Nationals Baseball

Monday, March 27, 2023

Monday Quickie - OD week!

Opening Day is getting close and the Nats roster is now set... I think. The Nats rotation had a great end to Spring Training which I will re-iterate means nothing more than "feel better than if they had a terrible end to Spring Training" but that's something right? 

Call is going to the 4th OF, Vargas the back-up IF, Kuhl the fifth starter, Adams the back-up C, since Pineda is hurt. The last man on the bench will indeed be Michael Chavis as I predicted. I noted here that makes sense (Matt Adams is toast, Jeter Downs could use a full AAA season) but it's also less interesting than having Downs up.

Espino got sent back down leaving the pen with the expected : Finnegan, Edwards Jr, Harvey, Ramirez, and Thompson and the place holders for Rainey, Doolittle and Last Man in Pen, formerly Espino : Thad Ward, Anthony Banda, and Hobie Harris. 

Are you excited? Probably not. But it IS baseball and it IS back and we really don't know what will happen until it happens so let's try to keep upbeat about this for as long as we can. 


Getting close to the start means it's also prediction time. An early take from CBS's Matt Snyder is essentially Nats are terrible but at least sort of interesting to start, which I sort of agree with. It likely won't be pretty but start enough guys who people thought something of, either as prospects or young players, and well... it's something.  

There's the Nats 2023 slogan "Better than nothing, right?" 

You can say the Nats roster isn't good and you aren't wrong but at times people were/are excited that they had something with : Ruiz, Smith, Meneses, Garcia, Adams, Candelario, Robles, Gore, and Gray. And people want to see what happens with Hassell and Wood and Susana. All of them can't be bad so it'll be about how many are good and how good and what's that mean. It's a puzzle to figure out. Likely we won't like the solution but puzzles are fun. 

I'm trying here kids.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Wednesday Walk-On

 The Nats are rounding into shape somewhat. Alex "Who?" Call won the 4th OF spot over Stone "Also who?" Garrett. 

Call is someone who was impressive in 2021 in AA and in 2022 in AAA but also is old (28 - 29 just before the season ends!) and is mostly there to fill space because there really isn't a good option. He seems comfortable enough to field the corners and if he can hit ok that's a bonus.  Garrett is younger (27) and unlike Call who kind of got maybe fluky hot after mostly disappointing in the low minors, has always been a power threat. Unfortunately he isn't really positionally flexible so he had to outhit Call by a decent amount to get the nod and Call out hit him. Wouldn't be surprised to see him up. 

 

The last bench spot is between Michael Chavis, Jeter Downs, and Matt Adams. None of these guys are necessarily good choices but it is interesting because they are completely different choices.  Downs (24) is a MI type who can carry himself at SS if needed and has speed, but he hasn't hit in the higher leagues. He's never had a long term role in the majors so there's a sense of the unknown with him.  Chavis (27) is more of a corner IF guy though primarily 1B, who definitely has power but can't make contact enough. He's had his chances in the majors including basically a starting role last year with the Pirates and hasn't looked like a starting major leaguer. Last man on bench is about right. Matt Adams (35) is the grizzled vet who hit for a few years in the majors but it's hard to say belongs anymore with the last two major league years combining to play 38 games and hit .177 with 2 homers and that's not counting 2022 when he was in semi-pro ball. 

Twist my arm and I say they go with Chavis. Given Adams is still here that 1B back up is what they are looking at and Chavis gives them that and a little more.  Downs getting more AAA time in the Nats system so they can look at him more feels right. 


The fifth starter job will seemingly go to Chad Kuhl. He's gotten the last start and the other guys that have started a game were either set down or have been pitching in the pen recently. Kuhl is a guy.  He started all year for the Rockies. He was not good. But being in Colorado can mess with you.  He started half a season with the Pirates in 2021. He was not good.  He also started for them in the abbreviated 2020 season. He was not good.  I sense a pattern. 

If you can say something about Kuhl though is he is consistent. He can give you a 5.25+ ERA without going much over 5.50. That would be better than Fedde did last year (5.81 ERA) or Adon (7.10) or Sanchez (8.33) . Or Abbott as a starter (6.00) or  Espino as a starter (5.81 - hey ERA buddies!).  He's essentially Josh Rogers who the Nats decided to try to make a reliever last year. Didn't really work.  

