Nationals Arm Race

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

MLB 2020 Draft to be just 5 rounds

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Amateur players who have already lost an entire year of playing time got another huge punch in the gut late friday, when MLB took their option to have the shortest possible draft in 2020 (5 rounds), to drastically reduce the max bonus for anyone not drafted in those 5 rounds (just $20k, as compared to $125k last year), and to basically screw hundreds of players who were set to matriculate into the pros this season.  They’ve even negotiated to delay bonus payments!

All in the name of saving a few bucks (estimated to be $1M each at best likely a lot less)  for franchises whose values are generally measured in the billions.

MLB officially shortens 2020 draft to five rounds

I agree with Scott Boras here, who blasted this move.  https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2883387-scott-boras-slams-mlbs-2020-coronavirus-draft-plan-says-it-hurts-young-players

I just can’t get over how, year after year, in the name of minor savings figures, the owners continually attack the draft, the international signing period, over and over, putting in limits and regressive taxes that while saving a few dollars ends up driving away players from the game.   This comes on the back of the highly opportunisitc plan to eliminate entire  *leagues* of minor league players, again in the name of saving money on the backs of players who are non-unionized.

I mean, is the goal to eliminate the entirety of the minor leagues too?  To somehow improve the major league product by doing what the NFL does; throwing rookies right onto the active roster of the NFL and have them basically sit until they learn?

As for the current crop of players, hundreds of them now face a brutal choice:  sign for a pittance to then earn a pittance and try to make it, or go back to college, where their partial scholarship may not even be guaranteed anymore, or … give up.  I wonder how many players are just going to give up.  How is this a good solution for anyone involved?

 

Written by Todd Boss

May 9th, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Draft

Nationals Best player drafted but Not signed

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Stromah from Sept 2015 with Toronto. Photo via wikipedia

Stromah from Sept 2015 with Toronto. Photo via wikipedia

I saw an article this morning on Prospect Insider titled “Every MLB’s best Unsigned Draft pick.”

Being that i’m a big draft guy and hyper-follow our draft picks, I was excited to see who they picked.  And, to my chagrin, they chose to combine the Expos history with the Nationals and ended up picking Mark McGwire, who the Expos drafted in 1981 but didn’t sign out of high school.  In fact, most of their honorable mentions were also Expos picks.

Well, with all due respect to the franchises time in Montreal, I wanted to do this analysis and bound it by the time of the franchise here.

So, here’s some analysis of the National’s best unsigned draft picks since 2005.  For the below, up until the 2012 draft year only players who appeared in the majors are listed; from 2013 onwards we’ll also mention prospects who are highly regarded and/or who seem close to the majors.  And, frankly, there’s nobody worth identifying past the 2016 draft since they’re all still in college and we won’t know if they get drafted until we figure out the 2020 draft.

Using the Draft Tracker as a guide, here’s the candidates (from earliest to latest):

