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State of the Minors, week 2

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Cole Henry has looked great so far in 2021. Photo via ai.com

Well, if there was any better indication of just how bad the farm system is … you can go look at the records of our four minor league affiliates through two weeks.

  • AAA: 2-10
  • AA: 4-8
  • High-A: 6-6
  • Low-A: 0-12

Your Fredericksburg Nats are Oh and Twelve. 33 runs scored, 121 against. They’re giving up an average of 10 runs a game, with a current run differential of -88 runs. Wow. So far, the owner of the franchise is reeeaaaallly digging the talent level he’s got to open up his $35M stadium. (Ah who am i kidding, he didn’t spend a dime of his own money, the taxpayers did! I digress).

The only team in the system actually trying (High-A Wilmington) is “only” 6-6. But we’ll get to them.

Ok, so who is hot and who is not after two full 6-game series? We’ll go by level. Here’s who’s “Hot” by level:

AAA:

  • Raudy Read: 5-15 through first 12 games. But he’s on the IL. And listed as a 1B. I mean, is the guy actually catching anymore? Tres Barrera seems to be getting the bulk of catcher ABs, which makes sense since he’s the only guy on the 40-man.
  • Most of the back-end of the bullpen: Bacus, Bonnell, McGowin, Miller and Lobstein all have decent numbers in their few innings of work so far.

AA:

  • Cole Freeman has had a nice start to the season
  • Teel, Sanchez and Reyes in the rotation all have had two decent starts.
  • Sanchez in particular: 15Ks, 1 BB so far in 3 starts.
  • Sterling Sharp rebounded from his awful opener to be pretty stellar in his second start.
  • Gabe Klobotis: 5IP, 2 hits, 7/0 K/BB. How was this guy a 36th rounder??

High-A:

  • Henry and Cavalli: well, they’ve lived up to the hype. Henry has given up 9 base runners in 11 innings and 4 of them scored; his K/BB is actually better than Cavalli’s.
  • Zack Brzycky: where did we get this guy? $10k NDFA last season just shows up at high A slinging dots. 9IP, 4 hits, 14/4 K/BB? yes I’ll take that.
  • Alex Troop: 5ip, 10 Ks, zero BBs, 1 hit. And that one hit scored.
  • Matt Cronin: picks up where he left off in 2019; 5.1 IP, one hit, 11/2 K/BB. Move him up with Henry and Cavalli at the end of the month.

Low-A:

  • Well, Michael Cuevas has had a nice start; 4ip, 1 hit.
  • Mitchell Parker started decently but got hit hard in his 2nd start. He still has 15 Ks in 7innings … to go along with 7 walks.

OK, who is NOT Hot? Well, mostly everyone, but i’ll highlight a few in particular.

AAA:

  • Luis Garcia: hitting just .205 albeit with three homers.
  • Carter Kieboom: he’s only appeared in 7 games?!? What is going on? Hitting .222. We care about basically two bats in the whole of AAA and these two are it, and the opening to the season has been rough.
  • The entire Rotation: the best starter in AAA is Sean Nolin, who the team acquired with like a few days notice to be the AAA opening day starter. Can you feel the excitement?
  • Ryne Harper: the guy was good in 2019 for the Twins; now he’s 32 and struggling in AAA. He’s currently occupying the #1 position on the “first guy to get axed from 40-man when we need to make room for someone.

AA:

  • The entire offense: the team is hitting a collective .151/.235/.247 for the season. .151 team batting order. Some how they’ve won 4 games hitting .151 as a team.
  • Tim Cate: 3 starts and struggling. 1.85 whip, a .315 BAA.

High-A:

  • Again, the entire offense. they’re hitting a collective .208
  • Yasel Antuna: He’s 2 for 40. Two for Fourty!! This is one of our top hitting prospects, a guy who was a MLB spring training invite. What is going on?
  • Israel Pineda: slightly better at 5 for 42. 3 of those 5 hits are homers. This is perhaps the 2nd best prospect on the team.
  • Jackson Rutledge: who had him with an 11.32 ERA through three starts?
  • Evan Lee: two starts, didn’t make it out of the 2nd in either start.
  • Todd Peterson: for a guy who hung around MLB camp as long as he did … he’s not starting well.

Low-A:

  • Everyone.
  • The offense is .167/.280/.222 as a team
  • The pitching staff has a collective 8.12 ERA and a 1.95 whip. As a staff they’re putting on 2 guys an inning.
  • The rotation is so bad they don’t have a single qualified hurler.
  • They have more guys with double digit ERAs than they have guys who have sub 7.00 ERAs.
  • Leif Strom has perhaps the most unimpressive pitching line: 3 appearances/2 starts, a 19.29 ERA. He’s thrown 7 innings, given up 18 hits and 9 walks. 23 runs allowed, but only 15 earned thanks to some stellar defense behind him

It can only get better from here right? A team can’t go winless for 140 games can they? 🙂

Next to get promoted: Cavalli, Henry, Cronin

Next to get demoted/released: Strom, maybe Harper getting DFA’d.

Fangraphs/Longenhagen Nats top prospect list drops

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Rutledge gets the #1 nod from Fangraphs. Photo via BA

The last of the “major” pundits has released their Nats prospect ranking lists for the 2021 season, with Fangraph’s lead prospect writer Eric Longenhagen teaming with Tess Taruskin to release their top 22 Nats prospects for 2021.

