THE NatsGM Show #90 – Guest Lacy Lusk

To kick off 2017 Washington Nationals Prospect Week here at NatsGM, we are proud to welcome Nationals’ Correspondent for Baseball America, Lacy Lusk!

On this show we chat about everyone and everything Washington Nationals prospects, beginning by talking about the Adam Eaton trade earlier this winter and the present strengths and weaknesses of the farm system.  Then Lacy shares his thoughts on the 2016 draft class.  Next we discuss Nationals’ top prospects Victor Robles, Erick Fedde, Juan Soto and Wilmer Difo, plus he spotlights a few sleepers in the system.

Thanks to Lacy for joining the show and to you for listening.  Please consider giving the show a 5-star Rating and Review on iTunes, as this helps new listeners find the show.  Bye for now!

THE 2017 NatsGM Preseason MLB Draft Big Board

After what seems like an eternally long offseason, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week and today is the first day of college baseball, which means we have survived another winter without baseball.  Considering these milestones on the calendar, I thought this a prudent time to channel my inner Jim Callis and Mel Kiper Jr. to publish a preseason list of the top prospects available in this June’s amateur draft.

#1  Jeren Kendall OF  Vanderbilt University

In a year light on college position players, Kendall stands out as an elite athlete with the potential for five tools.  The knocks on Kendall are the questions about his swing-and-miss and ability to recognize spin at the plate, but he projects to stay in center field as a professional and should not escape the top-5 picks in June.

#2  Hunter Greene RHP/IF  California HS

The clear top high school prospect in this year’s class, Greene is easily the top pitcher in the crop and has a legitimate argument to being the best hitting prospect as well.  While teams might be tempted by his bat, most scouts project him on the mound, due to his upper-90s velocity and polished 3-pitch arsenal.  Typically team shy away from high school arms at the top of the draft, but Greene stands an excellent chance of being selected in the top-3 picks and perhaps #1 overall.

#3  Alex Faedo RHP  University of Florida

A powerfully built 6-5 220lbs. Faedo possesses a quality 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a mid-90s fastball, tough slider and quality changeup.  He may not own the same raw stuff as 2016 Florida 1st Round pick A.J. Puk, but Faedo has a solid delivery and shows good command of the strike zone.  He should dominate the SEC on Friday nights this spring and profiles as a #2/#3 starter in the majors.

#4  Tanner Houck RHP  University of Missouri

A massively built 6-5 200+lbs righty, Houck is the next in an impressive list of Missouri pitchers in the past decade.  Houck features a low three quarters release point which is difficult on right-handed hitters, not to mention a fastball in the mid-90s, a hard breaking ball and an impressive changeup.  He needs to refine his mechanics and control, but Houck has everything one would want in a college pitching prospect.

#5  J.B. Bukauskas RHP  University of North Carolina

A local product from Stone Bridge High School in Northern Virginia, Bukauskas is a shorter right-handed pitcher at 6-0 220lbs. with a blazing fastball that has reached 100mph.  In addition, he has a mid-80s slider that is a plus pitch and a developing changeup.  He was a possible 1st round pick three years ago but has dramatically improved his stock while pitching for the Tar Heels.

#6  Alex Lange RHP  Louisiana State University

The strength of this year’s draft, especially at the top, is college pitching and Alex Lange is yet another impressive southern right-handed pitcher.  Lange is a projectable 6-3 200lbs with an impressive low-90s fastball that he locates well, along with a plus (or better) curveball.  He throws a changeup but it is extremely raw at present, leading critics to wonder if he is a future closer.  Nonetheless, he should act as LSU’s Ace this season and profiles as a 1st round pick in June.

#7  Kyle Wright RHP  Vanderbilt University

Wright is yet another in the impressive crop of SEC starters this season, and he might be the most polished of the entire group.  Standing an impressive 6-4 220lbs, Wright features a low-90s fastball that he commands well through the entire strike zone, an impressive curveball and a fringy changeup.  Wright needs to improve his changeup to remain a starter as a professional, but Wright profiles as a durable mid-rotation workhorse in the majors.

#8  Royce Lewis SS/CF  California HS

If we assume Hunter Greene is a pitcher, then Royce Lewis currently ranks as the top high school hitter in this draft class and is a legitimate five tool prospect.  Long known in prospect circles, Lewis has notable and impressive bat speed, along with some bat-to-ball skills, allowing him to project to hit for both average and power in the future.  Defensively he has plus speed and a plus arm, allowing him to profile well either at shortstop or center field long-term.

Presently, he reminds me a great deal of last year’s 1st overall selection Mickey Moniak, in that he’s an emerging hitter with outstanding tools and exceptional makeup.  Also like Moniak, he ranked outside the top-5 prospects this time last year, but has the potential to be the first overall pick.

#9  Brendan McKay LHP/1B  University of Louisville

A legitimate 2-way prospect both as a pitcher and a hitter, most scouts and myself prefer McKay on the mound, as he has excellent command and control of his low-90s fastball.  Additionally, McKay throws a above-average curveball with excellent depth, plus the occasional changeup.  He is known to have a terrific demeanor on the mound and scouts often mention his competitiveness as a player.  McKay is the clear top left-handed college pitcher in this class and should not escape the top-15 picks.

#10  Hans Crouse RHP  California HS

If not for Hunter Greene, Crouse would be receiving more hype as the top high school arm, as he stands a projectable 6-4 185lbs with a punishing low-to-mid-90s fastball and a powerful low-70s curveball with depth.  As with more high school pitchers his changeup needs development, but scouts have observed the offering as average, with potential to improve.  He is committed to USC, but the sun failing to rise tomorrow is about the same likelihood he will step foot on campus next fall.