  • Scott Barnes; 2005 43rd round pick out of Cathedral HS in Mass, went to St. Johns instead and was an 8th rounder in 2008 by San Francisco.  He was flipped to Cleveland, appeared in parts of two seasons 2012-2013 then played out the string in the minors.
  • Khris Davis, a 2006 29th round pick out of Deer Valley HS in AZ, went to Cal State Fullerton and was a 7th rounder in 2009 by Milwaukee.  He was traded to Oakland in 2016 and  has blossomed into one of the premier power hitters in the league (leading the AL in homers in 2008 despite playing in Oakland’s hitter’s park).
  • Aaron Crow, our 2008 1st round pick (9th overall) who failed to sign out of Missouri, went back to school then became the 1st round (12th overall pick) by Kansas City the next year.  Crow put in four solid years as an 8th inning reliever, blew out his elbow and had TJ surgery in 2015.  He barely pitched in 2016, then missed all of 2017 before getting cut loose and moving to the Mexican league.  Not signing Crow was a pretty embarrassing situation for Jim Bowden and the franchise at the time, one more additional data point proving the incompetence of the organization.  The Nats recouped the pick in 2009 of course, picking Drew Storen in his place.  Even given Storen’s challenges, most would not argue that the Nats (on the field anyway) got the best out of this pick in the end.
  • Louis Coleman, a 2008 14th rounder from LSU who went back for his senior year and became the 5th round pick of Kansas City in 2009 (I guess KC just picked up all our rejects in the 2009 draft).  Coleman became a middle RH relief pitcher in the KC bullpen for several years.
  • Cory Mazzoni was a 2008 26th rounder out of a PA HS, went to NC State and became a 2nd round pick in 2011 by the Mets.  He eventually got moved to the bullpen, traded and had a grand total of 22 appearances over 3 seasons.
  • Chris Heston was a 2008 29th round pick out of Seminole Juco in FL, then was drafted and signed as a 12th rounder the next year in 2009 by San Francisco.  He matriculated to the majors with San Francisco, had one solid season in the Giants rotation in 2015, then struggled to stay on the field ever since.
  • Robert Brantly, a 2008 46th round pick out of an AZ HS, went to UC Riverside and became a 3rd round pick by Detroit in 2010.  He’s bounced around as an “org-guy” catcher since, and is currently with San Francisco.
  • Alex Dickerson, a 2008 48th round pick out of Poway HS in California.  Went to Indiana and became a 3rd rounder by Pittsburgh in 2011.  He’s bounced around a bit as a lefty corner outfielder type and is currently with San Francisco.
  • Marcus Stroman, a 2009 18th rounder from a NY HS, went to Duke and became a 1st round pick (22nd overall) by Toronto.  Interestingly, he was listed as a SS out of high school but became (and was drafted as) a starter in college.  He’s most people’s immediate answer for this question, but there are more than a few possible alternatives.
  • Kyle Martin, a 2009 39th round pick out of a TX HS, went to Texas A&M, was drafted again after his Junior season and again after his senior season, when he signed with Boston.  His entire MLB career was two games in 2017.
  • Hoby Milner, a 2009 44th rounder out of a TX HS, he went to Texas, became a 7th rounder by Philadelphia in 2012, has bounced around a bit and signed as a FA with the Angels for 2020.  He’s a lefty starter converted to reliever and was a closer for Durham in Tampa’s system last season.
  • Ryan Sherrif was a 2010 33rd rounder out of a Los Angeles Juco, then signed as a 28th rounder in 2011 with St. Louis.  He appeared in their bullpen for parts of two seasons.
  • Skye Bolt, a 2012 26th rounder from a GA HS, went to UNC and starred there, became a 4th rounder by Oakland in 2015.  He debuted in 2019 and is profiling as a switch-hitting center fielder with some decent power, but looks like perhaps a 5th OF for the Oakland team in 2020.
  • Garrett Hampson, a 2013 26th rounder out of Reno, went to Long Beach State, became a 3rd rounder in 2016 by Colorado and debuted in 2018 for the Rockies.  He currently projects as a utility guy for the Rockies, with the ability to play inf and of.
  • Shaun Anderson was our 2013 40th round pick out of American Heritage HS in FL, he went to the U of Florida and was Boston’s 3rd rounder in 2016, he got flipped to San Francisco in 2017 and had matriculated to the majors by 2019, appearing as a swingman/spot starter last season.  He isn’t projecting to the Giants rotation in 2020 with their off-season veteran acquisitions.
  • Austin Byler was our 2014 9th rounder out of Nevada; he declined to sign and was drafted in the 11th round the next year by Arizona.  Byler struggled to produce as a 1b-only player, never got out of A-ball and was released out of affiliated ball after 2017.  I mention him less as a candidate here, but more as a post-mortem on one of the few top-10 round signing failures we’ve had.
  • Stuart Fairchild was our 38th round pick in 2014 out of a Washington HS, went to Wake Forest, then was the 2nd round pick of Cincinnati in 2017.  He is listed as as the 13th best prospect by one pundit in the Cincinnati organization and is projected for AA.
  • Andrew Suarez was our 2nd round pick in 2014 out of U of Miami, declined to sign, then became San Francisco’s 2nd rounder the next  year.  He debuted in the SF rotation in 2018 making 29 starts, then got dropped to the rotation for 2019 and struggled.   He is projecting as the 5th starter in 2020.

So, who is the “best” player we drafted but didn’t sign?  probably Stroman, then Davis, then Suarez.

Who of these was our “worst” non-sign?   for me its the only three top-10 picks on this list: Crowe, Suarez and Byler.  I think Crowe was the worst just for the reputational damage it did to the front office here (even if, in hindsight, we got the better player).  Suarez #2; I think he could still feature in this league.

 

 

 

MILB reportedly agrees to contraction plan

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1200px-MiLB_logo.svg

A couple of news items hit today that confirm what a lot of us have been fearing; the make-up of the Minor Leagues is set to change drastically, starting next year.

https://www.mlbdailydish.com/2020/4/21/21229598/mlb-reduce-number-of-teams-milb-teams-coronavirus

and

https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/sources-milb-ready-to-agree-to-significant-reduction-in-teams/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email

both confirm the plan to reduce then number of minor league teams by more than 40.  The plan would be to contract entire leagues (both the Short Season leagues like the NY Penn league and the Northwest league) and the non-complex Rookie leagues (like the Appalachian league and the Pioneer league).  Each team would be left with four full-season affiliates plus its complex rookie league.   Even though the conversations about this plan started last fall, the Covid19 situation has drastically affected the finances of nearly every minor league team, and its likely that a number of them are already insolvent (or close to it).