Why 22 prospects, instead of 10 or 20 or some other round number? Fangraphs drives their rankings via a “Future Value” metric, so the deeper your system is, the more prospects you will have on their list. The cutoff is a “35+ FV,” which projects as something between a 4-A career guy and a bench role player. Yes, you may immediately draw some conclusions about the depth of our system by the number who reached that plateau; by way of comparison a “good” farm system in Tampa had no fewer than 62 players make their 2021 fangraphs list by using the same 35+ cutoff.

So, yeah, we have some work to do… but we already knew that since every macro ranking of our system done this year has us dead last as a system.

Anyway, here’s the Fangraphs list, with some commentary about how these rankings fare side-by-side with other pundits.

Fangraphs 2021 rankLast NameFirst NamePositionAcquisition
1RutledgeJacksonRHP (Starter)2019 1st
2CavalliCadeRHP (Starter)2020 1st
3AntunaYaselSS2016 IFA
4LaraAndryRHP (Starter)2019 IFA
5De La RosaJeremyOF (corner)2018 IFA
6RomeroSethLHP (Starter)2017 1st
7CroninMattLHP (reliever)2019 4th
8HenryColeRHP (Starter)2020 2nd
9PinedaIsraelC2016 IFA
10CateTimLHP (Starter)2018 2nd
11InfanteSamuelSS2020 2nd supp
12CruzArmandoSS2020 IFA
13AdonJoanRHP (Starter)2016 IFA
14MendozaDrew3B2019 3rd
15DenaburgMasonRHP (Starter)2018 1st
16QuintanaRoismarOF (CF)2019 IFA
17CluffJacksonSS2019 6th
18PowellHoldenRHP (Reliever)2020 3rd
19BrzykcyZachRHP (Reliever)2020 NDFA
20BarreraTresC2016 6th
21SchallerReidRHP (Starter)2018 3rd
22PetersonToddRHP (starter)2019 7th

Commentary in rough order of list:

  • FG went with Rutledge over Cavalli for #1. At the end of the prospect season, these two basically split the #1 overall spot among major pundits, with FG, ESPN, and BleacherReport going with Rutledge #1, while BA, Keith Law, and MLBpipeline all went with Cavalli.
  • They’re now high rankers on De La Rosa, putting him at #5 in the system. It sounds like the projection for him is basically a lesser version of Juan Soto; lefty power hitting corner outfielder.
  • They have Romero still high, at #6, but added no intelligence as to why he did not appear in spring training 2021. Still projects two 60-grade pitches, but his fastball has fallen out of favor and they have him with 40-command. That’s a reliever, and not necessarily a good one, at best.
  • One of the reasons FG is high man on both De La Rosa and Romero is because they’re well lower on Cole Henry than anyone else, having him 8th. It sounds to me like they think he’s heading into relief, much like the guy ranked just above him Matt Cronin.
  • They’re well above anyone else on Israel Pineda, and i’m not really sure why. In the middle of last season, the same evaluator ranked him #16. What’s substantively changed since August?
  • He’s pumping the brakes on Armando Cruz, ranking him at #12 where a number of the major evaluators already have him 5-7 range.
  • He’s put Denaburg all the way down to #15, noting that his pro career/injury record now puts him nearly below non-prospects. Great 1st rounder guys!
  • He’s got Zach Brzykcy, a NDFA $20k signing from last summer, in the top 20 of our system. I suppose that does say something about our system depth, but Longenhagen does note that Bryzcky is one of a handful of NDFAs who have impressed and would have been legitimate draft picks with a longer draft. 2-pitch, pure reliever.
  • Last man in the rankings is Todd Peterson, mr coming out of nowhere for this team, who hung around Spring Training longer than most of our 1st round multi-million dollar prospects. He’s projecting as middle relief, with 2 good pitches, decent velocity and excellent deception in his delivery.

Nowhere in this list are a handful of characters that are well regarded on other lists. That includes Daniel Marte, Tyler Dyson, Jake Irvin (likely b/c he’s missing all of 2021 with a TJ), Ben Braymer, Viandel Pena ….

And of course Steven Fuentes is missing … who only just got a call-up…. to the majors … which is kind of the whole damn point of being a prospect? It does make me question what these guys are really looking for … if you project some 2-pitch guy as a possible middle reliever in the major leagues, then flat out don’t rank a starter who actually DOES make the majors … at age 23 … then what are we ranking/evaluating on? I’m not discounting prospect evaluation work entirely by any means (to head off some of my frequent commenters who are bound to pick up on this and disclaim all prospect rankers), but I do sense there’s a specific blind side in these evaluators when it comes to certain kinds of players. Fuentes (and Ben Braymer) fit right into that gap; a starter who doesn’t project as a stud, guys who get by on command/control instead of velocity. Maybe that’s the point; maybe guys like Fuentes/Braymer are such a “dime a dozen” kind of 4-A players that they specifically never get ranked … but if you have a prospect catcher ranked in the teens who does not ever project to make the majors, wouldn’t by definition you have a guy who IS capable of making the majors (whether its as a long-man, or a middle reliever, or the backup 2nd baseman) ranked higher? A theoretical question.

