Early Monday afternoon the Nationals announced that they had come to terms with veteran free agent outfielder Nate Schierholtz on a minor league contract. Schierholtz was designated for assignment by the Chicago Cubs on August 6th after batting .192/.240/.300 with 6 home runs in 313 at-bats this season. He cleared waivers late last week, meaning the Nationals will be responsible for only the prorated league minimum portion of his 2014 $5 million dollar salary if the team promotes him to Washington.
The 30-year-old left-handed hitter has fallen short this season of his breakout 2013, in which he hit .251/.301/.470 with 21 home runs and 6 stolen bases. During his career Schierholtz has batted .254/.303/.406 and has shown a strong platoon split with a .722 OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging) verses righties and a .650 OPS against lefties. Schierholtz has also performed better on the road in his career with a .728 Home OPS verses a .687 Road OPS, understandable due to playing in San Francisco and Chicago most of his career – this trend has continued in 2014, as he has a .427 OPS at home against .622 OPS on the road. Finally Schierholtz has a .228 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) in 2014, more than 60 points below his career average and a sign he has been unlucky this season. No question his surface numbers are underwhelming, but the statistics above do give some reason for optimism for improved performance.
This signing makes perfect sense for Washington, considering Nate McLouth’s questionable health status for the rest of the season. In addition, Jayson Werth has struggled with nagging injuries recently, and the best available minor league outfield options Michael Taylor, Steven Souza, Tyler Moore, and Jeff Kobernus all bat right-handed. Not to mention the Nationals currently lack a left-handed hitting outfielder on the bench, which could give Schierholtz potential at-bats if he can regain his previous form. Take all that into consideration, not to mention Schierholtz’s strong arm and average defensive skills in right field, and the team was wise to sign him.
In view of his impending free agent status, severely low BABIP, and past big league track record of quality play, Schierholtz could be due for a hot streak and make the Nationals look quite smart. There is little to no risk involved with this signing, and a reasonable amount of potential upside, making this another quality depth maneuver this month for the Nationals’ front office.
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball conference, better known as SaberSeminar 2014, held at the Boston University School of Management. Now in its 4th year, this wonderful event is more than just a baseball conference, as 100% of the proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund, a charitable organization dedicated to defeating cancer. It was a truly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many prolific baseball minds, while also doing something positive in directly supporting cancer research.
The remarkable list of presenters was headlined by keynote speakers Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow, although each individual over the course of the two days was captivating in their own right. For the sake of brevity, I will highlight a few presentations that particularly piqued my interest and had me focused like Daniel LaRusso.
The first keynote speaker, Jeff Luhnow, used this platform to discuss his experience in the front office attempting to implement various sabermetric theories into on-field activity. Luhnow explained how although he wanted to impose infield shifting at the major league level three years ago, he described the various hurdles involved in adapting the thinking of those on the field. He also made a specific point to remind the audience to carefully choose how they approach more traditional baseball thinkers, as they believe their methods are similarly correct. Luhnow also took questions from the audience including the eventual Brady Aiken query, and he answered them all with style: his polish and intelligence is overwhelming and I would feel more than comfortable having him as my GM.
Later Saturday morning the audience was treated to a lengthy question-and-answer session with Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell. One individual asked him why he thought the offensive numbers were down league-wide this season, and he attributed it to several factors, including a slightly larger strike zone than in the past, relief pitchers with greater stuff being used in matchup situations as soon as the 6th inning, and infield defensive shifts.
Another audience member asked him about a specific decision in Friday’s game, which on the surface seemed somewhat questionable. Farrell handled the question beautifully, saying that yes the situation was not ideal, but he needs to “manage the season rather than just the situation”. He further explained the status of several of his relievers and the thinking behind the move, and I was just immediately struck at how many different items these men have going into each decision they make. Certainly I will continue to critique managerial decisions, but his thorough answer will stick with me in the future and make me less inclined to immediately question the moves a manager makes.
The second keynote speaker of the event was Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who used his time to discuss the offensive struggles of the team in 2014. He described many big-picture questions their front office is asking themselves, in particular why are they scoring fewer runs than they expected in 2014 and how do they help their hitters perform at the higher range of their projections more often in the future. His candor about the team’s struggles and how difficult the losses are on the front office particularly caught my attention, as his passion and desire to win was evident. He also produced one of my favorite lines of the event saying, “People have always recognized that the ability to take a walk and hit for power is valuable, that’s always been valued, and maybe that’s even a little bit more valuable today, because those are the things that cannot be defended anymore”.
