Nationals Baseball: On prospects

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

On prospects

Sometime during this Super Bowl mess Keith Law put out his Top 100 prospects and Nats fans got a little excited. The Nats posted 6 guys in the Top 100 (3 or 4 would be expected given even distribution) and they were ranked the 8th best organization. Window re-opening right?  Well I decided to use my internet sleuthing ability to put together Law's picks for the same spots the Nats were in over the course of time he's made these picks.

Here it is:


Sorry but people were far less interested when he put out his very first one after the 2007 season. I couldn't piece that together.

We can't really learn anything hard from this. This is more about getting impressions. What does it mean to be a #8? What about a #98? Of course you have to factor in things other than just the raw number.  Age, position, current location in development... A 24 AAA pitcher that falls into the 89th spot is different than a 19yr old A-ball SS in the same spot.

I'd feel good about Giolito (in case for some reason you didn't - but seriously why haven't you?) Outside of "not here yet" Sano, the 8th spot guys are all major leaguers and even the disappointing Ackley is a useful player. Complete wipeouts from players this highly regarded would be considered surprising.

By the time you get to #63 though it's iffy territory. Teheran and Archer have done very well. Webster and Sanchez are still finding their way. Revere is a 3rd/4th OF straddler. This uncertainty is more apparent as you look at #71 and #75. For each breakout like Brantley there is a never made it like Schlereth, and even Brantley took 5 years to really play to his talent. The deeper you go into back end of the Top 100, the more uncertainty there is and it becomes harder to find not only breakouts but even solid everyday major leaguers. Walker did it. A lot of middle reliever types though. I have to say I don't feel real good about Cole given this. I'd read a post-2012 #89 Cole as - "mid-rotation guy with maybe some #2 upside".  I'd read post 2014 #98 Cole as - "back rotation guy with maybe some #3 upside"

Another thing to note and more important for the here and now is that it takes a while for these guys to make a major league impact. No one in that post 2013 list impacted 2014. Only Cole from the post 2012 group impacted 2014 (Cingrani got injured). Given the ages of the Nats guys I wouldn't expect anything different. Giolito and Taylor are close but probably not 2015 guys and might have to spend 2016 getting acclimated. Cole is ready but as we've noted, probably not very impactful. This is why I tend to see 2016 and 2017 as potential down years. Some players are aging, others are leaving, and the young help isn't necessarily ready yet.

How down? Well that depends on how much the Nats want to spend. Do nothing more and the Scherzer signing still likely holds their head above water in the post-ZNN, Desmond world of 2016. They will probably get worse but we'll have to see how Bryce develops, how the Marlins/Mets do, to see if it's a dogfight playoff situation. Beyond that it doesn't look great, but it doesn't look bad either. I don't like going 3 years down the road, honestly. There is too much that could happen. What I will say is right now the Nats aren't in a situation like they were going into 2013 where you could see how the base team would help the Nats complete straight through 2015. This team will compete (maybe crush) this year, will very likely do the same to a lesser degree next year, 2017 is a question mark.

Of course - we're talking about prospects here so there is a "still gotta see what happens" aspect. Danny Duffy might develop into a nice starter. Matt Davidson might break out next year. While we can get very broad generalizations looking over time, the actual player specific results are, duh, very specific to that player. Tony Cingrani went into 2013 as a #98 and put up a very good 60% of a season. Lars Anderson was #7 after 2008 and has barely managed to play in the majors. But we'd still love to have a #7 and wonder how much help a #98 guy will be.

It's nice to have this many prospects in the Top 100. It's nice to have some depth restored to a system. But don't fail to understand that the gap between Giolito and the rest is big, and even Giolito isn't given. What's here isn't a safety net that will re-load the Nationals after the FAs leave, it's a decently stocked system that can supplement a well maintained Nationals team.  Signing Scherzer was a good start on maintenance, but just a start.

24 comments:

Jimmy said...

Meh prospects are lottery tickets. Still would rather have a "good" system than a "bad" one but most days I really don't think that the gulf is that large and than I remember the Jim Bowden days.

Chaz R said...

I think that's all true Harper. We certainly need to be careful about being overly optimistic and satisfied the Nats future is set with the current strong prospects. I think we would much rather be in this position though than the opposite. There's no denying Rizzo and company have done good of gathering the pieces for the possibility of the Nats to be competitive well into the future.

Harper said...

Jimmy - The Bowden drafts weren't THAT bad. He only had one terrible draft (2006) but it was made worse by the fact he gave up 2nd and 3rd round picks in '05 to sign Castilla and Guzman, and the cupboard was pretty bare when he got here. So right away he gave himself a situation where any empty drafts would be huge. 2007 and 2008 were pretty standard. Of course you could argue Rizzo's influence, but you know 2005 wasn't bad either so I think he did have some skill in him.