So I guess you can say Kuhl will be bad, but reliably so, so if the Nats have an exceptionally good hitting day they are likely to be up 8-5 in the 6th as opposed to maybe up 8-7 they would have been last year when the 5th starter was going. That's... something I guess. 


The lineup today seems to be what we should expect to start the year

Thomas - Smith - Meneses - Dickerson - Candelario - Garcia - Ruiz - Abrams - Robles. 

I'd expect a fair amount of shifting though. No one aside from Thomas is probably feeling wedded to their spot and thus people will rise and fall as their fortunes do.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Cade Cavalli out!

 Story here

What does that mean? 

1) It puts a big pause on Cavalli's development.  The best case is he is seen halfway through next year meaning maybe he's a useful starter in 2025. Worst case, of course, is he doesn't come back. 

2) It creates a hole in an already dicey rotation situation where Gray/Gore/Cavalli at the back end was already a questionable tactic, given their performances (Gray), injury history (Gore), and inexperience (Cavalli). It's easy to see someone needing to drop out of the rotation and the replacement would be... well there is no good replacement.  This is already on top of the fact the Nats #1 is Corbin who has been possibly the worst pitcher in baseball the past couple years and #2 is Trevor Williams a guy hoping to stretch himself back into a full-time starter to get some big bucks. 

I don't mind saying "I told you so" but the Nats starting pitching situation was particularly dicey with development having to go better than expected as of today for two guys for it to form a core around the Nats could build something more.  Now it could still happen but the Nats have to go 2 for 2, instead of 2 for 3. 

There are other things that could happen - Gore or Gray could be a #1, both could be #2s, Susana could become one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, a guy in the system or their draft pick could surprise - but these are long shots. 

The Nats season got a little less interesting. One fewer reason to turn in. A knock to the chance at being something sooner rather than later (or never). Crafting a good team from scratch is hard. After catching some luck the first time around that made it go as smooth as it could reasonably go, Nats fans are learning this the hard way.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Joey Meneses - superstar, star, solid starter, or sssssfluke?

 My... cautiousness with Joey Meneses should be apparent by now.  He absolutely crushed to end the year last year but it was only 56 games, he's 31 years old, and everything before suggests his homer rate was a fluke. And it was his homer rate that was turning a guy that might hang around into something special. Not that Joey can't be good. I think after the season I pegged .280 with 25 homers as definitely possible, even though that was more power than he showed up until last years major league trial. You have to give more weight to the recent data. But a star?

However Joey is still hitting in the WBC.  While Spring Training is Spring Training and everything there can be ignored, does the WBC, where guys are actually trying, mean something? 

My initial thoughts is probably not. While the effort is there the talent spread is huge. Also it's like barely any games. Last year there really wasn't a true one so we have to go back to 2017 to see if there was any connection. I picked out some names of guys that looked to do really well :

Wladimir Balentien (NED) : .615 4 homers

John Andreoli (ITA) : .316 3 homers

Carlos Correa (PR) : .333 3 homers 

Alfredo Despaigne (CUBA) : .474 3 homers

Jurickson Profar (NED) : .464 5 doubles and a homer

Seiji Kobayashi (JPN) : .450

Yurisbel Gracial (CUB)  : 435 4 doubles and a homer

Hayato Sakamoto (JPN) : .417 

How'd they do in 2017?

Wladimir Balentien (NED) : Under contract in Japan, Balentien 32 aged and hit slightly worse than the previous year (about .250 with 30 homers)

John Andreoli (ITA) : 27yo Cubs farm hand he did have a mild power bump in 2017 but at the cost of some average and patience.

Carlos Correa (PR) :At 22 blossomed into a true star - possibly best year ever

Alfredo Despaigne (CUBA) : Same as Balentein except he was 31

Jurickson Profar (NED) : tepid start and got hurt - barely played his 24 yo season

Seiji Kobayashi (JPN) : Middling 28 yo Japanese league catcher hit the same as the year before

Yurisbel Gracial (CUB)  :  31 year old was locked in and had a great year in the Cuban league and Canada.  Wasn't as good in 2016 but was in 2015. 

