Nationals Arm Race

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

Ask Jesse; a just-before-the-season Mailbag


Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via

Jake Noll looks to make the 2019 opening day roster. Photo via

In order to move on from my Fantasy Baseball post, here’s a mailbag that WP Nats Beat reporter Jesse Dougherty posted on 3/25/19.

Interesting notes here from today: the demotions of Adrian Sanchez in particular, which seems to indicate that NRI and 2016 7th round draft pick Jake Noll may very well be making this team.  Noll signed for $190k in 2016, which definitely wasn’t a senior sign/throw away pick out of FGCU, but he’s gotten absolutely zero prospect love in his career thus far.  He was ranked 26th on 2080 Baseball’s 2019 list, and got an “Honorable Mention” in John Sickel‘s post 2016 list, but that’s it.  And how he’s set to be the Nats primary backup middle infielder until Howie Kendrick can return.  So great for Noll.

Questions she took and how i’d answer them:

Q: What do you think the chances are the Nats extend Rendon? I’m not too optimistic after this most recent report.

A: A good question.  I’m guessing that at this point, Anthony Rendon will head to FA.  He better have an action plan though with his agent Scott Boras, who has absolutely blown several high profile cases over the last couple of off seasons.

That being said, I’m hoping Rendon is taking a hard look at the landscape, taking a hard look at the contracts that some of his comparables are signing (Nolan Arenado 8yr/$260M for $32.5 AAV) and perhaps coming back to the table before he faces an embarassing off-season.  Rendon is a year older than Arenado, less accomplished from awards and year end recognition … and will have to eat deferred money to stay here.  Can a deal get done?

Dougherty notes that Rendon has instructed Boras to work on an extension, and they’ll work into the season.  So perhaps we’ll see something like a 6yr/$180M deal in our future with deferred dollars.

Q: How is the team preparing for having AAA players in Fresno instead of Syracuse? Any chatter from likely minor leaguers about the switch?

A: That’s a great question, one that fans like us can’t really answer other than noting the obvious: the team has “demoted” the likes of Erick Fedde and Spencer Kieboom to Harrisburg so they can be a couple hours away in case of an emergency.  Meanwhile longer-term strategic assets like Joe RossKyle McGowin, and Raudy Read are instead heading to Fresno to get stretched out or further tested against more senior competition.

Ironically, Spencer and his younger brother, phenom prospect Carter Kieboom, are both scheduled to now be in AA.  I wonder if they’ll room together 😉

Dougherty notes the same players that I do, but has little else to offer in terms of player insights.

Q: Can you talk about the OF depth issue with Michael A. Taylor’s injury and Kendrick’s? Any insight on the organization’s view of its internal outfield options? Any indications if General Manager Mike Rizzo thinks he needs to go outside the organization to address?

A: Well, it certainly didn’t help when exactly one third of the outfielders on the 40-man got hurt (Taylor and Kendrick).  So the team is breaking camp with their 3 starters and their one remaining option in Andrew Stevenson to start the season.  Depth?  The next likely guy up probably is Rafael Bautista, who was on the 40-man last  year and got DFA’d/assigned to AAA .  Our top OF prospect is probably Gage Canning, who was in short season last year.  Brian Goodwin just got released by Kansas City; maybe he’s worth taking a MLFA flier on and getting him back into the fold.   The team has added some MLFA 4-A type talents that are also sitting in AAA; my guess is that they’d go there first for a short-term fix.  If it turned out that Taylor was done for the season, may be then we’d go for an outside option.

Dougherty says that since Taylor’s injury is short term, nothing will happen, and that in-house options like Wilmer Difo and Matt Adams can cover.

Q: Jake Noll has been tearing it up in spring training, Nats’ OF depth is thin, does Jake have any experience in the OF? Could his success translate to the big leagues soon?

A: This question was a day early, given today’s press reports of Noll’s likely making the team.   So his hot spring training has definitely paid off.