Spring Training 2021 NRI Discussion

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Parra may bring the shark back to Washington in 2021 as an NRI. Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

This is our 7th straight year doing this recurring post; a look at the Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) upon their official announcement ahead of spring training.

Here’s past posts by year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

The team has invited 71 players to spring training, which means that joining the 39 members of the 40-man roster are an astounding 32 NRIs. FYI: the big board is now updated for all 32 NRIs, who are shaded in purple. 2020 was a weird year, which probably is why we’re seeing so many NRIs, and so many NRIs who are so young. Normally NRIs are veteran MLFAs, AAA/4-A guys and perhaps one or two top prospects. This year, the team has invited a slew of guys who have never played above A-ball, or who were drafted just last year.

Why do we care about NRIs? Because there’s a high likelihood we’ll see these guys either make the roster or get called up later on this year. Since the 2015 season:

  • 9 NRIs have made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 10 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017).  Basically every year an NRI has made the roster for six seasons running.
  • 29 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season they were in spring training.

So its likely that we’re going to see a lot of these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2021.


Lets review the NRIs and make some predictions.

Here’s the list of 32 NRI’s for 2021, organized by player type:

  • RH Starters: Jefry Rodriguez, Paolo Espino, Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Tyler Dyson, Todd Peterson
  • RH Relievers: Aaron Barrett, Tyler Eppler, Javy Guerra, Gabe Klobotis, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Bryan Bonnell, Jeremy Jeffress
  • LH Starters: Tim Cate
  • LH Relievers: Luis Avilan, TJ McFarland, Matt Cronin
  • Catchers: Raudy Read, Wellington Castillo, Israel Pineda, Jakson Reetz, Blake Swihart, Brandon Snyder (who is oddly listed as a Catcher but really is a 1B)
  • Infielders: Adrian Sanchez, Hernan Perez, Jordy Mercer, Jackson Cluff, Drew Mendoza
  • Outfielders: Carlos Tocci, Yasmany Tomas, Gerardo Parra, Cody Wilson

(note: post-publishing edit; I had Bonnell as a LHP; thanks for the correction. 2/22/21 added Jeffress).


So lets squint and make some predictions.

  • Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  There are a couple of opportunities for these guys this year, absolutely. All of this is assuming no injuries to the current 40-man.
    1. Lefty Reliever: right now the bullpen has two lefties: Brad Hand and Sam Clay. Hand seems like he’s going to be the closer, while Clay has never pitched in the majors. So, yeah, there’s opportunity here. Avilan has the most MLB time but his numbers have been iffy lately. McFarland has as much MLB time as Avilan and has better recent numbers. Cronin could surprise here, but he’s never pitched above A-ball. He’s got amazing numbers though. The team could also be looking to convert one of its lefty starters to a reliever (Romero, Braymer) … but those guys would be far more valuable as effective starters. At the end of the day, I think McFarland breaks camp as the loogy.
    2. 7th/8th bullpen arm/RH Reliever: Right now on the depth chart, the team only has 9 true “relievers” on its 40-man. They’re going to break camp with 8 of them. The options game probably means they carry the loser of Ross/Voth/Fedde 5th starter competition as the 8th reliever, meaning that there’s possibly some competition for that last righty out of the pen. Look for that spot to be competed between Finnegan, Bacus and then the likes of veteran NRI Guerra. I’ll bet the team breaks camp with Guerra; he’s been there before and the team knows him, sending Finnegan and Bacus to AAA. 2/22/21 update: with the Jeffress signing, I think he goes to the head of the list above Guerra.
    3. 4th OF; Is there really a competition here? I don’t believe there is. But a 5th OF could be in the works as a bench bat. See next.
    4. Bench Bat: here’s our current projected Bench bats: Harrison, Zimmerman. Not much there. I like Parra as a glue-guy, clubhouse guy, spare part kind of player. Plus he hits lefty. Plus lets be honest; his Baby Shark thing is the kind of fan engagement phenomenon that you just can’t buy in terms of publicity. Not that there’s going to be any damn fans.
    5. Spare Infielder: do we really think Garcia is the backup infielder? I don’t think so: i think Garcia goes back to AAA and one of Sanchez/Mercer/Perez makes it as a veteran infielder. Given our Pittsburgh connection, money on Mercer.

So my prediction? multiple NRIs joining the team: McFarland, Jeffress, Parra and Mercer.

Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2021? Absolutely. Past my four NRI predictions, I can see more than a few of these guys getting call-ups later on if they stick.

Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  There’s a bunch of our top prospects on this list: Cavalli, Henry, Rutledge, Cate, Cronin. And there’s lesser-known but older/effective guys who seem like good bets to put themselves onto the roster. Nats spring training games should be great.

Are there any surprise non-NRIs in the system right now? Yeah a couple surprise non-invites. Two arms that were on the 60-man last year are not invited: Nick Wells and Sterling Sharp. Wells is a lefty reliever; why not invite him and have him compete? Sharp has MLB time; why not put him in camp? No other real surprise non-invites.


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering… (this is recycled material, carried along year by year)

Summary of NRIs for 2020: 22 total

  • Three (3) made the 30-man roster out of Spring training: Javy Guerra, Sam Freeman, Emilio Bonifacio
  • 4 more eventually got added and called-up: tbd by end of 2020 season (Wil Crowe, Dakota Bacus, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez).
  • 0 more since been added to 40-man post 2020-season: tbd before 2021 season, but thanks to odd 2020 60-man roster all the NRIs under consideration here already got the callup.

