Nationals Arm Race

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

Archive for the ‘Minor League Pitching’ Category

2021 Full Season Affiliate Rosters announced

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Steven Fuentes will be an important member of the AAA rotation to start the season. Photo nats official via federalbaseball.com

This is a quick announcement with some links and to basically notify everyone that I’ve updated the Big Board for the four full season affiliate rosters just announced. I’ve also eliminated the Fredericksburg “extended spring training camp” … hopefully for the last time.

Here’s direct links to the four rosters:

Anyone not known to be released i’ve stuck in the XST roster to the far right of the big board.

As far as I can tell, here’s the likely rotations for the four clubs, based on prior usage and how I’d allocate the arms. This is of course a WAG until the first week of the season shakes out the true rotations. I’ll list a 6-man rotation since, with the move to 6-game series, it’s highly likely we’ll see 6-man rotations throughout the minors.

  • AAA: Armenteros, Baez, Braymer, Fuentes, Jefry Rodriguez and newly signed MLFA veteran lefty Sean Nolin.
  • AA: Cate, Lee, Mario Sanchez, Sharp, Teel and I guess Luis Reyes.
  • High-A: Adon, Cavalli, Dyson, Henry, Peterson and Rutledge.
  • Low-A: Pedro Gonzalez, Parker, Pena … and I have no idea; everyone else I have listed as a reliever from last year.

My thoughts on Arms that are or are not on each roster.

AAA pitching staff thoughts: somewhat surprised Sharp is not here. Not entirely surprised Romero is not. In a further indictment of the Nats development, nearly the entire AAA bullpen are MLFAs. Of the 10 bullpen arms in AAA, 7 are minor league free agents, an 8th is a trade acquisition who has already been outrighted (Bacus), a 9th is another trade acquisition in Ryne Harper, and the 10th is a twice-MLFA resigned former draft pick in Ronald Pena who is now entering his 9th minor league season with this team. That’s just crazy.

Missing older arms that should be here, guys like Aaron Barrett, Javy Guerra, Andrew Istler, etc. I wonder if they’re still hurt. Where the heck is Nick Wells? (answer; not on the milb.com page but in the press release)


AA pitching staff: we see Sharp starting in AA when he was on Miami’s MLB roster last year, likely a bitter pill for him. I sense the AA roster is still a bit light as of this writing and may see a couple more arms added. I like Cate and I can’t wait to see what Sanchez can do here. I can’t believe Romero isn’t at least here. Klobotis is on this roster; still cannot believe how successful he has been as a 36th round draft pick.


High A pitching staff; well, if you want to know what the future of the franchise is, you’re driving to Wilmington. Basically the entire top side of our top10 list will be in the Wilmington rotation. Headlined by top end draft picks from the last couple of years in Cavalli, Rutledge and Henry, but also including farm system dark-horse Adon and Peterson, who stuck around MLB camp nearly the longest of any prospect this year. In the bullpen we have our two best reliever prospects in Powell and Cronin (who closes?) There’s no room in the rotation for 2018 3rd rounder Reid Schaller, who may do tandem starts or might get moved to the pen. I expect lots of scouts in Delaware this summer.


Low A pitching staff: First thing that pops up here is the sudden presence of Tanner Driskill, who missed all of 2019 with injury (I guess), then was MIA in 2020 like everyone else. I thought he was released two years ago. Good to have him back in the fold.


Tomorrow I’ll post some thoughts on the non-pitcher rosters, noting interesting machinations from a player movement perspective.

(Note: as it turns out the MILB.com rosters may not entirely be in sync with the press releases identifying opening day rosters, so apologies if some of the above is slightly wrong.

Check-in on Traded-away Prospect Arms

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Dunning now in the Texas rotation. Photo via mlb.com

The Nats are well-known for their heavy emphasis on pitching in drafts, and then for using said pitching depth as “currency” to acquire talent to build their roster. The team has traded away more than 20 prospect pitchers in the last 5 years, ranging from recent MLB debutants to rookie-league wild-cards.

I thought I’d be interesting to check in with some of the arms we’ve moved over the past few years.

Part of me does this as a “wouldn’t it be nice if we had kept them…” motive, since not all of these trades were really ones I would have made. But nearly all of these trades contributed in one way or another to the 2019 title … so I have to temper my criticism. In the end, you’d rather have a title than a prospect. But, choices have been made over the years and some of those choices look better or worse in retrospect.

These are listed in order of MLB impact of the traded away talent, not chronologically (this list does not include all the MLB arms we traded away in the 2018 missing the playoff purge; this is mostly about trading away prospects).

  • Lucas Giolito; Traded to Chicago White Sox (along with Lopez and Dunning) for Adam Eaton in 2016. Eaton gave the team 4 injury-filled years and a combined 2.7 bWAR. Giolito is now the #1 starter for the White Sox and was an all-star in 2019, but it took him several years and multiple mechanical changes to get there.
  • Jesus Luzardo: traded to Oakland in 2017 (along with Treinen and Neuse) to acquire Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Luzardo rose to be one of the best prospects in the game ahead of the 2020 season, now Oakland’s #2 starter as a 23yr old. Madson and Doolittle served as valuable back-end bullpen pieces, though Madson did not make it to our title-winning season and Doolittle lost his closer job by 2019 and is pitching elsewhere. This is the kind of trade i wish we made less of; you should be able to grow relievers from your farm system, not trade away future #2 projected starters for a combined 3 seasons of varying production.
  • Dane Dunning was the 3rd of 3 ranked prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade. He hovered in the top prospects list for several years, had TJ surgery, debuted with some success in late 2020 for the White Sox, then was flipped to Texas in 2020 for Lance Lynn, and is now featuring in the 2021 Texas rotation as their 5th starter.
  • Taylor Hearn: was the 2nd of 2 prospects in the 2016 Pittsburgh/Melancon trade. He was subsequently flipped by Pittsburgh in 2018 for Keone Kela, and debuted for Texas in late 2019. Since, he has been an 7th/8th inning reliever for Texas with some effectiveness.
  • Austin Adams, traded to Seattle in 2019 for Nick Wells after we DFA’d him. Pitched effectively for Seattle’s bullpen in 2019, then traded to San Diego in Aug 2020 for a package of players. Pitching in middle relief for San Diego in 2021. Wells has done basically nothing for this team, while Adams has at least continued to pitch in the majors and does beg the question … why couldn’t he do for us what he has managed to do for Seattle and San Diego?

Summary: well, you’d have a pretty nice start to a rotation right now with Giolito/Luzardo/Dunning. But it took years to get there for these guys: these were players who were traded 4-5 years ago. And the guys we got in return (Eaton, Doolittle) were key parts of the 2019 title team.

Minor league arms traded in last 5 years still in minors:

  • Reynaldo Lopez was the 2nd ranked of 3 prospects in the 2016 Chicago/Eaton trade; he was a full time rotation starter in 2018 and 2019 for Chicago, but got beaten out for the rotation in 2021 and is in AAA. Interesting how many thought Lopez was the “prize” of that trade … now he’s like 7th on their rotation depth chart.
  • Wil Crowe: traded to Pittsburgh (along with Eddy Yean) for Josh Bell. Crowe made the opening day 2021 roster for Pittsburgh, but was optioned after one poor outing. Likely projecting as a 4-A type starter, and future analysis of this trade will have to remember that Pittsburgh was in a salary dump mode when evaluating whatever Crowe and Yean become.
  • Jefry Rodriguez, traded (along with Johnson and Monasterio) to Cleveland for Yan Gomes in 2018. Pitched for a couple months in the Cleveland rotation in 2019, hit free agency in 2021, signed MLFA with Washington in 2021, likely in AAA. Probably safe to say the Nats are coming out on top of this move.
  • Taylor Guilbeau: traded to Seattle for Roenis Elias in 2019. Pitched for Seattle MLB middle relief in 2019 and 2020, DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Elias got lit up, got hurt and was essentially useless for us.
  • Trevor Gott; traded to San Francisco in 2019 for cash after we DFA’d him; he pitched for SF’s bullpen for two years, was DFA’d and outrighted in Feb 2021. Once again, like with Adams … how is it that Gott couldn’t break our crummy 2019 bullpen but then pitched effectively for another organization immediately upon his exit from Washington? its like Blake Treinen all over again.
  • Pedro Avila was traded to San Diego for Derek Norris in 2016; he rose in the ranks and debuted briefly for San Diego in 2019, then was subsequently DFA’d and outrighted; he remains in their minor league system and projects for AAA in 2021. Norris was originally drafted by DC, and they wanted to get him back. But he only lasted another 3 months with the team, getting released in spring training 2017 before catching on with Tampa for one more season.
  • Aaron Fletcher: traded to Seattle for Hunter Strickland in 2019. Likely in AAA in 2021. Strickland … wasn’t good for Seattle in 2019 and he wasn’t good for us either.
  • Mario Sanchez: traded to Philadelphia for Jimmy Cordero in 2016. Hit MLFA in 2018, came back to Washington, projected AA in 2021. Cordero was crummy for us, then got DFA’d, selected and was gone.
  • Yohanse Morel, traded (along with Gutierrez and Perkins) to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera in 2018. Likely in High-A in 2021.
  • Kyle Johnston: traded to Toronto for Daniel Hudson in 2019. Likely in High-A in 2021. Hudson closed out game 7 of the 2019 World Series; enough said.
  • Tyler Watson, traded to Minnesota for Brandon Kintzler in 2017. Likley in High-A in 2021. Knitzler was (possibly) scapegoated in the infamous clubhouse blowup mid 2018 and was dumped for pennies on the dollar in 2018.
  • Ryan McMahon; traded to Minnesota for Ryne Harper in 2020; Likely in Low-A in 2021. Harper has really yet to do much, so this is a show-me trade.
  • Eddy Yean; traded to Pittsburgh (along with Crowe) in 2020; projected to pitch in GCL or Low-A in 2021.

