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Evaluation of IFA draft classes; 2005-present

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Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history.  And he's only 20.  Source NYPost

Soto is by far the best IFA product in the Nats history. And he’s only 20. Source NYPost

So, i’ve been critical of the Nats top-end drafting lately in this space, as it has contributed to our overall paltry farm system rankings.  And i’ve been critical of the handling of the farm system in general.
But a counter argument is, if you do well in the IFA market … you can paper over bad drafts.  Absolutely true!  So, lets take a look at the fruits of the Nats IFA endeavors over the years.
Here’s an overview of the best products from each IFA July 2nd signing class.
Before we start, its worth reviewing the CBA rules set forth that govern IFAs over the years.  Full CBA details here: https://legacy.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/cba-history/ .  As the rules change here i’ll put in a note, because they drive context for various IFA years.

IFA starting point for 2005: no rules; free-for-all, no spending limits, its the true wild west.
The Nats, of course, are a steward of the MLB and were barred from even attempting to improve the 2005 roster mid season, let alone spend big money in the IFA market.
  • 2005: Jhonatan Solano only real prospect
  • 2006: Smiley Gonzalez; $1.4M bonus: all eggs in this one basket; nobody else from class ever appeared as a prospect

In July 2006, the Lerner’s took over.  But retained the existing management team and (as was frequently noted at the time), did not really invest in the team for some years (“Lerners are cheap!”)

  • 2007: Adrian Sanchez, Sandy Leon, Eury Perez; not bad in that three players made the majors; none really an impact player
  • 2008: not one signee ever appeared on any prospect ranking; fall out from the Smiley Gonzalez situation
  • 2009: No prospects of note and none remain, still fall out from rebuilding of entire DR operation under Rizzo
So, we’ll take a break here to discuss the obvious.  For basically three years as the team transitioned away from the Smiley Gonzalez scandal we had basically nothing come from international scouting.  The team had to cut ties with all its DR operations, it fired its staff in-country (Jose Rijo) and fired its general manager Jim Bowden.  So, its worth a quick discussion as to the context the team and Mike Rizzo began with starting in 2010.
  • 2010: Big money signing in Yunesky Maya that didn’t really pay off.  Also got Difo and Suero, each for almost no money.  Ruiz in AA remains in org.  Pretty good class.
  • 2011: 7 players from class appeared on rankings at some point: Raudy Read, Pedro Severino best players, several guys got to AA or AAA.  Jose Marmolejos in this class too.

When you’re signing 16yr olds … it may very well take 7 years to see any progress.  Here we are in 2020 and Raudy Read still has options, is still in the mix.  Difo an edge-of-the-roster backup middle infielder, Suero a solid middle reliever.


Starting for the 2012 season, the new CBA attempted to put limits onto IFA spending, imposing taxes and penalties for those who went over the bonus limits.  But what teams discovered was that the pathway forward with these new rules was to pick a year and “blow it out,” basically spend without limits and then take the penalties for the next two seasons.  You saw lots of teams attempt this strategy, including the big-money teams like New York and Los Angeles.
  • 2012: Reynaldo Lopez for just 17k biggest win, Rafael Bautista still in org
  • 2013: 7 guys on prospect lists, Anderson Franco biggest money signing for $900k, Steven Fuentes probably highest ranked prospect at this point.  Still several guys on AA and high-A rosters from class.
  • 2014: Victor Robles big win for just 225k.  Pena, Baez still in system.  Gilbert Lara was the big money guy, but he’s not exactly lighting it up in A-ball right now.
So, the first 5 years of the Rizzo regime featured a big swing and miss on the Cuban Maya.  I always liked him; loved that he had 8 pitches, but his fastball was just never as advertised.  We thought we were getting the next Livan Hernandez (age 23) but instead we got the next Livan Hernandez (age 35).  But, they had some HUGE wins here: Lopez for $17k is fantastic.   We still have some Fuentes fans who think he may succeed.  Robles for just $225k is perhaps an even bigger win than Lopez, given his development path and all star projection.  Plus we still have a ton of guys who might feature as role players.  So the rebuilding plan is back on track.
  • 2015: Juan Soto for 1.5M; obviously a win.  but little else from class to note.  Taveras, Chu, German, Alastre at various lower minors stops.
A change in strategy; the Nats went for an “all eggs in one basket” approach for the first time since 2010.  And it has paid off in spades.  $1.5M for Soto, who is now an MVP candidate.  One hit like this from your IFA makes up for more than a few classes.  We still may see something out of someone like German, who got an NRI this year and may be the next Wander Suero.
  • 2016: a TON of money spent: Garcia (1.3), Antuna (3.9m), Pineda (450k), Sanchez (950k); so far, plus Yadiel Hernandez as an older signee.  The potential is there for sure, as at least four of these guys are listed as top prospects.  Niomar Gomez in low-A rotation a sleeper.
This was finally the year Washington exploded their bonus pools, and the timing was solid.  They figured that the new CBA would eliminate the “binge mode” loophole so they spent and spent.  Lots of these acquired prospects remain in the system now and will for years to come.    Garcia is our #2 prospect, Antuna should return to the prospect fold after he gets over his injury-riddled 2019.  A lot of people look at Pineda as a sleeper; his star dimmed in 2019 but it might improve with a solid bounce back season.  I know there’s Hernandez fans out here who point at his massive 2019 AAA numbers … but the dude is 32 now, limited defensively to a corner at best; how is this a prospect?