Summary of NRIs for 2019: 18 total

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

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

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

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

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

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

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

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.

BA Mid-season updated top 30 Prospects released; analysis and reaction

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Kieboom still #1 ... but not for long. Photo via Federal Baseball

Kieboom still #1 … but not for long. Photo via Federal Baseball

Hey, we’re half a week into the season, the Nats are 1-3, are already on their 7th string starting pitcher, havn’t had their star player play b/c he apparently got a false-positive Covi19 test, managed to lose a game where Corbin gave up one hit through six innings against perhaps the best team in the majors.  Oh, and half the Marlins have tested positive for Covid19 and the Nats just basically voted as a team to boycott the next trip to Miami.

Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

Lets talk Prospects instead for a bit.  In the midst of the race to restart the season, Baseball America reported out its updated top 30 prospects for all teams.  Here’s the Nats version.  I’m not sure if this is or isn’t behind a paywall (I’m a BA subscriber so I don’t know but suspect it is), so here’s the overall list.

1. Carter Kieboom, SS/2B
2. Luis Garcia, SS/2B
3. Jackson Rutledge, RHP
4. Cade Cavalli, RHP
5. Cole Henry, RHP
6. Wil Crowe, RHP
7. Tim Cate, LHP
8. Drew Mendoza, 1B
9. Andry Lara, RHP
10. Mason Denaburg, RHP
11. Sammy Infante, SS
12. Yasel Antuna, SS
13. Seth Romero, LHP
14. Holden Powell, RHP
15. Tres Barrera, C
16. Eddy Yean, RHP
17. Jeremy De La Rosa, OF
18. Matt Cronin, LHP
19. Jake Irvin, RHP
20. Jackson Cluff, SS
21. Tyler Dyson, RHP
22. Reid Schaller, RHP
23. Israel Pineda, C
24. Ben Braymer, LHP
25. Cole Freeman, 2B/OF
26. James Borque, RHP
27. Joan Adon, RHP
28. Jackson Tetreault, RHP
29. Malvin Pena, RHP
30. Nick Banks, OF

So, its basically the exact same top 30 published with the BA handbook in February, but inserting the 2020 draftees.  Four of our six 2020 picks have made the top 30 list:

4. Cade Cavalli, RHP
5. Cole Henry, RHP
11. Sammy Infante, SS
14. Holden Powell, RHP

These four players push off the guys ranked 27th-30th in February, namely:

27. Steven Fuentes, RHP
28. Jakson Reetz, C
29. Nick Raquet, LHP
30. Jhonatan German, RHP

—–

thoughts overall:

  • I think the placement of Cavalli and Henry at 4th and 5th makes sense.  They slot in behind the more established 1st round starter in Rutledge, but ahead of the more accomplished but more ceiling-limited Crowe.
  • Infante at #11 just ahead of Antuna is … interesting.  I mean, I understand Antuna’s shine is off a bit, but we’re still talking about a guy who at Infante’s age played an entire season at full-A and who got nearly 4x the signing bonus.
  • Powell placed at #14 when Cronin is #18??  Um; did you guys SEE what Cronin did to Low-A last  year in his pro debut?  Enough to get put on the damn 60-man roster a few months later.  You mean to tell me you think Powell’s side-arm closer action is projecting better than Cronin right now?
  • Hey, that Nick Raquet ranking in February is aging great.
  • So is that Barrera ranking; before the 2020 draft BA nearly had him as a top 10 prospect.  I know we’re weak on hitters but … damn.
  • Raudy Read is nowhere to be found, but he beats out both Barrera and Reetz to make the opening day 30-man roster.  Something is amiss here.
  • Talk about bad timing for a pandemic-induced cancellation of the minor league season for two guys inparticular: Seth Romero and Mason Denaburg.   Two first rounders who desperately needed playing time this year.  Ah well.

 

 

Evaluation of IFA draft classes; 2005-present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ask Brittany; Brittany Ghiroli Mailbags on the Athletic

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Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans. Photo allansgraphics.com

Strasburg is the lynchpin in the Nats off-season FA plans.
Photo allansgraphics.com

Happy Thanksgiving!

You guys know I love mailbags.  I havn’t seen one in a while from the usual sources (MASN beat reporters, mlb.com beat reporters, etc).

But, the Athletic has assigned a beat reporter to the Nats, one Brittany Ghiroli, who was hired away from MLB.com a couple years ago (where she was the Baltimore beat reporter).   And guess what?  She’s doing chat responses to questions received on twitter.  I know the Athletic is a pay-for service, but I’m in and I love it and you wouldn’t believe how much content they’re producing.  Its almost overwhelming at a macro level now that they’re covering the EPL fully.

So, here goes.  Here’s Questions Brittany took on Nov 25th and Nov 26th in a two-parter.  Its got a ton of questions worth exploring as to where we are.

————–

Q: Would it make more sense for the Nationals to adopt the same methodology they did with (Bryce) Harper for Rendon? Take the huge price tag Rendon will demand and spread it among several positions like (Mike) Moustakas, (Yan) Gomes, and a couple of arms? 

