Nationals Arm Race

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

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State of the Minors, Week3

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First off, here’s the records of our teams after three 6-game series (link to all MiLB standings here)

  • AAA: 4-14 (tied for worst in league)
  • AA: 6-12 (last place in division)
  • High-A: 9-9 (2 games out of 1st)
  • Low-A: 1-17.

I asked Keith Law a question in his chat last week about Fredericksburg, who was 0-15 at the time, asking whether they would ever win and he thought I was exaggerating. He replied as much, posting their team batting and pitching stats in amazement.

Lets do a quick run-through who’s looking good and bad around our minor league affiliates. I use links that i store in a page here: https://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?page_id=16709 so you can use the same shortcuts i’ve collected over the years.

AAA observations:

  • Who’s hot: Palka, Sanchez, and Garcia not half bad at the plate.
  • McFarland in the bullpen is on a hot streak, with 9 Ks in his last 4 innings.
  • Who’s not: Kieboom; just 2-15 last week, still hitting under .200 for the season. WTF.
  • Not ONE of our AAA starters was even halfway decent last week. Braymer is really struggling in particular, concerning since he’s one of our 40-man covering starters.

Who is next to get called up? I don’t see ANYONE really making a statement at AAA demanding a call-up. Nobody. We have seven 40-man guys in AAA (plus two more who are on IL) and there’s no burning reinforcements for the big club.

Who is next to get demoted or released? Carlos Tocci is 1-19 on the season and the team has at least 7 outfielders on the roster … time seems short for this veteran MLFA.


AA Observations

  • Who’s hot at the plate: Jakson Reetz, of all people, 5/14 in the last week with some power.
  • In the rotation: Teel, Cate and Sharp had solid weeks on the mound. Teel isn’t exactly a swing-and-miss guy but he’s getting results.
  • Sanchez has 20/2 K/BB on the season right now.
  • Baldonado: 8Ks, 0BB in 4ip last week. not to shabby.
  • Unfortuantely, Reetz is the team leader in BA for the season at a paltry .237.
  • Did you know there’s not a single 40-man player in our AA team? AA is generally where the best near-MLB ready prospects get sent by most franchises as a finishing school and we don’t have a single prospect in that category.

Who is next to get promoted? I think Klobotis is making a statement: 14/1 K/BB in 8 innings, and has given up just 2 hits on the year. I think Baldonado needs to move up as well; he was in AAA 3 years ago and now is 28 overmatching kids in AA.

Who is next to get demoted or released? I mean, nobody’s hitting on this team but 21MLFA SS/2B Osvaldo Duarte is 8-51 with 21 Ks and just 4 walks in a position that is completely replaceable.


High-A observations

  • Who’s hot: the entire outfield is crushing the ball; Rhinesmith, Connell and Canning lead the team in BA and OPS over the last week, with Rhinesmith just crushing the ball in particular going 11-20 in the last week.
  • Another solid start for Cade Cavalli.
  • What is going on with Rutledge? In 4 starts, he now has an ERA north of 12, he’s given up 17 hits in 10 innings and has a 10/9 K/BB ratio. I’m sorry, but this just isn’t going to cut it. It’s starting to look like he’s out of his element in High-A. And it REALLY is starting to look bad for pundits who thought he is a better prospect than Cavalli.

Who is next to get promoted? Alex Troop; who has a 0.46 whip and 12/0 K/BB in 8 innings in middle relief.

Who is next to get demoted or released? Rutledge. I think he needs to go to Low-A and regroup unless he’s hurt.


Low-A

  • At least they got a win.
  • their BEST hitter by OPS is hitting .219 (Jake Randa)
  • Junior Martina had a nice week.
  • The team did not hit a single home run in the last series.
  • The starting pitching is SO BAD in Low-A that not one single pitcher qualifies for the ERA title.
  • That being said, a couple of starters actually had solid starts: Karlo Seijas: 7ip, 3hits, 8ks, 0 walks. More of that please.

Who is next to get promoted: Nobody. Not one single pitcher is making a case, nor are any of the hitters.

Who is next to get demoted/released? There’s a slew of hitters with really ugly lines right now: Jeremy Ydens is 4-41 on the season, Kevin Strohschein is 8-50 with 13Ks and a walk … and 1 RBI. He’s the 1B. Nothing positive in F-burg.

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.

Observations on the first time through the Minor League Rotations

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Well, we’re a week into the season and we’ve seen one turn through the minor league rotations. Lets take a quick look at what we’re looking at for rotations at the four full season levels and do a quick observation of who looked hot and cold.