I see no evidence of his playing the OF: he spent his first two pro seasons playing 2B, then split time between 1B and 3B last  year.  Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that this level of athleticism on the dirt would translate to at least a passing ability to play LF in a pinch.  But it doesn’t seem like that’s his path for now.

Dougherty notes that Noll played some OF in high school, but he only played the three positions in which he has pro experience this spring.

Q: Do Nats fans boo Bryce on April 2?

A:  I’ve been asked this many times by my Bryce Harper hating friends.  His first AB will be a video tribute and a standing ovation.  Perhaps by the 3rd or 4th AB he may get some boos.  He’s slated to face Scherzer in the 4th game of the season on regular rest, unless the team decides to keep its rotation intact.

Dougherty seems to think the reception will be chilly.  We’ll see!  Maybe the team should sell out the stadium to traveling Philly fans to make a buck like they used to in the old days.



24 Responses to 'Ask Jesse; a just-before-the-season Mailbag'

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  1. Jake Noll’s success this spring just goes to show how useless all those top prospects lists really are. He’s never even been listed on the Nats’ Top 30 list. Personally, I’ve been following his career ever since he got drafted because he just seemed to be the type of steady hitter who was a candidate to have a big jump in his game at some point. What I didn’t realize is that he’s actually considered to be a decent defender.

    The truth is any of us who understand age vs. level and the importance of good strikeout/walk ratios (and overall strikeout rates for pitchers) could look at the stats and assemble a Top 30 prospects list for the team every year that would make at least as much sense as the “official” lists.

    As for Harper, I deliberately did not draft tickets in my ST group to the first Phillies series because I don’t want to be there to see him honored, but I do plan to boo the SOB whenever I do see him after that. Make it a hostile place for him to play–his ego seems to have difficulty handling that. That first game they should do a scoreboard collage of Harper swinging wildly at strike three, not running out ground balls, throwing to the wrong base from the outfield and incessantly arguing with the umps while playing Yakety Sax in the background. THAT is is real DC legacy.

    Karl Kolchak

    27 Mar 19 at 1:22 am

  2. So, my theory on Noll and prospect lists is this: they have a blind spot specifically for middle relievers and utility guys like Noll. And perhaps for good reason: how much impact would a player like Noll (or Difo, or Kendrick, or Sanchez, or going backwards a little bit the likes of Lombardozzi or Gonzalez). Same with RH middle relievers like Glover or AWilliams. Inarguably their eventual impact is peanuts compared to what a #2 starting pitcher prospect, or a starting shortstop, or a quality outfielder. So that’s what you see dominating these lists.

    I have this struggle every year when Luke asks about our “pitcher” prospect ranks. What makes a top pitching prospect? Is it potential and talent, is it likelihood of actually making the majors and having an impact? Or is it somewhere inbetween? Who right this moment is a better pitching prospect: Denaburg (who has yet to throw a pitch professionally but who was a 1st round pick with #1 “potential” and is just 19) or Wil Crowe (who made it to AA in his 2nd pro season out of college at age 24 and seems likely to move up again this year and potentially contribute at the MLB level, but perhaps as a #4)?

    Todd Boss

    27 Mar 19 at 9:33 am

  3. FWIW, Scialabba said that Noll played some OF in college. Frankly, I’m quite surprised by his rapid rise to the roster as he wasn’t very good at AA last year, 100-150 OPS points behind guys like Davidson, Ward, and Keller. He does has more defensive flexibility, though. He’s not SS-capable, but that’s (apparently) what Difo is for, although as bad as Difo was offensively last year, it wouldn’t take much to supplant him. There’s no doubt that Noll is a better hitter than Sanchez.

    In a perfect world, though, where time clocks didn’t matter, it would Carter Kieboom who is getting this cup of coffee.