The impact for the Nats would likely be three fold:

  • We’d lose our short-A team in Auburn
  • We’d seemingly lose our Hagerstown affiliate and have it replaced in Low-A by a new city.
  • We’d probably have to find a new AAA team.

The entire concept of Short-A is set to be eliminated.  So that’s our Auburn affiliate.

Hagerstown has been specifically singled out by MLB sources (as reported by Keith Law here: https://theathletic.com/1718395/2020/04/03/law-even-with-baseball-shut-down-specter-of-minor-league-contraction-looms/?article_source=search&search_query=hagerstown) as being a substandard facility and seems like its on the chopping block.

Lastly, Fresno is reportedly going to get moved out of AAA to become a California league team in High-A, which means the Nats would need a new AAA affilliate.  More to the point … some team not currently in AAA would need to get promoted.  This could be great for us … especially if a crown-jewel AA team is suddenly available to use to use as an affilliate.

———–

A side effect of losing 40 or so teams is the obvious: we’re not going to need to draft as many players.  There’s already been Covid-19 driven talks about modifying the 2020 draft down from 40 rounds to as few as 5.  But without a short-season team to draft for (and without advanced complex leagues for other franchises), there’s just not as much need to draft players.

Many observers already thought the draft was too long.  A quick glance at the nats draft tracker: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/ depicts this pretty clearly; Since the draft went to 40 rounds, the Nats have never signed much more than 75% of its draftees.  Often times their last 8-10 picks were throw away picks on relatives or friends of Nats staff, or on HS players with strong div-1 committments who they had zero chance to sign for the $100k-$125k slot figure.  Here’s some details on the last few years in particular:

  • 2019: 11 of 39 players drafted went unsigned, including the last 6 rounds.  Draftees included the son of a Nats scout
  • 2018: 11 of 40 players drafted went unsigned, 7 of the last 8 picked didn’t sign, most of whom were HS picks.  Three of these draftees were sons of Nats staff members.
  • 2017: 7 of 40 players drafted went unsigned, including 4 of final 5 picks.  Draftees included Dusty Baker‘s son, a cousin of a Nats scout and the grandson of Bob Boone.
  • 2016: 11 of 41 players drafted went unsigned, including last 9 picks.  Draftees included two nephews of a nats scout, the son of a Nats front office executive and a Bethesda player who was unrecruited by any collegiate team.
  • 2015: 10 of 40 players drafted went unsigned, including 5 of last 6 picks.

Its pretty clear that the Nats would be a-ok with a 30 round draft to start with.

Now, how many players are assigned straight from the draft to Short-A every year?  Based on my “initial assignment” notes over the past few years…

  • 2019: 9 straight to Short-A, another 4 who were in the GCL for like a week before heading to Short-A
  • 2018: 7 straight to Short-A, another 4 GCL/Short-A
  • 2017: At least 5 straight to Short-A, another 8 GCL/Short-A combos
  • 2016: 5 straight to Short-A, another 5 GCL/Short-A

So, if there was no Auburn, that’s at least 10-13 players per year that the team … wouldn’t need to draft.  This is consistent with dropping the draft down to 20 rounds, possibly even just 15.

———-

Now, am i a proponent of this?  Of course not.  I think MLB is forcing a lot of cities to forgo long-held minor league baseball teams for the purposes of … saving a few dollars?  I mean, lets be honest; short-A squads are generally filled with lower-round draft picks paid $1,200-$1,500 a week for half a summer.  I feel like this is yet another effort by MLB to cut minor amounts of amateur player acquisition spending because they can, not because it benefits the sport or its fans in general.

But, I also get their general point that fewer minor league teams may be better.  The odds of a 25th rounder turning into a major leaguer are low, so why bother drafting them?  As i’ve demonstrated, the last 10 rounds of the draft now are generally throw away picks, and the next 10-15 rounds generally exist so as to populate short-A teams.  No short-A team … no need to draft them.  If you focus your efforts on the full season teams, improve facilities, maybe even increase their pay (what a novel idea!) maybe the guys you do draft are better served.