Summary: I see several really good moves here, a couple that didn’t work out as well for the Nats, and some that are preliminary. About what you expect when you’re trading prospect arms.

Minor League Arms traded in the last 5 years who are now apparently out of baseball.

  • McKenzie Mills: traded to Philadelphia for Howie Kendrick in 2017. Struggled in AA in 2019 for Philadelphia, released in big Minor league purge in June 2020 and out of baseball. This was a prime example of the Nats selling high on a guy; Mills blew that summer, going 12-3 for the 2017 season, then never replicated that success and was out of baseball two years later. Odd that the team didn’t try to pick him back up after his 2019 release.
  • Jeffrey Rosa; traded to Tampa Bay for Enny Romero in 2017. Struggled for Tampa’s GCL team in 2018 and was released.
  • Mick VanVossen, traded to Chicago WS for Ryan Raburn. struggled in high-A in 2017, likely released that off-season (he has no stats since 2017).
  • Felipe Rivero, traded to Pittsburgh (along with Hearn) in 2016 for Mark Melancon. Changed his name to Felipe Vazquez, replaced Melancon as Pittsburgh’s closer and was dominant, a 2-time all-star in 2018 and 2019. However, he was arrested on child sex abuse charges at the end of the 2019 season and faces multiple felonies in multiple states. As much as I hated this trade at the time (we gave up two solid players for yet another veteran closer since our team for reasons inexplicable cannot home grow closers ourselves), I think we’re all happy to have dodged a bullet w/r/t what Rivero/Vazquez became.

Did I miss anyone?

Denaburg to have TJ…

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Mason Denaburg … in high school, the last time he was apparently healthy. Photo via usatodayhss.com

Tucked into this past weekend’s worth of crummy news for our team was this little gem: 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg is going to have Tommy John surgery, which will cost him the whole of 2021 and the early part of 2022.

Here’s a summary of Denaburg’s “career” with Washington:

  • 2018: Nats 1st round pick, selected 27th overall and given a signing bonus of $3M out of high school, more than $500k above slot.
  • Denaburg fell to #27 because he had “biceps tendinitis” in high school, which meant he missed “more than a month” of his HS season. Nonetheless he was a high projection pre-draft/pre-injury and needed to be bought out of his commitment to Florida.
  • He did not appear in 2018, presumably because his “biceps tendinitis” never abated and the team didn’t want to push him. Fair enough; sitting them after a busy senior year of pitching and showcases happens all the time with prep kids.
  • In 2019, he finally debuted professionally on June 24th, throwing 4 innings and giving up 0 runs. It remains the *highlight* of his professional pitching career.
  • He started another 6 games for the GCL Nats, throwing a combined 20.1 innings with a 7.52 ERA before he was shut down with a “sore shoulder.”
  • In the 2019 off-season, he had arthroscopic shoulder surgery to alleviate whatever started bugging him in July of 2019. I’m not sure it was ever disclosed precisely what he had done, but suffice it to say “shoulder” and “surgery” is never a good sentence with a pitcher.
  • 2020 hits, and he suffers a setback with the shoulder in Viera. He never gets a chance to take the mound after rehabbing the shoulder thanks to Covid cancelling all but “extended spring training” camp, which the Nats populated with closer-to-the-majors players who might actually help if need be.
  • Now he’ll miss all of 2021 and probably doesn’t even project to appear until May of 2022, and if he does he’ll be on a pretty severe innings limit.

So, the next time we’ll see Denaburg he’ll be in his age 22 season, his 4th full pro season for us, with a grand total of 20.1 innings and having already had injury issues with his upper arm, his shoulder and his elbow.

And I thought Seth Romero‘s “career” with us was bad….

Look, hindsight is 20/20 I get it. It is foolish to look at draft picks and play back seat driver (Albert Pujols was a 13th rounder). And, yes any pitcher can pick up an injury at any moment. I get that too. “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect,” written by Baseball Prospectus founder Joe Sheehan in 2003, to stop people from dreaming on young arms until they matriculate. But man, Denaburg is looking like a waste of a 1st rounder. Its almost like the baseball gods have gotten the team back for being gifted three no-doubter 1st rounders in Strasburg, Harper and Rendon by giving us the likes of Denaburg, Fedde and Romero.

All we can ask as fans is … stop drafting HS kids, stop drafting players with known issues (injury or character), and just stick to the script. College players. Top programs. Solid pedigrees. No injury history.

I’m not sure what we can expect of Denaburg going forward. I can’t imagine any legitimate prospect ranking service putting him anywhere in our top prospects lists going forward. I suppose he could immediately be routed to the bullpen and, if he can regain some velocity, maybe he moves forward as a reliever? Does anyone want to bet money on whether he ever pitches in a MLB game?

Written by Todd Boss

April 8th, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Nats 40-man Options status

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Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Post Publishing Update 3/23/21: an Arbiter has just ruled that Erick Fedde does NOT have a 4th option, meaning that he’s now out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the 2021 opening day roster.

Baseball America’s Nats top 30

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by Baseball America. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America announced Top 30 lists for all teams on 2/3/21, which meant we get the first major team-specific review of the prospects.

The lack of a minor league season in 2020 complicates this analysis, as does the late arriving IFA class (delayed 6 months from its typical July 2 date). But we do have some shuffling of prospects from prior lists. This post will call out some of the more interesting prospects on BA’s list, if they’re higher or lower than other shops.

Direct link to the Nats top 30 is here. The top 30 table is here:

2021 BA RankLast NameFirst Name
1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4AntunaYasel
5LaraAndry
6De La RosaJeremy
7CateTim
8DenaburgMason
9CroninMatt
10MendozaDrew
11CluffJackson
12InfanteSamuel
13RomeroSeth
14PinedaIsrael
15BarreraTres
16MarteDaniel
17BraymerBen
18PowellHolden
19FuentesSteven
20QuintanaRoismar
21DysonTyler
22IrvinJake
23AdonJoan
24ReetzJakson
25SharpSterling
26AriasAndry
27TetreaultJackson
28BanksNick
29SchallerReid
30SanchezBryan

Notable players:

