Column

AJ Cole’s Journey Down the Prospect List

When it comes to ranking an organization’s top prospects there are lots of places to look, but the one that gets the most attention is Baseball America. It is essentially the quintessential list of an organizations top prospects, and so it was a bit of a surprise when the list came out and AJ Cole was ranked as the sixth best prospect in the organization. It was an interesting development as AJ Cole was the organization’s number two prospect the season before and did nothing but perform in 2014 with a 3.16 ERA and 3.47 K/BB ratio split between two levels. Cole’s K/9 dropped from 9.5 the previous season to 7.5 in 2014, but he still didn’t walk many hitters and the results were there. In other words Cole did nothing to deserve to drop all the way from second to sixth.

What happened then was some other names become trendier and they shot up the Nationals prospect rankings and in reality Cole isn’t the number sixth prospect, but the seventh but we’ll get to that later. Michael Taylor replaced Cole as the number two prospect in the organization and his rise up the leader boards came due to a very strong 2014. Taylor blasted homer after homer in the minor leagues despite an insanely high strikeout rate and finished the season with a few impressive showings at the major league level. Taylor is regarded as the best defender in the Nats minor league system and if his 2014 power display is for real then his upside is tremendous. This one isn’t that puzzling as the upside of a power hitting 20-30 homer excellent defensive centerfielder is far more valuable than that of a mid-rotation starter.

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Stockholm Syndrome and Danny Espinosa

 

The Washington Nationals are a good team. They might even be a great team. The Washington Nationals also have a glaring flaw. Where a team would ordinarily have a starting second baseman the Nats have a huge, gaping hole.

Understandably, the entire focus of talk surrounding their offseason has been about when they would plug that hole. Last month I wrote a post detailing 50 possible candidates to take the job. A number of those players have found new teams since then, but none of those new teams have been the Nationals. Well, unless you count Dan Uggla, which you shouldn’t.

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The Braves Offseason is All BJ Upton’s Fault

The Braves are in the midst of what could be termed a reconstruction, a re-imagining, or a full on rebuild. The first move of the Braves off-season came before the season was even over when the fired General Manager Frank Wren towards the end of September. Just six short months before Frank Wren was being heralded as one of the best GM’s in baseball because of smart team friendly deals handed out to Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, and Julio Teheran. The big reason given for Frank Wren’s firing was that he hadn’t done well in free agency. Seeing as Ervin Santana, Aaron Harang, and Gavin Floyd all helped to hold together a rotation beset by injury the reason wasn’t that all the free agent signings were bad, but that BJ Upton is terrible.

Building through the farm system and strong minor league depth are hallmarks of the Braves organization, and the vast majority of the Braves 2014 roster was either homegrown talent or talent acquired in a trade of homegrown talent. The Justin Upton trade was a masterpiece in which the Braves lived off the reputation of a strong farm system to trade nothing of significance to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton. In all aspects aside from the BJ Upton signing Frank Wren had done a good job but the Braves were built to contend for the NL East and they hadn’t done that in 2014 and someone had to pay the price.

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Mike Rizzo, Washington Wizard

Did you know that Ted Leonsis’ basketball team signed a 54 year old white guy? Because Mike Rizzo is a freaking wizard.

Almost universally, the Nats are seen as the big winner of yesterday’s trade. The headline of Keith Law’s wrap-up is “Nationals make out like bandits in trade”; he goes on to sum it up by saying: “The Nationals seem to make out particularly well here, trading a quality minor leaguer who doesn’t fit on their major league roster for two very good prospects who should help them in the long term.” Bow-tie enthusiast Ken Rosenthal quoted an anonymous executive as saying: “I think the Nats must have pics on TB and SD!! They are the clear winner. Not even close.” Jonah Keri of Grantland wrote in his recap“the Nationals might be the team that leapt into the ring, whacked the opposition with a steel chair, and snuck away with the championship belt.” Continue reading

The Nats Offseason So Far

Aside from being traded by the Nats Steven Souza Jr. and Ross Detwiler have something else in common. If they were to enter Spring Training with the Nats they’d both be in competition for small roles on the main roster. Detwiler would’ve competed with Blake Treinen, Taylor Hill, and Taylor Jordan to be the long reliever/swing man and Steven Souza would’ve been in a competition for a bench spot. The Texas Rangers traded for Detwiler in order to get a starting pitcher and the Rays view Steven Souza as one of their everyday outfielders. Roles they weren’t going to have on the Nats and roles that wouldn’t have brought much in return in a trade. So before they earned those roles the Nats traded them to teams that viewed them as more.