Hayato Sakamoto (JPN) :28 year old came back to Earth after a break out 2016.  But would bounce back to be great in 2018 


So a bunch of mixed results. For Nats fans I'd say... it's good Joey is hitting because he is such an unknown that any time you can see him hit and confirm what you saw had some level of reality to it, the better. There might be something to his power surge being real which bodes well both for my take and those that like him better. The lack of power shown in the minors might be a thing of the past. While we'll have to see what happens when pitched around (he's not patient) it's just another piece of evidence he should be good this year and maybe great.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Ruiz - Face of the Nats

 Keibert Ruiz signed a contract extension with the Nats.  It's 8/50 with two club options.  It pays his well over what he would be paid for the next two years (when he is pre-arb and basically paid a major league pittance) over what we would be paid for the three years after that (when he is arb... he'd probably make less the first year, more the last it's a little bump) and under what he would get in those last three years.  It's a little front loaded with 25 mill coming in the arb years meaning something less than that will come in the three FA years. But it's probably like 22 million.  I assume he's not getting paid that much more the next couple years and I wouldn't be surprised if the options were for pretty big money. 

Is it worth it? Definitely.  Keibert is already a league average type catcher with solid defense and high contact offense. If he can either find patience or develop power he can make himself into an average bat and very valuable.  That's because catchers stink, or at least the current catcher situation in MLB.  Keibert isn't necessarily a plus player in general. His offense is below average and his D doesn't make up for that. But he IS almost a plus player for a catcher. And being that at 24 in his second full year means there's a good chance he can improve making this deal a steal. 

FWIW - If you've read this blog I've been high on Ruiz.  I think he can develop top notch D skill and while I think patience will never come, if he can up that power just a tick you've got a guy who may be All-Star caliber at the low bar of catcher for a fill-in price. 

Smart move. Love it. Do Garcia next. 

There was a second round of cuts today Names might be a bit more familiar. 

Jake Irvin - nothing special. AAA starter 

Jordan Weems - all the stuff but past the age you think he could develop.

Cory Abbott - another AAA starter. Guys like him and Irvin shouldn't see the majors for a good team outside the rare emergency start

Matt Cronin - A lot of talk about him this spring as the Nats don't have lefties in the pen and he might be one. I guess not.  We'll likely see him again either because he's forced the issue or because the major league team just needs that arm.

Jackson Rutledge - high draft pick who has been hurt and struggled but shows some interesting flashes. Worth giving a year or two in AA to see what happens

Drew Millas - someone must love this kid because I don't see it.  At 24 this year Ruiz is signing a decade long deal. At 25 this year Millas is hoping to break .225 in AA. 

You know these things do kind of fit together. A reason the Nats might have signed Ruiz long term is that their organization is a wasteland of catching. Israel Pineda might be ok. After him though there is nothing close to looking capable of playing in the major leagues.  These odd looks at Millas and Brady Lindsly might have been confirming that dearth of talent before this deal.

 

On the talent - 

I don't think I'm being pessimistic. Most guys end up as nothing. If all top minor league talent became good major leaguers we'd be flooded with great players. The Nats system probably peaked between 2011 and 2012. Getting up near the #1 ranking,  this was their Top 10 

  1. Bryce - star
  2. Rendon - star
  3. Goodwin - part time major leaguer for a while
  4. Alex Meyer - never could stay healthy, 19 ML starts
  5. Matt Purke- briefest coffee cup
  6. Sammy Solis - unimpressive reliever
  7. Lombo - folk hero but replacement ballplayer
  8. Destin Hood - slightly less brief coffee cup
  9. Chris Marrero - pretty bad 150 ML PAs
  10. MAT - defensive CF specialist

This is not unusual. This is typical.  And in fact the fact all 10 of these guys made the majors is a testament to how good it was.  But there isn't a major league core here, and to think you can get it from one minor league class is wishing for a lot more than most teams ever get. And that's with arguably the BEST minor league system which the Nats don't have. A core is built over time over several minor league classes and smart trades and good FA signings. 