MLB’s transition plan doesn’t really hold water; they’re suggesting the 40-some odd teams that do get cut form yet another wood bat league?  I suppose there will be some appetite for this from the huge number of players who will no longer get drafted.  But will people pay to watch?  Maybe so: the Northwoods wood bat leagues draw, so maybe others will draw if the competition is known to be better.

Either way, get ready for some significant changes.

Written by Todd Boss

April 21st, 2020 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Draft

Tagged with , , ,

So…. what the heck do we talk about?

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Its been a whirlwind few weeks, I tell you.

With today’s announcement that Virginia schools are now closed for the rest of the school year, I thought i’d chime in.  Virginia was not the first state to take such drastic measures, but certainly won’t be the last.

We’ve already had the NCAA shutter all spring sports, including baseball and the far-too-early-but-now-seemingly-sensible cancellation of the College World Series in June.

We’re also basically at a point where its likely that all prep sports around the country will be cancelled as well.

Its amazing.

I’ve covered the CWS for years, covering prep baseball in the DC/MD/VA areas is an annual tradition; not in 2020.  There’s nothing.

My son’s little league?  Probably gone.  He’s in a critical development year in the 7-8yr old range; this will set back his class for years to come.

So, now the question is … when do you think MLB will return?  Will it?  Do you think we’ll be past this crisis by the all Star Break in mid July?

If this stretches into August … and the players need a 4-week spring training … what time is left?  Would you run a season for a month and a half?

There’s all sorts of articles about service time, negotiations ongoing, etc.  To take a simple example: what would you do with Mookie Betts and the Dodgers if the season goes poof?  Both sides have pretty decent arguments:

  • Betts would argue he was blocked from fulfilling his end of the contract and should be a free agent.
  • Dodgers would argue that they traded assets to acquire  him and never got a day of playing time out of him so he should play another season for htem.

What a mess.

Any predictions out there?

My hope is for a mid-July restart, then a two month sprint of a season Aug and Sept (60 games or there abouts), maybe entirely within division, to determine the conventional playoff slat of 5 teams/league.  It will be an entirely unbalanced schedule but so be it.  I’d exactly pro-rate a “year” of service time to the actual days played (meaning if they do a 60-day season that’s the new 182-day “service year prorated so that each 2020 day is worth 3 non-2020 service days).  Yeah the teams like the Dodgers that acquired players get screwed, but they’re also paying pro-rated salaries thanks to natioanl emergency clauses and force majeure clauses in contracts.  Not fair to all players … but everyone takes a hit.

Written by Todd Boss

March 23rd, 2020 at 8:33 pm

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

MLB Pipeline top 30 comes out: who are they up/down on?

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Rutledge is holding stead at #3 on nearly everyone's list. Photo via BA

Rutledge is holding stead at #3 on nearly everyone’s list. Photo via BA

In quick succession to Keith Law‘s list of top Nats prospects, the prospect team at MLBpipeline.com (Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo) has released their top 30 for the nats system.

Here’s the major pundits in the space and links to their top X lists:

  • MLBpipeline (Callis, Mayo): https://www.mlb.com/prospects/2020/nationals/
  • Athletic (Keith Law): https://theathletic.com/1646222/2020/03/03/keith-laws-prospect-rankings-washington-nationals/ (paywall)
  • Fangraphs (McDaniel and Longenhagen): https://blogs.fangraphs.com/top-21-prospects-washington-nationals/
  • Baseball America: https://www.baseballamerica.com/teams/1012/washington-nationals/organizational/?year=2020&type=P
  • Baseball Prospectus: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/prospects/article/55796/2020-prospects-washington-nationals-top-10-prospects/ (paywall)

The only major pundits remaining without published lists are John Sickels, who ran minorleagueball.com for years but who is now at the Athletic and i’m not sure if he’s still in the business of prospect rankings (he did not do one last year but it was perhaps still during the transition to the site) and Kiley McDaniel, who recently left Fangraphs to take over for Law at ESPN and probably doesn’t have time in 2020.

Anyway, lets take a look at the MLBpipeline guys and see who they’re “up” and “down” on.  From a prospect perspective, I perceive that Callis/Mayo tend to more heavily weigh the “famous factor” in these rankings, often keeping players around just due to draft pedigree or signing bonus.  They also seem to weigh floor a bit more than ceiling (hence why we have a few “edge of the 40-man roster types” lingering on this list, and often will have promising but younger players omitted to include older guys … that is unless the younger guy is in the “famous” category.