Steven Souza netted the Nats the most in return bringing back Joe Ross and Trea Turner. You can go read NatsGM.com for more information on the return for Steven Souza, but the main point is the Nats traded a 26 year old late bloomer for a couple of former first round picks with a chance to be special. For the Rays Steven Souza makes a lot of sense. He has five tool potential and because he is 26 years old the Rays have him under control for all the seasons of his prime. Older minor league players have become an undervalued commodity. The exact type of thing the Rays would covet.

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The Nats Won’t be Quiet Forever

The Nats needs haven’t changed since the season ended and yet they’ve been silent since that day. Sure they’ve traded Ross Detwiler and added a couple of minor league free agents but those aren’t moves that effect the major league roster. The Nats have a 25 man roster that could win them 90+ games even with Danny Espinosa starting at second base and Tyler Moore as the main right handed option off the bench. The pitching staff is one of the best in baseball and a productive Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman playing closer to the 140 games he normally does is going to make a bigger difference than the loss of Adam LaRoche and a few bench players.

A fourth winning season can be achieved with no moves at all and all the rumors about the Nats are of them trying to trade expiring contracts in order to acquire players with more years of control. The Mets and Marlins are both teams on the rise but are still missing enough pieces that a lot would have to break right for them to contend in the NL East in 2015 and the Braves have spent the off-season shooting themselves in the foot. The Washington Nationals don’t need their strongest team on the field to win the NL East.

All this has been stated before as has my belief that the best way to win the World Series is to be in the playoffs season after season after season, and the easiest road to achieving that goal may lie in a trade of one or more of the expiring contracts. The Nationals value those players highly and have repeatedly asked for top 20 prospects to move them. That is the price and as of yet no one has been willing to meet it. Not much has changed since the final day of the season, but that won’t be the case forever and as more free agents come off the board and other players are fill the gaps on different teams perhaps then another team that has been quiet but lacks a roster that can win 90+ games as is will come calling to Mike Rizzo willing to pay his price, but until that time comes the Nats are going to wait for the market to come to them.

The Washington Nationals and Staying at the Top

The St. Louis Cardinals are a team to be admired. I like them about as much as any other Nationals fan but as I’ve said many times before when it comes to staying at the top few teams do it as well as the Cardinals. The way they do it is an absurd awareness of when to trade a player, when to let them walk, and when to use a prospect or free agent to replace those wins on the roster.

When Albert Pujols walked away from the Cardinals they were losing a large chunk of wins but instead of having to get a new first baseman they let Allen Craig play the position and went out and paid Carlos Beltran to upgrade the outfield. Instead of trying to replace Albert Pujols they replaced his wins on the roster with a couple of players. The Cardinals did the same thing when they lost Carlos Beltran. They let internal options take over in the outfield and upgraded shortstop with the signing of Jhonny Peralta, and it again worked out for the Cardinals.

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Nats Add Two Interesting Prospects to the System in Detwiler Trade

The Nationals waited for the Winter Meetings to conclude before making a move, dealing LHP Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers for two prospects: 22 year old RHP Abel De Los Santos and 21 year old 2B Chris Bostick.

De Los Santos benefited by being moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen before the 2013 season; from 2010-12 where he was predominately a starter, De Los Santos put up the following stat line: 3.81 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.32 H/9, .64 HR/9, 2.43 BB/9, 8.47 K/9 and 3.35 K/BB ratio. Since being moved to the bullpen in 2013, he’s gone 2.58 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 6.36 H/9, 0.55 HR/9, 2.86 BB/9, 10.41 K/9 and 3.65 K/BB. While he spent his third straight season in A ball, he was still only 21 years old, so he wasn’t considered old for his level. His ceiling is as a middle reliever at the ML level, but if he can keep those BB and K rates right where they are, he stands a decent chance of reaching it. Making strides in 2015 is vital if he wants to reach the bigs; he needs to put on a strong performance for the Nats to have no choice but to add him to the 40-man and protect him from next year’s Rule 5 Draft. Continue reading

2014 Nats Draft Class: No Bueno so far…

Just over six months have passed since the 2014 MLB draft, and 1st round pick Erick Fedde may have had the best professional debut out of the entire Nats draft class. Erick Fedde is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and did not pitch in a professional game of any sort.

The Nats were widely considered to have a pretty average class full of interesting pitchers and lacking hitters (especially since 9th round slugger Austin Byler did not sign). One half season of rookie/A-ball stats absolutely do not make or break a draft class, but the Nats’ draft class is off to an abysmal first impression here.