These rotation orders are maintained on the Big Board, where i’ve also attempted to put the bullpen into their roles (Closer, Setup, middle relief, loogy and Long Reliever/spot starters). That effort may prove to be impossible to maintain, especially in lower levels where they’ve gone to tandem starts in years past, but we’ll see how it goes.

The rotations, despite the minors going to 6-game series, seem to be 5-man rotations, which isn’t nearly as neat as it could be, but whatever.

Rotations by level:

  • AAA: Nolin, Fuentes, Braymer, JRodriguez, Armenteros,
  • AA: Cate, MSanchez, Teel, Sharp, LReyes
  • High-A: Rutledge, Adon, Cavalli, Henry,
  • Low-A: Strom, Seijas, PGonzalez, Parker, Theopile

Who looked good:

  • Carson Teel: managed to go 5 innings, unlike the rest of the AA rotation. Gave up 4 hits and just one earned run. Not bad.
  • Cade Cavalli: 5ip, 2 hits, 7Ks, zero runs in his pro debut? More please.
  • Joan Adon: Same whip as Cavalli but still relatively unhittable despite giving up a couple of runs. I like his easy action and I think he’s a fast mover this year.
  • Pedro Gonzalez: just 3 1/3 but 1 hit and 2 walks against 5 Ks in low A at age 20. I’ll take that.
  • Mitchell Parker: 7Ks in 4innings in his pro debut. Works for me.

Who looked awful

  • Steven Fuentes: not a great start, but a quick hook compared to the next guy.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: geeze; 6 walks and didn’t make it out of the first?
  • Sterling Sharp: not a good start, at all. 8 runs in less than 3 innings in AA when he was pitching in the majors last year.
  • Tim Cate: somehow, his ERA is higher than Sharp’s.
  • Leif Strom: 2ip, 7 runs .. ugh. He was so bad it already looks like he has been replaced in the rotation, in that he pitched a couple innings in the Theopile start.
  • Karlo Seijas: the worst start of anyone: 2/3 of an inning and 7 runs.

2021 Full Season Affiliate Rosters announced

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

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

Here’s direct links to the four rosters:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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 pre-season 2021 top-10 list reactions

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

Baseball America dropped the first off-season ranking of prospects for the Nats on 11/20/20 and, well, it was interesting.

Click here for the top 10 and their list of “best tools” for the system. It might be behind a paywall. If not that, then a quick chat with BA’s Lucy Lusk provides some insight on the list as well.

The last time we got any appreciable updated rankings was MLBpipeline’s end-of-the-season look at the system with the slew of 2020 graduates/call-ups removed. Technically MLBPipeline’s list is a running dynamic update, not a static list as of that moment in time, but I capture them as major updates occur for tracking.

Nonetheless, the two orgs definitely have different viewpoints on the top of the Nat’s farm system. Lets talk about some of BA’s conclusions.

  • BA has Cade Cavalli ahead of Jackson Rutledge at the top. I find this kind of interesting, given that Rutledge is younger, had pro ball experience in 2019, was in the 60-man pool along with Cavalli, and was a 1st round pick just like Cade.
  • Furthermore, in BA’s “best tools” they list Rutledge as having the best fastball AND the best slider. So, unless Rutledge literally doesn’t have a 3rd pitch, and his first two are the system best … not sure how he’s not #1 over Cavalli.
  • Therefore, Cavalli must really, really be promising, or have some pretty amazing secondary stuff.
  • Tim Cate: best curve AND best control. All he’s done since they drafted him was win. I think he’s an excellent 3rd or 4th starter in the making for this team in a couple years.
  • BA is amazingly bullish on Yasel Antuna. They list him as having the best hitter for average AND the best power hitter?? For a SS currently listed as 6’0″ 170? Well, no wonder the Nats just protected him on the 40-man. This is also a big change in BA’s opinion of him just from July, when they ranked him 12th in the org. The BA staff think Antuna is nearly top 100 material. They like him more as a 2B/3B option versus SS, with the thinking that maybe the infield goes Carter Kieboom, Luis Garcia, Antuna and a FA bopper at 1st. Hey; if Kieboom can learn how to hit, i’m all for that.
  • They have soured fast on Wil Crowe, dumping him to 10th in the system. MLBpipeline has him 3rd right now just after the two big 1st round arms. He made three starts in 2020, got shelled in all three, gave up 5 homers in 8 1/3rd innings … does that mean the jury is now out on Crowe forever?
  • They’re quite bullish on Jeremy De La Rosa, having him ranked 6th when most shops have him in the teens. Only other pundit anywhere close on De La Rosa is Keith Law, who had him 8th last spring. I mean, he did get invited to the 60-man roster as an 18yr old … quite a statement. Maybe we have another Juan Soto on our hands.
  • Lastly, in their tools section they give “Best Athlete,” “Fastest Baserunner” and “Best Defensive Outfielder” all to the same guy: Cody Wilson. Looks like the next Andrew Stevenson.

