serious injury just on the opportunity to make one post-season start.  Ladson agrees.

Q: Why do you call Jayson Werth “The King” on Twitter?

A: (me shaking my head): who knows.  Maybe because he’s the king of getting caught doing triple digits on the beltway?  I’ve lived here all my life and can’t tell you how many times i’ve hit 100 on the interstates around here without getting caught.  Ladson says he calls Werth the king because he turned “clubhouse from unprofessional to first class.”  Well, except for all of last year under Matt Williams … I guess even the King couldn’t salvage that dumpster fire.

Q: What do you think of the job Danny Espinosa has done this year?

A: Good power, good defense, bad hit tool.  About what we expected; his plus defense and power this year have outweighed his strikeouts and his low batting average.   He’s got a 1.8 bWAR and a 1.9 fWAR on the year, so its not like he’s totally useless out there.  Its one of the reasons i’ve supported him and havn’t been completely ready to get rid of him; he’s ranked 15th among qualified Shortstops in fWAR this year.  So that’s right in the middle; league average.   I mean, if he had negative WAR, didn’t have power, or wasn’t a plus defender, I could see the huge rush to replace him.  But moving him this coming off-season (as many want to of my readership) opens up another hole in Center that’s probably harder to fill right now than Short.  Its why I suspect the team may just stand pat, keep Turner in center another year, and roll out basically the same lineup in 2017.  Ladson gives him a “6.5 out of 7” and says he deserves the NL Gold Glove.  I dunno about that; there’s 5 or 6 NL shortstops that probably rate better defensively than him.

Q: Was Murphy what you expected this season?

A: No way; Murphy a ton better than I expected.  I was hoping for a solid 6th hitter, not a frigging MVP candidate.  He earned his entire $37.5M contract this year.  Ladson Agrees.

Q: What do you think of Dusty Baker as a manager? I know you often said Davey Johnson is the best manager you ever covered. Where does Baker rank as far as Nationals manager go?

A: I think Baker has done a fantastic job of calming this group, bringing some order, and not showing any of the faults that he was accused of in the past.  He’s shifted, he’s managed the bullpen decently, he’s stuck to his guns and rested players, he’s communicated well, he hasn’t burned out starters.  I think he’s ridden his primary catcher too hard … but then again, Ramos is having a career year and Lobaton is a huge step back offensively.  Is he better than Davey?  Not yet for me: lets see what happens when Baker has to deal with some injury issues or a better divisional rival.  Ladson has them 1-2 with Davey still on top.

 

Are you worried about the Rotation too?

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Giolito's latest start does not inspire confidence.   (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

Giolito’s latest start does not inspire confidence. (Photo by John McDonnell / The Washington Post)

(note; i’m at the beach this week … so i’m putting this in as a placeholder for arguing, er I mean discussing).

From the comments section on last week’s post, clearly we’re not happy with the bullpen.  And neither is Mike Rizzo, who caused an uproar amongst the 25 or so people on the planet who knew who Max Schrock was by flipping him for a guy whose name I won’t even try to spell.  Our long man blew a comeback effort last weekend that i’m sure was not well appreciated amongst the vets on the team.

But this post is about the rotation.  Are you worried yet?  Scherzer and Roark might have hiccups here and there but they’ll be solid for the playoffs (and yes, at this point i’m assuming we’re in the playoffs).  But is Strasburg going to make it back?  Is Ross?  Do we trust Gonzalez in a post-season rotation?  Is the performance thus far of Giolito and Lopez just more cause for concern?

 

Strasburg Extension Shocker!

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Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Wow. Photo allansgraphics.com via free-extras.com

Woke today to check the score from last night (we have a toddler, ergo we are sleep deprived and go to bed early).  After reading about Bryce Harper‘s mouth and ejection and Clint Robinson‘s walkoff, there was a small little link at the bottom of the article…

Stephen Strasburg signs a 7yr, $175M extension to stay with the team, as broken last night by the Washington Post’s Chelsea James.

Wow.  Did not see this coming.  I never thought this team would re-sign Strasburg frankly, because I thought there’d be a feeding frenzy when he hit free agency this coming off-season.

Strasburg’s representation (Scott Boras) is not exactly known for having his players sign extensions.  The 2016-17 free agent market for starters was so bare that Strasburg likely would have inspired a bidding war and you have to think Strasburg just left a bunch of money on the table.  The next best starter hitting free agency next off-season now might be Rich Hill.  Rich Frigging Hill, as in the guy the Nats had on a MLFA deal last summer and cut him loose so he could go re-make his career out of the Oakland bullpen.

What kind of value did the team just get?  Here’s a quick look at the other SP deals in the $150M or higher range:

  • David Price: 7yrs/$217M starting in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7yrs, $214M starting in 2014
  • Max Scherzer: 7yrs/$210M starting in 2015 (albeit with significant deferred money that brings the net present value down to around $185M)
  • Zack Greinke: 6yrs/$206M starting in 2016
  • Felix Hernandez, 7yrs/$175M starting in 2014
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7yrs/$155M (but with his $20M posting fee its a $175M deal all told)
  • Jon Lester: 6yrs/$155M starting in 2015.

So, this is the selection of contracts to compare this Strasburg deal to.  Other big deals signed last off-season include Johnny Cueto (6yrs/$130M) and Jordan Zimmermann (5yrs/$110M).

There’s already a bunch of hot takes; some like the deal, some think its a mistake.  On the one hand, Yes, pretty much any big long term free agent deal eventually looks like a stinker, so in that respect you can be a cynic and say that every long term FA contract is a mistake.  But that’s just not a realistic way to look at team building in this modern era.  Unless you’re willing to completely punt on your season for several years running (see Chicago Cubs, see Houston Astros, see the Atlanta Braves right now, even look at what our own Nats did for two seasons so they could acquire both Strasburg and Harper in the draft), then keeping your team consistently in the upper division requires spending on the FA market to paper over what your farm system may  not be developing.

But looking at (specifically) the Cueto and Lester deals … I can’t help but think that the Nats got a steal here.  Who would you rather have, Cueto for 6/$130M or Strasburg for 7/$175?  Same question for Lester. Strasburg, to me, is a better pitcher (a far better pitcher) and they got him for basically the same AAV as those guys.  Would you rather have Strasburg for $25M AAV or Price at $31M AAV?  Honestly?  Give me Strasburg and I can use that $6M to buy more bullpen guys.

I know Strasburg has his detractors out there, people who with a straight face don’t think he’s an “Ace” or one of the best 10-15 arms in this league;  you people are fools.  Look at nearly any metric you want over the last 3-4  years and you’ll find that Strasburg is in the top 10-15 league wide.  Here’s a helpful link to fangraphs individual pitcher stats from 2012-now; in this time frame Strasburg is (among qualified starters): 13th in fWAR, 13th in ERA, 9th in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, 9th in SIERA, 4th in K/9, 11th in K/BB, 5th in FB velocity, 20th in wFA, 7th in wCU, 6th in wCH.  That’s pretty rare air to be that high up in so many different categories spanning the various statistical ways to measure pitching these days.  He’s not Clayton Kershaw … who is?