  • Like pretty much every other prospect ranking shop, the top three includes Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. Cavalli comes in ahead of Rutledge.
  • After a down year, Yasel Antuna is now all the way up to #4. As we’ve heard repeatedly, he did well in the XST 60-man last year and is rounding into the prospect shape they thought they were getting when they spent $3.9M on him in 2016. For all the talk we have about whether Kieboom is ready … maybe we’re looking at the wrong 3B prospect right now. Could Antuna win the 3B job this spring??
  • BA continues to be high shop on De La Rosa, ranking him #6.
  • The Pittsburgh trade cost the team two of its former BA top 10 players in Crowe and Yean, which moves up two 2019 draftees Cronin and Mendoza into the top 10. Both were solid college players who have done well so far in the minors. Cronin seems like he could zoom up the minors in 2021.
  • They’re way high on Infante, with him at #12 when most shops have him buried in the mid 20s. I definitely feel like there’s some pretty distinct opinions on Infante in the Natmosphere; some people really hated the pick. He was above slot, buying him out of a UMiami commitment and is listed as having plus arm, plus hands and is “advanced” for a prep draft pick.
  • Romero down to #13. For understandable reasons; his velocity was not impressive in 2020 in his very short season. I’d like to see him in AAA, as a starter, pitching every 5th day for half a season to see just what he’s capable of.
  • The three catchers on this list: Barrera at #14, Pineda at #15, Reetz at #24; does anyone actually think any of these guys ever contribute at the MLB level? Reetz was a MLFA re-signing and comes in at #24 in the system?
  • Daniel Marte pops up kind of out of the blue at #16. Seems like a speculative ranking.
  • Ben Braymer at #17 continues to get half-hearted prospect support, despite his excellent minor league career thus far. A reminder; he has a career 3.64 minor league ERA despite a 7+ ERA in 13 Fresno starts in 2019. He continues to be one of the best middle-round picks we’ve ever had.
  • Steven Fuentes creeping up to #19. Still can’t believe he’s not higher; he dominated AA in 2019 as a 22yr old.
  • BA is much lower on Joan Adon than other shops, bringing him at #23 when most others have him in the 14-17 range.
  • Same with Reid Schaller; having him #29 while other shops have him as high as #16.
  • Why is Sterling Sharp even considered a prospect at this point (he’s ranked #25).
  • Two debutants on BA’s list that i’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere before: Andry Arias comes in at #27 and Bryan Sanchez at #30

FYI: The 2021 IFA picks (specifically Armando Cruz) were not included on this list.

Overall farm system thoughts: top heavy: 3 big arms at the top who project as solid #2-#3 starters. Then three high-risk/high-ceiling IFAs. Then a combination of big-time Div1 studs and failed first rounders. There’s room for improvement.

Who is the Best HS player the Nats have ever drafted?

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Would you believe that A.J. Cole is the best prep draft prospect ever for the Nats in the Rizzo era? Read on. Photo AP

A comment about Mason Denaburg in the last thread, with MarkL wondering/speculating on whether our 2018 1st overall pick may possibly pitch in 2021, made me think, yet again, about the folly of drafting high school arms (or HS players in general) and then made me wonder..

Who is the best HS player we’ve ever drafted?

By “best” I mean possible one of two things:
1. Most successful for our team or for someone else, since (as we’ll see) we’ve had a tendency to trade prospects before they matriculate.
2. Most successful for the Nationals themselves.

So, we’ll answer both.

I’ll also divide this into the “Rizzo” era and the pre-Rizzo era, since you can almost count on one hand the total number of HS players Mike Rizzo has drafted since taking over in mid 2009, whereas the Jim Bowden regime was quite heavily skewed towards HS players.

Using the Draft Tracker as a reference, here are your nominees for best ever HS draftee by the Washington Nationals, moving backwards in time (note; i’m omitting some HS draftees like 20th round signees who happened to sign and subsequently flame out; this mostly is a value play of top-5 round picks plus other notables we over-paid).

  • 2020: Samuel Infante, SS/3B from Florida: too early to tell obviously, but the reaction in the Natmosphere was mixed to begin with. We’ll see.
  • 2018: Mason Denaburg, RHP from Florida. $3M signing bonus for getting selected 27th overall in the 1st round. Has been plagued by injury since his arrival, and his limited stats have not been promising. What is even more indicting about this selection is the fact that the next three arms drafted who signed ( Shane McClanahan, Jackson Kowar and UVA’s Daniel Lynch) were all college arms (like what the Nats normally draft this high), are all now considered top-100 prospects, and had all reached AA by the end of 2019. Opportunities lost.
  • 2016: Carter Kieboom, SS from Georgia. Held the #1 Nats prospect label for years, but has struggled in two call-ups now that have the team looking at 3B candidates in free agency, a pretty severe indictment of what they think they have in Kieboom right now.
  • 2016: Jesus Luzardo, LHP from Florida. Traded as the centerpiece prospect of the Sean Doolittle/Ryan Madsen acquisition in 2017, then became a top-10 prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2019 season. Pitched in Oakland’s rotation as a 22yr old in 2020 with league average results, projecting to be a #2 lefty starter. It was a lot to give up for relievers (at the time I was “ok” with the trade, but did note that it would look pretty lopsided if Luzardo turned into precisely what he’s projecting to become), but flags fly forever and Doolittle was an integral part of this team for a while.
  • 2015: Blake Perkins, OF from Arizona. Traded to Kansas City as part of a prospect group to acquire Kelvin Herrera, has a career .236 minor league BA as a glove-first CF.
  • 2015: Tyler Watson LHP from Arizona. 34th rounder paid like a 4th rounder that year. Traded to Minnesota to acquire Brandon Knitzler as part of the great mid-season bullpen construction job in 2017. Pitched all of 2019 in High-A’s rotation with decent results, likely in AA in 2021. Knitzler of course ran himself out of town in mid 2018, so the team didn’t get a ton to show for this trade.
  • 2014: Jakson Reetz, C from Nebraska. Has passed through three Rule-5 drafts now and was part of the 60-man extended roster in 2020. He stepped up his power and his offense in 2019 in High-A; is he turning a corner? Re-signed as a MLFA this off-season to do his 8th pro season in our farm system.
  • 2014: McKenzie Mills LHP from Georgia. This 18th rounder blew up in the spring of 2017, dominating Low-A and getting flipped to Philadelphia to acquire Howie Kendrick. His 2018 was solid in High-A, but he struggled with the jump to AA and got released in the minor league purge of June 2020. I wonder if he’s worth a MLFA flier in 2021 for someone.
  • 2013: Drew Ward, 3B from Oklahoma. 3rd rounder who was good enough to get promoted year after year, but not to escape “org player” role. Released in the 2020 player purge.
  • 2013: Travis Ott, LHP from Pennsylvania. showed some promise in his 2nd pro season in Short-A as a 19yr old, enough so to be the secondary piece in the huge 3-team trade that netted the team Trea Turner and Joe Ross. (more on that later when we talk about Souza). He continued to pitch well in Tampa’s org, but then curiously was moved to the bullpen in 2018 and then was stuck on the restricted list in apr 2019, where he presumably remains today. No idea what happened here.
  • 2012: Lucas Giolito RHP from California. Perhaps the most controversial candidate on this list. He had TJ surgery the year he was drafted, recovered, raced through the minors and debuted for the team as a 21yr old in June of 2016. His Minor league career looked too good to be true. But, in MLB 21 innings that year he pitched to an ugly 6.75 ERA, an even worse 8.21 FIP … and then got flipped in the off-season as the centerpiece to acquire Adam Eaton from the White Sox. I hated the move when it happened. There were rumors about how the Nats talent evaluators thought that Giolito had “plateaued” or that somehow he wasn’t someone they could work with. And, to be fair, it took a full year of awfulness in the majors for the White Sox before Giolito modified his mechanics and turned into a pretty good starter. His last two seasons have been ERA+ of 134 and 128 respectively, and he’s gotten down-ballot Cy Young voting. Did the Nats give up on him too early? Yes. Did we get equivalent value in return from Eaton? No …. but it wasn’t entirely Eaton’s fault. Who could have known that Eaton would blow out his knee, which would blow out his defensive value, which was a huge reason he was such a WAR darling prior to his trade? Does the 2019 WS title make every move between 2015 and Nov 2019 worth it regardless of the transaction? Most would argue yes. Flags fly forever.
  • 2012: Hayden Jennings, OF from Louisiana; a 6th rounder that year, he lasted just two years in the system and never got out of the GCL. Seemed like a quick release frankly; I wonder if there was some off-the-field issues.
  • 2010: A.J. Cole RHP from Florida. Just could never cut it as a starter for this team, with spot start appearances across 4 MLB seasons for the Nats. Finally flipped for cash after his DFA ahead of the 2018 season when he ran out of options and the team ran out of patience. He’s bounced around since, pitching for the Yankees bullpen in 2018, getting claimed off waivers by Cleveland for 2019, then signing on as a FA for Toronto in 2020, each time putting up decent numbers as an 8th/9th inning non-closer type. Why he could never do this for us is … a mystery. Certainly we could use a competent reliever right now.
  • 2010: Robbie Ray, LHP from Arizona. A 12th rounder given 2nd round money, Ray was the centerpiece prospect in the Doug Fister 2013 trade (which shocked the baseball world and made the Nats look like a genius), then was flipped again to Arizona ahead of the 2014 season. From there he turned into a solid starter, putting up huge K/9 numbers but featuring as a guy who struggled to get through 6 innings thanks to elevated pitch counts. He’s a FA this off-season and could be a decent 4th starter for someone.
  • 2010: Bryce Harper: you could technically count Harper here since he was a HS-aged player in Juco, but it isn’t like selecting him 1-1 was any great piece of decision making on the Nats part. He was destined to be a 1st overall pick from the moment he appeared on the cover of SI as a 16-yr old.