  • Same top 3 as everyone else
  • They’re definitely high man on both Andry Lara and Eddy Yean.
  • As per the “famous factor,” Romero continues to linger in their top 10
  • They like 2019 IFA Roismar Quintana; Law and BA didn’t rank him at all and they have him 15th despite never having played an inning in pro ball.
  • They have a bunch of  higher-round college arm draft picks in teh 20-30 range (guys like Schaller, Irvin, Bourque, Braymer) that seem to be to be low ceiling guys; are any of these guys anything other than org-arms?
  • Raudy ReadJakson Reetz and Tres Barrera listed as 25,28 and 19 respectively.  Is this how you’d rank these depth chart catchers right now on your prospect  list?
  • They’re much lower on German than Law was, but are in line with BA and Fangraphs.   I wonder what Law sees in the guy.

Who’s missing?

  • as others noted, no Jackson Tetrault anywhere.  No Malvin Pena mentioned either.  No Augustin on mlb’s list; only Law likes this guy.

Keith Law’s Nats top 20 comes out; who is he up and down on?

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Kieboom is Law's number one ... like everyone else. Photo via federalbaseball.com

Kieboom is Law’s number one … like everyone else. Photo via federalbaseball.com

Keith Law, long-time ESPN baseball writer and prospect lead, moved to the Athletic this past off-season and he’s put out most of his 2020 pre-season prospect content.  Yesterday he put out his Nats top-20 list.

We already know that Law is bearish on the Nats system in general, ranking it 29th out of 30 teams.  A lot of that has to do with his being “lower” on Carter Kieboom and especially Luis Garcia than any others.  But its also a pretty specific indictment of the Nats top-end drafting (and to be fair, trading of prospects to acquire MLB players) over the past years.  Consider the top 3 rounds of draftees lately (see the Draft Tracker for more: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/)

  • 2019: Rutledge, forfeited 2nd round pick, Mendoza
  • 2018: Denaburg, Cate, Schaller
  • 2017: Romero, Crowe, Raquet
  • 2016: Kieboom, Dunning, Neuse, Luzardo
  • 2015: forfeited 1st round pick, Stevenson, Perkins, Wisemann
  • 2014: Fedde, Suarez (who refused to sign), Reetz
  • 2013: forfeited 1st round pick, Johansen, Ward
  • 2012: Giolito, Renda, Mooneyham

So, take a look at this list of top end picks.  You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a first rounder who has starred for this organization (Anthony Rendon).  The team gave up on Giolito and he’s now starting for the White Sox.  Fedde is heading to the minors again in 2020 and seems topped out as a 4-A starter, and so far the team has gotten nothing from its 2017 and 2018 $3M arms Romero and Denaburg.  You can credibly say that the team lost or outright blew its first round picks in 5 of the last 8 seasons, and the guys who have succeeded not named Kieboom are playing for other teams.

The 2nd rounders are even a worse indictment; Renda and Johansen were failures. Suarez refused to sign (a huge gaffe in the modern bonus-structure driven draft).  Stevenson is a 5th outfielder.  Dunning and Neuse are solid … for other teams.  We gave up last year’s 2nd rounder to sign Patrick Corbin.

Lastly the 3rd rounders have also basically done nothing: the team was obsessed with Mooneyham for years and he never got above A-ball.  Ward and Wiseman are org players.  Reetz is finally showing some promise … in his 6th pro season.   Luzardo?  Awesome … for another team.  Raquet was serviceable as a starter in high-A last year repeating the level, but may be heading to relief as a lefty specialist.  Schaller didn’t even make Law’s top 20 list despite being a Vanderbilt product, and Mendoza is already a 1B limited guy more famous for his HS pedigree than his abilities.

Yeah.  Its no wonder our system is so poorly ranked.

(No, i’m not taking into context who we traded these assets for.  Yes i’m aware that the trades of Giolito, Dunning, Neuse, and Luzardo netted the team several crucial pieces at the MLB level in Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen.  That’s not the point here; we’re isolating reasons why the farm system has collapsed; part of is is poor drafting and part of it is trading away 1st and 2nd rounders.  I’m less concerned with the traded assets as I am with the 1st and 2nd round pick failures that are starting to mount up; Denaburg and Romero in particular.).

