From The Desk of NatsGM – Trade For Cleveland Indians Ryan Raburn

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Although the Washington Nationals find themselves atop the National League East, one must not overlook the upcoming July trade deadline and the opportunity to improve the roster. Besides getting many of their players off the disabled list, one might argue the biggest weakness for the team is seeking additional bullpen help. And while I acknowledge this as a place for General Manager Mike Rizzo to bolster, another spot I would like to see Washington upgrade is a right-handed hitting bench player to compliment Clint Robinson. Certainly many will mention San Diego’s Justin Upton or Oakland’s Ben Zobrist, but the best available player in terms of fit and cost to the organization is Cleveland Indians OF Ryan Raburn.

The 34-year-old Raburn is a veteran capable of playing several defensive positions and has always had the reputation as a lefty masher, posting a career .812 OPS against southpaws. This season Raburn has been raking, hitting .297/.388/.532 with 4 home runs over 55 games and 129 plate appearances. Raburn has continued his success against LHPs in 2015, hitting .313/.402/.563 and 16 extra base hits in 96 at-bats. Raburn needs to be shielded against righties, as his .627 OPS in 2015 and career .697 OPS shows, but his ability to punish lefties would add another dimension to the Nationals’ bench and would be an upgrade over Tyler Moore and Dan Uggla.

Raburn is making $2.5 million this season and has a team option for $3 million in 2016, with a $100,000 buyout – a healthy amount for a reserve player. Cleveland entered Monday with a 38-43 record, 9 games behind Kansas City along with 4.5 games and 5 teams behind in the chase for the final AL Wild Card. In fact, they are only ahead of 4 teams in the American League and as a small market franchise, they could desire to shed $1+ million in future salary obligations and acquire a prospect by parting with Raburn.

If the Nationals were to assume his full salary, the team would not likely have to part with a top prospect to bring him to Washington. I would begin negotiations with seemingly blocked prospects in the minor leagues such as Matt Grace, Raudy Reed or Brian Goodwin, although I expect none of these individuals are sufficient to make Cleveland say “Yes”. Therefore due to his potential to remain in Washington through 2016, I would give the Indians their choice of prospects Christopher Bostick, Spencer Kieboom or Drew Ward and assume this gets a deal accomplished.

Losing a promising but secondary player like Bostick, Kieboom or Ward would hurt the depth of the farm system, but the opportunity to acquire a steady veteran in the midst of a tremendous year could give the team a huge boost down the stretch. Sure it is easy to envision Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman returning with no lingering effects from injury post All-Star break and figure the offense will be a juggernaut. However, the team is always one or two injuries from a mediocre lineup and the front office should seek any opportunity to bolster their roster without hindering the long-term future. Raburn feels like an ideal fit for Washington and would provide manager Matt Williams with a strong weapon to unleash against lefties this fall.

Mr. Rizzo, please contact Cleveland as soon as possible and bring Ryan Raburn to Washington.

Scouting Washington Nationals Newest Prospect OF Juan Soto

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Thursday the Washington Nationals announced they had signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Juan Soto to a $1.5 million dollar bonus, the largest bonus ever given by the franchise to a Latin American prospect. Ranked as the #22 overall international prospect by MLB.com and #13 by Baseball America, the left-handed hitting Soto was clearly one of the top hitting prospects available in this class.

Therefore because the Nationals decided Soto was worth such a substantial and unusual investment, I immediately went to the internet to find scouting video of the newest member of the Nationals.

Immediately I am impressed with his loose wrists and impeccable movement with his back shoulder during his swing. Soto has obvious fluidity through the strike zone and a natural ability to put the barrel of the bat to the baseball.  He has above-average but not elite batspeed and should add positive mass as he matures physically.  His lower half has plenty of moving parts and excess movement, although he shows a natural athleticism within the violence of his swing.  This intrinsic talent to make solid contact is evident, but like any teenage hitter, he needs to refine and harness his swing.  Soto looks extremely polished as a hitter and I think he is going to become a player down the road.

That said, whenever I become “too confident” in a player’s ability to hit, I consult friend of the site and Baseball Prospectus’s Hitting Guru Ryan Parker to get his expert opinion – Here are his thoughts about Juan Soto:

Soto has some obvious strength and batspeed going for him in his swing. With younger hitters I know the mechanics aren’t always going to be pristine so I’m more looking at if they have the foundation on which to build a good swing down the road. For the most part Soto has that foundation. He has has a good feel for rhythm and flow within his swing and a good amount of balance for such a young kid.