In late 2016, a new CBA was signed that changed the rules here yet again.  The complete rules are detailed here: http://m.mlb.com/glossary/transactions/international-amateur-free-agency-bonus-pool-money, but basically we went from the soft limit with penalties to more hard caps.  So the IFA market now operates more like the Rule 4 draft; no going over, no chicanery.
It also means that, like the draft, you have to hit on your money picks.  Of course, its also far, far too early to pass any judgement on our three classes since.
  • 2017: way too early to tell; the 4 guys getting prospect love from this class are all at GCL.  Yeah, Arias leading guys right now.
  • 2018: Jeremy De La Rosa only top-30 prospect so far but the GCL/DSL is littered with 2018 IFA signees
  • 2019: Already getting prospect love for Andry Lara and Roismar Quintana; we spread more money around this year so promising.

Conclusions?
So, since moving to Washington really they’ve had just two stars out of IFA work; Robles and Soto.  they’ve had a couple more slightly better than replacement players (Lopez, Suero).  And they’ve had a ton of guys who have hit the majors in some fashion or another at the replacement level (Difo, Solano, Perez, Leon, etc).
The nats will probably roll out a 2020 lineup that contains at least three and perhaps four IFA home-grown signings (Robles, Soto, Suero for sure, perhaps Difo or Sanchez).  That’s pretty darn good, considering that the 2020 25-man roster likely only features 5 players that the team drafted (Stevenson, Taylor, Zimmerman, Strasburg and Voth) and only one of them will be in the “core 14 players” that comprise our starting 8 positional players, 5 rotation mates and closer.
but you have to ask; in 15 years they’ve generated precisely two above-replacement level WAR guys.  Is that a failure?

Farm System Rankings; a comparison and contrast

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We’re basically at the end of “Prospect Season” now … and the last of the major pundits (mlbpipeline.com) has published its org rankings.  We talked about the Nats system top X in a previous post, now here’s a more macro view on how our system looks in general.

Short answer: “Not Good, Bob!”

(TV reference, anyone?)

Anyway.  Here’s links to the major pundits and their system rankings:

I havn’t seen anything from Fangraphs (i’m not sure they do entire system rankings), Baseball Prospectus now has their entire site behind a paywall, ESPN is in a transition year after Law left, and John Sickels at the Athletic  (who has done rank ings in the past) seems to have re-focused his attentions for now, so we’re down to these four major pundits.

I’ve seen a couple other rankings (one from Bleacher Report, another from Myworldofbaseball.com) that are mostly driven by the rankings of the top prospects in each system, which is a somewhat limited way to view an entire system comprised of hundreds of prospects.  If a system has (say) three top 100 players that are sure fire MLBers then absolutely nothing else in the time line … how strong is that “system” in general?  I’d rather have a ton of percolating talent than having a top heavy system.   This generally describes why there’s sometimes wild differences in the way systems are ranked, especially in the Law rankings (b/c he’s heavy on ceiling and is the anti-famous

Nats observations: Both MLB and Law have the Nats at #29.  MLB says that “trades and free agent signings” have led the system to be depleted.  Law says the team “worked the heck out of the system” in trades to acquire players.  Neither mention the poor drafting at the top levels over the past seasons (as I laid out in a previous post).  MILB and BA are a bit more friendly, perhaps because they still think rather highly of some of our more “famous” prospects (Romero, Mendoza, Antuna etc).