A:  For me?  I think the answer might be Yes.  Not because I don’t want Anthony Rendon  back or because I don’t rate his abilities … but because (as we discussed in the payroll piece) I see no evidence that this team is willing to broach the salary cap, and if you bring back both Stephen Strasburg and Rendon, each for the 30M+/year they will cost … it doesn’t leave a whole lotta room for what this team needs.

What does this team need this off-season?  Squinting at the current roster, we need:

  • A starter
  • A backup catcher (Late breaking news; we re-signed Yan Gomeslast night so that’s done; good move).
  • Probably three relievers unless you trust Hunter Strickland/Javy Guerra, or unless you’re convinced that Koda Glover will be healthy
  • three starting infielders: 3B and 1B (I’m assuming that Carter Kieboom can play 2B ably at this point)
  • A bench bat or two to replace what we got out of Howie Kendrick/Matt Adams

So, that’s a lot.   Can you get all of that on about $20M  I don’t think you can.  So the Nats may have to make some hard choices.

Ghiroli doesn’t equate the Rendon situation with the Harper situation, noting that Robles was waiting in the wings.  Fair enough.  But I think she underestimates  how much we need to fill out the rest of the roster.

—-

Q: If Rendon leaves, is Josh Donaldson a player the Nationals would have an eye on? 

A: Absolutely.  He’d probably take a shorter deal, still is an elite defender, still hits the heck out of the ball, and weakens a division rival if he signs here.  I’d be all in, assuming we could get him for roughly $25M AAV and use the delta between his AAV and Rendon’s AAV to fill out roster holes.

Ghiroli agrees i think, and talks about Donaldson’s firey approach that often rubs people the wrong way.

Q: Is the media downplaying the likelihood of the Nats going after Gerrit Cole? I have heard next to nothing connecting the two sides, but you have to think that Cole is the type of free agent ace that Mike Rizzo dreams about.

A: I don’t think the Media is driving anything here.  Cole’s the #1 target on the market, and has the wealthy teams salivating.  I think the Nats decision is simple:  you want the home grown guy versus the hired gun.

Ghiroli notes that the reason there’s no Nats-to-Cole buzz is … because there’s none to be had.  We have two major FAs, and that’s where we’re focusing.

Q: If the Nats are able to sign Rendon and Stras, do you see them winning the division? Too many people seem to be counting them out already by assuming that Rendon is gone.

A: Keeping both guys and assuming they have the same production really helps the 2020 projection … but lets be honest.  When this team was 19-31, they had both guys as well and were projecting for dead last.  Its a big team, its a long season, and you can’t just give them the division title if they retain both players.  Injuries happen, both guys are on the older side, etc etc.

Ghiroli agrees.

Q: Realistically, how much money will be available for the payroll? Is there any appetite for exceeding the luxury tax? 

A: well, we just discussed this.  I came up with roughly $80M and am pessimistic about broaching the CBT.

Ghiroli came up with $90M available, which I’m not sure how she arrived at that b/c right now Cots and I are only about $800k apart in our analysis.  Like KW and others, she notes that of all the years to do so, next year is the right y ear to blow past a luxury tax.

Q: Will Joe Ross be a member of the rotation next season?  What’s your take on the young arms — Ross, (Erick) Fedde, (Austin) Voth and bullpen prospects? Some of the younger starters started to shape up.

A: hard to see it.  I’d peg it Voth, then Ross, then Fedde for a 5th spot competition right now.  Gotta go with performance on the field.

Ghiroli doens’t even mention Voth in the discussion, which I think is a mistake.

Q: What clutch role players are the Nats targeting to re-sign? Of the non-premium free agents, who do you see as most likely to return? How do you see first base shaking out?

A: who knows who they’re targeting.  I’d love to have Zimmerman back and Kendrick but it seems like the latter may be more appropriate for an AL team at this point.   They need a lefty bench bat to replace Matt Adams.  I would like to upgrade the backup SS.  I guess I like our backup OF in-house options right now if they can sign Taylor to something reasonable.

Ghiroli agrees

Q: The Nats have two young catchers on the 40-man and another couple in the farm. Do any of them look like potential long-term everyday catchers?

A: I don’t think so.  I don’t think the team trusts either catcher on the 40-man (Read or Barrera), and their catcher depth chart from there is thin.  Here’s our current Catcher depth chart all the way to High-A:

Suzuki, Gomes, Barrera, Read, Gushue, Reistetter, Reetz, Dunlap, Pineda, Perkins, Cropley

Read is out of options with 63 total days of MLB service time.  Gushue was left off the roster and is exposed to the Rule-5 draft.  Barrera has 3 weeks of service time and spent all of 2019 at AA.  Reistetter is a classic “org guy injury cover” catcher who played in a grand total of 9 games in 2019.  Now you’re at A-ball catchers like Reetz (entering his 7th year of pro-ball, never been above high-A), Dunlap (a backup in high-A), Pineda (who took a big step back this year), Perkins (who hit .209 as a backup in low-A) and Cropley (a 2018 senior sign who hit .187 last year in low-A).

Sooooo not a lot of catcher depth in the farm right now.  Reetz was a  high round pick who has struggled, Pineda had a lot of prospect shine in 2018 that he squandered in 2019; can either take a 2020 step up?

