Wednesday’s Scouting Notes From West Palm Beach

Building off yesterday’s column, this afternoon I return with several additional scouting notes from the past two days in Florida.  Please let me know in the comment’s section if there are players or topics you wish for me to discuss.  Also, please ignore any typos or grammatical errors, I am writing these reports rapidly in order to turn them around in a timely fashion.

Although the stadium radar gun did not agree, I was extremely impressed with Joe Nathan’s performance Tuesday.  Nathan’s fastball was sitting 88-89mph on the stadium radar gun, touching 90mph.  In addition Nathan flashed a good slider and even showed a quality changeup to a left-handed batter in his one inning of work.  Even more impressively, each pitch Nathan threw showed natural movement, with nothing going straight and everything sinking and cutting toward left-handed hitters.  At 42-years-old he no longer has “closer” stuff, but if he can add another tick or two of velocity this spring, I can envision Nathan helping Washington (or another team) in middle relief this season.

Following Nathan on Tuesday for the Nationals was RHP Austin Adams, one of two players Washington received for Danny Espinosa this winter.  Adams immediately caught my attention, flashing a 93mph fastball with excellent life and a powerful 87mph slider/cutter with sharp movement.  Adams is listed at 6-2 225lbs and looks even bigger, with long limbs and some natural deception in his delivery.  He has plenty of effort in his motion and his mechanics are difficult to repeat, which explains his past difficulties allowing walks.  Nonetheless, with the potential for two above-average pitches if his command can improve, there is a chance the Nationals have found a possible asset in middle relief.

* Obviously it is only a few at-bats, but Ryan Zimmerman looks completely lost at the plate.  Zimmerman appears to be cheating and guessing fastball in order to catch up to reasonable velocity, which leaves him exposed to quality off-speed pitches.  Especially on Tuesday, Zimmerman’s leg kick seemed exaggerated and lengthy, hindering his ability to find a rhythm.  Also, his swing looked extremely long and slow, leaving him in a position unable to hit premium velocity or reasonable breaking pitches.  I acknowledge it is early in the spring and Zimmerman has only played a few games so far, but I am extremely concerned Zimmerman’s days of producing offensively are in the rearview mirror.

* Lost somewhat amongst the news on the field, Tuesday the Nationals announced that catcher Spencer Kieboom had cleared waivers and was re-assigned to Triple-A Syracuse.  Last week Washington designated Kieboom for assignment to clear room on their 40-man roster for Joe Blanton.

As mentioned in last week’s column, the 25-year-old Kieboom struggled through a difficult offensive season in 2016, batting only .230/.324/.314 in 309 at-bats.  A defensive stalwart, Kieboom’s offensive limitations, along with the development of other backstops in the organization, has found him in an organizational roster crunch.  Likely the best thing for Kieboom’s career would be a trade to another organization, but teams cannot ever have enough catching depth and Washington was lucky to sneak him through waivers.  While he does not have a high ceiling, his defensive aptitude could allow him to become a backup catcher in the majors, though his likely outcome is as a Triple-A player.  Nonetheless, it was a bit of good fortune Washington was able to keep Kieboom in their organization.

THE 2017 Washington Nationals Sleepers

Last week while analyzing the Washington Nationals’ farm system, it particularly caught my attention the depth the organization has outside their top-10 prospects.  This is quite a feat, considering they traded away four top prospects this winter and have qualified for smaller draft bonus pools the past few years due to their success at the big league level.  Washington’s front office should be commended for their collection of prospects outside the top-15, especially up-the-middle hitters.

While the term “sleeper” is rather nebulous, for the purposes of this article it will describe someone ranked outside my top-30 prospects that deserve more hype.  These are my three current favorite sleepers in Washington’s farm system.

Daniel Johnson OF

Johnson was Washington’s 5th round pick last summer, agreeing to an above-slot $325,000 bonus after hitting .382 with 12 home runs and 29 stolen bases for New Mexico State.  Johnson owns an intriguing collection of tools, possessing plus-plus speed and a strong throwing arm, allowing him to project well in center field.

Despite his impressive offensive output in college, his offensive skills lag significantly behind his defensive prowess.  Johnson is raw offensively and has not played against high-level competition, leading scouts to question if he will hit professional pitching.  He has shown some barrel skills and raw pull power from his left-handed swing, but the 21-year-old will need significant time in the minor leagues in order to refine his swing mechanics.  He should begin 2017 at Low-A Hagerstown and his package of tools could have scouts buzzing later this year.

Andrew Lee RHP

Chosen in the 11th round in 2015 from the University of Tennessee, Lee was a solid two-way player for the Volunteers before exclusively dedicating himself to pitching as a professional.  Lee is a large man, standing 6-5 225lbs, along with owning an exciting 3-pitch arsenal featuring a low-90s fastball, an above-average curveball with swing-and-miss potential and a reasonable changeup.  There is effort in his delivery, but he does repeat his mechanics fairly well and has command of the strike zone.