———–

Anyway.  Lets take a look at who Law likes and doesn’t like as compared to the rest of the prospect ranking world.  Law’s methodology generally favors ceiling over floor (so he likes younger prep guys with potential versus boring guys in AAA with demonstrated but un-flashy talent).  He favors those in the skill positions (SS, CF) versus corners.  He really discounts relievers.  He likes IFAs.  So with that in mind, here’s some names worth mentioning:

  • He has the same top 3 as most every one else for our system: Kieboom, Garcia, Rutledge.  BA, Fangraphs, MLBpipeline and Law all have these three in a row.
  • He’s generally down on Kieboom though versus other shops: I’ve seen Kieboom in the 11-15 range on a lot of minors-wide lists; Law has him all the way down at #74.
  • We know he’s down on Garcia versus others.  I’ve seen Garcia mostly in the 60s to 90s range on these minor’s wide lists; Law doesn’t have him anywhere close and has made mention of it whenever asked, saying that Garcia’s sole “tool” seems to be that he was 19 in AA last season.  This is definitely at odds with the way Garcia is portrayed within the organization (he did get an NRI this year and has already hit a flashy homer), nor with other evaluations.
  • He remains higher on Denaburg than others: see “ceiling” versus “floor” reasoning above.
  • he’s a little higher on Jeremy De La Rosa and Eddy Yean than other shops, noting that Yean’s name frequently comes up in trade talks but the Nats are holding firm.
  • He’s lower on Matt Cronin than other shops despite his eye-popping numbers: see “reliever all the way” reasoning above.
  • He’s suddenly much higher on Reetz than basically anyone else, citing 2nd half splits that really look rosy.  Hey, i’ve been down on Reetz for a while, using him as my classic “Baseball doesn’t know what a sunk cost is” economics argument for hanging onto failed prospects just because they ahve a big bonus.  But maybe we’re finally going to see something out of him.
  • He’s way higher on Jhonatan German than anyone else; despite his being a pure reliever, perhaps a reliever-only starts getting his attention once he starts getting AA hitters out.
  • He’s bullish on Telmito Agustin, but i’m not sure why.  Agustin cratered while repeating high-A, though he’s still just 23.
  • He does not like Mendoza nearly as much as others.  Mendoza has a big bat, no doubt, but he can barely play 1B and may end up being a DH-only guy.  That’s a ding on the prospect ranking set unless you’ve got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. batting lines in the minors.
  • he’s down on some of our mid-minors college arms, guys like Jake IrvinReid SchallerJackson Tetreault and Ben Braymer.  Braymer in particular probably is a “floor versus ceiling” discussion;  yeah he’s on the 40-man but what does he project to?  A 5th starter?  A reliever?
  • Lastly, he’s completly at odds with one shop in particular that has Tres Barrera as the 11th ranked prospect.  And I get it; what exactly is Barrera going to give this organization going forward?

Anyway.  If you’re not an Athetic subscriber I would encourage you to sign up.  They’ve got some of the best talent in the game writing for them now and they just keep adding more good stuff.

 

MLB Rotation Ranks heading into 2020

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Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via wp.com

Scherzer: the #1 on the #1 rotation. photo via wp.com

Every off-season I find myself meticulously tracking Starting pitching movement, with a working XLS that attempts to quantify the rank of every rotation in the majors.

Before we get too further into the pre-season, and these ranks start to get obsoleted as we find out that some starters are going to head into surgery or to the DL, i wanted to get this out there.

Previous years of doing this

  • 2019 Cubs #1, Nats #4.  Probably overvalued Cubs, undervalued the Dodgers, Rays and Astros.
  • 2018: did not do the analysis, but Houston led the league in ERA, FIP, fWAR
  • 2017: Cubs #1, Mets #2.  Cleveland and LA Dodgers really the best.
  • 2016: Mets #1, Cardinals #2.  Mets and Nats ended up being the best on the season.
  • 2015: did not do the post.  Cubs, Nats, Dodgers the best.
  • 2014: Cards #1.  Nats ended up being the best rotation by most measures.
  • 2013: Nats #1, Tigers #2.  In the end, Detroit really was the best rotation.

Here’s my rankings of the Starting Rotations of every team in the majors.

Raw data, which includes a ton more detail including movement, starters still out there, and color coding indicating whether i think a pitcher is a #1, a #2, a #3 or lower is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1gztFB_MIkVLd-Bzw9SuSYJxE709eHOPAsAZL8nzsiPw/edit?usp=sharing

Notes: i have these roughly grouped for discussion.  Each of these groups of rotations are in the correct order, but are relatively close enough that if you wanted to argue within the grouping I wouldn’t probably push back too much, but i’d put any of the teams in one group ahead of any team in the next group.