So, in the Rizzo Era, I’d say that the most successful HS drafted player for us or any other team is clearly Lucas Giolito (even though Ray has more career bWAR), with Luzardo projecting right now perhaps as having the capabilities of supplanting him in the future.

The most successful HS drafted player for the Nats? Only three have even played a game for the Nats: Cole, Giolito and Kieboom. Read that sentence again; in a decade of drafting, just three prep-players have ever suited up for this team. I guess you’d have to say Cole has the most impact for the Nationals themselves at this point, with high hopes for Kieboom going forward.


Rizzo was named the GM in August of 2009, so technically the 2009 and prior drafts were not on his resume (yes he was involved in the 2009 draft, but it was still Jim Bowden‘s show) You can see the effect that Rizzo had on draft strategy, because prior to 2010, the team was much more apt to draft prep players. We’ll run through them below.

  • 2009: Michael Taylor, SS from Florida. Quickly converted to OF, where he was a fantastic defender who hung around for years as 4th OF for the team. Finally non-tendered this past off-season, and he’s heading to Kansas City for the 2021 season. Some were sorry to see him go; if his arb salary hadn’t inflated so much, maybe he’d still be here.
  • 2009: Roberto Perez SS from Puerto Rico. Played three minor league seasons and (in my opinion) got a quick release after a stint in 2011 at Short-A.
  • 2008: Destin Hood, OF from Alabama. The 2nd round pick played out the string in our org, then bounced around for four more years as a MLFA. In his “make or break” year as a 23yr old in AA he slashed .224/.278/.327 and his fate was sealed. Eventually got some MLB time with Miami.
  • 2008: Graham Hicks, LHP from Florida; never got out of low-A, flipped in the Gorzelanny deal, out of baseball by age 22.
  • 2008: Adrien Neito, C from Florida. Had a great-looking season in High-A as a 23rd old, then the team left him unprotected in Rule-5 and he got plucked by the White Sox. I went back and looked at my analysis of the 2013 rule-5 draft and discovered that the team was sitting at 39/40 and really didn’t have the room to protect someone like Nieto, who was considered a long-shot to get taken despite going to the AFL that year. Nonetheless, after spending all of 2014 on the 25-man roster, he was went back down and never re-appeared. He has bounced around as a MLFA ever since and is still active today.
  • 2008: J.P. Ramirez, OF from Texas. Ramirez played out his 6-years with the Nats, then jumped to indy and eventually Mexican league ball.

In 2007 alone, Bowden drafted no less than 8 prep players in the top 10 rounds. Did any of them pan out?

  • 2007 Michael Burgess OF from Florida. He was beginning to blossom in 2010 as a 21 yr old, making it to AA and playing in the AFL, so he was used as the centerpiece prospect to get Gorzelanny. He didn’t do much afterwards, bouncing around orgs and eventually going to indy ball.
  • 2007: Jake Smolinkski 3B from Illinois. Very quickly became a solid prospect, succeeding in Low-A as a 19yr old and became the centerpiece prospect sent that off-season to acquire Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen. Interestingly, he washed out of the Miami org as a MLFA, caught on with Texas and had several years as a MLB utility player with Texas and Oakland after that.
  • 2007: Steven Souza, OF from Washington State: a middling prospect for years, he started to show some serious pop as a 23yr old in High-A, culminating with a blow-up season in AAA as a 25 year old that allowed the Nats to pull off perhaps their greatest ever trade heist; packing Souza with Travis Ott and interjecting themselves into a trade between Tampa and San Diego to fleece San Diego out of two first round picks in Trea Turner and Joe Ross. Souza had his best season in 2017 for Tampa, a 3.5 win team, but has struggled with injuries
  • 2007: Derek Norris, C from Kansas. 5 seasons, 5 promotions for Norris in our system, before he was included as perhaps the 3rd piece of 4 in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Once he got to Oakland though, he blew up and had several solid seasons, even making the 2014 all star team. But he declined quickly, got moved to San Diego, then the nats re-acquired him back for Luis Avila … only to DFA him a few weeks later.
  • 2007: Josh Smoker, LHP from Georgia. Played out his string with the team without ever getting out of A-ball, then made it into the Mets’ bullpen in 2016 and 2017, where he put up below replacement level numbers.
  • 2007: Jack McGeary, LHP from Massachusetts. Paid like a mid-1st rounder in the days before bonus slots, McGeary seemed like a potential steal. Unfortunately, he just could not compete, suffering injuries multiple times. Mercifully taken in the minor league rule-5 draft by his hometown team Boston in 2013, he didn’t do much better there, eventually washing out of indy ball in 2014 as a 25-yr old.
  • 2007; PJ Dean, RHP from Texas. Looked awesome in Short-A as a 19yr old, throwing 10 starts with a 1.97 ERA. Was the lead prospect in the Willingham/Olsen trade that off-season… then, nothing. I have no idea what happened to the guy; he never played another game of baseball for the Marlins or anyone. Does anyone have any idea what happened to him?
  • 2007: Patrick McCoy LHP from Arizona; struggled as a starter early, moved to the pen, played out his string with the Nats as an org guy, signed on as a MLFA with Detroit and got a call-up where he put nearly 2.5 runners on base and was waived. Bounced around after that, never made the majors again.

It is notable that Jim Bowden nearly signed more HS players between these last two years than Rizzo has done in a decade in charge. Just a completely different mind-set of drafting.

In 2006 it was more of the same: the first 6 players he picked were all HS players.

  • 2006: Chris Marrero, OF from Florida. Made his way up to the big club in 2011 as a 22yr old, never really made it back. Was the quintessential 4-A guy for years, profiling as a corner guy w/o great defensive skills but missing the big bat.
  • 2006: Stephen Englund, OF from Washington State. Seems like a huge scouting miss; he just could not hit pro pitching. Career minor league slash line of .188/.308/.252. Cut from Low-A in 2009 after starting the season 11-101 with 48 Ks.
  • 2006: Stephen King, 3B from Florida. Played for years in the low-minors as a light-hitting infielder, eventually leaving as a 6-yr FA. Got to AA twice, was never able to even hit .200 there.
  • 2006: Colten Willems, RHP from Florida. The 1st rounder was ok his first couple of years in pro ball, never could really compete above low-A, then abruptly retired at age 21 when he struggled upon getting demoted back to Hagerstown. A huge draft bust.
  • 2006: Sean Black, RHP from New Jersey. Drafted in the 2nd round, refused to sign. Went to Seton Hall, 7th round pick by the Yankees three years later. Was a solid starter up to AA, got flipped to Cincinnati and his career fizzled.
  • 2006: Glenn Gibson LHP from New York. Had a great pro debut in Short-A as a 19yrold, then was traded to the Rays to obtain Elijah Dukes. Tampa dumped him two seasons later, and the Nats picked him back up because they liked him enough to draft him in the first place.  He didn’t go much further and was released from affiliated ball in 2011 as a 23yr old.
  • 2006: Sam Brown, RHP from North Carolina. Did not sign, went to NC State, signed with Texas, then signed as a MLFA with the Nats in 2011 after his release. Pitched one year in the Hagerstown bullpen and was done.
  • 2006: Brad Peacock, RHP from Florida. A 41st round pick selected under the previous rules of “Draft and Follow.” He was drafted in June of 2006, but not signed until May 30th of 2007. It took him a while to get going professionally, but he blew up in 2011, rising from High-A to the majors with a sterling debut. This led to him being included in the player package to acquire Gonzalez from Oakland. After a year there, he was moved again to Houston in the Jed Lowrie move, and from there he flourished in a swingman role, winning a World Series there in 2017.

In 2005, just one top-10 round HS player drafted, but a few more signed on in the later rounds.