I think they’re buying a backup on FA market.  (update; they just did)

Ghiroli says same as I’m saying, thinking perhaps Gomes comes back on a cheaper deal.

Q: How close is Luis Garcia from making the Nationals roster and where would he slot in if Rendon returns? He seems to be behind Kieboom in the pecking order and they both play the middle infield.

A: I think he slots in as a 2B/SS, moves Kieboom to 3B but he’s years away.   He was 19 in AA and struggled; he needs to go back to AA and thrive before moving up to compete in AAA.  That could take another two years.  Maybe he replaces like for like by the time he’s ready?  Its also worth noting that, despite his lofty rankings in our system and on top 100 lists, there are some who don’t rate him as a prospect at all.  So i don’t think we can count on him to be much more than a Wilmer Difo guy in the end.

Ghiroli says don’t look for him  until mid 2021.

Q: Will Michael A. (Taylor) be traded or stay as the fourth outfielder?

A: Better question; is a guy who spent most of the year in AA worth paying north of $3M/year?  That’s the decision.  He’s not going to get a pay cut.  Arbitration doesn’t work that way; so either you tender him and negotiate or you cut him.  Sure you can try to trade him; who’s giving the team value for him?   He’s now got a career 80 OPS+ across six years and more than 1700 PAs.  Whatever he figured out to hit so well in 2017 is clearly gone; i think he’s non-tendered and cut loose.

Ghiroli says traded or non-tendered and is a little pricey for a 4th OF.  yeah.

Q: How much was the World Series win worth financially to the Nationals franchise, in terms of ticket sales (including projected rise in season plan holders and general ticket interest next year), merchandise, and, well, anything else?

A: Its impossible to tell.  But i do know this: in order to secure 2019 playoff tickets, you could buy 2020 season tickets… and a lot of people did so.  So you’re going to see a bump next  year in attendance, which is great.

Maybe you also acquire some fair weather/bandwagon fans too.  One would only hope.

There’s studies out there showing financial impacts to the franchise with long playoff runs like the Nats just had; its worth tens of millions of dollars, both tot he owners and the players.  The players just split some $30M in bonus money … and the owners get much more than that.  Its one more argument towards having the Lerners blow past a CBT to “use” that money towards next year.  Will they do it?  We’ve been discussing it.

 

If we’re waiving the white flag … what moves should we do?

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Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Rendon; to trade or not to trade? Photo Nats Official via espn.com

Yeah, the team just won 3 of 4 from Miami.  They’re still almost guaranteed at this point not to make the playoffs.  As suggested in the comments from the previous post … Here’s a sweep through the 40-man roster as of today, to talk about possible trade chips and who may or may not be in the future of this team.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1vnTLwaXYeHFjahCNrTFLzAVebGw0Fj_-__igrTplZA0/edit#gid=1393584019

Outright Free Agents after 2019:

  • Anthony Rendon: who would also be the most likely to fetch prospects in trade mid-season, but who also is someone the Nats may very much want to sign to an extension.  Will the ownership group learn their lesson after dragging their feet last year with Bryce Harper, costing them the Houston trade that almost certainly would have brought back better stuff than a post 4th round pick (#139 overall, which is what we got instead thanks to criminal cap mismanagement over the past two years).  Is this leadership group going to keep him instead of trading him because they think trading him for half a season will damage their negotiations with him?  Trust me, Rendon WANTS to be traded; it removes the Qualifying Offer from burdening his off-season negotiations.   Frankly, getting moved to a contender shouldn’t preclude his returning to the Nats on a long term contract, but a bigger question is what is he worth?  Unlike other major 3B players who signed mega deals lately (Nolan ArenadoManny Machado), Rendon will be 30 upon signing, has injury history, and thus his value is limited.  This is a tangent conversation to the subject at hand, but factors in.
  • Brian Dozier; so far, he’s not only not earning his 2019 $9M salary, he’s putting his career in serious jeopardy.  If he is still hitting .210 at the end of the year, its hard to see him getting a guaranteed contract next year at age 33.
  • Howie Kendrick, who it should be noted was expected to be basically a 4th OF/utility guy and has been batting frigging cleanup for the team lately.  He continues to be a professional hitter even at advancing age (he’s in his age 35 season), and should be worthy of some halfway decent return in prospects in trade.
  • Jeremy Hellickson: for as good as he was in 2018, he’s been as bad in 2019.  He’s not going to fetch anything in trade, and is closer to a release than a trade.
  • Javy Guerrero: we’ll see if  he even makes it to July 1.  Fungible asset, trade if you can get anything.
  • Gerardo Parra: we’re paying him a pro-rated MLB min … as with Guerrero, trade if you can get anything for him.

If you waive the white flag on 2019, every one of these players should get moved for whatever you can get, if anything.  Rendon and Kendrick bring the most back at this point.