1. Washington:  Max Scherzer Stephen Strasburg Patrick Corbin Anibal Sanchez Joe Ross
2. Texas:  Corey Kluber Lance Lynn Mike Minor Kyle Gibson Jordan Lyles
3. Los Angeles Dodgers:  Clayton Kershaw Walker Buehler David Price Julio Urias Alex Wood
4. New York Mets;  Jacob deGrom Noah Syndergaard Marcus Stroman Steven Matz Rick Porcello

Yes, i’ve got our home team #1.  I think the top 3 are all three Aces (meaning, they’re all among the top 15-20 arms in the league), and the Nats are the only team that can make that claim.  Texas has completely remade their rotation, adding an ace in Kluber, adding the back-end of their rotation via FA this off-season and I really think they’re in a position to make some noise.  LA comes in third, and yes I still have Kershaw as an “Ace” for now, but Buehler is probably the best arm of the bunch.  the Mets are a speculative #4; is Snydergaard really an Ace?  What happened to him last year?  If he returns to form, the NL East becomes that much more difficult to navigate for all the teams involved.

5. Tampa Bay:  Blake Snell Charlie Morton Tyler Glasnow Yonny Chirinos Ryan Yarbrough
6. Houston:  Justin Verlander Zack Greinke Lance McCullers Jose Urquidy Rogelio Armentos
7. Philadelphia:  Zack Wheeler Aaron Nola Jake Arrieta Zach Eflin Vincent Velasquez
8. Cincinnati:  Sonny Grey Luis Castillo Anthony DeSclafani Trevor Bauer Wade Miley
9. Atlanta: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Cole  Hamels, Max Fried, Kyle Wright

Tampa is a hard one to rate, b/c of their use of the “Opener” so much.  Houston takes a hit by letting Cole go and replacing him with someone who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup.  I think Cincinnati’s rotation may prove to look quite mediocre if Grey and Bauer in particular don’t produce.  Atlanta has five talented guys who all could step up and make them really tough to beat, so watch out.

——

 

10. Oakland:  Sean Manaea Frankie Montas Mike Fiers Jesus Luzardo Chris Bassitt
11. St. Louis:  Jack Flaherty Dakota Hudson Miles Mikolas Adam Wainwright Kwang-Hyun Kim
12. New York Yankees:  Gerritt Cole Luis Severino Masahiro Tanaka J.A. Happ Domingo German
13. Toronto:  Hyung-Jin Ryu Chase Anderson Matt Shoemaker Tanner Roark Shun Yamaguchi
14. Minnesota:  Jake Odorizzi Jose Berrios Kenta Maeda Homer Bailey Randy Dobnak
15. San Diego:  Chris Paddock Garrett Richards Drew Pomeranz Zach Davies Dinelson Lamet
16. Cleveland:  Mike Clevinger Shane Bieber Carlos Carrasco Aaron Civale Adam Plutko

Oakland could look a lot better fast if Luzardo lives up to his #2 starter hype.  Its also noteworthy that no matter where you rank Oakland’s rotation pre-season, they produce.  I think i had them in the bottom five last year and they won 97 games with a bunch of #4 starters.  So who knows.  The Yankees are #12, which also seems amazing for a 103 win team that ADDED perhaps the best right hander in the game … but they fall off fast AND they seem to have lost Severino for the season (which is not accounted for here), so they may be actually worse.  Toronto’s got 3 new starters and some unknowns: is Ryu going to be an Ace or a 4th?  Cleveland is the lowest team with an “Ace” in the rotation

—–

17. Arizona:  Robbie Ray Luke Weaver Mike Leake Merrill Kelly Alex Young
18. Milwaukee:  Brandon Woodruff Adrian Houser Brett Anderson Freddy Peralta Eric Lauer
19. Chicago Cubs:  Kyle Hendricks Yu Darvish Jon Lester Jose Quintana Alec Mills
20. Boston:  Chris Sale Eduardo Rodriguez Nathan Eovaldi Martin Perez Matt Hall
21. Chicago White Sox:  Lucas Giolito Dallas Keuchel Reynaldo Lopez Carson Fulmer Gio Gonzalez
22. Colorado:  Jon Grey German Marquez Kyle Freeland Antonio Senzelata Jeff Hoffman
23. San Francisco:  Jeff Samardzija Johnny Cueto Tyler Beede Kevin Gausmann Drew Smyly
24. Los Angeles Angels:  Shohei Ohtani Julio Teheran Jamie Barria Andrew Heaney Dylan Bundy

this is a logical stopping point (the #24 ranked Angels) because this is clearly the end of teams that are “trying” in 2020.  And you might push back on the notion that some of these teams are even trying (Boston, SF, etc).  Its still kind of amazing to me that the White Sox are ranked this low, given the pedigree of their prospect-laden rotation and the fact that they added a recent cy Young winner in Keuchel this past off-season.  Boston takes a hit as we hear that Sale may start the season on the DL.  Lastly what to make of LAA?  Is Ohtani goign to compete and be an ace?  If not they need production from a bunch of #5 starters or else they waste even more of Trout (and now Rendon‘s) careers.