  • 2005: Ryan DeLaughter; OF from Texas. he never really succeeeded outside of complex ball, giving Short-A a try multiple times. Hooked on briefly with Milwaukee and indy league baseball as a 22yr old.
  • 2005: Deryck Johnson, CF from Florida; this 14th rounder played just one season in rookie ball, hit .185 and was cut.
  • 2005: Michael Watkins, RHP from Rhode Island. Pitched parts of two rookie league seasons and got cut.
  • 2005: Eduardo Pichardo, RHP from Florida. This 17th rounder threw 13.2 innings across two rookie league seasons and posted a stellar 20.41 ERA and was released.
  • 2005: Brad Clark, RHP from Florida. This 19th rounder got hurt, didn’t pitch until 2007, threw 5 1/3 total innings and got cut.
  • 2005: Ryan Butchter RHP from New Jersey: signed as a 33rd rounder, somehow survived two seasons with ERAs north of 7.00, then got traded after his third pro year for Matt Avery. Avery pitched one year of relief for our AA team and got cut. Meanwhile, Butchter hung on for years, finally debuting as a 27 yr old, and then as a 29yr old rookie excelled in the San Diego bullpen.

So, in the pre-Rizzo era, who’s the most accomplished HS drafted player for any team? Best candidates are Peacock, Norris, Souza, and Taylor. I’ll go out on a limb and say its Peacock.

For just the Nats? Has to be Taylor.

Minor League Pitching Staffs: July check-in

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Braymer has earned his way to AAA. Photo via Auburn tigers

Braymer has earned his way to AAA. Photo via Auburn tigers

Now that our short-season domestic staffs have now had one full “turn” through the rotation, I thought i’d be a good time to do another rotation check-in.

We’ve done two previously, which we’ll leverage throughout here:

Note: I wrote much of this prior to the 7/2/19 games, so a few roster moves and observations may be missing.  Also, feel free to add in more detailed commentary for those who have studied the players more closely in a particular level; i did not do “just last month” splits on every single player so some players who have significantly improved upon slow starts (or the reverse) may be missed.


 

AAA/Fresno 2019

  • Rotation Now: Fedde, JRoss, McGowin, Hoover, Braymer
  • Rotation Mid-May: Voth, McGowin, Copeland, Espino, MSanchez.
  • Rotation to Start: McGowin, Copeland, Voth, Espino, Alvarez

Changes in the rotation since last post: Voth has earned his promotion, and then earned more starts over Fedde at the MLB level.  It looks like the “hey lets use Joe Ross as a reliever” experiment is finally over; he’s been returned to Fresno to officially get stretched out and return to the rotation.  Espino is on the DL, replaced by Hoover (who suddenly at 31 is a starter after years of pitching in relief?).  Sanchez got demoted and replaced by Braymer, who just arrived.  Lastly Copeland has been returned to the long-man/spot starter role.  The sole holdover from 6 weeks ago is McGowin … but what this doesn’t show is his own up-and-back movement.  Lots of shuffle in the Fresno rotation.

I’d like to highlight Ben Braymer though, because his being in AAA is pretty amazing.  He was an 18th round pick in 2016, signed for just $100k out of Auburn, and now sits in the AAA rotation at the edge of the majors.  I don’t think the Nats have seen such a low-round pick make it this far since perhaps Stephen Lombardozzi, a 19th rounder in 2008.

  • Bullpen Now: Self, Bacus, Blazek,  Kontos, Bourque, Baez with Alvarez, Copeland as long-men/spot starters
  • Bullpen mid-may:  Rainey, Hoover, Self, Bacus, Nuno, JMills*, Blazek with Alvarez as long-man/spot starter.
  • Bullpen to start: AAdams, Rainey, Hoover, Nuno, Self, Cordero and Bacus  with Dragmire as a spot-starter

Changes in the bullpen since last post: Rainey promoted … and immediately became Nats bullpen savior of the week.  Hoover now in the rotation.  Nunu cut loose after posting a 7.25 ERA in 22 innings.  Mills sent back down.  Bourque was promoted to the majors from AA, then optioned back to AAA.  Baez promoted from AA.  Kontos signed.  Copeland dumped to bullpen.  Rodney signed and quickly promoted.   Lastly Cordero, who was in DFA limbo last post, was claimed by Toronto and is gone.  Phew; that’s 10 different moves for the team, just 3 guys in the same place they were 6 weeks ago, and just two stable names from day one.

Who’s hot:  Dakota Bacus continues to be the most impressive reliever in AAA, maintaining a seasonal ERA of 2.36 and a whip of 1.19.   Ross’ numbers as a starter in Fresno are respectable; 3.68 ERA in 5 starts with just 4 walks.

Who’s not?  Kontos has not been good so far, but a lot of his ERA is one bad outing in Salt Lake.  Howell has gotten shelled in basically each of his last 6-7 outings and looks toast from the stat sheets.

Who’s next guy to get the call?   I think Bacus deserves the next call-up, perhaps over Bourque even though he’s not on the 40-man.  I’d like to see Ross get the next spot start, on regular rest.

Who’s next to get the Axe?   I think the team may be reaching the end of the line with over-30 MLFA guys like Kontos and Hoover, now that they’ve got a slew of new draft picks in.

How are we doing with these mini-predictions so far?

  • April: Adams and Voth to get the call, Dragmire to get the Axe.  Results?  Adams released (?), Voth now in Majors, Dragmire now demoted.
  • May: Voth, Rainey to get the call.  Hoover, Mills, Sanchez, Dragmire to get the Axe.  Results:  Voth, Rainey now in Majors.  Mills, Sanchez, Dragmire demoted.  Hoover still hanging in there.

AA/Harrisburg 2019

  • Rotation Now: Mapes, Fuentes, MSanchez, Tetreault, Crowe with ALee just called up
  • Rotation Mid-May: Crowe, Tetreault, Sharp, Mapes, Braymer
  • Rotation to Start: Crowe, Fedde, Sharp, Mapes, Braymer*

Changes since last post: Sharp to the D/L, replaced by Fuentes.  Braymer got bumped up, replaced by MSanchez coming back down.  Lastly Lee just got promoted and may be taking someone’s spot.

  • Bullpen now: Condra-Bogan, RPena, Guilbeau*,  JMills*, ABarrett, Bonnell with Dragmire spot starts.
  • Bullpen Mid-May: Bourque, Condra-Bogan, RPena, Guilbeau*, ABarrett with Baez, Ondrusek, Fuentes as swingmen/spot starters
  • Bullpen to start: Bourque,  Brinley, Condra-Bogan, JMills*, RPena,  Guilbeau*, ABarrett with  swingman/spot starts by Baez and MSanchez

Changes since last post: Bourque up, Baez up.  Fuentes moved from swingman to rotation.  Ondrusek bounced around, he’s currently on the AAA D/L.  Mills was up and is now back.  Bonnell was signed after being dropped by Tampa and has been pretty solid.   Venters was signed, appeared briefly and was called up for bullpen reinforcement duty.  Lastly Dragmire is dumped here after posting a double digit ERA in Fresno.

Who’s hot: Steven Fuentes has continued right where he left off in High-A, and holds a 1.80 ERA in 11 appearances/7 starts in AA.  He’s only 22.  I’m guessing we’re going to start seeing more of him on Nats top10 farm lists if he keeps this up.

Who’s not? Nobody is pitching egregiously bad honestly; Mapes and Tetreault are both posting worse than you’d like to see numbers but Tetreault is just 23 and is in AA for the first time.  Mapes is a bit more concerning; he’s now 27, in his 6th pro season, was a 30th round pick probably given a 4-figure bonus, and the team has almost nothing invested in him.

Who’s next guy to get the call?   Barrett?  I wonder what else he has to prove in AA at this point.   I’d say its a bit too early to promote Fuentes, and the rest of the rotation needs more time in AA.

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Mapes may be at the end of the line, given his draft pedigree.

How are we doing with these mini-predictions so far?

  • April: Crowe, Fedde to get the call.  Sharp, Gilbeau to get the Axe.  Results?  Fedde up, the rest still hanging in there
  • May: Crowe, Bourque to get the call.  Pena to get the Axe.  Results?  Bourque up, Crowe and Pena still hanging in AA.

 


High-A/Potomac 2019

  • Rotation Now: Johnston, Raquet*, Cate*, ?, MPena (the question mark is because Lee got promoted the day we were writing this)
  • Rotation Mid-May: Johnston, Borne*, Raquet*, ALee, MPena.
  • Rotation to Start: Johnston, Borne*, Tetreault, Raquet*, MPena, LReyes

Changes since last post: Borne to the D/L, Lee promoted.  To replace them we got Cate from Low-A and a question mark the be filled (if it were me) by Teel.   Otherwise a very steady rotation here: 3 of the 5 havn’t changed since opening day.

