Nationals Baseball: Our guys

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Our guys

A couple days ago someone brought up on Twitter the possibility of getting Felipe Rivero. Oddly a Pirates fan jumped in and claimed the Nats didn't have enough to get Rivero. That the asking price vaguely guessed at recently (3 Top 30-60 prospects in a deal with the Dodgers) was too low and that it would take FOUR Top 100 prospects to get Rivero, starting with a Top 15 one. Nevermind that Rivero has plied his trade as a dominant closer for all of 4 months. Nevermind this was way out of line with the vague deals offered for Osuna, a far more established young closer arm with only one fewer year of control. Nevermind that what he was saying was the Felipe Rivero, FELIPE RIVERO, should bring back arguably the greatest haul of prospects in baseball history. He believed it.

Of course Dodgers fans hated that original deal too. They felt it was far too much. And this is the dance we go through every year, specifically at the trade deadline. Our guys are too good. Your guys aren't good enough. Of course all any of us have is our opinions and as guys who probably have seen a few games at best of any of these players our opinions aren't going to be as good (we hope) as the scouts and the GMs that do this for a living. Still we can try to inject a little realism into the proceedings.

You are going to find other takes on these guys and you should! But here's how I like to think about prospects. They shouldn't be bad. This seems obvious but a lot of people are willing to overlook something poor thinking it will get better. I think prospects can improve but going from terrible at some point in the minors to good in the majors? You better be a 19yo in AAA. Which brings me to the second point. You should be young for your level. What does that mean.  Here's a good chart, courtesy of Nationals Prospects  In my opinion, if you are a prospect you should be doing well at the lowest end of these ages. If you are a PROSPECT you should be doing well below these ages. You can certainly develop into a useful player otherwise but with each flip of the calendar those chances diminish quickly. Also you do need to factor injuries into this. Injuries delay progress that the prospect could be making and would be making. Assuming he gets back to health he should just pop back up, behind the original schedule but still there.

A couple more points. I value production at AA and AAA far far far more than I do below that. I am close to dismissive of A and Low A performance unless it is just incredibly impressive. Because of this I probably undersell the youngest prospects. Also I forgive pitchers and catchers a little on the age, but just a year. I hate big strikeout totals for hitters and low strikeout totals for pitchers as those guys can be killed at the major league level. Finally, I don't see defense. Like I have no idea, so I rely on what I hear completely from other places. There really isn't an option for those that aren't going to see dozens of minor league games.

So that's how I look at things. The thing to understand is that everyone has their level at which they stop being a productive player.* We can use how they are doing currently to estimate that but you don't really know until they move up and prove it (or don't) on the field. That's particularly true the younger you go, when there still may be some noticeable physical changes, but it holds pretty much up through your mid/late 20s. Players learn and grow, but in the end everyone has a ceiling.

This is where I stand. It's not perfect but it seems to work ok. You should certainly trust guys who spend more time on this more** but you're here so on to the Nats best prospects.

Victor Robles - He's done everything you want. Dominated GCL to start, and since then he's been hitting while being below the usual low end at each level. Hit at A ball at young 19. Hit at High A at young 20.*** Doesn't strike out too much. He does seem to need time to adapt when moved up. His first 40 games at high A weren't great. He's not hitting well in AA now. But he's so young that this can't worry you at all. He's basically one step - hitting well in AA from being considered for a major league trial. If he hits at AA before year's end he probably starts 2018 in everyone's Top 3. Everyone loves his defense as well. He may not hit for power but you are almost as sure of Robles' likelihood at being a productive major leaguer as you can be for a minor leaguer.

Erick Fedde - injury (TJ) slowed down development so aggressively moved through system to get him back on prospect track and he hasn't given any good reason not to - performing at least ok at each stop. He's currently at where he should be to still be a "prospect"- 24 in AAA but is not having a great go at it. It's not as bad as is ERA would have you believe and the IP are very low. However the drop in K rate, which was never lights out, does give you pause. Ideally you'd like to see him finish the year strong, or have a good 2018 in AAA where he's hitting expectations. Failing that he'll start looking like a back-end of the rotation command guy.

Juan Soto  - Similar to Robles but a smidge younger. Great GCL performance at an old 17. Hitting in A ball at an old 18. Unfortunately now he's injured. It's likely his performance in 2018 will suffer because of this (that's just typical) leaving him likely in High A in 2019 as well. The good news is that he'll still be in PROSPECT age range then. His defense and speed are in question but if you like low minor stats he's a better hitting prospect than Robles was at that point. Like I said I want to see dominance at these lower levels and that's pretty much what you see here. Nine strikeouts in 109 PAs? It's a big gamble to let him go. At the same time he still hasn't performed above A-ball and with the injury being a 2020 call-up would be an optimistic goal. He's just about to be a big name in the prospect world but he's nowhere near an immediate help.