    Larger issue/problem: the Nats haven’t done well at all, at least among domestic/drafted players, at developing positional players beyond highly drafted star types. They have also traded a few who were rising, like Neuse, Schrock, and Daniel Johnson, although none of those has a ceiling beyond MLB bench. Of course they’ve invested much of the top of the last two drafts in pitching. The Cole Freeman pick in 2017 already looks wasted. Good early returns from the OF crop from 2018, though: Canning, Rhinesmith, Wilson, and O’Connor. Some real disappointments ahead of them on the ladder, though, like Wiseman and Banks.

    These guys aren’t just important as reserves; they’re important to keep the bench costs down. Wally corrected me on the last post that Taylor’s contract isn’t up after this season, as the Nats still control him through 2020. We already debated whether he should have been tendered this year, though, and arb is likely to put him around $5M for 2020 no matter what he does this year. C’mon, $5M for a reserve OF? No way. But Stevenson isn’t a competent MLB hitter, so unless someone like Canning moves up fast this year, they’re left with the same problem they had this offseason — having to overpay Taylor to keep him around as a reserve because they’ve got no one else.


    27 Mar 19 at 9:58 am

  4. Goodwin was awful for KC this spring, hitting .116. Meanwhile, local kid Khalil Lee hit .429/.529/.714 in limited action as an NRI. Wow, just noticed on the same KC spring roster that Bubba Starling, who the Royals took ahead of Rendon, is now 27 and still hasn’t made it.


    27 Mar 19 at 10:05 am

  5. Conventional wisdom is that Fedde will be close in Harrisburg in case needed quickly. True wisdom is that, um, Fedde REALLY SUCKED this spring and may need to rebuild his confidence at AA.

    If the Nats need a starter, Ross and Alvarez (who wasn’t bad at all this spring after an initial rough outing) really, really, really should get the call ahead of Fedde. I’d also have McGowin ahead of Fedde in the pecking order at this point. If they need a reliever, no one was better in the spring than Austen Williams, their final cut.


    27 Mar 19 at 10:11 am

  6. Goodwin hitting .116 this spring. But KW, Spring Training stats don’t matter right?

    Todd Boss

    27 Mar 19 at 11:19 am

  7. Fedde’s 8.03 ERA this spring: Remember, Spring Training stats don’t matter right?

    Todd Boss

    27 Mar 19 at 11:20 am

  8. Sorry, can’t help but be cynical about the completely narrative driven Spring Training statline responses we see in the media.
    – If a star player’s stats suck in spring training, “they’re trying stuff out.”
    – if a star player’s stats are awesome in spring training, “he’s locked in and ready to go.”
    – if a prospect’s stats suck in spring training, “well they’re just getting exposed to better talent.”
    – if a prospect’s stats are awesome in spring training, “wow he really is making a statement to make the roster.”

    More to the point…
    – if you personally LIKE a player, and his stats suck in spring training, “oh, spring training stats don’t matter.”
    – if you personally HATE a player, and his stats suck in spring training, “oh well I told you so.”

    Todd Boss

    27 Mar 19 at 11:22 am

  9. Noll is a nice story, but a little bit overblown. If I am reading it correctly, he had a great start, like .500, over the first 20 PAs, then tailed off quite a bit. I don’t think he has vaulted into phenom status.

    I also think a better OF is a bigger need for the roster than Noll. If MAT can hit, which is no guarantee, I’d be ok with a $5m for a 4th OF on this team. each of the starters are high quality but higher than usual injury risks. the 4th OF could easily get 400 PAs each year, and with MAT’s defense, that could be a 2WAR player if he can hit at league average. That’s worth $5m.


    27 Mar 19 at 11:25 am

  10. Boz likes to say something to the effect that despite hot stretches, ultimately you’re what your stats say you are. So I think you have to look at the spring in relation to what the stats from the previous year say you are. If you were great last year (Corbin), you get a pass in the spring to be “working on stuff.” If you struggled last year but are an established vet (Dozier) but still struggling in the spring, you sorta get a pass, but they also take a longer look at your successor (C. Kieboom). If you’re trying to make the team, weren’t great last year, and still haven’t fully established yourself in the majors (Fedde and Goodwin), then your spring stats mean a heck of a lot.

