Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lucky 13 Minor League Contracts

Yesterday, the Nationals inked 13 players to minor league deals. These types of signings are of course inherently low-risk and low-cost, and for a team like the Nationals with a lot of holes all over the diamond and few major league-ready prospects, these types have a real chance to appear in the bigs. I tend to think that's why we seem to do well in this arena (if you're a guy looking for a chance, we're going to be your first choice), but I do also give credit that Jim has distinguished himself here, finding useful parts like Dmitri Young, Joel Hanrahan, Steve Shell, Mike O'Connor, Ron Belliard, Tim Redding and Odalis Perez through this route.

So let's have a look at what we got, in order from most to least promising.
  • Ryan Langerhans
Langerhans is in a family of very under-appreciated players who can play good to great defense with below average but not terrible offense. Last season he posted a line of .234 BA / .380 OBP / .396 SLG. The batting average and power numbers won't knock anyone's socks off, but a .380 OBP, built on a whopping 18% walk rate in 139 PA, would help anyone. I wouldn't count on him to maintain that OBP over the course of a season, but if you look at his career numbers, he's been a solid OBP guy every year except that horrid 2007, when most Nationals fans formed their first impressions of him. Whether he was hurt, started pressing and screwed himself up, or just experienced the batting equivalent of flipping a coin that came up heads 100 times in a row, 2007 is the outlier. He's a .350-.360 OBP batter, and by UZR he's a 20-runs above average outfielder over the course of a full season. In other words, he's a very solid fourth or fifth outfielder and should certainly be on the 40-man ahead of Wily Mo Pena. FJB bottom line: two thumbs up.
  • J.D. Martin
He's a former #1 pick of the Indians who had Tommy John surgery in 2005. He finally had a fully healthy season in 2008 and posted a 2.49 ERA in 79.2 IP in AA and a 1.80 ERA in 10 IP at AAA. Even prettier were his 4:1 strikeout to walk ratios. After being rumored as a potential rule 5 pick, he signed as a free agent with the Nationals because, he said, we give him the best chance to make it to the bigs. His best pitches are a curve and a cutter. He also throws a sinker and a four-seamer. His fastball sits in the 89-90 range. He'll be 26 this season and should be considered a dark horse candidate for the rotation or bullpen. If you want to read more about him, check out the excellent Indians Prospect Insider blog. FJB bottom-line: two thumbs up.
  • Freddie Bynum
One of the often-overlooked purposes of a farm system is to have replacement-level players on hand in the event that injury strikes or a good trade opportunity arises. The Nationals last season were exposed at several positions for their utter lack of minimally adequate depth, and shortstop was one of the worst. At times, we were reduced to playing such non-shortstops as Ron Belliard, Pete Orr, and Willie Harris at the position. When you get nine starts at SS from that group, you're not just a bad team, you're a bad organization.