Carter Kieboom - He was nothing special in rookie ball but blossomed as expected in A-ball at an old 19 making him a PROSPECT. He hits for more power than most at this age, and has managed to cut down on his strikeouts, which looked problematic last year, despite the move up. Both those are encouraging signs. But he's been out since May with a hamstring injury. Seems like most people aren't sold as him as a shortstop which diminishes his value a little bit, and leg injuries this early in development can't help. At this point with the varying minor league performances and the injury he's interesting but I wouldn't pencil him into any future lineups just yet.

Andrew Stevenson - Kind of like Robles light. He's wasn't as young going through levels. Was a young 23 before he got past AA. He didn't hit as well. He's a little more strikeout prone. He doesn't hit for any home run power which you'd like to see by this age. But he's been good eventually at each level, he doesn't strike out too much, and he's fast. People like his range in CF but not his arm too much. I tend to think the high reliance on average will bite him in the majors as the defense improves and the K's go up. And first he has to prove himself in AAA which he hasn't. I'm feeling very strongly that he's a 4th OF type but given his age he's got a couple seasons to prove me wrong. That's his positive right now - still has potential.

Wilmer Difo - Hitting solidly since being put into a starting role. Minor league numbers though have never been impressive. He's a prospect who's generally been floating on by being young without ever being that good. Any strong feelings seem to be based on a good 20 games in High A with the bat as a young 23 year old. He is a great contact bat, but he doesn't walk and the power never developed to the point where it's a big strength. It's hard to believe he will ever really hit in the majors consistently although at a young 25 now there's still a chance. He's fast enough that that can be considered a plus. I've seen his defense. It might be good but it's not going to carry him to a starting position.

Brian Goodwin - Too old to be a prospect now. A good example to look at about hitting a level. In A ball - on the low end of the age range hit great, so was moved up to AA and was briefly a PROSPECT in my mind. but never really got it in AA. Stuck out way too much. Nats tried to keep him a PROSPECT with a move to AAA as a 23 year old but he was close to awful there. Back to AA he went and then back up to AAA the next year more to write him off than anything. He hit better in AAA but not great, he was still on that border where you might expect K issues in the majors and he was no longer young. Despite being a PROSPECT in A ball, his level seems to be around AA/AAA. That's not to say he couldn't hang in limited ABs in the major leagues but he's not much more than a throw in.

Other guys

Pedro Severino - has been PROSPECT young for his level all the way up. Has also been a terrible hitter all the way up with the exception of his very brief time in the majors last year. I have a hard time being excited about a guy who has literally never hit in the minors.

Austin Voth - the reason, at least production wise, to be wary on Fedde. Had a productive year in AAA last season on the lower end of the age range but didn't strike anyone out. This year that's gotten worse and he's just been bad across the board, so much so he's now been demoted.  Granted Fedde is a better prospect - he's got much better control. We could look at AJ Cole here, too. Arguably a better prospect than Fedde by production at points and people did like him. But it seems apparent his level is AAA

What does all the above mean? To me it means Robles is a guy you could build any deal around. But that makes him a guy you'd have to be very careful about including. And for the Nats - who need OF help next year probably, I don't see how they trade him. Soto would probably be that type of "any deal" target too if not for the injury. That almost to me, makes him the perfect guy to deal. You have to LOVE what you've seen so far. It's a star track. But it's also a star track way at the beginning and almost certainly slow to arrive. Let someone else ride it out and get some help you can count on for the next few years.

The other guys I don't see any reason why not to stuff them into any deal. Fedde is the hardest one but not because of expected future performance. Instead it's because of a lack of usable starting pitching depth for the Nats. He's arguably it. That makes him unlikely to be traded, unless there is another SP coming back. Kieboom's the only other one that should give you any pause but there's so little to judge there that I don't see how you can get hung up on it. He's just a question mark. The rest aren't even that and should probably not bother you in the least to move.

Have at it. 

*This is true for major leaguers as well. The thing is there is nowhere for major leaguers to go. No Super Major Leagues to be bumped up to. So for me the biggest jump, and why I'm wary of prospects until I see them, is the jump to the majors. At each level before you have a mix of players, but the best players get cycled out eventually to be replace with another group to look at. At the majors the best don't cycle out. They sit there providing you with the greatest bump in competition you'll see after getting into the system.