Interesting question to ponder: is this Strasburg/Boras “payback” for “shutdown-gate” in 2012??  Their way of saying “thank you” for looking out more for the pitcher than the team in that case?   Because it seems so to me; that’s my “hot take.”

I leave you with this before debating the merits of this move: Here’s our projected rotation in 2017:

Scherzer, Strasburg, Giolito, Ross, and Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark.

Yeah; that could be pretty frigging good.

Yes they got swept by the Cubs but…

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Here's something Harper didn't do a lot of this past series: swing.  Photo via fansided.com

Here’s something Harper didn’t do a lot of this past series: swing. Photo via fansided.com

So, even though the team just got swept in a 4-game set, I’m not really that concerned.  Why?

Well, first, the Cubs are fantastic, and I thought one win out of four would have been a good, expected result.  The Cubs missed Strasburg, our best guy (even if he’s not the “Ace” thanks to Scherzer‘s contract) while we stood up to the Cubs’ Ace Arrieta.  The Nats scored a bunch of runs against a good team and on other days may have gotten a win or two.  Am I right?

Game by Game:

  • Thurs: Lose 5-2: Joe Ross gives up 2 in 6 but the Nats muster just 3 hits against Kyle Hendricks.  Don’t deserve to win when you only get 3 hits.
  • Fri: Lose 8-6 in a game that really wasn’t that close: Max Scherzer gives up four homers, which is just crazy unlucky for him based on his typical FB/HR averages.  Nats make the scoreline respectable by getting into the Cubs bullpen for four runs late.  Don’t deserve to win when your starter gives up 4 dingers.
  • Sat: Lose 8-5 when Gio Gonzalez can’t get through the Cubs’ 3-4-5 hitters a third time.  Nats bullpen doesn’t do its job.  I kinda question the pitching management here honestly; is Solis the right guy to go to there?  Is it a smart move to let your #5 starter attempt to go through the heart of the other team’s order in a hitter’s park?  If you want to go lefty, why not go with your veteran Oliver Perez or your fireballer Felipe Rivero instead of a guy who was in Syracuse last week?  I guess its because Rivero got blitzed thursday night.   Instead Rivero comes in during garbage time and manages to load the bases and leak yet another run.
  • Sun: Lose 4-3 in extras after chasing the best pitcher in the game and squandering a fantastic outing from Tanner Roark.  Again, a leaky bullpen, this time in the same guy Perez that I thought was a better option than Solis the day before.  But the story of this game was the astounding batting lines of Bryce Harper (7 plate appearances, 6 walks and a HBP) and Ryan Zimmerman (a major league record 14 runners left on base).  The team in total left 21 runners on base and went 1-19 with RISP on the day. One for NINETEEN!  Zimmerman hit a couple balls well on the night, but none when it counted.

Total score of the series: Cubs 25, Nats 16.  Lot of runs on the bullpen.  Zero of our lefty relievers really stepped up.  Both our 8th inning guys couldn’t shut anyone down.  And clearly nobody respects anyone else in the lineup besides Harper.

Anyway; before I get all gloom and doom, the Nats just finished their hardest road trip of the year 5-5, when prior to the season I would have been happy with them going 3-7.  Thanks to sweeps in St. Louis and surprising series win in KC, i’ve still got them projected to win 95 games right now (easy math: team goes .500 against the rest of the league and interleague, plays .600 ball in their division).

Now … if they get swept in New York….

 

Ladson Inbox 4/25/16

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Treinen looking like a closer in the making  Photo via zimbio.com

Treinen looking like a closer in the making Photo via zimbio.com

I’m digging the frequency of Bill Ladson’s inboxes this year.  It prompts me to write something when i’m otherwise slammed and distracted with that silly thing called work.  Here’s 4/25/16’s edition.

Q: As April comes to an end, what has been the most pleasant surprise for the Nationals?

A: I’ll go with the relatively injury-free spring and April; we havn’t had someone major break or pull anything.  Only Ben Revere has gotten bit by the bug, and that’s no great loss b/c it forces more playing time for Michael TaylorLadson goes with the Bullpen, who admittedly has been great.

Q: In your recent Inbox, you said No. 3 prospect Victor Robles will be Bryce Harper‘s teammate in a couple of years. Do you think Harper will still be a member of the Nats? I watched Harper all spring, but my guess is I’ll be driving cross state to Tampa to see him with the Yankees.

A: Harper hasn’t even hit arbitration years yet.  But the timing of Harper hitting free agency and Robles likely arriving could be a “dovetailing” event. I think the assumption that Harper is automatically going to go to New  York is silly; the Yankees aren’t highest spending franchise right now, and Steinbrenner‘s sons seem like they’re more interested in avoiding luxury taxes right now than they are in winning.  The big question the Nats will have to ask themselves is whether they’re willing to put 25% of their payroll for the next decade on one player…. when the time comes anyway.  They’re already kicking $15M/year down the road for a decade longer than they have to with Scherzer‘s contract.  Ladson thinks the Nats will “find a way to pay Harper.”  Really??  Do you not know who his agent its?  Harper is GOING to go to FA, no matter what his opinion of Washington is.

Q: What is Plan B for the ninth inning if Jonathan Papelbon gets hurt or doesn’t perform? Seems like there isn’t a replacement.

A: Actually, its looking more and more like there’s TWO options: Treinen and Rivero.  I gotta admit; i like what Dusty Baker is doing with the bullpen so far.  Both these guys are looking like closers in training.  And that’s good b/c there’s not a ton of help at AAA right now.  A quick glance at the Syracuse stats isn’t entirely promising on this front: I don’t see a “closer in training” anywhere in AAA.  As far as relievers go;  Trevor Gott has ok numbers but not good K/9 rates.  40-man guys Grace and Solis are both doing great … but they’re loogies.  Rafael Martin and Sam Runion have struggled.   Two guys that could be interesting (Erik Davis and Abel de los Santos) have done well … Davis especially, finally healthy after all this time.  But again, not a closer.  So, if Papelbon went down we’d probably be looking at Treinen as the closer, Rivero as an 8th inning guy and likely bringing up Davis or de los Santos to fill in earlier.  Ladson also says Treinen and Rivero.

Q: Why doesn’t Matt den Dekker get more starting opportunities? He has speed, power and is great defensively.

A: It might just be a matter of time, if Michael Taylor continues to struggle and Ben Revere is slow to come back.  But at this point, based on limited sample sizes, even den Dekker might be “behind” Chris Heisey were the Nats to need another starting outfielder.  Just no room at the inn.  Ladson thinks Taylor and den Dekker could platoon.