  • Bullpen now: Bartow, German, Istler, Fletcher* with Howard*, LReyes, Pantoja, Teel*, McKinney as swingmen.
  • Bullpen Mid-May: Bogucki,  McKinney,  Bartow, JRomero, LReyes, German with Howard*,  Teel* as swingmen
  • Bullpen to start: Acevedo, Bogucki, Fuentes,   McKinney,  Bartow with swingman/spot starts by Howard*,  ALee,

Changes from last time:  Istler returns from XST/witness protection.  Fletcher promoted from low-A, along with Pantoja (and Teel, and Cate: we’ve seen 5 promotions so far).  Bogucki released.

Who’s hot:  I like what I see out of Teel and Fletcher so far, both mid-season promotions.  Fletcher has a 24/5 K/BB ratio since being promoted a few weeks back, and Teel has now made it to his 4th pro level since being drafted last June.   Amazingly, Reyes seems to have found his calling, going 10 straight outings without giving up a run.

Who’s not? Raquet has the worst WHIP of the rotation, and Pena the worst ERA.  Yet both remain mainstays in the Potomac bullpen.  Raquet is putting up almost identical numbers to last year, but as a high-bonus 3rd rounder probably gets more rope than a similarly producing 15th rounder.  Pena is just 22 but may be working towards another year in Potomac.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Istler really should be in AA; he’s given up zero runs in 10 High-A innings, which shouldn’t be a surprise since he spent most of last year in AA posting a 2.53 ERA.  Why exactly is he in Potomac?

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Unclear; McKinney’s season numbers are poor but he’s pitched a number of clean outings since his return from the D/L.  Cate’s first two starts havn’t been stellar.  I don’t have a great case for anyone to get demoted or cut.

How are we doing with these mini-predictions so far?

  • April: Tetreault and Fuentes up.  Reyes and Bourne to get the axe..  Results?  Both Tetreault and Fuentes since promoted.  Reyes dumped from the rotation finally, Borne on the D/L.
  • May: Nobody to get the call.  Bogucki and Reyes to get the Axe.  Results?  Bogucki indeed released, Reyes demoted to the pen but succeeding in new role.

Low-A/Hagerstown 2019

  • Rotation Now: Alastre, Schaller, Irvin, Adon, Stoeckinger*
  • Rotation Mid-May: Alastre, Adon, Cate*, Irvin, FPeguero.
  • Rotation to Start: Alastre/Day, Adon, Cate*/Tapani, Irvin/Teel*, FPeguero/AGuillen, Strom/Stoeckinger*

Changes since last post: Cate Promoted, Peguero to the D/L.  To replace them we’ve seen Schaller promoted up from XST/GCL and Stoeckinger pulled from the tandem starter ranks.  Like with Potomac, 3 of the 5 starters the same since opening day.

  • Bullpen now: Brasher, Tapani, Day, Howell, RWilliamson*, AGuillen as tandem starters/swingmen, TTurner, Vann* as conventional relievers.
  • Bullpen Mid-May: Stoeckinger*, AGuillen, RWilliamson*, Tapani, Fletcher*, Day as tandem starters, Brasher, TTurner in the pen as more conventional relievers.
  • Bullpen to start:  Day, Tapani, Teel, AGullen, Stoeckinger as tandem starters, German,  Fletcher* as conventional relievers.

changes since last post: Howell returns to the fold after missing all of 2018 with injury.  Fletcher promoted.  Vann (a 2018 draftee) promoted up from XST/GCL.

Who’s hot: Stoeckinger has earned his spot in the rotation (if, indeed he stays there).  2.54 ERA, 1.19 whip in 39 IP as a tandem starter this year.

Who’s not?  Alastre continues to struggle in the rotation; hes now ballooned to a 6.11 ERA and 1.71 whip on the year while repeating the level.   He’s only 21 though, so he’s got plenty of time.  Howell has struggled since his reinstatement, and he does not have a ton of time, being a lower round pick coming off injury.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Turner has had a nifty time in the Low-A bullpen; 28 Ks in 17 innings.  I’d also say Peguero, who has the best stats of any starter, but he’s on teh D/L currently.

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Alastre.  Howell.

How are we doing with these mini-predictions so far?

  • April: Peguero and Fletcher up.  Alastre to get the Axe.  Results?  Peguero hurt, Fletcher up, Alastre still in the rotation.
  • May: Cate, Fletcher, Peguero up.  Brasher to get the demotion.  Results?  Peguero hurt, Fletcher and Cate up.  Brasher still holding on, having gone an entire month w/o giving up a run.

Short-A/Auburn 2019

  • rotation: NGomez, PGonzalez, CRomero, RGomez, Strom, Troop*
  • tandem starters: Chu*, Galindez*/AMartinez, AHernandez*, Segura
  • bullpen: JPeguero*, Willingham, Yankowsky,  Milacki, FPerez, ELee*, McMahan, McMahon, Moore, 

Its a little early to pass judgement on the starts out of Auburn, but we’ll do it anyway.   I will note though that with recent 2019 draftee assignments, there’s now TWENTY (20) arms on the squad.  So you have to wonder if we’re about to see some shedding.

Who’s hot:  Niomar Gomez has had 3 solid starts to begin the season, picking up where he left off last year.  Troop, in his 3rd pro season, has yet to give up a run while posting a 12/0 K/BB ratio in two starts and needs to be moved up.  Strom looks solid, after struggling in Low-A, and may be stuck between levels.

Who’s not?   18yr old Pedro Gonzalez has had 3 starts; in those 3 starts he’s pitched a grand total of 4 innings, given up 13 hits 5 walks and 18 total runs.  Those are Trevor Rosenthal numbers.  He had a 9.60 ERA in the GCL last  year; why exactly is he in Short-A going against college draftees 4 years his senior?

Who’s next guy to get the call?   Troop

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Gonzalez.

 


 

Rookie/GCL 2019

  • rotation: Denaburg, Alvarado/Seijas, Yean, Pozo, Rutledge, Peterson
  • tandem starters: Hiraldo, BPena*, Beasley
  • bullpen: Jameson, WSeverino, Amoroso, Dyson, Ferrer*, Cuevas, Ribalta

We’re basically one “turn” through the GCL rotation, and now we have 1st round pick Jackson Rutledge in Florida for (presumably) a short stay.  Surprise 2019 signees Michael Cuevas and  Orlando Ribalta are also here and may themselves be in the rotation (they were just assigned yesterday or today).

The Big News here is Mason Denaburg of course.  He’s finally on a team and pitching professionally.  Through two starts, he’s given up a couple runs in 7 innings, with a few too many walks.

Who’s hot:  too early

Who’s not?   too early.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Rutledge really shouldn’t be here long.  Neither should Tyler Dyson, 5th round 2019 pick from Florida.  And neither should Todd Peterson, 7th round pick out of LSU.  Generally speaking, SEC starters are Short-A talents at worst, and should be fast tracked to Low-A

Who’s next to get the Axe? nobody.

 


 

XST names of interest

  • Why hasn’t Nick Wells been assigned to a level yet??  He was traded for weeks ago.
  • Robbie Dickey has not pitched since 2016,  yet still remains in XST.
  • 4th rounder Matt Cronin has yet to be assigned to a team; i’m really curious to see if he can move fast.

 

Stewart to do end-around of MLB Draft; brilliant!

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Carter Stewart is going to be a heck of a trail blazer. photo via PerfectGame

Carter Stewart is going to be a heck of a trail blazer. photo via PerfectGame

(tangent from our Nats miseries; yes we just got swept in NY, yes our manager needs to be whacked, yes the team is in serious trouble for 2019.  We’ll talk about it more next week).

Here’s a quick story about Carter Stewart.

He was a top prep player last spring, recording the highest spin rate *ever recorded* on his curve ball.  He was the 9th overall pick of the 2018 draft, couldn’t come to an agreement with the Braves over medicals (not related to his elbow or shoulder fyi .. they were related to MRIs of his wrist, stemming from a skateboarding injury apparently incurred when Stewart was a kid), didn’t sign, bailed out of his 4-yr college commitment to Mississippi State, enrolled in a Florida JuCo so he could do one-and-done in college and re-enter the 2019 draft, played this spring and didn’t wow the scouts (despite sterling statistics) and saw his draft projection (and thus his bonus) fall to perhaps an early 2nd round status.