Another terrific presentation occurred Saturday afternoon as former major league pitcher (and guest on Episode #3 of THENatsGM Show) Brian Bannister lead an outdoor demonstration of the developing technology Trackman. A local pitcher, Derek DuBois, threw an assortment of fastballs, curveballs, and changeups to his college battery-mate to demonstrate the various real-time data that can be collected from this equipment. The ability to immediately and accurately know things such as spin rate and movement could potentially be groundbreaking baseball technology.
Finally I want to give a special mention to the Master of Ceremonies for the weekend, Mike Ferrin from SiriusXM and the host of the event, Dr. Dan Brooks from BrooksBaseball.net – they should both be commended for their tireless work this weekend. I also would like to publicly thank Dave Cameron from Fangraphs and SaberSeminar founder Chuck Korb for generously allowing me to interview them. SaberSeminar is easily the greatest baseball event I have ever experienced outside of the ballpark. I look forward to my return in 2015.
On Episode #10 of THE NatsGM Show, I had the esteemed privilege of interviewing Baseball Prospectus’s and Orioles-Nation’s TuckerBlair. Tucker is a fellow craft beer connoisseur and the only person I know who watches more local minor league games than I do.
Since it is Prospect Week at NatsGM, on this edition Tucker and I analyze and discuss the top prospects for both Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Any fan of the Orioles, Nationals , or prospects in general will enjoy this must-listen episode!
Certainly I am aware that the name of this site is NatsGM.com, but due to my appreciation for the Orioles and my proximity to their minor league affiliates, I watch a tremendous amount of Baltimore minor league baseball each summer.
The Orioles’ system will be ranked in the bottom third in baseball this upcoming winter, as the graduations of Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, the trade of Eduardo Rodriguez, and the lack of a 1st and 2nd round pick this summer has depleted the overall depth in the organization. However, Baltimore would fare significantly better on an Under 25-years-old list, which would include Gausman, Schoop, and franchise cornerstone Manny Machado.
My criterion for this list prioritizes, in order, the prospect’s possible ceiling, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, their positional value, and finally, how far they are from reaching the major leagues. In order to be on this list, the arbitrary cutoffs I used were 50+ major league innings for pitchers and more than 125 big league at-bats. With this in mind, here are my current Top-12 Baltimore Orioles’ Prospects.
Others Receiving Consideration:
Dariel Alvarez, Parker Bridwell, Patrick Connaughton, Brian Gonzalez, Jonah Heim, Branden Kline, Trey Mancini, Michael Ohlman, Ofelky Peralta, Stephen Tarpley, Henry Urrutia, Tyler Wilson, Jimmy Yacabonis,
#12 Adrian Marin SS
Like the coffee at McDonald’s, I like Adrian Marin far more than I should. For too long I stayed hung up on what Marin likely is not – a future MLB shortstop or speedy prototypical leadoff hitter. Conversely, I have started to focus on what the 20-year-old Marin is, a young middle infielder with average tools and strong baseball acumen that allows him to play above his skills.
Marin will never hit for power, and is likely a second baseman or utility player in the majors, but his bat-to-ball skills, defensive talent, and Baseball IQ should allow him to carve out a major league career. The profile is not particularly spicy, but Marin is a future big leaguer.
#11 Drew Dosch 3B
Drafted in the 7th round last summer by the Orioles, Dosch has a quality left-handed swing with apparent bat speed and quality plate discipline. With fringe-average speed and athleticism, along with an average arm, scouts question if he is a long-term third baseman, or if a shift to first base or the outfield is in his future. Regardless, Dosch can flat hit and that singular tool should allow him to reach the big leagues in the future.
#10 Jon Keller RHP
The Orioles 22nd round pick last summer, Keller possesses a prototypical pitcher’s frame, standing every bit of his listed 6-5 215lbs. Keller features a 3-pitch repertoire consisting of a 93-96mph fastball with late life, a promising, hard 85mph slider, and a firm mid-80s changeup. The 22-year-old needs to refine and polish his delivery, as there is some excess movement in his motion, which causes him to struggle to maintain his release point. Like most pitchers in A-ball, Keller also needs to improve his off-speed offerings, but both his changeup and slider showed promise. Keller is still raw, but has major league potential, and the Orioles got a steal with him last summer.
#9 Zach Davies RHP
A smallish but athletic right-handed pitcher, Davies continues to post impressive minor league numbers and out-pitching his 26th round selection in the 2011 draft. His repertoire consists of a 4-pitch mix with a 88-90mph fastball, an above-average changeup, and a fringy curveball and slider.