Q: Why wasn’t Gio Gonzalez pitching in this first home series? He’s a veteran pitcher who seems to have been squeezed out of the starting rotation during the first two weeks.

A: Clearly Baker looked at Gio Gonzalez as his 5th starter coming out of Spring Training and that’s what it meant to have been skipped the first time through the rotation.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that the other four guys have outperformed Gonzalez lately, either in potential (Joe Ross) or in 2014 performance (Tanner Roark).  Baker basically said that Gonzalez’s starts tax the bullpen so he had to consider when to use him.  Ladson notes that Gio struggled in spring training.

Q: With Trea Turner of to a nice start, when do we expect to see him in the big leagues?

A: Man that’s a good question; every additional week he’s hitting .350 in AAA and Danny Espinosa isn’t hitting his weight is another week where it becomes tougher and tougher to keep him down.  I still think he’ll hang out down there until the Nats regain a service year.  Ladson makes a good point; the Nats are winning without him so why change anything?

 

 

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs last fall’s Predictions 2016 Version

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Giolito's in AA to start ... does he ever even see AAA? Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Giolito’s in AA to start … does he ever even see AAA? Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

After reviewing all the 2015 pitching staffs, I projected where I thought everyone would start in 2016.

Now that the four full-season affiliates have been announced, lets see how my predictions turned out.  As always, the Big Board (maintained by SpringfieldFan) is a great resource to track everyone.

Notations here: * = lefty, ^ == new off-season acquisition.  Also, “Missing” usually means “Stuck in Extended Spring Trianing/XST” or in organizational limbo.


 

MLB Predicted

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez*, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*^, Kelley^, Gott^, Petit^
  • D/L: Barrett (60-day DL)
  • out of organization: Zimmermann, Fister, Storen (traded), Thornton*, Janssen, Carpenter, Stammen (non-tendered)

MLB Actual Opening day

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*, Kelley, Belisle, Petit
  • D/L: Barrett (60-day DL)

Discussion: only one surprise from the pre-Spring Training prediction for this team: Matt Belisle makes the team ahead of Trevor Gott.  Otherwise everyone is in the roles they were acquired to hold.  There was some question about whether Blake Treinen would get optioned early in the spring, but not now.  The order of the starters wasn’t right: Ross is being treated like the 4th starter and Roark the 3rd, I guess.

It probably wasn’t too hard to predict 12 out of the 13 spots in the MLB roster, so we won’t pat ourselves on the back too much.  Lets talk minors.


AAA Predicted

  • Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Espino, Voth, Laffey*^, THill, Arroyo^
  • Bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Brady^, Bacus, de los Santos, Runion, Velasquez^, Masset^, EDavis, Burnett*^
  • Release Candidates: McGregor, Walters
  • out of organization: Billings, Bleier*, Swynenberg, Fornataro, Meek, Runion, Lively, Gutierrez, Valverde, Delcarmen, RHill, Overton

AAA Actual

  • starters: Cole, Jordan, Espino, THill, Voth
  • spot starts/swingman: Laffey*
  • bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Runion, Massett, EDavis, Gott
  • dl/restricted: Arroyo, Brady
  • in AA: Bacus, de los Santos
  • missing: no one
  • cut/released/FAs: McGregor, Velasquez, Walters, Burnett (opted-out)

Discussion: No surprises in the Rotation: we predicted 7 guys in the AAA rotation competition and ended up with the 5 we predicted, a 6th as the swing-man/spot starter and the 7th (Arroyo) on the D/L for the time being.

The bullpen has some surprises: Gott as previously mentioned was projected in the majors; the other 6 bullpen members were in the 10 projected guys competing for the AAA spots.  Two guys got pushed to AA.  Brady starts on the D/L.  Both my release candidates did in fact get released, along with off-season MLFA Velasquez.  The real surprise making the AAA team was Masset.

Burnett opted out when he didn’t make the MLB team, but it wasn’t a stretch to predict that happening.

No real projection surprises though, all in all.  Nobody who we projected to start in AA got moved up; only a couple guys who got moved down (Bacus and de los Santos).  I’m slightly surprised de los Santos is in AA and it makes me question even more his 40-man add and usage last year (3 days of service time and now two options blown).


AA Projected

  • Rotation: Spann*, Giolito, Simms, Alderson, RLopez, Mapes, Gorski^
  • Bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, Shackelford^, NLee*, Benincasa, Suero, Thomas*, Walsh*, Robinson^, Whiting^
  • Release Candidates: Rauh, Bates, Self, Dupra
  • out of organization: Purke*, Pivetta, Simmons, Demny, Ambriz, Gilliam

AA Announced

  • starters: Giolito, Simms, RLopez, AWilliams, Mapes
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, NLee*,  Suero, Fish*, Bacus,  Gutierrez, de los Santos
  • In High-A: Thomas*, Robinson, Whiting, Rauh, Self
  • dl/restricted: none
  • missing: Spann*, Alderson, Shackelford, Benincasa, Bates
  • cut/released/FAs: Gorski, Walsh*, Dupra

Discussion:

The big surprise here is that Austen Williams made the AA team; I had him at High-A.  Perhaps it isn’t THAT big of a surprise given how well he pitched last year, but it does seem to go away from the Nats’ proclivities to start guys at their prior season’s level and have them “earn” early to mid-season promotions.  He joins a pretty high powered duo of Giolito and LopezGorski was an off-season MLFA brought in for competition and he didn’t win.  Only one of my four release candidates was in fact released (Dupra): the other three got dumped to XLS or High-A, which is good for them but not good for the massive log-jam of recently drafted college arms who need spots in A-ball.

In the bullpen, we’ve talked before about the surprising release of Jake Walsh.  There’s 5 guys stuck in XST limbo for now, a couple of which are release candidates.  One name that popped out of the blue is Robert Fish, who signed an under-the radar MLFA deal in mid February and who apparently hasn’t pitched professionally in two full seasons.  He must have had a pretty good spring.


High-A Projected

  • Rotation: AWilliams, Fedde, Valdez, Dickson, Bach*, Van Orden,
  • Bullpen: Johanssen, Amlung (swingman),  Napoli*, Orlan*, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre*
  • Release Candidates: RPena, Turnbull*
  • out of organization: Schwartz, Howell, CDavis, MRodriguez, Cooper (just released)

High-A Announced

  • starters: Fedde, Valdez, Estevez, LReyes,  Whiting
  • spot starts/swingman: Sanchez,
  • bullpen: Brinley, Glover, Johansen, Orlan*, Robinson, Self, Thomas*
  • dl/restricted: Rauh, Sylvestre*,  Turnbull*
  • missing: Bach*
  • cut/released/FAs: Walsh, Dupra, Dickson, Van Orden, Amlung, Napoli*

Discussion: My High-A predictions show just how out of whack my “reading the stat lines” predictions can be, especially for starters.