Swing-wise I wish he would clean up his front side actions. He has a good leg kick but nothing gets moving forward. It’s a pure timing move rather than a move that creates energy. Because nothing is working forward in his front side it makes his first move with his hands be a forward push rather than a turn around his back shoulder.

I wouldn’t be too concerned for two reasons. One, that is a relatively easy fix. Learn to take the hips forward during the stride. Two, his back side actions are pretty solid. His back arm gets to a good slot and moves pretty well in sequence. His back leg is even better. Zero-in on his back leg during the stride. See how it turns back to the catcher before working forward. That is a high level move. He sets up the back leg well and fires it hard. I dig it.

There is some work to be done with Soto’s swing but the fixes aren’t terribly difficult, the foundation is solid, and he is already showcasing some impressive movement patterns.” – Ryan Parker

* Thank you to Ryan for sharing his time and providing excellent analysis. *

Who Are The Sleepers Currently in the Nationals Farm System?

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While in the midst of a terrible case of “Writer’s Block” Monday evening, loyal reader and friend of the site, Jon Feng, sent me an interesting Twitter question – “Who is a Nats prospect no one is talking about”?  Unfortunately this query is somewhat difficult because the Nationals fan base is rather prospect savvy and trying to identify someone who is unknown is nearly impossible. That said three names in the Washington system I do not believe are receiving enough attention are Joan Baez, Dale Carey and Victor Robles.

Joan Baez

Signed by Washington out of the Dominican Republic in April 2014, Joan Baez has been steadily gaining helium as a prospect within the Nationals farm system.  The 20-year-old Baez has split time between Auburn and Hagerstown this season, struggling with results but showing future promise as a pitcher.  Baez is a well-built and wiry 6-3 190lbs with a 3-pitch repertoire featuring a 92-96mph fastball, a firm upper-70s curveball and a hard mid-80s changeup.  Baez really struggles currently repeating his mechanics and maintaining his arm slot, causing him to struggle walking hitters and throwing quality strikes.  However, Baez shows current plus or better fastball velocity and the potential for a future above-average curveball with further refinement, making him a strong profile for a 7th or 8th inning shutdown relief pitcher in several years.  This is yet another quality, under the radar Latin American signing by the Washington scouting staff.

Dale Carey

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Dale Carey CF

Dale Carey was Washington’s 7th round pick last summer as a below-slot senior sign from the University of Miami.  At draft time, Carey was selected with the reputation as an exceptional pure athlete who had underachieved in his time in college. Carey has above-average to plus speed and a strong throwing arm, allowing him to profile well defensively at all three outfield positions.

Offensively Carey struggles with whiffs and strikeouts, limiting his ability to get on-base and make an impact stealing bases. However, he does have fringe average home run power and peppers the gaps with doubles when he makes quality contact. Carey does not have a huge ceiling due to the contact issues, but I expect his defensive talents, tremendous speed, and occasional power to allow him to reach the majors in a backup outfielder capacity. This was a tremendous below-slot second day selection for Washington last June.

Victor Robles

Signed by the Washington Nationals as an international free agent in July 2013, the 18-year-old Robles is breaking out in prospect circles like a teenager with acne.  Robles defensively is an elite defensive outfielder with outstanding speed, a cannon for an arm and elite instincts in center field.  This allows him to project as an easy plus or better defender in center field in the major leagues.

Like most 18-year-olds, Robles’s offensive skills somewhat lag behind his defense, although he shows impressive bat speed and a solid approach at the plate.  Listed at 6-0 185lbs, Robles projects to add power as he physically matures but will need to shorten his swing as he moves up through the minor leagues and faces better quality pitching.  That said, Robles profiles as an impact defensive centerfielder with a good chance to hit for average and extra base hits.  Robles is still raw and will need several years to develop, but he is a future major leaguer with the talent to be a league average starter.  Robles will be a sought after name this month in trade discussions as Washington seeks to improve its roster for the playoffs.

THE NatsGM Show Episode #40 – Special Guest Joe Hamrahi

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Episode #40 of THE NatsGM Show has arrived!  We are proud to welcome back former member of Baseball Prospectus and a great friend to our site, Joe Hamrahi.

This week Joe and I discuss the recent activity within the National League East, including the Ryne Sandberg resignation, the controversial Touki Toussaint trade and the current status of the Marlins and Mets.  Then we finish by talking about Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer and the Nationals, along with Kansas City stuffing the All-Star Game ballot boxes.

Thanks to Joe for coming back on the show and special thanks to Josh Owens for another strong effort producing this Podcast… Thanks to everyone for downloading!