—-

25. Seattle: Marco GonzalesYusei Kikuchi Justus SheffieldKendall GravemanJustin Dunn
26. Pittsburgh:  Chris Archer Joe Musgrove Steven Brault Trevor Williams Mitch Keller
27. Kansas City: Danny DuffyBrad KellerJake JunisMike MontgomeryJesse Hahn
28. Detroit:  Matt Boyd Jordan Zimmermann Daniel Norris Spencer Turnbull Ivan Nova
29. Baltimore:  John Means Alex Cobb Asher Wojciechowski Dean Kremer David Hess
30. Miami:  Sandy Alcantara Caleb Smith Jose Urena Jordan Yamamoto Pablo Lopez

All 6 of these teams i have as actively “tanking” in 2020, so not surprisingly they’re the bottom 6 rotations.  A couple of these rotations don’t even have what i would consider even a #3 starter, and among all 6 of these teams I only see two acquisitions this off-season that project into their rotations.  Miami, the lowest ranked rotation, made its sole starting pitching acquisition of the off-season a rule-5 drafting of our own former prospect Sterling Sharp, which is pretty telling.  Baltimore has added a bunch of depth but it all projects as just that; depth.  4-A or minor league starter depth.

———

That’s it.  What do you think?

 

Spring Training 2020 NRI Discussion

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Nationals at Orioles 7/16/19

Nationals at Orioles 7/16/19

The Nationals, on the first day of spring training, announced their list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for 2020.

Here’s our 6th year running NRI analysis.  With this post, I’ve also got the Big Board officially updated to account for all 22 guys.  These 22 signings confirmed at least 6 new MLFA signings unknown until today (Freeman, Ward, Snyder, Wilson, Shuck and Self), so those details are on the page too.

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last five seasons (through 2019):

  • 6 NRIs made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 6 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for 5 seasons running.
  • 21 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2020.

Here’s the list of 22 NRI’s for 2020

  • RH Starters: Wil Crowe, Paolo Espino
  • RH Relievers; Dakota Bacus, Bryan Bonnell, Javy Guerra, Jhonatan German, David Hernandez, Kevin Quackenbush, Derek Self
  • LH Starters: none
  • LH Relievers: Fernando Abad, Sam Freeman
  • Catchers: Wellington Castro, Taylor Gushue, Jakson Reetz
  • Infielders: Luis Garcia, Brandon Snyder Drew WardJacob Wilson
  • Outfielders: Emilio Bonifacio, Yadiel Hernandez, JB Shuck, Mac Williamson

(interestingly, there is at least one off-season MLFA signing that I had listed as being given an NRI; Tyler Eppler, who is not listed here.)

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  1. Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  Honestly, I don’t see it this year.  If there’s an injury sure, but right now the 26-man opening day roster seems pretty set.  Even at the edges of the bullpen and bench, it doesn’t seem like we have a ton of competition.
    1. Squinting at the bullpen, it seems like the last two spots will be going two guys (Roenis Elias and Austin Voth) who don’t seem likely to get sent to AAA (for reliability and options).  Elias is the only other lefty besides Doolittle, so maybe Abad/Freeman have a shot?  Guerra is a franchise favorite who probably gets called up at some point after what he did for the team last year.
    2. The edge of the Bench basically is Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilmer Difo: if someone beats out Difo they’re going to have to be able to play a serviceable short-stop; not sure who of the NRI infielders fits that bill.  Certainly not Snyder, Ward or Wilson, all of whom are corner guys.  And if you want to argue with a straight face that 19-yr old Luis Garcia is breaking camp with the team … well i’m just not going to consider you as someone who understands how modern baseball works.
  2. Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2020?  At all?  Yeah definitely: I can see a couple of the relievers getting called up, especially since a number of them have MLB experience.  I could see Crowe getting the call in case we get shredded with injuries in the rotation.  I could see a flexible guy with past ties to the club like Bonifacio getting called up.
  3. Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  past the above, Garcia obviously, but its hard to make an argument for too many others.  There’s really only like one or two “prospects” here that are called up for the experience; nearly the entire list are MLFAs that will be providing Fresno depth.

NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Jake Noll
  • Three (3) more eventually got added and called up:  Aaron Barrett, Tres Barrera, Carter Kieboom
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man (as of 2/6/20).

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson).  Adding Reed Johnson as a late-spring signee who made the team after his release from Miami (H/T Sao)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

Written by Todd Boss

February 13th, 2020 at 10:42 am

Posted in Nats in General