Fangraphs updates the Board with 2020 picks

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Henry makes fangraph's top 10. Photo via ai.com

Henry makes fangraph’s top 10. Photo via ai.com

A small diversion from the Nats increasingly awful 4-7 (the equivalent of 11-19 in a full season) start to the abbreviated season…currently in line for the 5th draft pick in 2021 and somehow missing the “basically everyone makes the playoffs” 2020 post-season.

We posted a couple weeks ago about Baseball America’s updated prospect rankings with our 2020 draftees … now by inference Fangraphs has done the same.  They announced today that “The Board” has been updated with bonus amounts (which must have been an amazing amount of work to do, especially to track down bonuses for post 11th rounders and for all the random July 2nd picks who don’t exactly go out of their way to announce paltry bonus figures), and I noticed our 2020 picks included in their system rankings.

So, here’s some quick notes on our 2020 draftees and how they slotted in:

  • 1st rounder Cade Cavalli pops up as our 4th ranked prospect, right after Jackson Rutledge.  This is basically what BA did as well.
  • 2nd rounder Cole Henry is ranked 10th, as compared to BA’s 5th.  This puts him just ahead of the likes of Tim Cate and Seth Romero and seem a more appropriate ranking spot than the lofty heights that BA put him.
  • 2nd round supp pick Samuel Infante is placed 18th as compared to BA’s 10th.  This puts him well below Yasiel Antuna and right in the same range as Jackson Cluff.
  • 3rd rounder UCLA closer Holden Powell did not make the top 24 ranked players, as compared to BA’s ranking of 14.  This mean’s Holden is well below the other relievers ranked in our system, including Matt Cronin, James Bourque and Tyler Dyson.  Again, a more sane ranking than what BA did.

Otherwise Fangraphs’ rankings are unchanged from their Dec 2019 ranking, which means they continue to exclude some names from their list altogether that some Nats fans may call out.  Guys like Jake Irvin, Jackson Tetreault, Cole Freeman, Tres Barrera, Ben BraymerJhonatan German and Steven Fuentes get no love from the Fangraphs duo of Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel.

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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———–

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

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

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

 

Ask Jessica; MLB.com’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag

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Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Jamal Collier has moved on: our new mlb.com beat reporter is Jessica Camerato.  As far as I can now tell, here’s your official beat reporters for the team from the various major media outlets covering the team:

(post-publishing edit: thanks for the crowd-sourcing on the WP beat reporter history that I had forgotten despite still, to this day, being a WP paper subscriber).

  • Washington Post; Jessie Dougherty/Sam Fortier. Before them in descending chronological order: Chelsea Janes/Jorge CastilloJames Wagner, Adam KilgoreChico Harlan.  The original/first beat reporter was Barry Svrluga.
  • MASN: Mark Zuckerman.  He formerly covered the team for The Washington Times, then Comcast Sports Net, with an “unaffiliated” year between gigs writing for his own site (natsinsider.com)
  • MLB.com: Jessica Camerato, formerly Jamal Collier and then for years Bill Ladson
  • The Athletic: Brittany Ghiroli
  • Comcast Sports Net/NBC Sports: not sure?  Perhaps Matt Weyrich?  Todd Dybas (thanks to commenter rdexposfan)
  • Washington Times: … not sure?  Do they have a dedicated beat reporter since parting ways with Zuckerman?

Am I missing any major DC area media outlets with professional beat reporters?

Anyway I digress.

Here’s Camerato’s first mailbag, dated 1/31/20, responding primarily to questions she got on twitter.

———

Q: How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?

A: Uh… they’re not?

It should be pretty obvious that the team has attempted to “replace” Anthony Rendon‘s lineup presence in a very Billy Beane fashion; buy a bunch of cheaper alternatives that, in the aggregate, may come close to adding up to replace the star.  They’ve brought back guys (Kendrick and Cabrera), they’ve hired new guys (Castro) and they’re hoping that their prospects (primarily Kieboom) can grow up fast and contribute soon.  Throw enough 3B-capable players at the wall and hopefully something sticks.

