Friday, July 24, 2015

Trade Deadline Primer - Nationals Prospects

Billy Beane got a jump start on the trade deadline yesterday, dealing Scott Kazmir to the Astros for a pair of prospects. The Pirates quickly got in on the action, dealing for Aramis Ramirez from the Brewers. The Nationals seem to be content standing pat at the deadline, opting instead to wait for the players on the DL (Werth, Zimmerman, Rendon, Span, Strasburg) to return to health. Rizzo is always on the market, though, willing to entertain offers should a good deal arise. If the Nationals are active in the market, they will have to deal away some of their prospects. While the Nationals minor league system is not ranked highly (due to the quick maturation of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg among others), the cabinet is certainly not bare. Using some pre-season prospect rankings from Baseball American and FanGraphs and the awesome work of Kiley McDaniel at FanGraphs, I pulled together a list of the top prospects within the Nationals system, the guys opposing GMs are calling Rizzo to ask about. If a trade for a major piece goes down in the next few days, expect to see at least one these names on the list.

Prospects with major league experience:
-          Blake Treinen, RP – Treinen may have worn out his welcome with the big league squad for the time being after being sent down to the minors. My guess is plenty of teams would be willing to take a chance on a guy who throws 96 with movement out of the pen. You could pitch him as a guy who is only a mechanical tweak away from being a fireball throwing closer. That sounds like a kind of guy Billy Beane loves going after. He converts them into closers for a year and then sells him to the highest bidder.
-          Tyler Moore, 1B – Moore certainly seems like an AAAA guy, a term used for players good enough to hit in AAA but not good enough to hit in the majors. He has never truly gotten a chance at consistent playing time in the majors, though, used mostly in spot starts and as a pinch hitter. You wouldn’t think Moore would be a part of a deal at the trade deadline given his past numbers, but Steve Lombardozzi helped bring back Doug Fister, so you never know. He does provide some value off the bench for the Nationals this year, though he wouldn’t seem all that hard to replace.
-          Taylor Jordan, SP – Jordan impressed in 2013, putting up a 3.66 ERA in 50 MLB innings, and fought for a rotation spot in 2014 before struggling through his 2014 season at both AAA and MLB levels. He has done well in 2015 in AAA with a 2.71 ERA, but not so much in his brief stints at the major league level. He’s a groundball pitcher without big strikeout numbers, but you could project him as a Doug Fister light who could fit in as a #4 or #5 starter, for some teams.
-          Joe Ross, SP – Big Boss Joe Ross impressed in his four major league starts to date. Scouting reports prior to his trade from the Padres pegged him as a back end starter who needed to work on his off speed pitches to consistently get strike outs and limit walks. Ross has posted his highest K% since low A ball over his starts with in The Show, so perhaps the Nationals staff has helped along since the trade. That’s encouraging, to be sure, but now he needs to prove he can sustain it. Ross could be an enticing piece in a trade package, but he’s currently being used as the 6th starter to take the place of Strasburg while he is on the DL. If Ross does get moved, he could be a big get for a team, or the Nationals could look back realize they sold high on Ross.

Off Limits:
-          Lucas Giolito, SP – Since returning from Tommy John surgery, Giolito has been everything the Nationals could have hoped for when they drafted him as a prep star with a bum elbow. He throws his fastball 93-96 and can get it up to 98. His curveball is his best breaking pitch and he has been working on his changeup in the minors. Giolito is still in A ball, but he looks likely to get a call up to AA by the end of this year. He has never topped 100 innings professionally, as the Nationals ended his 2014 season at 98 innings last year as they looked to ease the strain on his surgically repaired arm. Expect him to top that number this year, maybe ending around 150 innings if he doesn’t hit any bumps in the road. He’s the future of the Nationals rotation and is ranked by some outlets as not only the top pitching prospect in the minors, but the best prospect in baseball period.
-          Trea Turner, SS – It only took half the season due to some archaic rules, but Turner is now officially a National after spending time in baseball purgatory following the trade with the Padres during the offseason. As a draftee in 2014, baseball rules prohibited him from being traded until this summer. So, technically, he was a Padre to start the year and unable to be named in the trade until the clock on his trade limit had expired. The Nationals brought him straight to AA when the trade went official, where he has continued to rake, hitting .313/.348/.470. He’s showing some good pop for a shortstop, slugging .150-.160 across minor league levels. Turner also is flashing speed and base running ability, already stealing 5 bases for the Nationals in AAA over only 23 games, while being caught stealing only once. With Ian Desmond’s struggles continuing this year (or has Cal Ripken turned his season around?), Turner looks like the future at shortstop.

