May 19, 2019

Any Fish’ll Bite If You Got Good Bait

November 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Nationals continue to make notable progress in building their minor league organization.  Rated consistently in the bottom tier since the move from Montreal in 2005, the system is on the rise, but an acid test awaits. GM Mike Rizzo wants to trade for a starting pitcher. The rumor mill has the Nationals looking at Matt Garza and possibly James Shields from the pitching rich Rays.  Do the Nationals have the prospects for such a trade with an organization deep in talent like the Rays?

Strasburg and Drew Storen were the high profile players to emerge from the Nationals farm system in 2010, but rookies Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina and Danny Espinosa made the leap as well.  Rizzo claims there is more where that came from, enough supposedly to lure the Rays or another team into trading a starter.

In truth the only notable surplus of talent in Washington is at catcher.  There is a logjam in the Nationals organization beginning with newly acquired top prospect Wilson Ramos who figures to get the majority of playing time at the major league level in 2011 as he tutors with back-up, and 39-year old Pudge Rodriguez.  Formerly a promising talent, Jesus Flores is looking good in Winter Ball in Venezuela as he recovers from injury.  He could be an important trade piece if his throwing shoulder is healed.  The Rays don’t seem to need much help there which invites speculation that other teams like the Royals, who want to deal Zack Greinke and lack catching depth, would be a good fit when trading begins in earnest at upcoming GM and winter meetings.

Rizzo would need to include high profile pitching prospects like Ross Detwiler who tried out for the Nationals rotation in 2009 and 2010, but is it enough to command dependable front of the rotation talent for 2011?  It is easy to put together a speculative deal of Flores, Detwiler and a prospect for Greinke, but is it really enough and how good would the third prospect need to be?  For that matter how much talent does the Washington organization really have that would measure up? There is catching prospect Derek Norris–see below. Would Norris and Detwiler be enough to reel in Rays pitcher James Shields?

MLB Rumors asserts that the Royals will not trade Grienke to New York or Boston and Washington is aggressively stating their desire to trade for a front line pitcher, so it is difficult to imagine that the two organizations will not talk over the coming weeks about a deal. The key will be Flores and whether he is truly healthy–his extended tour in Venezuela comes at a very opportune time. If so he might be a primary piece with which Mike Rizzo can go trolling.  Catcher Derrek Norris has to be the second most attractive talents to other teams that the Nationals possess.  Rizzo has also been committed to building his minor leagues, however, so it remains to be seen whether he will part with Norris and what his other trade bait will fetch.

A top ten of the Nationals farm system would include Bryce Harper, Sammy Solis, AJ Cole and others acquired in the 2010 draft, but they cannot be traded this fall.  Here is a quick listing of the best trade bait in the Nationals’ system–names that may appear in coming weeks as trade talks heat up.

Derek Norris. Norris can hit for power, average and has an uncanny eye at the plate. He had hamate bone surgery in 2009 and was slow getting back to full strength in 2010, however his Arizona Fall League showing has been impressive. He has made progress learning the rudiments of catching, but if he stays in the Nationals organization, he may have to shift to first base. Chris Marrero A break out season in 2007 raised hopes, but injuries dashed them.  2010 is the first year he has shown any of that form, but as a 22-year old who mastered Double-A ball, he is primed for a move up the ladder. He got stronger as the year progressed, but will get competition from Tyler Moore as first baseman of the future in Washington. Tyler Moore. Something happened to Moore on the way to the second half of the season.  His 31 home runs for Potomac led the Carolina League, but it was the overall leap in production as he hit over .350 for the second half after struggling with the Mendoza line in the first half.  A sixteenth round selection from Mississippi State, Moore will get a chance at Harrisburg in 2011 and if he shows his conversion is for real will move quickly to Syracuse.  Michael Burgess. Burgess has looked good in the Arizona Fall League and he may be there as a showcase.  He was a first round pick in 2008 and is only 21 but moved up to Double-A Harrisburg in mid-season.  He is a fine defensive outfielder with power but inconsistent at the plate, striking out out 150+ times in each of his last few seasons. Destin Hood, JP Ramirez and Eury Perez were the starting outfield in Low-A Hagerstown in 2010 and not a bad one. Hood is a project who has huge potential and is starting to make progress. Perez is all about speed, but is learning to make consistent contact and Ramirez is a professional hitter who has the tools to produce at the major league level.  Any one of them could be part of a package for a starter.

Colin Balester. The former number one talent in the depleted Montreal system, Balester has shifted to the bullpen after struggling to catch on with the Nationals as a starter.  His 97 mph fastball may entice someone that there is still enough left in his arm to be a valuable set up man or potential closer. Tom Milone.  Pitched for Tom House at Southern California and was successful there and everywhere he has been.  He was 12-5 with a 2.91 ERA at High-A Potomac in 2009 and then 12-5/2.85 for Double-A Harrisburg.  Kyle Drabek got all the attention in Reading, but Milone matched him pretty well. Milone is the anti-Strasburg in the Nationals system. I would rather see the Nationals keep him and trade other higher profile players.  Cole Kimball. Has come on very strong in 2010 out of the bullpen, relying on a 96 mph fastball that is being showcased in the Arizona Fall League where his performance–nine innings, eleven strikeouts against only a single earned run–have impressed big time. Josh Smoker. Like Kimball he has converted to the bullpen and has the stuff to close in the big leagues with a fastball that was clocking at 97 late in the season after switching to relief full time. A first round HS talent out of Georgia in 2007, he struggled until this year.  He looked much better pitching in relief and may have found his spot.  He is now 22 and will need to achieve similar results at higher levels relatively quickly to continue to reclaim his once promising career.

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