What they have NOT done is acquire a superstar replacement: no Josh Donaldson and as of yet no trade for someone like Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.  I’m not entirely sure how the team puts together a package deep enough to get these guys, not without crushing the existing roster or what remains of the farm system at this point (Baseball America just ranked the system 23rd, and once Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduate i’m not sure what remains to keep it from plummeting to the bottom).  So I think we all have to hope that the new un-tapped edge in the sport is middle-aged sluggers and go with it.

Camerato doesn’t really mention the like-for-like position player at 3B, instead points out that Juan Soto may step up .

———

Q: What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?

A: This year?  Or eventually?

I think eventually yes he ends up at 3B.  This year, at least in the first half, may not provide him many opportunities thanks to the FAs that the team has signed.

I don’t think he ends up at 2B; he’s a bit big, despite currently being a SS and his defensive strength reportedly is in his arm, not his movement, so 2B makes sense for others … like Garcia.

Camerato says he’ll get his shot at the job in ST but that he’ll have competition.

Q: Who’s gonna be the fifth starter?

A: I think it almost has to be Joe Ross.  Ross has proven more than a few times he can’t pitch in relief.  He’s got no options.  And he’s proven in the past to be a solid 5th starter.   His competition for the role all seems to be internal this year; there’s no MLFA reclamation project like Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings (at least not right now).  Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are his most direct competition … one has a magical 4th option (Fedde) which buries him in Fresno even before spring training begins, and the other guy (Voth) gets the 13th pitcher roster spot thanks to no options and his ability to be a swing-man /spot starter.

Camerato says they don’t really need to figure this out in Spring Training … which I don’t agree with frankly b/c of the options situation with two of them.

——–

Q: What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?

A: Farm system, as mentioned above, is thin.  Its two guys at the top (Kieboom and Garcia) and then its a gap to players who are a ways away.

Why is the Farm so thin right now?  Because the team has blown or traded away multiple first round picks in the last few years.   Consider the Draft Tracker:

  • 2019 1st rounder Jackson Rutledge; now basically our 3rd best prospect after throwing 37 innings last season.
  • 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg: didn’t pick at all in 2018, threw 20 innings in 2019 with an ERA north of 7.00 in the GCL and is reportedly nursing an injury
  • 2017 1st rounder Seth Romero; known problem child who continued to cause issues upon signing, and threw just 47 pro innings before blowing out his UCL.
  • 2016 1st rounder lost due to the Daniel Murphy signing.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Dane Dunning traded away to get Adam Eaton.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Kieboom currently our long-standing #1 overall prospect.
  • 2015 1st rounder lost due to the Max Scherzer signing.
  • 2014 1st rounder Erick Fedde really yet to be effective for the MLB team frankly; 143 MLB innings with a 5.39 ERA.

The Denaburg and Romero picks in particular are really crushing the system; those two guys should both be top 100 prospects right now.  Its also worth noting that the team traded away Jesus Luzardo in 2017 in the Doolittle trade, and he’s now nearly a top 5 prospect in the whole of the sport.

Why do I focus on 1st rounders?  Well because those are by far the players with the highest percentage chances of matriculating to the majors, and should be the ones at the top of your prospect lists.  Instead, our team has gotten almost NO prospect depth out of our 1st rounders over the past 6 drafts.  Instead the tops of our “top 30” lists are dotted with 2nd and 3rd rounders (Wil Crowe, 2nd rounder in 2017, Tim Cate, 2nd rounder in 2018 being the best recent examples), but even those 2nd rounders have been gutted lately:

  • 2019 2nd rounder lost to the Patrick Corbin signing
  • 2016 2nd rounder Sheldon Neuse  also traded away with Luzardo in the Doolittle deal, now on the cusp of the Oakland MLB roster
  • 2015 2nd rounder Blake Perkins traded away for Kelvin Herrera (though to be fair, he was young and has yet to really materialize as a prospect)
  • 2014 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez refused to sign; he’s pitched all of 2018 in San Francisco’s rotation.

That’s a LOT of additional prospect depth either out the door on top of the failures of the 1st rounders.  And its going to get worse before it gets better.

Who might debut in 2021?  I’d be looking for Garcia, Crowe, maybe Barrera moving up, Braymer and maybe even a couple of the 2019 guys (Mendoza or Rutledge) if they blow up this year.

Camerato says… Garcia might debut in 2021.  not much else.

————-

Q: Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.

A: Me too!  Hoping for more player deep dive content from Camerato and others this spring training.

Camerato says she agrees and hopes to do more once ST starts.