Best of the Rest:
-          Reynaldo Lopez, SP – Lopez, currently with the Nationals high A club, was ranked as the 2nd or 3rd best Nationals’ prospect coming into the season. After essentially taking a season off in 2013 to rest his arm, Lopez came back hitting 100 MPH while sitting 93-97 with his fastball. He hasn’t been great in 2015, ERA wise, but he’s striking out nearly 22% of batters faced. Unfortunately, he’s also walking over 7% of batters, though that shouldn’t be surprising as he’s a 21 year old learning to control his new found velocity. He’s an easy guy to project given his big velocity. Kiley McDaniel projects him as a possible #3 starter by 2017 or 2018, although if he got bumped to the bullpen you would have to imagine he would be in the majors more quickly than that. For a team looking for a young, long term prospect out of the Nationals, Lopez will fit the bill.
-          Erick Fedde, SP – Fedde had Tommy John surgery just before the Nationals drafted him last year, finally hitting the mound again this summer in low A ball. He’s another hard thrower with a solid slider and average change up, at least prior to his surgery. He’s impressed in his 5 games back for the Nationals, striking out 28 while walking only 4 going into his start last night. Every pitcher carries a certain amount of risk given their profession, but Fedde has a higher injury concern given his recent Tommy John surgery. Although Tommy John surgery has improved over the years, it still carries something like an 80% success rate, which means 20% never make it back. He’s pitching, but teams may not be willing to take a huge chance on someone in his position. Teams seem to be interested enough to send scouts to his most recent start, according to Ken Rosenthal.
-          AJ Cole, SP – Cole has already been traded twice in his career, once from the Nationals to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal and then back to the Nationals for blog favorite Michael Morse. Cole jumped up prospect boards over the past several years as he put up solid minor league numbers. He didn’t do much to impress in his one start and two relief appearances for the big league squad this year, though. His 2015 AAA season hasn’t been much to write home about either as his walks have gone up while his strikeouts have gone down. He’s still only 23, throws mid 90s, and could be used as a starter or a reliever. He was ranked as the 6th best prospect in the Nationals’ system coming into the season by most establishments.
-          Wilmer Difo, 2B – The Nationals have been aggressive with Difo, promoting him from A ball in 2014 to high A ball and recently to AA in 2015 and even getting him a taste of the big leagues for some spot duty on the bench this season. He is 23 years old, an age at which most position players are making their way into the majors, and only just now getting a taste of the upper minors, so take his numbers with a grain of salt. With that caveat out of the way, Difo has done nothing big hit over the last few years. As a switch hitter, he has hit for average, with some surprising pop, and avoided striking out. His walk rate has fluctuated over the years, sitting at a measly 3% in nearly 50 AA games this year. His biggest calling card is probably his speed, though, as he racked up 49 stolen bases last year and has 14 already this year with only 2 caught stealings. Given Danny Espinosa’s resurgence and Trea Turner’s presence in the system, Difo is likely blocked on the big league squad for the immediate future, although you could see him getting the call up in September and being used as a situational pinch runner. Middle infielders who can hit are rare, so Difo might be an enticing trade piece to opposing teams.
-          Brian Goodwin, OF – Goodwin tumbled down prospect lists in 2015, after kicking off the 2014 season ranked around the 3rd best prospect in the farm system. A .219/.342/.328 season in AAA will do that to you. Goodwin can work the count and take a walk, but he struck out nearly 30% of the time last season. This season hasn’t been much better to Goodwin, as he was sent down to repeat AA where he is currently hitting .233/.289/.357. He’s cut his strikeout rate down to 18%, but also cut his walk rate in half in doing so. Scouts seem to agree that he can handle center field defensively and shows good wheels on the basepaths. No one has written him off just yet, as he still finds himself ranked in the Nationals top 10 prospects, although more of a 9-10 ranking than the 3-4 he was last year. You could pitch him as a great change of scenery candidate, someone who needs to change organizations and see some new coaching to reach his full potential.

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