In the Rotation, AWilliams earned a jump to AA.  I thought Dickson and Van Orden were solid rotation candidates; instead they got released.  Lastly, I thought both Estevez and Reyes were repeating Hagerstown; Estevez missed the whole season and Reyes posted a 4.82 ERA there last year.  Instead they’re opening day starters for Potomac.  Not even close here.

In the Bullpen, we got Johanssen, Orlan, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre and Turnbull right (not too bad prediction wise), though the last couple guys are on the D/L and still may be release candidates.  Who did we miss on?  Robinson was an off-season MLFA (who signs MLFAs for high-A?), and Sanchez I had projected to repeat after posting a 4.86 in Hagerstown last year.

 


Low-A Projected

  • Rotation: LReyes, JRodriguez, ALee, Dickey, Hearn*, Crownover*
  • Bullpen: MSanchez (swingman),  Guilbeau*, Borne*, Rivera Jr., Gunter, Peterson, Baez
  • release candidate: Estevez, DWilliams, DRamos, Boghosian, Mooney, Pirro
  • out of organization: Ullmann, KPerez, Mooneyham, Johns (just released)

Low-A Actual

  • starters: JRodriguez, ALee, Hearn*, Crownover*, Guilbeau*, Bach,
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Rivera Jr, Peterson, Baez, VanVossen, LTorres, RPena, DeRosier,
  • dl/restricted: JMorales
  • missing: Dickey, Borne*, Gunter, DRamos, Mooney, Pirro
  • cut/released/FAs: Amlung, Van Orden, Napoli*, DWilliams, Boghosian

Discussion

From a starter standpoint, we did a pretty good job projecting who would be in Hagerstown’s rotation.  Four of the Six projected candidates “seem” like they’re in the rotation (full disclosure, we’re kind of guessing who these teams are using as starters until we see the first turn through the rotation).  The misses?  LReyes, who surprisingly is in High-A, and Guilbeau, who I thought would be on the team but in a relief role.

In the bullpen; we missed on Sanchez (who made High-A), Borne and Gunter (both of whom are in XST for now).  In their place are a slew of guys who I was projecting to be elsewhere.  I thought both VanVossen and DeRosier were release candidates after poor 2015 seasons in Short-A; instead they’re in the opening day bullpen.  I had LTorres in the Short-A bullpen after mostly failing as a short-A starter.

Lastly there’s Bach and RPena; I had both projected in Potomac.  I thought Bach had a perfectly good Low-A season last year and has nothing yet to prove in the Sally League.  Pena returns to Hagerstown for the third time; he pitched in Low-A in 2013 and 2014.  You have to think this is a planned short stint before he returns to at least High-A.

No real surprises in the “Missing/XST” crew: Dickey is the biggest profile name here but it seems to me he was injured last  year so its hard to pass judgement on his stats anywhere.  Borne‘s numbers were basically identical to the likes of Hearn and Guilbeau’s; he missed out in the 2016 competition.  Gunter might make sense as a mid-season promotion to cover for injury.  Ramos was hurt most of the year last  year.

In the “release candidate” section, I was clearly wrong about Estevez.  DWilliams and Boghosian have already indeed been released.  And both Mooney/Pirro missed out on the full-season roster and are in XST limbo.


 

Let the games begin!  Are there surprises for you guys in these rosters?

2016 Opening Day Roster surprises

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Belisle makes the team.  Photo by John McDonnell of the WP

Belisle makes the team. Photo by John McDonnell of the WP

Once the team finished up with its FA and trading business this past off-season, the eventual 2016 25-man roster seemed rather predictable (to me anyway).  For months, I figured it was safe to assume we were looking at the following configuration for 2016 (barring injury):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • RP: Papelbon, Treinen, Gott, Kelley, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • C: Ramos, Lobaton
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Drew, Robinson, Moore
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor
  • 60 day DL: Barrett

Perhaps you could quibble that Tyler Moore wasn’t a lock , that he was always in competition with the slew of RH-hitting veterans brought in to camp this year (I didn’t necessarily think this once they offered him a contract for 2016).  Perhaps you could have argued that Danny Espinosa wasn’t the presumptive starter ahead of Trea Turner.  Perhaps you could argue that the team was going to do something crazy with Tanner Roark vs Bronson Arroyo. 

But towards the end of Spring Training, I was proven wrong as the team made some interesting choices to start the season.

With the final announced moves prior to opening day, here’s the 25-man roster starting out the season:

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • RP: Papelbon, Treinen, Kelley, Belisle, Perez*, Rivero*, Petit
  • C: Ramos, Lobaton
  • INF: Zimmerman, Murphy, Espinosa, Rendon, Drew, Robinson
  • OF: Harper, Werth, Revere, Taylor, Heisey

Lets talk about the last minute announcements and the surprises:

  1. Tyler Moore waived, outrighted and then traded to Atlanta.  Probably not a huge surprise; one can argue that the only reason Moore wasn’t waived LAST spring training was thanks to the slew of injuries the team suffered.  He hasn’t been successful as a PH, he never could replicate the success he had in his rookie year, and he really could only play 1B.  The team made a conscious effort to bring in veterans to compete with him, and the likes of Scott Sizemore, Chris Heisey, Reed Johnson, Stephen Drew all out-performed Moore in one way or another.  And all those guys can play other positions besides the sedentary 1B.
  2. Chris Heisey making the team: Personally I thought Sizemore had the inside track, but he was assigned to minor league camp early.  In fact, when you look at their stats its a head scratcher: Sizemore hit .324 with a ton of power while Heisey hit just .238 but came on strong towards the end of spring training.  Moreover, Sizemore plays infield while Heisey only plays outfield … so Sizemore is presumably a more valuable player defensively.  Cynics will note that Heisey has played for Baker before.  At least Sizemore stuck with the team and accepted a minor league assignment.  Honestly I also thought the team would have considered Drew before Heisey, again for positional flexibility.
  3. Matt Belisle ‘s contract guaranteed, and he makes the team instead of off-season acquisition Trevor Gott.  By the ST numbers this move makes some  sense; Belisle’s ERA and WHIP was decent while Gott’s was respectable if not eyepopping.   Once again,  the cynic again would say this is entirely due to the options availability on Gott and Belisle’s history of playing for Baker.  I’m slightly surprised they didn’t go with 8 relievers since a 5th starter isn’t needed for a while.
  4. Espinosa over Turner: never in question for me once we hired Dusty Baker, but many pundits seem shocked that Turner is in AAA to start the season.  Scouts seem to have forgotten that Espinosa was a *better* shortstop than Ian Desmond all these years, but played 2nd base and 2nd fiddle thanks to seniority (in the same way that the superior Manny Machado played 3B instead of taking over at short for a veteran … and now is “stuck” there despite being one of the best SS prospects of his generation).
  5. Roark over Arroyo: this one solved itself early, when Arroyo tore his UCL tore his labrum tore his rotator strained his rotator cuff while Roark was throwing zeros for the spring.  I continue to be in the camp that Roark, if just left alone and given a rotation spot, will produce at a high level (just like he did in 2014).  I think his 2015 was completely an aberration, an example of how playing guys out of position ends up with sub-optimal performance (ahem, see Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Mens National Team’s ridiculous 2-0 loss to Guatemala last week in WC qualifying).