    The thing that irks me about Fedde in particular is that “prospects” get a lot more leeway on marginal stats than other guys do. Fedde is the latest in a long line, but Giolito was one of the best/worst examples. His stats never indicated that he was anywhere as good as he was “projected” to be. Fedde had a 4.41 ERA in AAA last year, 5.54 in MLB, with a 4.76 ERA in AAA in ’17. He’s 26 years old. The Nats had so much faith in him this year that they, um, re-signed Hellickson.

    I would also agree with “a bit overblown” on Noll (a sentiment that has gotten me fussed at by some at Nats Prospects). Don’t get me wrong, kudos to the guy for the making the most of his opportunity, and there’s no doubt he’s a better hitter than Sanchez (and Difo). But if you look at his 2018 stats in conjunction with his hot spring, there’s reason to be skeptical. In a good sample size at AA (66 games), his OPS was only .687. Nevertheless, he got the AFL invite, where he improved slightly to .738. But here are the OPS numbers from some others at AA last year, all significantly better: Yadiel Hernandez .963 (promoted to AAA); Austin Davidson .846; Drew Ward .833 (promoted to AAA, and younger than Noll); Alec Keller .823; Daniel Johnson .731 (traded); Kelvin Gutierrez .713 (traded). Yes, Carter Kieboom also struggled a bit at Harrisburg (.731), but he’s four years younger than Noll. I know there are positional differences here, and that Davidson and Ward are said to be pretty limited defensively. I’m just curious how Noll became the golden child. I’m also curious why Hernandez couldn’t even get an NRI even though he’s a substantially better hitter than Stevenson. I know he’s on the wrong side of 30, but so was C-Rob.


    27 Mar 19 at 1:07 pm

  11. Hmm, Nats paying a 4th OF $5M per year, promising him 400 ABs a year. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the immortal Nate McLouth, in the running for Rizzo’s worst deal ever, 2/$10M.

    Yes, the Nats need a significant bench OF upgrade over Stevenson for next year, but there’s no way they can/should pay Taylor $5M. Maybe they can sign him for 2/$6M or something.


    27 Mar 19 at 1:13 pm

  12. Todd–you’re right that the top prospects should be the high draftees and top IFAs who have a chance to be impact players. But on the flip side, the bottom half of the Top 30 list on is always full of question marks, many of whom never crack the big club. The Nats’ number 12 rated prospect right now is a guy who is just 17 and has never even played a minor league game. Even Denaburg is overrated at #4. At least let these guys face some competition and see how they do before they get so elevated.

    Anyway, who is to say that if Noll continues to improve he won’t become a starter at some point–if not here then elsewhere? It worked for Steven Souza, who looked like he was a goner at one point. BTW–that injury Souza sustained slipping on home plate is a major bummer. Bad enough to be out for the season, but for it to happen in the last ST game really smarts. I wondered this on Monday night when the Nats and Yanks were playing in a drizzle before an almost empty stadium–after the Harper and Eaton injuries why in the heck were they even playing that game?


    27 Mar 19 at 10:00 pm

  13. BTW–for as highly touted as that 2016 draft class has been, it’s worth noting that Noll is the first member of that class to make the majors.

    Karl Kolchak

    27 Mar 19 at 10:05 pm

  14. Another BTW–the total number of Nats on this year’s OD roster who were on the active OD roster in 2018? 10 (would be only 9 if they hadn’t brought back Adams).

    That’s some turnover for one year. Martinez has no more excuses if the team flounders again coming out of the gate.

    (That Anon was me. Computer isn’t defaulting to my screen name as it usually does)

    Karl Kolchak

    27 Mar 19 at 10:50 pm

  15. Happy Opening Day, baseball friends! I will move forward my predictions from the last post.

    I’ll start with an obscure fact that I stumbled upon: no team has won three straight NL pennants since the roster-depleted times of World War II (Cards, ’42-’44). Aside from the Dodgers, to me, the other higher-quality team in the NL is . . . the Nats. I think this is the best all-around team the Nats have fielded, although I don’t think they’ll be nipping at 100 wins like some other Nat squads because the division is better and because their manager has yet to prove that he can be a positive difference-maker in the close ones.