Unfortunately the biggest present knock on Lee is his health, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in the past and missed the second half of 2016 with an injury.  The 23-year-old only threw 84.2 innings in college and another 89.2 professional innings the past two seasons, leading to obvious durability questions going forward.  If he can successfully return to the mound, he could generate buzz as a back-end workhorse type starting pitcher.

Jose Sanchez SS

Signed last summer by the Nationals for a $950,000, Sanchez has been overshadowed by fellow international acquisitions Yasel Antuna and Luis Garcia.  But as his signing bonus indicates, Sanchez is a fascinating middle infield prospect in his own right, possessing an above-average arm, average to solid-average speed and outstanding instincts.  Scouts consistently mention his baseball instincts and IQ, as the 16-year-old shows an uncanny ability to maximize his skills on the field.

Offensively his underwhelming size (6-0 165lbs.) has him lacking the present strength to hit for power, but he has loose wrists and shows a compact swing with impressive barrel skills.  He has a good eye and approach at the plate, which helps him pepper line drives across the outfield.  Scouts expect him to hit for average in the future, but the natural question of how much strength he develops holds the key to his power output and thus, overall offensive profile.  He should spend 2017 in the Dominican Summer League and could gain prospect helium if he hits well this season.

My 2017 IBWAA Hall of Fame Ballot

As a card carrying member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA), one of the great honors each year is the opportunity to vote for our inductions into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I generally lean toward more honorees than less, as the town of Cooperstown desperately counts on induction weekend as a major part of their economy; plus no one is ultimately hurt by a fringe candidate earning their way into this museum.

Considering the backlog of qualified candidates, I would have a full ballot of 10 players and would select several others if that number was extended.  However, within the 10 player limit, these are my choices for my 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. {Editor’s Note: The BBWAA only allows 10 selection per ballot, the IBWAA allows 15.}

Jeff Bagwell

My favorite player as a child and my vote for the most underrated player in recent baseball history. Bagwell finished his 15-year career with a .297/.408/.540 with 449 home runs, 202 stolen bases, and 80.7 WAR – that’s a Hall of Famer!

Barry Bonds

Perhaps the best offensive player in my lifetime, Bonds’ induction will 100% come down to how the voters feel about “steroids”, as his .298/.444/.607 batting line and 164.4 WAR make him a top-5 player in baseball history.

Roger Clemens

Probably a top-5 pitcher in baseball history, Clemens won an astonishing 354 games and produced 170 more wins than losses over his 24-year career. I understand the steroid “issues” but how can there legitimately be a Hall of Fame without Roger Clemens? I am curious which team cap his plaque would have if he achieves enshrinement, as Boston, Toronto and New York each has a claim.

Vladimir Guerrero

Perhaps the franchise player for the Montreal Expos organization, Guerrero is one of the most exciting and dynamic players in baseball history.  There was nothing he could not do, as he was an elite defensive right fielder, an asset on the bases and a legitimate cleanup hitter.  Over his 16-year career, Guerrero hit .318/.379/.553 with 449 home runs, 1,496 runs batted in and 181 stolen bases.  A 9-time All-Star, Guerrero struggled with injuries in his 30s which hindered his total numbers and caused him to retire at 36.  Nonetheless, this first-time eligible candidate should earn induction to Cooperstown on his debut appearance on the ballot.

Edgar Martinez

If Mr. Griffey had the sweetest swing in his generation, then Martinez is my vote for the 2nd purest swing and the best right-handed swing I have ever seen. Spending the majority of his career as a designated hitter and in a small media market hinder his candidacy, but any hitter with a career .312/.418/.515 batting line and 823 extra base hits should be in the Hall of Fame.

Mike Mussina

Growing up an Orioles’ fan as a kid, Mussina was my favorite pitcher and co-favorite player as a child. That bias stated, Mussina is criminally underrated, as his 270-153 career record reflects. Even more impressive to me, Mussina has a higher winning percentage for the Orioles (.645%) than for the Yankees (.631%) as he pitched for some poor teams in Baltimore. Mussina never won a Cy Young award and “only” made five All-Star appearances in his 18-year career, but if Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, Mussina should also be enshrined. It might take several years, but “Moose” should one day join teammate Cal Ripken Jr. in Cooperstown.

Tim Raines

Likely the second greatest leadoff hitter ever in baseball, Raines has become one of the most discussed candidates of all-time for the Hall of Fame. His detractors say he was only a superstar for a short time and compiled his impressive statistics due to playing for 23-years. First I think it is impressive to play for 23 years as an outfielder and I believe if he played in a larger media market during his prime, he would already be in Cooperstown.

Manny Ramirez

Lost among his eccentric personality, Ramirez was a 12-time All-Star over his 19-year career and is one of the best right-handed hitters in the past 50 years.  For his career, Ramirez hit .312/.411/.585 with 555 home runs and 1,831 runs batted in.  Sure his defense was suspect in the outfield but few have ever possessed the balance and skill at the plate Manny Ramirez did.  He’s a no-doubt selection for me.