His detractors consistently questioned how he would perform when he reached Double-A, but Davies has continued to post solid numbers with a 3.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 83 strikeouts in 89.2 innings this season. The profile is not Val Kilmer in Top Gun sexy, but Davies has a chance to become a back-end major league starter.
#8 Josh Hart CF
The 37th selection in the 2013 Draft, Hart is an elite athlete with plus speed and a fringe-average arm, allowing him to profile as a future plus defensive centerfielder. Scouts have long questioned his potential as a hitter, and he has done little to quell those concerns at Low-A Salisbury this summer. In addition, the 19-year-old does not project to hit for much power in the future. But Hart is still young enough to develop and mature into a dynamic leadoff hitter in a few years. I like Hart’s potential and think he has breakout potential at Frederick in 2015.
#7 Mike Wright RHP
After a breakthrough season in 2013 at Double-A Bowie, Wright has more than stubbed his toe this season at Triple-A, posting a 5.73 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 113 innings pitched. Possessing a massive, near ideal pitcher’s frame at 6-6 215lbs, Wright has a solid 4-pitch repertoire consisting of a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s cutter/hard slider, a changeup, and curveball. Results aside, I still believe in Wright and his pro potential, though his future may ultimately reside in the bullpen.
#6 Mike Yastrzemski OF
A personal favorite prospect of mine since I watched him play for Cotuit in the Cape Cod League, yes Mike is indeed the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. However, Mike is beginning to more than make a name for himself on the baseball field, as his fringe-average across the board tools “play up” due to his insatiable want and baseball IQ. His ceiling is a league-average outfielder with a more likely career as a 4th outfielder, but Yastrzemski is a prototypical overachiever who will get everything out of his talent. Do not bet against him carving out a lengthy major league career.
#5 Tim Berry LHP
An extremely polished left-hander with a solid three pitch mix, Berry commands his 90-93mph fastball throughout the strike zone, along with an average mid-70s sharp curveball, and a fringy changeup. Berry has a quiet, compact pitching delivery, which allows him to pound the bottom of the strike zone, and limits his walks allowed. Berry profiles as a #5 starting pitcher or invaluable late-inning left-handed reliever, as soon as next season.
#4 Christian Walker 1B
One of the true legends in college baseball, Walker was one of the most distinguished collegiate hitters in recent memory while at South Carolina. Armed with a linear right-handed swing, Walker has solid contact skills but does not produce much loft, which limits his home run power. A reasonable athlete with some agility, Walker projects as an average or better defender at first base, but he is limited to the position. A pure first base profile typically demands premium power potential, so Walker will need to continue to hit to silence his critics.
#3 Chance Sisco Catcher
Currently one of my favorite prospects in the low minors, Sisco was the Orioles 2nd round pick in 2013 as a high school shortstop transitioning behind the dish. Sisco has a strong arm and above-average athleticism as a former middle infielder, but he is extremely raw with his footwork and scouts strongly question if he will remain a catcher in the future. Personally, I believe in his work ethic and athleticism, and still think he could develop into a fringe-average defender.
Offensively, Sisco has a short, quick swing with some raw power, though he tends to prefer to use the entire field and often slaps the ball rather than attempting to hit for power. That said Sisco has outstanding hand-eye coordination and can flat hit, which is the most important tool for an offensive player. Sisco will hit his way to the major leagues, but his future position may not necessarily be as a catcher.
#2 Hunter Harvey RHP
The son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey, Hunter was the Orioles 1st round choice, 22nd overall last summer. After some minor adjustments to his motion last summer, Harvey blossomed and now features a 91-95mph fastball with movement, a true hammer curveball with plus potential and the makings of an average changeup. Harvey was recently shut down due to inflammation in his arm, a wise move by the Orioles. Nevertheless Harvey should return to the mound next season and with additional polish and improved command as he matures as a pitcher, Harvey has top-of-the-rotation potential in a few years.
#1 Dylan Bundy RHP
The Orioles 1st Round pick in 2011, 4th overall and immediately rose to prominence throughout minor league baseball en route to becoming the near-consensus top pitching prospect in the minor leagues in 2012. Bundy lost most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June and has not recovered as quickly as some might prefer.
Before surgery, Bundy possessed a 94-97mph fastball, a monster plus-plus cutter, an above-average curveball and above-average changeup, along with excellent command of the strike zone. Assuming he returns to full health after an offseason to rest and recover, Bundy still has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.