    I have no idea what to think about the rest of the NL. Baseball Prospectus has the Cubs last in the Central, with only 79 wins. The Dodgers probably will win the West, although it took them time to get going last year, and their pitching health is precarious.

    The Braves’ pitching health has moved beyond precarious with Folty and Gausman out for some time. Still can’t believe that they and the Phils didn’t spend on starting pitching. I’m going to say that those decisions keep both teams out of the wild card, albeit just barely. I’ll take the Brewers in the central and the Cards and Cubs getting wild cards in a mad scramble with the Phils, Braves, Mets (maybe), and Rockies. I was thinking the Reds might have a chance to be interesting this year, but they’ve been one of the losing-est teams in the spring.

    AL: Boston’s lineup may be better, but its pitching will be worse. The Yanks have stockpiled starting pitching, and I think that will nudge them past the Bosox in the East. CLE and HOU seem like the other chalk divisional picks, although no one seems to be commenting on HOU losing two starters the quality of Keuchel and Morton, and Lindor just got hurt for CLE.

    Most think that there’s only one AL wild card slot available beyond the “loser” between BOS and NYY. Contenders would appear to be TB, MIN, OAK, and LAA. OAK was terrific last year with a questionable rotation that is now further depleted, yet the A’s remained one of the best teams in the spring. My pick is the Rays, who people forget won 90 in a division with two 100+ win teams. Morton is a big addition for them.

    So . . .

    NL: WAS, MIL, LAD, with WC’s STL and CHC
    AL: NYY, CLE, HOU, with WC’s BOS and TB


    28 Mar 19 at 6:01 am

  16. My biggest worry heading in is that Dozier is Dan Uggla for us.

    Hope I’m wrong. How long does Carter have to stay down to get the extra year or super 2? I hope he’s playing 2b every day just in case.


    28 Mar 19 at 10:44 am

  17. Uggla never securely fielded a ball in his life! At least Dozier is solid defensively. He’s a wild card offensively, perhaps the wild card, although the Nats don’t have to have him be great, just to not suck. It seemed like he was making solid contact toward the end of camp and had a couple of homers in later games.

    FWIW, Dozier over the last four seasons, even with his struggles in ’19, hit 125 homers. The guy who used to wear #34 here hit 129 over the same period. Just sayin’. (I nearly choked this morning when I heard discussion of how the Nats might struggle to replace Harper’s “35 to 45 homers a year.” Um, he’s never hit 45, he’s only made it into that range once, and he’s only topped 30 twice in seven seasons. Not saying that he might not hit more in the Philly band box, but that’s different than saying that the Nats are losing these huge numbers of homers that he didn’t actually produce here.)

    Getting back do Dozier, if he struggles, Kendrick should be healthy soon and has mostly been a 2B in his career. Kieboom has no previous MLB experience, so the Super Two will be at its usual floating time around June 10 or so.


    28 Mar 19 at 11:21 am

  18. Yeah I forgot about Kendrick for a minute. He’s a very important piece.

    Worry #2 is Trea Turner. Is he going to be closer to 2016 superstar Trea (with the bat) or average 2017-2018 Trea. Very important year for him to cement himself as offensive star.

    Didn’t watch him much this Spring but last year the quality and consistency of his ab’s were poor even if the stats looked okay in the end. But if he’s trending the same way #2 in the order is too high for him.

    Possible switch with him in the order with Robles may be coming if Robles tears it up. But geez I’m hoping Trea has figured some things out.


    28 Mar 19 at 12:52 pm

  19. Prospects: I completely agree that I have a hard time thinking of someone as a “prospect” before he has actually done anything in pro ball, like Denaburg and Romero. Yes, they have pedigrees and a high pick number attached to them, but they haven’t done anything. Then if you blow out your arm early in your Nat career, you get a pass for a couple of more years, like Giolito and Fedde did. You can always blame the injury or “rust.”