Chaz R - No doubt they are not in a position where they have to heavily invest. Two or Three FAs in the next 2 off seasons should keep them on track. But it won't be cheap.

Anonymous said...

Harper, your general point about the non-Giolito prospects is well-taken.

But there is still some support out there for the notion that Cole could be a pretty good starter in the majors. ESPN just released the ZIPS prospect rankings - based purely on stats and not scouting info - and Cole ranks no. 36: http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/12269331/joc-pederson-joey-gallo-rank-highly-zips-top-100-prospects-list-mlb?refresh=true

Harper said...

Anon - Cole's going to rank highly on that because of stability in minors, current level, and age. It favors the likely ok player over the maybe All-Star. Of course - this is still good. He's very likely to be useful over his controlled time period. You need these types.

Jay said...

I recognize that this is outside the scope of what you were discussing, but I think it's worth noting how effective Rizzo has been at turning prospects into major leaguers through trades. Off the top of my head, Gio, Span, and Fister are all the product of prospect trades. So maybe the most valuable part of having those "ranked" guys is Rizzo's ability to use them as trade chips.

Harper said...

Jay - definitely. At this point anyone who doesn't think Rizzo isn't good at his job isn't paying attention. He's got his flaws (tough guy nonsense mostly) but there are few GMs I'd rather have. He works well in this environment.

Of course, I want to see where they end up in 2017 before I completely pass judgment.

JWLumley said...

Law is a bit higher on Taylor and Ross than I've seen in other places, but he's much much lower on Turner than I've seen from other folks. Most of what I've seen--and I'm too lazy to look it up--have Turner as a top 50 prospect.

Still, to me it's really promising because the Nats system is what they need, more high ceiling guys with less overall depth. The Nats don't need depth, they need a couple of guys who can step in a be 3 WAR cost-controlled players.

The best part is that only Taylor and Cole are older (for prospects) players. The other guys could all substantially climb the prospect rankings before they see the majors. Of course they could come crashing down too, but I'm in an optimistic mood.

JWLumley said...

@Jay Rizzo really capitalized on a market ineffeciency. Teams were overvaluing prospects big time and he turned prospects into Gio and Fister. As for Span, I'm not sure how we'll all feel when Alex Meyer is throwing filthy sliders up there in Minnesota this year. I mean TINSTAAPP and all, but I still want to see Harper back in CF. Nats are wasting value.

Jay said...

As long as there are teams with dreams of rebuilding on prospects, there should be a market for them--even if their value is lower now than in years past. We'll see how it works out, but the Braves just traded Justin Upton for prospects. Maybe Rizzo will never rip off anyone again like he did with Fister, but prospects have potential MLB value that can be translated into present MLB talent through a trade.

And not to take this too far, but it's possible that part of the "inefficiency" we're seeing is that Rizzo and his team have a better eye for minor league talent than some other teams. If the Nats are more often right about the true future outcome of prospects, they are going to win trades more frequently.

JWLumley said...

@Jay Better or not, there's still uncertainty. Look at Buxton, he had a lost season and it wasn't anything anyone could have seen coming. I see what you're saying though, but I still think there's a value being attached to prospects that far outpaces future value. Sheer odds dictate that many of them won't work out and some stars will come out of nowhere like Pablo Sandoval.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I can't remember Tanner Roark being on anyone's 100 list, but he's arguably had a bigger impact than most who were. Are there stats that capture how good an organization is in bringing up high-impact players from way under the radar? Sabermetricians could call it scouting for intangibles, or SiT. Yup. Thank goodness for Keith Law, or otherwise we'd go crazy waiting for pitchers & catchers to report.

cass said...

The 2005 draft was absolutely stacked. Hard to go wrong making a pick when the deck is full of aces. So not sure we can give Bowden much credit for that.

What if they hadn't picked Zimmerman? Well they might have picked Ryan Braun. Or Troy Tulowitski. Or Andrew McCutchen. Or Jacoby Ellsbury.

Bjd1207 said...

Seem to be alot of young infield talent in these reports coming out of Cuba. Possible Rizzo had his eye on one of these guys as a longer-term solution for 2B?

Harper said...

JW - I'd agree with other places then.

Anon - there aren't but I think that's because, for the most part, that doesn't happen. Peruse an All-Star roster and you'll find it dominated by 1st rounders and amateur FAs. If you really thought say Ian Kinsler (17th round) was going to be that good - if anyone did - he wouldn't have lasted to the 17th round. Draft success isn't about the diamonds in the rough. It's about nailing the first few rounds (and Rizzo has turned it into even more specific - it's about getting a game changer even if it means going after injury risks)

cass - Hey he could have been the one that drafted Wade Townsend. Someone had to.

Giving that he gave up #2 and #3 it was ok. Maxwell in round 4 became a fringy major leaguer. Marco Estrada (6th) and John Lannan (11th) both are/were mid to back rotation guys. Stammen (12th) has been an effective reliever. That's a decent haul for a draft.