The idea that the Nats offense will turn into something good AND the starters will all be 2-3 types so they can pop in a couple FA signings and be competitive in 2025... that's a bridge too far and I hope I can get you to see that. Hope for that core offense C-2B-SS-CF to look ok at the end of this year so it can be built on. Hope for one of the starters to look like a 2-3-4 so it can be built on. But understand building will be needed. Without massive luck this isn't a team that's going to compete in 2024, and likely not seriously in 2025 either. And without spending a good deal more that's where it will end.  The first steps are now, let's hope for forward movement so the next steps can come.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Guaging your feelings

The Nats have arguably the best farm system they've had in a long while. It is top heavy, almost entirely powered by the recent trade of Soto, but past top Nats systems were even more so. The talent level is deeper (although that means maybe 10 guys you like instead of 6) and that top talent level is a good bet for major league impact. Maybe small impact but teams are built on combinations of talent. 

There's a little Twitter argument spurred on by that fact and this article. Some believe the Nats are in good shape. Others do not. 

I lie with the latter. I think the Nats offensively have a decent shot of having a contending offense in a few years. They should have major league usable 2B (Garcia), SS (Abrams), C (Ruiz) and probably two OF (Hassell and one of Wood/Green) Maybe someone else (House?) A couple of these will be better than usable, if the Nats are lucky All-Star caliber, but the big thing is that they are here and cheap. If they are merely average you can spend and get an All-Star 1B bat and an All-Star corner OF bat and suddenly that's a major league lineup. 

But pitching wise... I don't know where the success is coming. They have Gore and Cavalli and Grey all starting out this year but I don't think any evaluator is high on any of them being a rotation ace. It's likely 1 or 2 stick around in the rotation as 3-4-5s but getting an ace pitcher is expensive and competitive. I don't see where the competitive starting staff is coming from.

So where as the offensive group has a base there that may make rebuilding a line-up easy or may make it hard but will make it possible, that can't be said for the staff. They NEED Gore, Cavalli and Grey, guys I'm not sure I'd say anyone will definitely be above an in and out 5, to give them two guys at least a 3 or better. I don't see how I can say that looking at their talent, what they've done, their injury history and knowing what I know of pitchers. 

There is a path to success. It's the offense stays on the expected track and the owners, whoever they may be, spend a TON to get a lot of starting pitching and a couple bats. I guess that's better than where they were, but I'm just guessing. More to the point it's better where they might have been - no Soto and no these guys but that would have been their own fault. Just like it's their own fault they are here. 


Anyway what do you think? Do you think there's a real shot of the Nats being more than a .500 maybe get a WC nuisance in say 2025/6 ? Do you think there's a good chance of them being competitive to the point of people saying they could win a series?

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

First "Cuts"

 Here you go

nothing unexpected or even interesting but we'll try 

Joan Adon - you remember he stunk last year. Which isn't a surprise because he's never really been good. BUT he's young and he didn't get his brains beaten in in AAA and the Nats have no pitching depth so to AAA he goes to be next in line. 

Alberto Baldonado - an ok AAA reliever but old. Should be org filler in AAA

Gerardo Carrillo - not exactly sure why he was in camp as he still hasn't figured out AA and he's not old that you feel you have to move on him.  Hopefully they'll transition him to reliever this year

Evan Lee - see Baldanado but not old, better.  More likely to be a guy that shuffles up and down who might stick as one of the last guys in a major league pen.

Francisco Perez - typical big arm reliever who can strike out the side but is more likely to walk in a run. But that's kind of guy you want in the minors. Have a half-dozen of them and one should hit.

Tommy Romero - another type that you want in the minors in that he looked pretty good until last year when the Rays said "this stuff will never play".  The Rays are a smart org, but no one is right all the time.

Brady Lindsly - had to look this guy up. I'm not entirely sure if this wasn't a start of a "should we keep this guy or not"

Lucius Fox - old Wallace and Vomit himself. Org filler for an org where org filler might play in the majors here and there.

Erick Mejia - a versatile piece for your AAA team. Nothing more.

Yasel Antuna - One of the longest tenured Nats (signed in 2016) he was SO young that he almost had to be a prospect by age alone, like if you stuck a 14yo in rookie league. Even if he hit .180 with no XBH you are like "well he didn't hit .000" Anyway. He showed signs of life last year after basically being dead in the water since 2018. He's still only 23 so this was probably another long look at what they actually have before he goes down to AA. 

Donovan Casey - Casey CRUSHED as a too old for rookie ball player and did well for a too old for High A player. But outside of 12 AA games that's all that looks good over an 8 year minor league career. He has always struck out too much. Last year the power went and I think it's time to cut ties. There's nothing usable here