So what is he doing?  He’s doing what Scott Boras  has dreamed of for two decades representing (ahem, “advising”) amateur players: he’s doing an end-around on the MLB draft.  Stewart announced that he’s opting out of the MLB draft, and signing a 6yr, $7M deal in Japan.

And its a brilliant plan.

Here’s how the numbers work.  Lets say that, for sake of argument, Steward got drafted in 2019, signed for $2M (a stretch frankly, but useful for this conversation).  Here’s likely how the next 6-10 years of his life would go:

  • 2019: signs, $2M bonus.  Barely plays, since most prep pitchers spend their draft year in XST learning how to be a pro.
  • 2020: XST and then GCL time as a minor leaguer earning $1200/month for 6 months.  Call it $10,000 in total salary for ease of calculation.
  • 2021: pitches full season in Low-A as a 21-yr old.  Another $10k in salary
  • 2022: moves up to high-A.  Maybe we’ll even give him AA.  10k in salary
  • 2023.  He’s not breaking camp with the team, even if he merits a rotation spot .. so he starts in AAA for a few weeks, then moves up and basically earns a full MLB pre-arb salary of $575k.
  • 2024: 600k as a 24yr old, 2nd year pre-arb; he earns a small raise

Total earnings through 6 years of service: $2m + 30k + 575k + 600k = $3,205,000 total pay.

So, now he’s through 6 pro seasons, he’s at the end of his age 24 season and he’s got two full years of MLB experience after 4 minor league seasons … and he’s facing another two full pre-arb seasons thanks to service time manipulation in 2023 (which everybody does), taking  him through 2026/age 26, then 3 years of arbitration that limits his salary drastically versus what he’s worth on the open market … and he hits FA in 2029 after 10 years of team control … possibly with a Qualifying Offer tagged to him (unless they CBA it out of existence).

INSTEAD, he signs a $6M deal to go to Japan for those same 6 years, nearly doubles his potential pay, gets legitimate pro experience, and comes out of his experience as a completely free 25yr old.   Oh, and if he hits incentives he can actually triple that $6M pay.  If he had played by the rules of the MLB system at the end of 2024, he’d still be facing another FIVE seasons of artificially limited pay.

Oh, and if he burns out (like a lot of HS arms) and never gets to the majors … he’s got basically 3 TIMES the pay versus his projected bonus.

It makes one wonder; why hasn’t this happened before??  This is a complete no-brainer plan for huge chunks of pro prospects.  If you’re a college-aged top 5 pick making $4-$5M of bonus and perhaps facing just a year and a half in the minors, no.  But consider what Mason Denaburg is now facing (our first round pick out of HS last  year).  He signed last year for $3M … and has YET TO PITCH for our organization now a 1/3rd of the way through his 2nd pro  season and still hasn’t been assigned.   Unless Denaburg is the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, he’s going to spend a good chunk of the next  3 years in the low minors, earning less in a month than major leaguers earn in a day.

The downside to this is, of course, a 19yr old kid from Florida has to go halfway around the world to a culture and a language he doesn’t know.  Sounds daunting … except for the fact that MLB basically has half its minor leagues in the same position, importing non-english speaking talent from the DR, Venezuela, Mexico, etc as well as a slew of other international players who end up here w/o knowing our culture or language.  It isn’t the end of the world.

Honestly … I hope he blazes a path towards forcing MLB to take a pretty hard look at its entire draft and pay structure, which is incredibly tilted towards the owners as the MLBPA has failed for more than 2 decades now to stem the tide of owners chipping away at younger players salaries and earning possibilities.  And, given the embarrassment baseball  (and Oakland) just went through having their 2018 1st rounder Kyle Murray very publicly reject a $4M+ bonus amount and a guaranteed contract offer (specifically outlawed in the last CBA but offered here) so as to go pro in the NFL … it makes you wonder if there’s a need for a revamping of the system.

I hope this isn’t a one-off; I hope Stewart succeeds in Japan and makes a mint coming back to the US as a top-line 25-yr old un-encumbered free agent.  Because that might really spur some change.

Written by Todd Boss

May 24th, 2019 at 9:21 am

Minor League Rotations: Mid-May Check-in

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Wil Crowe is the best starter in the system right now. PHoto via insidenova.com

Wil Crowe is the best starter in the system right now. PHoto via insidenova.com

Since its so depressing to talk about the train wreck that the Major League team is … lets look at the minor league pitching pipeline.

We last checked in a couple weeks into the season on 4/15/19, so we’re just about a month past that post.  Lets revisit where we are.


 

AAA/Fresno 2019

The rotation is: Voth, McGowin, Copeland, Espino, MSanchez.   Changes from last post: Alvarez got dumped to the bullpen thanks to his  8.20 ERA, Dragmire is on the D/L,  Ross got promoted to the needy MLB bullpen, and MSanchez was promoted up from AA to fill the rotation gap.

The Bullpen is: Rainey, Hoover, Self, Bacus, Nuno, JMills*, Blazek with Alvarez as long-man/spot starter.   Changes from last post: Adams was DFA’d and traded for Nick Wells, a Battlefield HS grad who now gets to play closer to home.  Cordero was also DFA’d and as of this writing sits in DFA limbo.  To replace them the team promoted JMills from AA and signed Blazek off the street a day before this writing.

Who’s hot:  McGowin has thrown 4 straight QS.  Voth remains the best AAA starter, keeping his ERA under 4.00 despite playing in the PCL.  Self and Bacus continue to perform well in their first AAA experiences.  I continue to be dumbfounded why Adams was DFA’d; here’s his AAA line this year for Fresno: 12.1 IP, 2.19 ERA, 0.89 Whip, 24/3 K/BB.  Yet the team (at the time) thought it was more important to keep Cordero on the roster.

Who’s not?  Dragmire may go straight to release waivers off the D/L (28 hits in 13 IP).  Mills does not look ready for AAA (13.50 ERA in 8 IP).  Neither does Mario Sanchez (13 hits in 7IP in 2 starts).

Who’s next guy to get the call?   Voth if they need a starter.  The only 40-man reliever left here is Rainey and he can’t find the plate (28ks and 12 walks in 16.2 innings).

Who’s next to get the Axe?   the JJ Hoover experiment may be over.  Both Mills and Sanchez probably should return to AA.  Dragmire continues to be in jeopardy of his roster spot when he gets healthy.


AA/Harrisburg 2019

Rotation: Crowe, Tetreault, Sharp, Mapes, Braymer*.  Changes from last time: Fedde got promoted to the MLB bullpen, replaced by the promoted Tetreault.

Bullpen: Bourque, Condra-Bogan, RPena, Guilbeau*, ABarrett with Baez, Ondrusek, Fuentes as swingmen/spot starters.  Changes from last time: Brinley on the D/L, JMIlls promoted, Ondrusek demoted from AAA’s D/L, Fuentes promoted up from High-A.

Who’s hot: Crowe remains the best AA starter and is probably now the best SP prospect in our system.  Bourque has a 29/5 K/BB ratio in 18 innings and its rather inexplicable that he a) remains in AA and b) has not yet gotten called into the MLB relief corps to alleviate the bullpen issues.  Tetreault has picked up right where he left off in High-A, with a 1.43 ERA through 3 AA starts and now has a 1.50 across 7 starts and two levels on the year.    Barrett continues to look solid and has MLB experience, so may be an option in the future.

Who’s not? Mapes has the worst ERA of the rotation, really the only starter  you can quibble with.  Pena and Guilbeau are struggling in the bullpen.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Crowe, Bourque

Who’s next to get the Axe? Pena; the org has stuck by him a long, long time fora  16th round pick.  He’s 27 in AA and now in his 8th pro season here.  But an ERA in the 6s puts him on the chopping line when the next reliever needs to be promoted.


 

High-A/Potomac 2019

Rotation: Johnston, Borne*, Raquet*, ALee, MPena.  Changes from last time: Tetreault promoted, Reyes dumped to the pen after posting an ERA > 9.00.   Replaced in the rotation by Lee, who was bumped up from spot-starter/swingman.

bullpen:  Bogucki,  McKinney,  Bartow, JRomero, LReyes, German with Howard*,  Teel* as swingmen and (presumably) Nick Wells showing up soon.  Changes from last time: Acevedo released, Fuentes promoted, JRomero re-instated from XST, German and Teel promoted from Low-A.