What do you guys think?  Do you think Belisle over Gott, Heisey over Sizemore or Drew (or even den Dekker), Espinosa over turner make this a better team starting out?  Or do you feel like Dusty has gotten some of his “buddies” back together and he’s valuing relationships over talent to start the season?

Better question: Will it matter?  I mean, we’re talking about the 7th man in the bullpen (who may get 1 inning the first week) and the last guy off the bench (who might get 2 or 3 low-leverage ABs the first week).  Is this making a mountain out of a mole-hill, or is it more about the principle of the issue?

Ladson Inbox 2/26/16

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Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

Future $400M Dodger? Photo GQ magazine Mar 2012

I guess Bill Ladson only gets questions during spring training.  After not doing an inbox for practically all of last season, its 3 in 3 weeks!  Since these are such good conversation starters, lets see how I would have answered his questions.

Q: Most believe the Nats have no chance of keeping Bryce Harper once he becomes a free agent. Your thoughts? 

A: Unfortunately, I’m also in that camp.  I believe Bryce Harper and his aggressive agent Scott Boras will take him to free agency with the idea of getting the largest contract in history.  And, when push comes to shove, I just can’t see how Washington is going to have the stomach to compete with the big-money teams (namely, the Dodgers and Yankees) and commit the kind of dollars that he’s going to command.  Certainly not with the MASN hamstringing.  I mean, lets be honest with ourselves; its taken years just to get the two parties to agree on whether the Nats are going to get $34M (what the O’s want to pay), $53M (what the first arbitration panel apparently agreed upon) or $109M (what the Nats requested) on the first reset of the agreement.  Meanwhile the Dodgers are getting somewhere between $240M-$280M a year in their RSN deal … potentially FIVE TIMES what the Nats are getting paid.  I’m sorry; but the team that can afford to just throw money at players is the team that is going to be able to promise $40M/season.  There’s just no way even a “rich” team like Washington is going to compete.  Enjoy him while you can and hope the team does the smart thing and really, really tries to win a World Series while they still have him.  Ladson thinks the team is going to wait and will “try to extend him” before he hits free agency.  Yeah, right.  How many players Boras has represented have taken extensions versus going to free agency? 

Q: What are the chances that Ian Desmond returns to the Nationals this year?

A: Well, I think the chances seem like they’re nil.  The Nats made their offers (a multiyear extension AND a qualifier) and Desmond turned them both down.  I’m shocked that he’s the last man standing in the Qualifying Offer class (I would have bet money it would have been Ian Kennedy), and i’m shocked that he hasn’t found a job yet.

Now, that being said, a better question might be “Should the Nats think about bringing him back??”  You’ve just hired a player’s manager who likes veterans in Dusty Baker.  They’ve constructed their roster with a clear intention of sending future SS-in-waiting Trea Turner back to the minors for seasoning, meaning that Danny Espinosa seems like the starting shortstop (career BA: .230).  At this point, given the steal of an offer you might be able to get Desmond for (Fowler was given a gift of a contract from Chicago, guaranteeing $13M when he probably wasn’t going to get that in terms of AAV on the open market), maybe he’s worth considering.  Yes we’d be giving up the supp-1st rounder we stand to gain.  But you can just give him another QO next season if he rebounds and puts himself in line for another big pay day.  Or maybe you assume the next CBA (which will be signed sometime this year since the current deal expires 12/1/16) gets rid of the Q.O. entirely, since it is killing players and FA market values for certain types of players.  Actually this latter argument perhaps supports the Nats wanting to keep the pick, since it may very well go away (or perhaps the system is modified to just give all teams giving away significant FAs supplemental first rounders, not that I have any idea how you’d figure out who was deserving of a pick).  I think the team has made the decision that he’s on the decline, that they’ve dodged a huge bullet by him turning down 7yrs/$105 or whatever it was, and they’re ready to move on.

Ladson has sources in the Org that say its a “long long long shot.”  Baker says Espinosa looks like he’s in “mid-season form” at the plate (wow; does that mean he’s only striking out every OTHER time up and still hitting .230?)

Q: What do you think Baker will bring to the Nationals this year?

A: I think Dusty Baker brings harmony and respect to the clubhouse in ways it was clearly not present under Matt Williams.  No more arbitrary scheduling, lack of communication, lack of awareness of what’s going on with his players.  I’m a big advocate of hiring contrasting styles in managers when one guy clearly grinds his way to a failure, and Baker is a great example of it.  I was completely pro-Bud Black because of his pitching experience, but the team has more than made up for it with the hiring of Mike Maddox and we’re going to be a much better team for it.

Ladson mentions a very important word: Charisma.  Baker brings a ton of experience, charisma and humor to the clubhouse; again going towards one of the big, embarrassing issues from last year (clubhouse chemistry).

Q: Can you predict the Nationals’ rotation on Opening Day?

A: Barring injury, it has to be (in order) Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Ross and Roark.  I’m not going to predict Arroyo beating out Roark at this point unless Arroyo looks completely healthy, he’s actually pitching well and Roark falls apart in Spring Training.  If there’s an injury, I look at Arroyo as the first man up, then Cole in terms of rotation coverage.  If we have to dig any deeper than that … watch out.  I like Voth but i’m not sure he’s ready for prime time.  I don’t trust Taylor Jordan any longer.  Lucas Giolito may start his career a ton earlier than anyone thought if injuries take out too many of our starters.

Ladson says its a no-brainer right now with the assumed 5 above.

Q: Why did the Nationals let Yunel Escobar get away? He was a consistent hitter.

A: Escobar was a consistent hitter last year yes (.314 BA, which was 50 points higher than the two previous seasons and 30 points higher than his career average), but hit an “empty” .314 (just 9 homers and a .415 slugging, also a huge improvement over previous seasons and his career high).  Unsaid is Escobar’s significant defensive issues (awful defensive stats, though to be fair genius skipper Williams had him playing out of position the entire season).  I think the Nats “sold high” on Escobar, traded from depth to a certain extent and got a player (Trevor Gott) in trade that they really needed to help bolster the bullpen.  Ladson doesn’t mention the “selling high” part of his offense; only mentions his defensive issues.