 

Overall system ranking observatiosn:

  • Everyone has Tampa #1.  Pretty scary given that they won 96 games in a very difficult division last year.
  • There’s generally a consensus on the rest of the top 5 farms: San Diego (who was #1 last year by most rankers), LA Dodgers, Atlanta are mostly considered for top 5 by the pundits.
  • There’s a  huge disconnect between Law and the rest of the industry on some of the systems: he has Detroit far lower than others, while he has the Yankees and St. Louis generally far higher than others.
  • but at the bottom end of the rankings, also some consistency: Milwaukee is dead-last on every list.  Washington, Colorado, Houston, Cincinnati and Boston also generally at the bottom.

Its ok to be at the Bottom of these rankings if you’ve used your system to get to a WS title.  Washington, Houston, Boston are definitely in this category.  Cincinnati has really shredded their depth lately to stock up and make a run, so their low ranking is understandable.  Colorado’s location here is a bit more of an indictment of their approach lately.

Its incredible that the two wealthiest teams (Yankees and Dodgers) continue to not only win 100+ games but maintain among the strongest farm systems.  How does this happen?  They both should have the least amount of assets to leverage in the draft and the IFA market (by virtue of having the smallest bonus pools for being among the best teams), yet they both continue to churn out prospect after prospect.  They’re both clearing doing something right.

Lastly its notable that a couple of the serial “tankers” of late (Baltimore, Miami, and Seattle in particular) have made huge strides in their system rankings over the past couple of years.  They’re on the Houston and Chicago Cubs plan of bottoming out to build back up.  We’ll  have to wait and see how it goes in the next few  years.

Written by Todd Boss

March 10th, 2020 at 12:25 pm

Nats Catcher Depth Chart; whole system

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Gomes looks like the 2019 starter... Photo via nytimes.com

Gomes looks like the 2019 starter… Photo via nytimes.com

I’m not sure why i got on this mental tangent, but here goes.

When was the last time the Nats developed a quality starting catcher from cradle to grave (so to speak) from our system?   Here’s a quick glance at the Nats leading catchers by  games played since they arrived in Washington:

  • 2017-2018: Matt Wieters  free agent acquisition
  • 2014-2016: Wilson Ramos: trade acquisition for Matt Capps while still a minor leaguer
  • 2013: Kurt Suzuki: trade acquisition from Oakland
  • 2012: Jesus Flores: rule-5 draftee
  • 2011: Ramos
  • 2010: Ivan Rodriguez : Free agent acquisition
  • 2009: Josh Bard: free agent acquistion
  • 2008: Flores
  • 2005-2007: Brian Schneider: drafted by Montreal Expos 5th round 1995

The answer is Schneider.  Not since Brian Schnieder has this franchise started a home-grown catcher.  Thats more than a decade of drafting and player development.

(No, I don’t count either Flores or Ramos by the way.  Flores as a rule-5 draftee was developed by the Mets, and Ramos spent 6 years in Minnesota’s farm system before we got him).

Sprinkled into the above include backups that we’ve definitely developed in house, guys like Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino and Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano … but none of these guys were really starters for any period of time, and none were impactful enough to not force the team to go back into the FA market again and again.

This trend continues for 2019, with the team buying not one but TWO catchers this off-season: Yan Gomes via trade and then the return of Suzuki via FA.

So I thought it’d be interesting to look at what depth we have now under Gomes/Suzuki, project where last year’s frequent MLB contributors like Kieboom will end up in 2019, and see what the pipeline looks like.


 

Nats Full-system Catcher Depth Chart:

  • MLB: Gomes/Suzuki

They’re on record (per the reports we’re reading from bored beat writers) as both being “ok” with the planned split in playing time.  They’ll also get PH opportunities, which makes sense as long as its a low-risk situation (this also implies we’d need to have a designated emergency 3rd catcher: Matt Adams anyone?)


  • AAA: SKieboom, Severino, Raudy Read.