Who’s hot:  I like what I see out of Lee in the rotation so far; he’s got the best ERA and peripherals of any High-A starter.   Teel and Bartow are the best relievers right now by stats, and Bartow has 2 of the 3 saves the staff has on the entire season (how is that possible?  In 14 victories they only have 3 saves.  that’s saying something).

Who’s not?  Raquet and Pena both have ERAs north of 7 in the rotation.  Nothing personal against Raquet, but I hated the draft pick at the time, and now he’s repeating high-A with the same crummy numbers and lack of swing and miss he exhibited there last year.  Every time I see him get shelled in a start its another indictment of that draft pick and that draft class in general.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  They’ve already promoted the two best arms (Tetreault and Fuentes).  No starters really pushing for a promotion right now.

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Bogucki is putting on > 2 runners an inning but was solid in High-A last year.  The fact that Reyes continues to have a roster spot astounds me: he is now in high-A for the 3rd year; he was also in High-A in  2016 and 2017, neither season of which merited his 2018 promotion to AA (where he got shelled).


Low-A/Hagerstown 2019

Rotation:  Alastre, Adon, Cate*, Irvin, FPeguero.  Changes from last time: Strom was demoted to XST, and the tandem starting seems to have been somewhat relaxed in that this set of 5 starters has rotated for several turns now.

Bullpen: Stoeckinger*, AGuillen, RWilliamson*, Tapani, Fletcher*, Day as swingmen/spot starters, along with Brasher, TTurner in the pen as more conventional relievers.  Changes from last time: Teel and German promoted, and RWilliamson and Tapani promoted from GCL/XST.

 

Who’s hot: Cate and Peguero, the two  starters I noted as being “hot” in the last post, remain the two best starters in Low-A.   Cate, a college Sr 2nd rounder last year, is probably too old for the level and needs to be moved up.  Fletcher, Stoeckinger and Guillen are pitching well in their “tandem” multi-inning roles.

Who’s not?  Irvin’s seasonal numbers are skewed by a 1ip/9-run outing, but he has the worst ERA in the rotation right now.  Brasher has gotten hit hard in limited action.  Alastre continues to not find the plate; he has 25 walks in 35 innings.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Cate needs to move up stat.   Same with Peguero; he’s now 23 dominating Low-A.  Why are they still there?   Same with Fletcher; he’s now 23, was a senior sign and has 6 weeks of dominant numbers in low-A.  Why wait?

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Brasher seems most likely to be the next guy sent back to XST.


XST names of interest

  • Where is Istler?    He was solid in AA and even had some AAA time last year.  Still unassigned.
  • Where’s Jhon Romero?  He got assigned to High-A.
  • Pantoja? Still missing; may have been a “quiet” release.
  • No word yet about Seth Romero‘s rehab progress.
  • Since the last posting, the team officially assigned 5 guys to Low-A and put them directly on the DL: Barnett, WDavis, Howell, SRomero, Troop.  Barrett and WDavis were on the GCL team last year.  Howell and Troop were “missing” names from last year’s Low-A team now found, and of course Romero remains perhaps the worst 1st round pick this team has had since the Aaron Crow/Jim Bowden debacle.

 

Minor League Rotations: Good and Bad Starts

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Voth has looked pretty good so far. Photo mlb.com official

Voth has looked pretty good so far. Photo mlb.com official

We’re now a couple turns through the four full season minor league rotations and I thought i’d take a quick gander at what the “rotations” looked like, with some short sample size judgements as to who has come out of the gate hot or not from a stats perspective.  I have not seen any of these games, just looking at milb.com’s stat page.  So feel free to add in any personal opinions 🙂


 

AAA/Fresno 2019

The rotation is looking like: McGowin, Copeland, Voth, Espino, Alvarez, with Dragmire as a spot-starter and Joe Ross having been yanked up to MLB bullpen duty (replaced by Alvarez).  Espino returns to the fold, having signed elsewhere as a MLFA a couple years back.

The Bullpen is looking like: AAdams, Rainey, Hoover, Nuno, Self, Cordero and Bacus (recently promoted to replace Austen Williams, himself promoted to cover for MLB injuries).

Who’s hot: Voth and McGowin have started well out of the rotation, Voth sporting a 16/1 K/BB ratio and McGowin 12/2.  I’m liking the first start from off-season signing Copeland too.   In the bullpen, Adams has 5 innings, 1 hit and 11 punch outs while Hoover has yet to give up a hit (though.. he’s walked 7 guys in 6 innings).

Who’s not?  Dragmire.  In three appearances so far, he’s pitched 9  2/3rds innings, given up 21 hits and only struck out 3 guys.   Ouch.  In the bullpen, both Rainey and Hoover have more walks than Ks so far.

Who’s next guy to get the call?   Honestly, it might be time to give Adams another shot.  His numbers merited the promotion moreso than Williams (who has the highest ERA in Fresno).  Next time there’s a spot start you have to think Voth is putting his name first in line.

Who’s getting the Axe?  Dragmire seems to be in trouble; he’s a MLFA re-signing so I can’t imagine the team has much invested in him, especially now that Alvarez and Espino are in the AAA rotation.


 

AA/Harrisburg 2019

Rotation: Crowe, Fedde, Sharp, Mapes, Braymer*, with  swingman/spot starts by Baez and MSanchez (who we get back after having flipped him for Jimmy Cordero on the AAA squad).

Bullpen: Bourque,  Brinley, Condra-Bogan, JMills*, RPena,  Guilbeau*, ABarrett (Bacus already promoted).  Great to see Barrett back here and hope he can re-contribute at the MLB level.

Who’s hot: Crowe and Fedde in the rotation: Crowe’s given up just 6 baserunners in his first two starts, Fedde just 7.  Mapes has an 11/1 K/BB ratio in his two starts.  In the bullpen, Barrett and Condra-Bogan have been solid.

Who’s not?  Sterling Sharp has a 6.30 ERA through 2 starts.  Bourque and Gilbeau have elevated whips but they’ve only thrown a handful of innings.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  I think Crowe may merit a promotion to AAA if he keeps this up for the rest of the month, perhaps to cover for injury or if one of our veteran guys exercises an opt-out.   We know Fedde is staying put to serve as the Nats 6th starter.

Who’s next to get the Axe?   Nobody really; Sharp has the highest ERA but he’s a solid prospect who is in AA at age 23.  We may have to keep an eye on Guilbeau; 2019 is his make-or-break season after two successive full seasons in high-A.


High-A/Potomac 2019

Rotation:  Johnston, Borne*, Tetreault, Raquet*, MPena, LReyes with swingman/spot starts by Howard*,  ALee,

bullpen:  Acevedo, Bogucki, Fuentes,   McKinney,  Bartow,

Who’s hot: Tetreault and perhaps Malvin Pena in the rotation, McKinney & Fuentes in the bullpen.

Who’s not?  Reyes’ first start was not good.   Bourne’s sporting a 2.31 whip so far.  And Howard has given up 12 hits in 6 IP.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Nobody really screaming for a promotion so far; if you had to pick one of each i’d go with Tetrault and Fuentes (who is just 21 but has started great).

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Reyes struggled last year in AA; if he can’t get guys out this year in High-A he’s not long for the league.  Borne missed all of 2018 but is repeating a level and is now 25; its put up or shut up time.


Low-A/Hagerstown 2019

Rotation:  Alastre/Day, Adon, Cate*/Tapani, Irvin/Teel*, FPeguero/AGuillen, Strom/Stoeckinger*

bullpen:   German,  Fletcher*

Lots of “tandem” starting going on, though the roles seem to have settled into the “starter” going 4-5 and the tandem guy typically going 2-3.  So its likely at some point the tandem guys either move into starters or purely bullpen roles.

Who’s hot: Peguero and Cate.  Peguero has 10/1 K/BB in 10 IP while Cate has struck out 12 in 9.   Both the “relievers” in Hagerstown have been solid: German sporting 8 Ks and a 0.75 whip in 4 games, and Fletcher an even better 0.53 whip in 3 outings.

Who’s not? Alastre; the opening day starter has 11 walks and 12 hits given up in his 12 IP of work.  Adon’s first start was a struggle; he’ll get another crack at it tonight before passing too much judgement.

Who’s next guy to get the call? I’d promote Peguero and Fletcher first from each group.

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Alastre is only 20, but is repeating low-A with similar results to last  year.


 

XST names of interest

  • Where is Istler?    He was solid in AA and even had some AAA time last year
  • Where’s Jhon Romero?
  • Pantoja?  I wonder if he’s been released as a 25yr old and we just havn’t seen it updated on milb.com yet.