Q: What was it that made the front office sour on Drew Storen? The kid is one of the premier closers in the game, yet the team always seemed to be looking for someone better.

A: An excellent question.  I’m not sure it was the “front office” as much as it was the “impulsive owner” who soured on Storen.  He had two well publicized post-season failures, which led the normally sane and intelligent GM Rizzo to twice acquire and over-pay an aging “proven closer” to replace Storen.  The first time, Rafael Soriano eventually was supplanted by his own failures and Storen’s consistency, the second time the team inexplicably replaced him with Papelbon in the middle of perhaps Storen’s finest season.  Is Storen one of the “premier closers” in the game?  No.  I’d say he’s middle of the road and could likely tick off at least 15 guys who will be more highly valued in fantasy than Storen were he to win the Toronto closing job.

The crummy part of the deal was the fact that Storen was the one who needed to be traded by virtue of Papelbon making himself essentially untradeable.  I tell you what; Papelbon better be a frigging all-star this year to make up for what’s happened.  Ladson mentions the two blown post-season games and says he needed a change of scenery.  Both true.

 

 

Ladson’s Inbox 2/21/16

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We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

We need Rendon to hit in 2016. Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Wow, no inboxes for months and suddenly two in two weeks??  It must be spring training! This is great!  MLB.com’s Nats beat reporter Bill Ladson on 2/20/16 has published more reader questions.  Here’s how I would have answered them.

Q: Without a doubt, Bryce Harper will be the best hitter on the Nationals this year. Who do you see as being the second-best hitter on the team?

A: Anthony Rendon.  If this team is going to win in 2016, Rendon needs to return to form.  Everyone else at this point in the lineup will be a table setter for Rendon and Harper.  Ladson says Zimmerman, who I admit i’ve begun to lose faith in.

Q: How does the front office justify bringing back Jonathan Papelbon after what happened last year with Harper? Papelbon has proven time and again that he is not a good teammate, yet he’s back for 2016?

A: I guess the questioner didn’t know that Papelbon was still *signed* for 2016.  So it wasn’t so much about “bringing him back” on purpose as it was the team “not being able to get rid of him.”  I put the Papelbon acquisition as one of the worst of the Mike Rizzo tenure; not so much for who we gave up (a good but not game changing prospect in Nick Pivetta) but for the incredible mis-calculation of the acquisition’s affect on the rest of the team.  I’m sure the team desperately tried to move him in the off-season but (with echos of “Lerner’s are cheap” abounding) probably weren’t willing to dump him for no return.  So here we are; its 2016 and Papelbon is here in lieu of the home grown popular (and team union rep) Drew Storen.

I’ll bet Rizzo doesn’t make this mistake again.

Nonetheless, Papelbon said the right things in his first media interviews since the interview, actually managing to appear humble and contrite while talking about how he was in the wrong and flat out apologizing to the fans.  I say good for him; even I couldn’t help but applaud his performance last last week.

Ladson says the team “made a good decision” in not moving Papelbon; yeah right.  If they could have gotten *anything* for him he’d be gone.  You worry about “finding a closer” in the current bullpen?  Uh, how about anyone?  We don’t need to go into more historical reviews of the uselessness of closers vis-a-vis teams holding leads after 8 innings.

Q: Why did the Nats not re-sign Craig Stammen? Before last year, I thought he did a great job as a middle reliever.

A: It all came down to risk mitigation.  Stammen absolutely did a great job for this team for many years … but he’s got a lot of innings, is coming off of a season-long injury, has (to be fair) rather funky mechanics, and the team just couldn’t justify guaranteeing him what probably would have been $2.5M or so for the unknown.  The industry felt the same way: Stammen ended up with a non-guaranteed minor league deal with Cleveland instead of either a major league deal or anything of significant value.  Trust me I was bummed; we met Stammen years ago at a golf event and he was awesome; hate to see these long-time Nats leave.  Ladson basically says the same thing.

Q: Don’t you think it’s time to improve left field? Jayson Werth is not the player he used to be. He makes a lot of money and doesn’t provide much in return.

A: And do what with Werth?  Magically trade him for valuable assets and get his payroll off your books?  The asker clearly thinks that the rest of the league are run by morons and the Nats can just magically get rid of the likes of Werth for value.  Yes he’s costing you more than 10% of your payroll.  It is what it is; veteran FA contracts all end up like this.  Honestly, I think Werth still has a ton of value if you use him properly; that means batting lead-off where you take advantage of his high pitches-per-plate appearance and high OBP.  We’ll see if Dusty Baker thinks outside the box like this (doubt it).  Ladson says Werth is a comeback player of the year candidate.

Q: What are the chances the Nationals make a trade for someone like Carlos Gonzalez to protect Harper in the lineup?

A: I like Carlos Gonzalez … but his home/away splits are pretty distinct.  .972 OPS in Denver, .758 OPS elsewhere last year.  I’m not sure he’s anything more than a mediocre outfielder if he’s not playing half his games at altitude.  Besides, the team made its play for the outfield when they acquired Ben RevereLadson thinks Rizzo could still “make a deal for a slugger” during Spring Training if he doesn’t like what he sees.  Uh; trading season is over, dude.  How many big-time sluggers can you think of that moved in spring training?

Q: A prime component of the Mets’ rotation is the ability to throw hard and get a bunch of strikeouts, but how unique is the Nationals’ rotation and how could it help them win the NL East next season?

A: Indeed, the Mets have a plethora of big-time arms throwing big-time heat.  But the Royals buzzed through their staff with ease in the World Series.  Why?  Because the Royals were the best team in the league for not taking a strikeout and putting the ball in play.  So once it became apparent that the Mets starters couldn’t close out games by themselves, the Royals (with their superior bullpen) outlasted them.  So Ks are important but not the end-all/be-all.

What makes the Nats rotation unique?  Two part answer for me: they (still) have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Scherzer and Strasburg.  What other 1-2 starters would you take over them?   So then past their 2 aces, they have three other guys who are dangerously under-rated.  Gonzalez was a Cy Young finalist just a couple years ago and he still has the same stuff.  Ross is a complete find, a guy who would be most teams’ #2 starter this year despite just having a handful of MLB starts.  And (as often repeated) Roark was a 5-win guy two years ago.  So the potential is there for this to be a top rotation end-to-end.

How does the Rotation help them win the NL east?  By staying healthy, pitching to potential, and outlasting the Mets own powerful rotation when its crunch time.

Ladson doesn’t really give much of an answer here.  He just says what he’d like to “see” each of our starters do this year.

 

 

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2015

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Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

Tyler Mapes is a great draft story and my pitcher of the year out of Potomac. Photo via nola.com

This is the 4th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2015.  Other parts of the 2015 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Taylor Jordan), here’s 2012’s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.  Had we done this in 2014, we would likely have “featured” Gilberto Mendez for his good work closing.