So, both Kieboom and Read have 2019 options, while Severino does not.  Severino’s defense speaks for itself, but unfortunately so does his offense; his career OPS+ in four part-time MLB seasons and nearly 300 plate appearances is just 48.    I think the team keeps him around til the end of Spring Training to cover for injury, then DFAs him and tries to sneak him through to AAA.  If that happens, I think Read gets pushed back to AA.  Or maybe not; maybe they just cut ties with him completely.   I think we know what we have with Kieboom too.  Read is the interesting one; his PED suspension cost him both development time and good will within the org; will he start over Kieboom and continue to develop at AAA?  He hit decently enough at AA last year (.286) so I think he’s ready for the AAA challenge.  He remains generally the highest ranking Catcher prospect in the system … but may not be the first line of defense called up to cover for injury right now.

  • Next guy promoted: probably Kieboom, then Read.
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Read.  I think we’ve seen what we will see out of Kieboom.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Severino for options purposes in April.

 

  • AA: Taylor Gushue, Tres Barrera, Matt Reistetter

Ironically these first two are also the two NRI catchers invited to 2019 spring training.  They’re not there to make the team; they’re there to catch the gazillion arms who need to throw.  Gushue struggled at the plate in 2018 in AA (.212) but by all accounts is a pitcher favorite to call games (sounds a lot like Severino).  Meanwhile Barrera hit decently splitting time in High-A in 2018.  I can see an even split between these two in Harrisburg in 2019.  Meanwhile the system still has the NDFA Reistetter hanging around; in his 6 year minor league career he’s got appearances at literally every domestic team.  He likely gets assigned to the Harrisburg roster but hangs out in XST waiting to cover for injury.

  • Next guy promoted: Barrera
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Barrera
  • Most likely to get cut first: Reistetter

 

  • High-A: Jakson Reetz , Alex Dunlap, Alejandro Flores,

Reetz is nearly in “draft bust” territory, basically hanging around thanks to his being a 3rd rounder in 2014.  He’s now got 4 full minor league seasons under his belt and seems to be getting pushed northwards in the system less based on production and more based on his signing bonus.  At some point, the team may have to cut bait.  I see him serving primarily as a backup.  Meanwhile, Dunlap (a 29th rounder in 2017) hung around XST for a bit, then out-played Flores in Hagerstown and basically became the starting catcher.   I put both Dunlap and Flores here though b/c of who’s targeted for Low-A.  There’s still somewhat of a gap here in the system, but we could see some fast-movers pushing into Potomac this year.

  • Next guy promoted: Dunlap
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none here really projecting to MLB at this point.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Reetz

 

  • Low-A: Israel PinedaNic Perkins

Perkins was a 28th rounder in 2017, was the main catcher in Short-A in 2018 and could make sense to slide right to Low-A, but he’ll play second fiddle to Pineda, who has burst onto the scene, does not turn 19 until April and now looks like our best chance to develop a starting catcher since Schneider.  Of course … it is folley to project an 18 yr old’s future success.  But, like Yasiel Antuna and Luis Garcia before him, the Nats should have no qualms of promoting a successful teenager right to low-A.  So Look for Perkins to back up Pineda in Hagerstown to open the season.

  • Next guy promoted: Perkins
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: Pineda
  • Most likely to get cut first: none in the short term

 

  • Short-A: Tyler CropleyWilmer PerezAdalberto Carrillo, 2019 draftee(s)

Perez was an J2 IFA signing in 2016 who hit well in the DSL in 2017 and adequately in the GCL in 2018 and makes sense to be the starter in Short-A in 2019.   Carrillo was a late-round 2017 draftee who is hanging around.   Cropley was our 2018 8th round pick, a senior low money sign who was one of just two 2018 drafted catchers, and may have to really impress to stick around give the small amount of investment the team has in him.  All three appeared briefly in Auburn last year and seem to make sense to return this year.

  • Next guy promoted: Perez
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none projecting to MLB from here at this time.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Cropley

 

  • GCL: Onyx VegaAnthony Peroni, Geraldi Diaz, 2019 draftee(s)

Both Vega (a 2018 draftee) and Peroni (2017 draftee) were subs in GCL last year behind the likes of (primarily) Perez, and both seem like they should return to GCL.  Peroni only hit .177 and is entering his 3rd pro year so he likely seems like he’ll be released upon the 2019 drafting of more catcher talent, or upon the potential promotion from the DSL catcher candidates like Geraldi Diaz (a 2017 IFA signee who might be ready to come state-side).

  • Next guy promoted: Vega
  • Most likely to succeed at MLB level: none projecting to MLB from here at this time.
  • Most likely to get cut first: Peroni

 

So that’s our Catcher depth.  Did I miss anyone?