    I like to see results. In thinking about it, there seem to be two or three key weigh stations along the Nat prospect pipeline. The first is Auburn. If you’re a legit pro prospect, don’t struggle at Auburn (Tim Cate). The guys who do reasonably well at Auburn tend to do reasonably well at Hagerstown. Those who show some yellow or red flags at Auburn often hit concerning bumps in the road at Hags (see a lot of the 2017 pitching draftees). You usually don’t see a lot of HR power at Auburn, but you want to see guys getting on base and not striking out too much. With pitchers, have a reasonable WHIP.

    The Hagerstown level generally has not slowed down guys who did well at Auburn. In fact, some seem to blossom there to the point of creating irrational hope (Goodwin, Skole, Johnson). The rubber seems to meet the road at the Potomac (which Goodwin skipped and Skole mostly did, probably to their detriment). The Carolina league is relatively small, so you see the same teams a lot and they get a “book” on hitters and pitchers pretty quickly. A lot of careers end in Woodbridge or at least hit the “repeat” cycle (Taylor, Souza). Guys who graduate from Potomac with good marks (as opposed to those who get the “social promotion”) are on the cusp of being at least fringe major-league quality (Noll).

    The final step is doing well at AA. This is the point where they realize that some are meant for the bullpen, not starting (Grace, Williams). (It took Williams three returns to A+ before he stuck at AA as a reliever.) Guys who can hit at AA at least have a chance to hold their own against MLB pitching.


    28 Mar 19 at 1:09 pm

  20. Marty, last year struck me as Trea “trying to do too much.” As the team struggled, he seemed to try too hard, swing at too many bad pitches trying to make things happen. Bad habits develop quickly. The year before may have been a struggle with expectations. We’ll see.

    In general, there are several guys in this lineup who may relax more individually if the group gets going well collectively, including the two you have highlighted.

    Max K’s Nimmo on three pitches and the season is underway!


    28 Mar 19 at 1:48 pm

  21. And thus it begins…a thoroughly made over roster struggles to score while the manager looks like the same clueless idiot he was last year. Why let Scherzer throw 109 pitches on opening day? Why then bring in a reliever who was hurt for half of spring training instead of your designated 7th inning guy? Why not use your lefty specialist against Cano?

    It’s also kind of ironic that Martinez is getting dumped on for letting Scherzer bat for himself in the 7th inning when if it wasn’t for his own stupidity, a position player would have been due up. In what universe does it make sense to bat potentially your most dynamic offensive player where he’ll get fewer plate appearances than the pitcher?

    From a player’s standpoint, I’m not that concerned about the lack of offense given the opponent. But boy, this game did nothing to give me any confidence in that bullpen.

    Karl Kolchak

    28 Mar 19 at 5:43 pm

  22. Questionable managing, bad baserunning — sound familiar?
    The Mets were smart enough to pull DeGrom after 6 innings.

    Mark L

    28 Mar 19 at 7:40 pm

  23. Yes, it all looked like Game 163 of last season, not a new beginning.


    28 Mar 19 at 8:24 pm

  24. Didn’t see the game. But the box score is telling. If you’re in the 8th inning, why aren’t you throwing you alternate closer Rosenthal as first guy out of the pen? If you’re bringing in a lefty to face Cano, why isn’t it the lefty-specialist acquisition Sipp? Are you tellingme that Grace is considered ‘better’ to face a top lefty hitter than Sipp?

    Oh, and completely agree on idiocy of letting Scherzer bat in 7th so that he could come out for the 8th and not finish the inning. Stupid!! Its the opening game of teh season, you have an entire bullpen of guys and the possibility of getting another run in? Why the F do you let your starter bat a third time knowing he’s going to get pulled one or two batters later.

    I hate it when managers lose games while letting their best players sit on the bench b/c they’re too clever.

    Agree here.

    Todd Boss

    29 Mar 19 at 10:19 am

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