Note; while its relatively easy to do reviews for the upper levels of the system, once we get lower we’re usually talking about a lot of short sample sizes.  And i’m sure there’s people reading this who saw every pitcher on this post throw in 2015; by all means feel free to comment if you believe i’ve mis-characterized someone here.  Of all the write-ups I expect readers here to have better opinions of Potomac players by virtue of actually seeing them week in/week out, so definitely pipe up.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2015 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.  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 and AA squads frankly.

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

  • Opening Day rotation: Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*
  • End of Season Rotation: Mapes, Dickson, AWilliams, Spann*, Howell
  • End of Season spot starts/swingman: Dupra, Thomas*,  Valdez
  • End of Season bullpen:  Self,   Walsh*, Johansen, Orlan*, MRodriguez
  • Mid-Season promotions: Dupra, Bacus, Suero, Pivetta, Mapes, Giolito, Purke*, Simms, Rauh, Roark
  • up-and-back: Mapes, Spann*, Dupra
  • down-and-back: Thomas*, Rauh
  • demotions: KPerez, Napoli*, Amlung, Orlan*
  • D/L: RPena, Turnbull*, Sylvestre*,  Lopez
  • cut/released/FAs: Mirowski, Henke, Encarnacion, Schwartz (retired), CDavis

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*.  19 guys got starts in 2015.  Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.

  • Nick Pivetta was your opening day starter, and by the end of the season he had gotten promoted and traded.  He earned his promotion, going 7-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts for Potomac.  He was not as successful upon his promotion to AA, but that was still enough to catch the eye of Philadelphia and be the bounty for them ridding themselves of Jonathan Papelbon‘s ego and contract.  If he was still with the team, he would have been the ‘featured” player above and not Mapes for his dominant season in High-A.  Outlook for Next Season: Philadelphia’s AA team in Reading, where he gets to go against Harrisburg and all his old teammates a few times a year.
  • Brian Rauh threw 7 excellent High-A starts before getting promoted to AA, where he spent most of the year.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
  • Blake Schwartz had three High-A starts, struggled, and retired.  After a fantastic 2013 season in Potomac, he just never could make the jump to AA and (not that I’ve ever talked to him or anything) perhaps got discouraged after not really progressing further up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: retired, out of baseball
  • Wander Suero pitched pretty effectively for Potomac in the first half in a swingman role, getting 16 appearances and 5 starts and posting a 2.41 ERA, 1.20 whip, and a 3.27 FIP.  Not much in the way of swing and miss though; 39/18 K/BB in 56 innings.  After moving up, he struggled in AA but inched up his K/9 rate while focusing more on middle relief.  No reason to think he can’t compete in AA in 2016, and is still relatively young (he turned 24 just after the season ended so he’ll still be 24 all next year).  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen, perhaps High-A bullpen again if he gets squeezed in a numbers game.
  • Matthew Spann bounced between High-A and AA all year, posting mid 4 ERAs in both places.  See AA write-up for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Reynaldo Lopez led the team in IP and starts for 2015, going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 99 IP across 19 starts.  His stats: 4.09 ERA, 1.22 whip, 2.95 FIP and 94/28 K/BB in those 99 innings, all as a 21-yr old.  It isn’t hard to see why Lopez is highly ranked on “top 10” lists for Nats prospects; he more than held his own in High-A as one of the younger hurlers in the league.  The team held him back in XST for a few weeks to keep innings off his arm.  While most scouting reports think he’ll eventually end up in the bullpen (no third pitch, iffy mechanics, big arm), he’s obviously worth giving more chances to stick as a high-velocity starter (in the same vein as Yordano Ventura for example).  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • John Simms threw an excellent half season for Potomac before getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Lucas Giolito threw an dominant half season for Potomac (86 ks in 69 innings) after being kept in XST for the first 5 weeks of the season (so much for those pre-2015 interviews where he proclaimed that he had no innings limits, eh?) before also getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Austen Williams blitzed the Sally league and forced a promotion to Potomac mid-season, where he continued pitching well.  In High-A he was 4-6 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.09 whip, 3.22 fip and 41/17 K/BB over 63 high-A innings.  The 2014 draftee is looking like a nice little find.  There does seem to be a bit of fortuitousness in his numbers (.253 BABIP and a delta between his ERA and FIP), so I could see the log-jam in the AA projected rotation keeping Williams back in Potomac for the first half of the 2016 season.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation to start with an eye on quick promotion.
  • Philips Valdez dominated the Sally league and earned a promotion after two months.  In Potomac he bounced in and out of the rotation, getting 10 starts across 22 appearances and posting a 3.77 ERA in High-A.  Other numbers: 1.44 whip, 3.26 fip, 48/25 K/BB in 59 High-A innings.  Valdez has been around for a while; this was his *seventh* season in the Nats organization.  He just turned 24.  But he has relatively few innings on his arm; just 260 IP across those seven seasons (he missed the entirety of 2012).  He’s looking like he could be a low-profile decent starter going forward, though he may run out of time in the system before the team is faced with a tougher decision on how to keep him.  For now, I think he repeats High-A to start, is tried out as a full time starter, and we’ll see if he can push forward to AA in 2016.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation
  • Tyler Mapes so far is a pretty good 2014 draft success story; he was a 30th round *senior sign* out of Tulane who was basically unhittable in Short-A last year, threw 6 clean innings in Low-A and was bumped up to High-A (the first 2014 draftee to get promoted that high) after just a couple of weeks.  Once in Potomac, he continued to pitch well in a swing-man role; 30 appearances, 8 starts, a 2.38 ERA across 90 innings, 1.22 whip, 2.78 FIP and 75/17 K/BB over 96 innings in High-A.  Not too shabby.  If it were me, I’d push him right to AA and stick him in the rotation, but as noted before I’m projecting an awful lot of starters to be in that Harrisburg rotation right now.  I’m curious to see how things shake out for someone like Mapes; he didn’t last to the 30th round as a favor to the Nats; is there something limiting in his capabilities that will cause him to suddenly top out like a lot of late-round senior signs?  We’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Ian Dickson was hurt the first half of the season and finished 2015 the exact same place he finished 2014: in the Potomac rotation with decent to effective numbers.  2015 totals for Dickson: 3-3, 3.60 ERA in 12 appearances/8 starts.  We see a problem though: 31 ks and 39 (?!) walks in 40 innings in Potomac this year.  Wow; that’s a walk an inning.  He never saw this kind of walk rate before, so hopefully its just a remnant of whatever injury kept him out the first half of the year.  Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll be back in Potomac a third year until he can solve his walk rate issues.  Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
  • Dakota Bacus began the season in Potomac, had 5 starts and 8 appearances and got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season.  See AA write-up for more.
  • Jeff Howell is a pretty interesting player.  He’s a career minor league backup catcher, having toiled in the lower minor leagues since 2005.  He signed on with Washington in 2012 and hung around as a backup between the levels for a couple of years.  Then suddenly, at the age of 32, he decided to try his hand on the mound.  Perhaps he was inspired by other Catchers-turned-Hurlers like Jason Motte.  He (presumably) hung out in XST for most of the season learning how to pitch, then threw a couple of games in the Rookie league, then for Hagerstown, then finally for Potomac at season’s end.  He struggled once he got to Potomac, giving up 9 runs in 13 innings but more importantly walking 17 guys while he was there.  He’s now a MLFA and one may think that he’d re-up with Washington since we’re the ones who gave him a shot.  We’ll see how the off-season goes.  He may choose to pitch elsewhere where he can be guaranteed a rotation spot (a tough one in our system, since we’re completely overloaded with arms from pitching-heavy drafts over the past few years).   Outlook for Next season: continuing his conversion to pitcher in another organization.
  • Others who got starts in Potomac for 2015:
    • Matt Purke got three brief starts in Potomac before settling in Harrisburg for the year; see AA write-up for more.
    • Rehab starts for Potomac in 2015: Barrett, Roark, Janssen and Carpenter (though technically Roark’s were not rehab but “stretching out” starts).