Honorable Mention  ->  Jordon Adell RHP/OF Kentucky HS, Tristan Beck RHP Stanford University, Michael Gigliotti CF Lipscomb University, D.L. Hall LHP Georgia HS, Mike Rivera Catcher University of Florida, J.J Schwartz Catcher/1B University of Florida, Kevin Smith SS University of Maryland

THE Baltimore Orioles 2017 Sleeper Prospects

Earlier this week I ranked the Top-11 prospects currently in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.  During my analysis of the Orioles’ minor leagues, I was struck by the depth in the organization, as by reputation Baltimore has one of the weaker systems in baseball.  In fact, there are several prospects, perhaps described as a “sleepers” that are worthy of acknowledgement.  These are four names outside Baltimore’s top-15 prospects that could breakout this season.

Garrett Cleavinger  LHP

Drafted by the Orioles in the 3rd round in 2015, Cleavinger is someone who does not receive enough attention within Baltimore’s system.  Cleavinger features a 90-93mph fastball with some late movement, along with an upper-70s curveball with hard 12-6 downward break.  The almost 23-year-old lefty is a stocky 6-1 210lbs with little physical projection remaining.  His lack of a third pitch limits his ceiling, but he does have the potential for two above-average offerings.  Cleavinger should begin 2017 in Double-A Bowie and profiles as a future 7th inning lefty reliever.

Grey Fenter  RHP

Baltimore’s 7th round pick in 2015, Fenter received a $1 million bonus to spurn pitching for Mississippi State and turn professional.  Fenter missed the entire 2016 season after injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring.  Prior to the injury, Fenter featured a 90-94mph fastball that touched 96mph, along with a powerful curveball and nascent changeup.  The 21-year-old will likely be handled carefully this season in his first year post-surgery, but if his stuff re-emerges, he should skyrocket up the Orioles’ rankings this summer.

Cedric Mullins OF

Quietly drafted in the 13th round from Campbell, the switch-hitting Mullins punished Low-A pitching last summer with a .273/.321/.464 with 61 extra base hits and 30 stolen bases.  The 22-year-old possesses plus speed and a solid throwing arm, making him a solid defender in center field.  Mullins has quality bat speed from both sides of the plate, and shows more power than one might expect from a 5-8 175lbs. athlete.  He does have some swing-and-miss in his game and does not walk at a high rate, so he will need to continue to barrel the baseball as he climbs through the farm system.  His size and draft pedigree will keep his prospect profile low, but another season of quality production at High-A this summer will force his reputation to soar.

Alex Wells  LHP

Signed as an international free agent in August 2015 from Australia, Wells was extremely impressive in his first professional season, throwing 62.2 innings at Short Season Aberdeen.  Wells posted a 2.15 ERA for the Ironbirds, allowing 48 hits and only 9 walks against 50 strikeouts.  Wells possesses a raw but interesting 3-pitch arsenal, featuring an 88-90mph fastball he can locate for strikes, an inconsistent curveball and a devastating changeup.  He has some deception in his delivery which helps his stuff play up, but his mediocre breaking ball hurts his ability to generate strikeouts.   If he can improve his curveball and/or add some fastball velocity, he profiles as a potential back-end major league starter.

Lind A Hand – Washington Signs Adam Lind

In an obvious attempt to bolster their bench, reports surfaced Monday the Washington Nationals had signed veteran 1B Adam Lind to a 1-year deal worth $1 million plus a club option for 2018 with a $500,000 buyout.  Aside from the closer spot, Washington’s biggest need was additional bench depth and this signing directly addresses this concern.

The 33-year-old Lind has spent 11 seasons in the major leagues, playing for Toronto, Milwaukee and Seattle.  Last season with the Mariners, Lind hit .239/.286/.431 with 20 home runs and 58 runs driven in over 126 games played.  A left-handed hitter, Lind owns a career .271/.328/.462 batting line with 186 home runs.  In particular, Lind has punished right-handed pitching during his career, posting a .287/.347/.502 (.849 OPS) verses a .215/.260/.329 line against lefties.  Finally, Lind has shown an unusual knack for pinch hitting, producing a .309/.389/.532 and 5 home runs in 94 career at-bats.

Defensively Lind has been exclusively a first baseman since 2010, when previously he dabbled playing some left field.  The defensive metrics do not care for him at the cold corner, although there are often flaws in the data judging first base defense.  Lind appears to be a natural fit to backup Ryan Zimmerman at first base, spelling him against difficult right-handed pitchers and acting as a dangerous pinch hitter late in games.

At first glance this appears to be one of the bigger steals in free agency this winter, as Lind has hit 20+ home runs in six of the past eight years.  Certainly he is coming off a subpar season, but his powerful left-handed bat provides outstanding depth behind the oft-injured Zimmerman and gives manager Dusty Baker a valuable weapon in the late innings.

Lind represents a substantial upgrade from holdover Clint Robinson, who failed to notch an extra base hit after the all-star break last year and holds a career .710 OPS against right-handed pitching.  For an additional $400,000-$500,000 in salary from Robinson to Lind, Washington improves 70 points in career OPS points and nearly 140 points in career OPS against righties.  This is a massive upgrade.

For the cost of a rounding error in their overall budget, Washington addressed their second largest team weakness and dramatically enhanced the quality of their bench.  Lind is not a star, but he represents a large upgrade at cheap price at an area of need, making this a terrific signing by the Nationals.

NatsGM Grade ->             A / A-