Players with 2020 Options

  • Ryan Zimmerman: boy, is he putting the team into a tough position.  Instead of producing in his possible walk year, he’s been awful at the plate and has gotten hurt with a typical “old guy” injury (Planter Fasciitis).  Yes he’s the Face of the Franchise, yes he’s the longest tenured player, yes he was the first player the team ever drafted, yes he’s the clubhouse leader, yes he means a ton to the community, yes he holds a massive fundraiser each year, yes he’s set down DC roots, yes he’s got a 5 year personal-services contract with the team (since deemed illegal in the CBA), and yes he wants to be with the team post playing career.  Yes to all of that.  However, there’s no way he’s worth his 2020 option of $18M.  that’s 10% of the payroll for a guy who is easily replaced with readily available mid-30s sluggers for a quarter of the price.  This is going to be ugly.  I don’t think you trade him (who would want him and who would give up prospects?), but I also don’t think you sign him at his option.  I privately suspect the team will renegotiate his $18M option to something like a 4-yr/$20M deal that pays him right around what Matt Adams is making, takes him to his late 30s, establishes him as a utility/bench bat for the duration, and keeps him in the fold til that point in his career where inarguably he is done playing.
  • Adam Eaton: his 2020 and 2021 options are ridiculously affordable ($9.5M and $10.5M).  The team gutted its top-end starting pitcher depth to acquire him (a decision that looks worse and worse as Lucas Giolito throws 4-hit shutouts and Reynaldo Lopez maintains 12 K/9 rates and Dane Dunning remains a viable future MLB starter even despite his TJ surgery).  But Eaton is now 30, and his 5-6 bWAR seasons seem past him.  If he’s a 1-2 win player, he’s worth the salary and picking up the options.  If he ends 2019 hitting a punchless .273 …. do you dare cut him or trade him?  Maybe not after 2019, but another season of this after 2020 and they may be cutting bait.
  • Yan Gomes: $9M 2020 option.  While the team didn’t trade as much for Gomes, catchers are difficult to come by in this sport.  So even despite his current BA, I can’t see the team cutting him loose after this year and declining his option.
  • Sean Doolittle has a ridiculously cheap $6.5M 2020 option and is the first stable closer we’ve had under longer term team control since Drew Storen.  He’s not going anywhere.
  • Trevor Rosenthal: $10M option on the table which increases to $15M player option if he pitches in 50 games (he’s appeared in 7 so far).  You may laugh right now at even considering this option; what if he comes back and pitches lights out in June and July?  I think you trade him for whatever you can get and let his options be someone else’s issue.  More likely, he’s going to come back from his “rehab” appearances, continue to struggle and the team will summarily cut him, and he’s exhibit 1A for the 2019 team’s issues.
  • Matt Adams: $4M 2020 mutual option; he’s not earning it right now.  Trade him for what you can get, and find some other middle 30s lefty slugger on the open market next year.
  • Tony Sipp: $2.5M 2020 option, that’s a steal.  But he’s got a 5.40 ERA in limited action; would you pick up this option?

Of this group, i’d move Rosenthal, Adams and Sipp if you can get anything.

Signed for 2020/longer term:

  • Max Scherzer; signed through 2021, and  honestly if he wins another Cy Young he’ll be wearing a Nats cap in Cooperstown.  can’t move him.
  • Stephen Strasburg: signed through 2023, can’t move him.
  • Patrick Corbin; just signed new deal through 2024, why would we want to move him.
  • Anibal Sanchez: $9M for 2020 guaranteed … but he’s not really putting himself into position to get anything back in trade based on performance and injury so far.
  • Kurt Suzuki: $6M for 2020, and he’s playing great.  If you move him you just have to replace him and what has changed in terms of our ML catcher depth from last off-season to now?  We still don’t trust Spencer Kieboom with major league ABs, i’m not sure why Raudy Read continues to take up space on the 40-man, and our best prospect Israel Pineda is in Low-A.  So we need Suzuki for 2020.

I’d keep the big 3 starters and Suzuki; move Sanchez if you can (doubtful).  I just don’t see how you can justify moving any of our big 3 starters unless you’re planning a complete, 59 win season overhaul.

Arbitration eligible next year: 

  • Trea Turner
  • Michael Taylor
  • Kyle Barraclough
  • Justin Miller
  • Wilmer Difo
  • Matt Grace
  • Koda Glover
  • Joe Ross

An interesting set of players.  I’d say the team faces some interesting tender choices next off-season.   Right now looking at this list i’d clearly tender Turner, Barraclough and Ross, I’d probably take a hard look at Miller, Difo, Grace but eventually tender, and I’d probably cut loose Taylor and Glover.  Who of these guys are trade bait?  Honestly, everyone but Turner, Ross and Barraclough.

In terms of Trade deadline … i’m not sure i’d trade any of these guys … they’re all either untouchable or un-tradeable.

Pre-Arbitration players:

  • Juan Soto, Wander Suero, Andrew Stevenson, Victor Robles, Jake Noll, James Bourque, Erick Fedde, Spencer Kieboom, Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, Raudy Read, Adrian Sanchez, Austin Voth, Austen Williams, Carter Kieboom.

No reason to part ways with anyone here; if they’re starters (Soto, Robles, Fedde, etc) they’re too valuable on their current $575k (or so) contracts, and if they’re role players they’re fungible assets who are probably not really trade-able.

—————–

Summary: there’s not really a ton of return value here.  Rendon, Kendrick, Adams seem to be the best trade chips.

—————–

added bonus: CBS sports did some similar analysis of Nats potential trade chips: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-trade-deadline-anthony-rendon-and-other-nationals-trade-chips-ranked-if-they-become-sellers-by-july-31/  .  They came up with similar names here.