Potomac 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.

  • Justin Thomas was the bullpen leader in IP for Potomac in 2015, throwing 57 innings across 28 games, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.21 whip, a 2.84 FIP and getting 50/18 K/BB in those 57 innings.  He’s a lefty but was used more as a long-man, not being limited to just short stints.  He’s looking great considering his limited draft pedigree (senior sign out of a small college in the 21st round) and I see no reason not to keep bumping him up the chain.  Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
  • Jake Johanssen was 1-7 with a 5.44 ERA, 1.81 whip, 4.69 fip with 48/27 K/BB in 48 relief innings for Potomac.  Johanssen was our top draft pick in 2013, has already been “demoted” from a starter to the pen, and now seemingly can’t perform in a relief role either.  Where do you go from here with him?  You and I know that his large bonus is a “sunk cost” and shouldn’t dictate his usage, but teams don’t seem to see it that way.  Just look at how long the Nats kept Brett Mooneyham around after it became clear he wasn’t capable of performing, even at lower levels of the minors?  I see Johanssen repeating High-A and trying to get his career back on track.  Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Derek Self seems to be taking a step back in his career; after posting a 1.69 ERA through half a season in Potomac last year, he more than earned a promotion up to AA where he more than held his own.  However after just 14 innings in AA this year, he got dumped back to Potomac, thus repeating High-A for the third straight year.  He was solid again; a 4/1 K/BB ratio in middle relief, but where is his Nats career going at this point?  Obviously he needs to be in the AA bullpen next year, but you could have also said that last year and it didn’t work out.  There’s going to be a lot of AA bullpen competition; if he gets squeezed out does he get cut in 2016?  we’ll see.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release Candidate.
  • Brian Dupra is in a similar boat as Derek Self; he’s now 27 and spent most of his third successive year in Potomac.  He was promoted mid-season to AA but didn’t last long after getting hit hard.  Final Potomac stats for 2015: 2.79 ERA in 42 mostly later bullpen innings.  I think he’s going to be in a similar situation as Self this coming spring; if he cannot cut it at AA (and there’s plenty of competition for that bullpen), he may get cut loose entirely.  Not that it should matter, but it should be noted that Dupra was a senior sign for limited bonus money out of Notre Dame in 2011, so it could be a “make the team or get cut” situation.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release candidate.
  • Cody Davis was struggling early in the season, with a decent ERA but ugly peripherals (4.55 fip, 10/15 K/BB in 21 ip) and was released towards the end of June as upwards player movement started to need bullpen spots.  The undrafted MLFA signing from 2011 played parts of 5 seasons for the system but seemed to fall apart this year as he repeated High-A.   It does not look like he picked up anywhere and may be done.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Manny Rodriguez only threw 21 innings between two different D/L stints this year, and then was released soon after the end of the season.  It seems that the team believed he never recovered from the injury that cost him two full seasons early in his minor league career.  Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
  • Jake Walsh threw 17 scoreless innings as a late-inning/closer in Low-A before getting bumped up to High-A in July.  From there out he posted a 3.66 ERA in 19.2 innings across 9 appearances with a 19/10 K/BB ratio.   There’s something odd going on with Walsh; why was he even in Low-A to start 2015?  He posted a sub-2.00 ERA across low- and high-A LAST YEAR, yet didn’t start in Potomac nor get considered for the AA rotation despite being a senior sign in 2013.  He now holds a CAREER 1.65 ERA and seems to me to more than have earned a shot at a look at a higher level.  Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
  • Kevin Perez spent the 2nd half of the year in  Hagerstown after struggling early on in Potomac: see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Robert Orlan spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted a 2.20 ERA in Potomac in 16.1 August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Justin Amlung, similarly to Orlan above, spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted an excellent 1.84 ERA in Potomac in 14.2 July and August innings:  see Low-A write-up for more.
  • Other Relievers of note who had less than 10 IP for Potomac this year:
    • David Napoli had 8 IP for Potomac before getting demoted to Hagerstown:  see Low-A write-up for more.
    • Matt Purke threw 7 IP for Potomac during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2015: see AA write-up for more.
    • Erik Davis threw 3 re-hab IP in 2015; see AA write-up for more.
    • Tanner Roark threw one 4Ip start during his “stretch out” minor league stint; see MLB write-up for more.
    • Brenden Webb, normally an Outfielder, threw a 3Ip mop-up game (really?  they couldn’t find ONE reliever out of the 32 guys who threw innings for Potomac this year?)
    • MLBers Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and David Carpenter each had some re-hab innings; see MLB write-up for more.
    • A few guys spent the entire year on the D/L: Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull, Hector Sylvestre: all are looking at repeating Potomac next year if/when healthy.

Summary

Potomac certainly saw a lot of churn in its pitching staff; 32 total pitchers used (19 different starters including rehab starts by relievers).  Their leading IP was Lopez, who didn’t even hit 100 IP on the year.  There were at least 6-7 arms who earned their promotions to AA mid-season, a great sign for the rising tide of pitching talent in the system.  Lots of guys with ERAs that start with a “2” in the season-ending stats.  It didn’t help Potomac in the standings; they finished both halves several games under .500 and out of the playoffs.  This will create quite a competition for the AA staff next year: my projections at this point show at least 6-7 rotation candidates, 8-9 bullpen candidates and another 3-4 guys who are right at that age where they may be summarily cut if they don’t make the AA team in 2016.  Harsh, but good for the Nats, who could use all the bullpen help they can get.