Ivan Rodriguez

One of the best catchers in baseball history, Rodriguez made 14 All-Star appearances and earned 13 gold glove awards during his 21-year career.  In addition to being one of the elite defensive backstops in history, Rodriguez was also an impact hitter, batting .296/.334/.464 with 311 home runs and 127 stolen bases.

Also, I had the pleasure to watch for two seasons in Washington and the impact his leadership, moxie and smarts had on several key members of the organization.  Rodriguez is one of the best 10 catchers in baseball history and without a doubt, a Hall of Famer.

Curt Schilling

Certainly his win total feels a little light for Cooperstown, but it should be noted that Schilling was 70 games over .500 for his career (216-146). That said, his career 3.46 ERA, 79.7 WAR and key role in leading three separate teams to the World Series gives him more than enough credentials for enshrinement.

Get Me Outta Here – 2016 Change of Scenery Candidates

The historic World Series Game 7 is now completely in the rearview mirror and front office personnel has turned their attention toward the forthcoming offseason.  Executives are scouring other rosters and free agent lists in search of players who could breakout if they played in a new environment.  Perhaps it is a former top prospect who has not yet seen his talent emerge or a journeyman player who fits perfectly elsewhere.

A prime example of this would be Arizona 2B Jean Segura, who was involved in a somewhat overlooked swap last winter before hitting .319/.368/.499 for the Diamondbacks in 2016.  An all-star in 2013, Segura struggled through two subpar seasons with Milwaukee before rebounding in Arizona last year.

After examining each team’s roster, here are five ideal Change of Scenery candidates this winter.

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Yasiel Puig                                         OF          Los Angeles Dodgers

Remember back to 2014 when Meghan Trainor was “All About That Bass” and Yasiel Puig was a 23-year-old 2nd-year outfielder coming off a season where he hit .296/.382/.480 with 16 home runs?  Only 24 months have passed and ever since Puig has scuffled through two injury-riddled, mediocre seasons, including a demotion to the minors last summer.  Still only 25-years-old, Puig is a possible middle-of-the-order hitter capable of playing all three outfield positions and under contract through 2019.

There are some injury issues and questions (right or wrong) surrounding his character, but there are few players in the majors with his talent level.  If he lands in the right situation and stays healthy for 140+ games, he has All-Star, 20-20 potential.

Trevor Rosenthal                             RHP        St. Louis Cardinals

Much like his teammates in St. Louis, Rosenthal struggled through a disappointing, injury-plagued 2016, posting a 4.46 ERA, 3.72 FIP and 56 strikeouts against 29 walks in only 40.1 innings.  Prior to 2016, Rosenthal had established himself as one of the top relievers in the National League, with two consecutive seasons of 45+ saves and an all-star appearance in 2015.  St. Louis appears to be moving forward with Seung-hwan Oh as their closer plus Kevin Siegrist and Matthew Bowman working as the primary set-up men – perhaps they could seek to move Rosenthal and his projected $6.3 million salary this winter to shore up other roster weaknesses.

Jurickson Profar              SS/2B    Texas Rangers

Only 4 years ago, a then 19-year-old Jurickson Profar was the top prospect in baseball and was poised to be one of the top middle infielders in baseball for the rest of the decade.  Unfortunately a combination of injuries and the emergence of other players, Profar now finds himself about to hit salary arbitration with only 184 career major league games played.  The Rangers are well positioned in the infield with Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre for the foreseeable future, leaving Profar on the outside looking in.

Understandably the Rangers will be hesitant to trade Profar, as it would be selling low on a tremendously talented 23-year-old.  However, in the best interest of his development and long-term career, Texas should trade Profar this offseason to an organization that can provide him the playing time to blossom.

Shelby Miller                     RHP       Arizona Diamondbacks

After being the centerpiece in one of the most controversial trades in years last winter, Miller struggled through a nightmarish 2016 in Arizona, posting a 6.15 ERA and 1.673 WHIP over 101 innings pitched. However, prior to last year, Miller had posted three consecutive impressive seasons with 30+ starts each and an ERA south of 3.75.  Quite frankly, Miller had quietly emerged as one of the top young starters in the National League.

The Diamondbacks are likely to shake up their roster this winter with the arrival of a new front office, and trading Miller to give him a fresh start might be the best thing for the talented 26-year-old.

Michael A. Taylor            OF          Washington Nationals

Nationals CF Michael Taylor

Washington’s toolsy outfielder finds himself on this list because he has the defensive ability, speed and occasional home run power to be an asset to many teams, especially as part of a creative outfield platoon.  Taylor is an asset at all three outfield positions and owns 20 home run & 20 stolen base potential.  Unfortunately, it does not seem like an opportunity exists in D.C. for sufficient playing time, making him a potentially intriguing gamble and Change of Scenery candidate.