**For example I would have undersold Bryce because he was just barely hitting in AA and AAA. It was still REALLY impressive because was 19 in AAA but still I would have wanted to see production

***Oh I forgot! We've talked about this before but birthdays matter. Especially in the minors. Your age is based on how old you are on July 1st. So a guy born on June 28 2000 would be considered the same age as a guy born on July 2nd 1999 despite being a year apart. A year apart is HUGE when you are young. So to point this out. I separate ages into "young" - which is basically born in April/May/June and "old" which is born in July/August/September. 



Dustin M. Smith said...

I read lots of Nats stuff on the web. Gotta say, if I could only pick one it'd be Harper's. Well done, sir. Keep up the good work.

1natsfan said...

Where do the Nats put prospects from college. Is college experience equivalent to minor league experience. Does using an aluminum bat negate experience since they will have to learn how to hit with a wood bat. If a college graduates are 21 to 22 years old, they would be behind the curve if sent to one of the lower leagues so are they treated differently?

Anonymous said...

One note: it's really important to look at minor league stats that are league- and park-adjusted. Raw stats in the minors can be very misleading. The Nats' affiliates for the most part aren't plagued by these issues, though I do think there's a case to be made that Syracuse suppresses hitting stats (which makes AAA stats for pitchers look even worse).

Anonymous said...

I want Every-Day-Felipe back!!

Harper said...

Dustin - Thanks

1nats - Not sure about the Nats exactly but usually drafted college guys start out in the Rookie/Low A but with full expectations to move them up aggressively. It's more of a "ramping up" than "this is where they belong". The better the prospect the more aggressive they are. First round college guys almost always are in High A by the second year and not always because they deserve it. That age breakdown is where they'd like to see you so they want to try to get you there and see how you do.

Late round college draft picks are often churned out in a couple years because they don't make it to where they need to be fast enough. You get drafted - play some rookie ball, get assigned somewhere to start the next season, then if you don't look good by the time the next draft hits in late June - you go home. HS that choose to come in may get a year or two more because of the age.

Anon @9:57 - this is completely right. There are a couple of minor leagues where the offensive stats are out of whack. For the Nats like he said it's not really a thing so I don't think about it but it matters a lot if Nats are one's getting stuff back.

blovy8 said...

I can't argue with any of that. But I do have to say, if a team is willing to stick with a guy after an injury, it seems to pay off as a personal investment from anyone in the hierarchy from the GM down to the scouts. It's about belief (or maybe just covering your ass on scouting reports), but baseball is such a weird game in that respect, that I imagine a club can figure out the mental state of a prospect AFTER they get hurt a lot better than if they are just progressing normally.

blovy8 said...

Sorry, that's why I think they may keep Soto. This is a team that has leveraged rehab about as well as anyone.

Harper said...

We'll see. I wonder if they can get a good rotation piece without using him or Robles. I suppose Fedde + Stevenson + Keiboom may do it, but not if I'm giving up anything in the Top half of the rotation. It usually suprises me how little it takes though

G Cracka X said...

Excellent analysis, thanks Harper.

Wow, two straight games with a 7-run inning. Sammy Kent, you must be ecstatic about this power outburst!

BxJaycobb said...

Great post Harper. I agree with all of this.
(Just an aside that's not apropos. Post by Stephania Bell whom I like to read re injuries--doesn't mean she's right, but still).

Jay said...

I think the next few days will tell on Strasburg. He was throwing on flat ground the last two days. However, he is now on the DL. Dusty says yesterday that Stras should just miss one start. Then today Dusty says just one start but he's going to have to throw a "serious bullpen" before making his next start. He could be fine and miss just one start as planned. It could all be BS and spin for the trade deadline. I hear they are looking at Grey and Darvish. Today Rosenthal states the Nats aren't looking for SP at all. He "misunderstood" his source. Anyway, Nats scouts were at StL game the other night on a Lance Lynn start, but they could have been looking at Trevor Rosenthal. We'll see what Monday holds. I predict they don't get anyone else SP or RP.

Fries said...

I think Rizzo makes a move. What that move will be I have no idea. But I think Rizzo's going to sit back and watch the next couple of days and snag somebody at the 11th hour. Maybe the stars don't align and he won't. But all the rumblings are indicating a move for a rental back of the rotation SP and another bullpen piece.

Interestingly enough, the Twins appear to be sellers. A Santana/Kintzler package could be intriguing, though probably too high a price tag

Anonymous said...

Hi Harper, where would you put Seth Romero? I thought you might have some early guesses even though he does not have a professional body of work yet.

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