 

Nats Catcher Depth Chart; whole system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Nats Full-system Catcher Depth Chart:

  • MLB: Gomes/Suzuki

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


  • AAA: SKieboom, Severino, Raudy Read.

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

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

 

  • AA: Taylor Gushue, Tres Barrera, Matt Reistetter

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

  • Low-A: Israel PinedaNic Perkins

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Fangraphs Nats Prospect top 22 released

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Robles remains our #1 prospect for one mor eoff-season. Photo via milb.com

Robles remains our #1 prospect for one mor eoff-season. Photo via milb.com

The two prospect experts at Fangraphs (Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen) have released their prospect list for the Nats farm system for the 2018-19 off-season, ranking 22 guys using FAngraphs somewhat unique ranking system.

The link is here: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/top-22-prospects-washington-nationals/

This is the first publicly available ranking of the off-season of our prospects (Baseball America released their top 10 last week, but its entirely behind a pay-wall that I havn’t brought myself to pay for yet).  But its also a very interesting look into the evolution of the Nats system.

Our top 5 really isn’t surprising: Victor RoblesCarter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Mason Denanburg and Wil Crowe.  Most of us could have probably made that list from memory, knowing what we know about our depth.  Also not surprising; the dropping of Seth Romero and Raudy Read (who was not even mentioned in the top 22).  Romero likely doesn’t pitch again until Spring of 2020, and Read’s suspension and subsequent stacking of Catchers on top of his head by the big club essentially buries him in the minors for another season save a massive spate of injuries.

Other interesting omissions: Jake Irwin, who was #10 on BA’s list but doesn’t make Fangraph’s list.   Jackson Tetreault‘s stock has plummeted; he was once on the breach of being a top 10 prospect for the system and now isn’t even being mentioned.

Nick Raquet, our 2017 3rd rounder, also does not appear anywhere in this list despite his slot-value bonus that year.  He joins a less-than-illustrious history of 3rd rounders by this organization (year by year starting with 2018 Reid Schaller, Raquet, Jesus LuzardoRhett WisemanJakson Reetz , Drew Ward, Brett Mooneyham. Matthew Purke, Rick Hague,  and Trevor Holder in 2009.  For the record, that’s 10 years and one legitimate prospect or guy who worked out (that being Luzardo .. who will succeed for someone else).  That’s pretty ridiculous.  (2008 was Danny Espinosa, so i don’t want to be accused of arbitrary end-points).

The system still seems kind of top-heavy; 3-4 sure things, then a bunch of question marks.  i”d guess we’re ranked in the 16-20 range among the 30 teams as a system.

Lets be more positive; there’s a slew of names on this 2019 Fangraphs list who have literally never been mentioned on any other list that i’ve tracked.  So lets focus on them:

  • #9 Israel Pineda, an 18yr old Catcher who just held his own in Short-A against a bunch of guys 3 years his senior.  Maybe we’re finally developing a catcher that can make it?
  • #11 Tanner Rainey: our trade bounty in the Tanner Roark salary dump.  He’s not much of a “prospect” in that he’s 26 and is a AAA/4-A guy already.  But he does have a big arm and seems like he could be a 6th/7th inning solution soon.
  • #12 Malvin Pena, a 2014 IFA signing who signed for so little that he’s not even mentioned in the press releases from the time (meaning, he probably signed for like $5k).  Fangraphs complains about his mechanics, but he walked just 7 guys in 50 innings this year while making it to Low-A as a 21 yr old who has lost two full seasons to injury).   I think he starts in the Low-A rotation again in 2019 as they build his innings back up and see if he can improve on his already decent 2018 performance.
  • #17 Taylor Guilbeau: we just talked about him with Rule-5; he was eligible but didn’t get picked, despite switching to the bullpen and halving his ERA.  I think he appears on this list mostly due to his AFL performance.  I’m hoping he quickly becomes a LOOGY option for the big-league club in perhaps a year and a half or so.
  • #18 Jeremy De La Rosa, a $300k IFA signing this past June, and already on the list.  The thing that I noted: 6’1″ and he hasn’t turned 17 yet.
  • #19 Jordan Mills, another guy I thought took great strides forward in 2018 and was a Rule5 threat to get drafted.  He’s a step ahead of Guilbeau in terms of being an option for the big club; not bad for a MLFA signing a year ago.
  • #20 Joan Adon, part of the massive 2016 IFA class, but probably paid a pittance compared to the 6- and 7-figure deals there.  Now 20, he fared pretty well in the GCL then struggled in Short-A.  He’ll be in his age 20 season in 2019 so he’s a bit ahead of the curve as compared to (say) a college-age draftee who is his same age.  No matter; he’s the 20th ranked prospect on a list where usually only guys in the top 4-5 ever make the majors.
  • #21 Ben Braymer, one of my favorite Nats prospects right now.  18th rounder in 2016, he solved two successive lower levels in two successive years, then went to the AFL this past October.  He’s still a year away from Rule-5 but signed for relatively nothing ($100k bonus in the 18th out of Auburn).

 

fyi, here’s an updated link to my now massive Nats prospects Rankings xls: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1rTcspPOLJH685G9PUlmTlHU1g9AtlX4-Z9pOWP92Ne8/edit?usp=sharing

It now has more than 125 system rankings dating to the beginnings of the franchise in Washington.