Compare to say - Rizzo's 2010. After the obvious Bryce pick (even easier than the Zimm one in 05) you have... Aaron Barrett. It's likely Cole will do something. Or maybe the traded Robbie Ray. But it's getting make or break time for this class.

Harper said...

BJD - everyone has their eyes on those guys. But it's likely the Cubs are going to let that play out this year and probably try to deal Casto, not a super young guy, at some point.

John C. said...

Bjd, I don't doubt that Rizzo and his scouts/numbers guys are looking at the Cuban middle infielders. But they do have several options coming up in the minor leagues in Taylor, Difo, Bostick and Renda. The problem the Nats have, which may have been a factor in the Clippard/Escobar deal, is that their prospects are not yet MLB ready.

Normally I would say that signing the big name guys to a contract isn't really Rizzo's MO. But after the Scherzer signing, who knows? I will say that I have faith that the Nationals' brain trust will invest wisely.

John C. said...

As for Rizzo's 2010 draft, he has already turned that draft in part into several seasons of Gio Gonzalez (through A.J. Cole) and two seasons of Doug Fister (through Robbie Ray), the first season of which was very successful. It's not just the major league career of the draftees, it's what the organization ultimately gets out of the draft by hook or by crook.

Harper said...

John C - No it IS just about the major league career. At least for this discussion. We're not evaluating overall GM talent or overall impact of the draft classes on the Nationals roster. We're looking at the actual talent drafted with the thought being that these guys would potentially develop. Rizzo was able to turn what looks right now to be a blah 2010 draft class into better things. That's great. but it doesn't make the actual drafting that took place any better.

Bilbo said...

I disagree. The discussion is about the chance the Nats are going to be competitive for the next few years. That is not just about major league careers of minor league prospects, but also what impact that has on the major league team. If Rizzo trades a prospect for Gio Gonzalez or Fister, then those prospects had a positive impact on the Nats major league team.

Also, I was not a fan of Bowden at all. He was all about hitting home runs on everything he did. He drafted Detwiler over Bumgarner and other good players in 07. Need I remind you of Dmitri Young (who had one good year), Elijah Dukes, 40 pitchers in spring training, etc. Rizzo has been great as GM, and I think the Nats will spend at least some money in the next few years if needed. You don't sign Sherzer to $210 million and then refuse to sign anyone else.

cass said...

I'm not sure I see it the same way. If you can draft and develop a guy that another team likes enough while still in the minors to trade you Doug Fister for him, I'd say that's a good draft pick. At least from the Nats' perspective. Robbie Ray is a success for the Nats no matter how he does at the MLB level.

And yes, Bowden could've been the one to pick Townsend, but his odds of a big payout were huge that year. So no, he didn't fail awfully, but I don't think it says a whole lot that he picked Zimmerman because there were a number of good choices there and there were lots of winners. One of the best draft classes ever.

Chinatown Express said...

I think I agree with the other commenters - the relevant question is how much value the Nats realized from the drafted player, not how his MLB career ultimately was. If my stockbroker buys a stock, I'm not evaluating him on how that stock ultimately performs long after I sell it. I'm evaluating his purchase based on the value I realize, whether it's through dividends (which would be equivalent to the drafted player's MLB service for the drafting team) or capital gains or losses (which would be equivalent to trading a drafted player). I don't care whether the stock ever pays dividends for the guy I eventually sell it to.

W/r/t 2010 specifically, whom should the Nats have drafted instead? Andrelton Simmons in the 2nd round I guess. But with the exception of, like, Jacob DeGrom, I don't see many success stories below the 2nd round in that draft. Should we have drafted Russell Wilson?

Zimmerman11 said...

Harper, you said "signing one or two free agents"... are you saying in addition to Harper and Stras/Znn? Or just retaining those guys? I don't see them retaining Harper/Stras AND going after another two top flight FAs... tha'ts a lot of 20M dollar/YR contracts. I don't think the Nats are going to climb into Yankee/Dodger/Angel payroll territory. But I'm happy with top 5.

Anonymous said...

Harper - Point taken: all stars are dominated by #1s. Six of the last 13 Nats to make it to the game (going back to 2008) were #1s. But, then, fame skews all star balloting. Harp accounts for two of those selections, but probably only deserved one. Straus accounts for one. But what if he had gone into last year's break with Fister’s or Roark’s W-L and ERA? Clippard, a 9th rounder, accounts for another two. Of course, the Yanks drafted Clip, but like Roark, he achieved his potential with the Nats. Spotting, plucking at buy-low prices, and developing another team’s talent seems as good a reflection on a front office as drafting well. There ought to be a clever metric or two for quantifying this (besides winning). In fact, there probably is; it’s just not a fantasy league thing.