The standouts (I use that term pretty loosely):

  • C Jakson Reetz (3rd round, NE HS) – hit .274/.429/.368 in 155 PA with a dinger for the GCL Nats, but struggled behind the plate (23% CS, 7 PB, 6 E in 33 games). Also, where’s the power? Continue reading

50 Possible Nats Second Baseman Solutions

The Nationals are in a need of a new starting second baseman, this much we know is true. With Asdrubal Cabrera gone and Ryan Zimmerman moving to first base the Nats have a hole on their infield. Internally, the Nats could play presumed starting third baseman Anthony Rendon at second, but that still leaves a hole. They could also just start Danny Espinosa, but he’s another year away from his successful seasons of 2011 and 2012. Espinosa has an excellent glove and can crush lefties, but he’s not going produce a lot of value as a starter. With that in mind let’s turn over every rock to make a list of every possible second base candidate the Nats might be considering.

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The Jeff Samardzija Trade Offers Insight on the Jordan Zimmermann Situation

The recent news regarding the Nats and Jordan Zimmermann is that they have resumed talks on an extension. There are a couple theories floating about on why this has happened at this stage. The first being that the Nationals are going to make an offer that sounds good like a six year $115 million contract that isn’t close to what Jordan Zimmermann can get on the free agent market so that when they do trade him they can at least say they tried to keep him long term. My theory is that Mike Rizzo was shopping Jordan Zimmermann and found that what other teams were willing to pay wasn’t to his liking.

The Jeff Samardzija trade from the A’s to the White Sox gives us some idea of what was being offered for Jordan Zimmermann and just how overvalued control has become in the modern baseball market. Samardzija was worth 4.1 fWAR in 2014 and Jordan Zimmermann, 5.2 so it stands to reason that Jordan Zimmermann could bring back a little more in a trade but not significantly more. Samardzija netted the A’s Marcus Semien a 23 year old shortstop that is likely going to have to move to third base who has an OPS of .673 in 326 major league plate appearances, Chris Bassitt, a 25 year old starting pitcher who had a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 innings in 2014 but has decent numbers in the minor leagues over four seasons, and one more pitching prospect that has yet to be named.

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What if the Washington Baseball Team were run like the Football Team

I was reading an article the other day about a local athlete who is allegedly disliked by his teammates, has caused schisms and riffs among them, and who is more concerned about his image on social media, in commercials, and building a brand. This local athlete won rookie of the year in 2012, led his team to a division title, suffered injuries that held back his progress, and has yet to live up to his immense potential. I am of course talking about Bryce Harper. These exact same things can be said of a different local athlete on a different local team, and for that athlete circumstances are a lot different and mostly because that other local team is a complete comedy of errors.

Let’s imagine for a second that the local baseball team were suddenly bought by Dan Snyder. He has always wanted to own a winning team and has no idea how to make the football team a winner so he buys the baseball team that is already winning. The very first thing that happens is Mike Rizzo runs for the exit, and Dan Snyder hires Livan Hernandez to be his new team president and no GM is named because Dan Snyder is going to be the GM.

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The Consistency of the Nats

In 2012 the Washington Nationals used 43 players and of those 43 players only 17 made appearances for the 2014 Nationals. That may sound like a lot of turnover but most of the players that didn’t return were on the bench or in the bullpen. For the most part the core of the 2014 Nationals looked a lot like the 2012 Nationals and the 2015 Nationals won’t be much different from that. Adam LaRoche is gone and any of Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, or Denard Span could be traded, but even if one or two of those players are gone the Nats 2015 line-up and rotation won’t have much turnover.

Take a moment to imagine the most possible turnover for the Nationals. Every player on a one year deal is traded for more controllable players. So now the Nationals will have a new shortstop, center fielder, setup man, and two new starting pitchers, but even if all those moves happen a couple would be replaced by players currently in the organization. Michael Taylor would take over for Span and with the Nats already needing one middle infielder trading Desmond all but guarantees that Danny Espinosa would take one of those two spots.

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Ian Desmond’s Power: The Past and the Future

Last week I wrote about the Nationals’ starting pitchers and what factors could be behind their differing batting averages on balls in play allowed. One of the factors I looked into was pulled fly ball percentage. As Mike Fast wrote for The Hardball Times in 2009, batters hit significantly better when pulling the ball than when hitting the ball to center or the opposite field. Fast used MLB Gameday data from 2007 and 2008 to find the batting average on contact, BACON, and slugging percentage on contact, SLGCON, on fly balls to the pull, center and opposite fields. His results are below.

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