Now, we have Alberto Gonzalez and Anderson Hernandez to back-up Guzzy, but Bynum gives us additional freedom to deal Guzman or Belliard without risking a repeat of the total crisis we saw at points in 2008. Bynum had a disastrous 2008, when he was given what will likely be his one and only shot at a starting job in the league. But he still has value; he can play all over the diamond adequately, has more pop that you probably think, and can steal a base. If he could take a walk he'd be a starter. Instead, he's just a good guy to have hanging around at Syracuse in case. FJB bottom-line: one thumb up.
  • Matt Whitney
Whitney was a first-round pick out of high school in 2002, then blew out his knee playing basketball in 2003. For a while it looked like he was done, but then in '07 he exploded with a .299 / .364 / .545 line in A and high-A ball. We took him in the Rule 5 draft last year but ended up sending him back to Cleveland. Last year at AA he progressed in terms of plate discipline and on-base skills, but his power numbers declined significantly to a .404 SLG. So what do we have here? I consider him a fringey prospect to throw in the pool with Bill Rhinehart as a guy who might be able to help us as a back-up at some point. FJB bottom-line: one thumb up.
  • Ryan Wagner
Jim drafted him with the 14th overall pick back in 2003 and then brought him to DC in the Kearns-Lopez trade. He's coming off a torn labrum, which isn't the death sentence it used to be but is still a very, very bad injury for a pitcher. But he always had very good groundball rates and decent strikeout numbers. There's no reason not to bring him back and see if he can't salvage a little bit of value from a trade that is looking worse and worse as time passes. FJB: one thumb up.
  • Justin Jones
Jones is a 24-year-old lefty who will be back for his third year with the Nationals organization. Twice, he's been ok in A ball and flopped when given the chance at AA. He's probably just a guy, but he's still young-ish and left-handed, so who knows. FJB bottom-line: one thumb up.
  • Brad Eldred
This is kinda fun. Here's a guy, 28 years old, who hit 35 homers for the White Sox AAA affiliate last year with an ISO Power (SLG minus BA) of .302. He also struck out a risible 33.7% of the time and never walks. So he's not a guy who projects for success in the bigs. And with an OBP of .290 he wasn't even that valuable last year at AAA. But boy can he hit himself some dingers, and, as they say, chicks dig the long ball. He's certainly be more fun to watch than the Casto-Lo Duca-Belliard fiasco we trotted out at first base when Nick, Meat, and Boone all went down. And if fans were allowed to watch BP he'd be worth the price of admission right there (assuming you're in the $5 section of course). He'll never help us win, but he might be worth some more entertaining losses. FJB bottom-line: one thumb up.
  • Preston Larrison
He's a 28-year-old former Tigers and Indians farm-hand who is still waiting for his first cup of coffee. There's nothing in his peripherals (especially K-rates) to suggest he can be successful at all in the bigs. It's the thought of guys like this pitching in Nationals Park that makes me wish we'd kept Jesus Colome around. FJB bottom-line: one thumb down.
  • Pete Orr
I guess he kinda fills the same role as Freddie Bynum, but without nearly as much position flexibility or speed, which is kinda like Taco Bell minus the late-night drive thru. I guess someone has to play for Syracuse, but other than that I don't see the point of this one. FJB bottom-line: one thumb down.
  • Jorge Padilla
Not to be confused with Gitmo torturee Jose Padilla, Jorge is being brought back after a year split between AA Harrisburg and AAA Columbus. He's a 29-year-old corner outfielder with decent on-base numbers but little power. He's filler, and we sign guys like this because we haven't come up with any better use of the roster spot. Every organization has guys like this though, so it's nothing to get worked up over. We just have more than most because our system still isn't very deep with prospects. FJB bottom-line: one thumb down.
  • Mike Vento
You may remember he started five games for the Nationals in right field 2006 when Jose Guillen was hurt because Jim thought he was a better option than Ryan Church. He went 5 for 18 with a double and 4 walks, but his real claim to fame is being mentioned in arguably the bitterest post Needham ever wrote. (Geez, people say I'm too hard on Jim...) Now he's 31 and is more pointless filler for our system, like Padilla. On the upside, since Vento played last year for Toronto in Syracuse, maybe he still has an apartment there. FJB bottom-line: one thumb down.
  • Bobby Brownlie
Another former first-round pick, Brownlie is now on his third organization and at age 29 is at least 4 years removed from the last time he could have been viewed as a prospect. He's not as bad as the 7.86 ERA he posted at AAA last year, but he doesn't have the stuff to succeed in the bigs. He's typical of the former #1 picks that Jim likes to dream on, but it's almost always a waste of time and money. FJB bottom-line: one thumb down.
  • Joel Guzman
As NFA Brian recounts, Guzman had been a heavily hyped prospect for years. In 2001, he was signed as a 16-year-old and given the largest bonus of any Latin American prospect in history. Then, he was a shortstop with the kind of power and bat speed that drew comparisons to Miguel Cabrera. As recently as 2006, he was rated the #5 prospect in all the land.

But then he grew two inches, put on about 60 pounds, loafed a bunch, and lost the ability to play anywhere but the left (easy) end of the defensive spectrum. Which would be OK if he was anything close to Miguel Cabrera, but he also lost a bunch of bat speed and simply cannot hit a baseball. Last year, hitting in AAA, he posted an OBP of .278. He walked 4.2% of the time and struck out 23.6% of the time. And that was an improvement over 2007 when he K-ed 28.3% of the time. I can't remember ever seeing a player with a BB:K ratio of 0.18 (OK I just checked--Carlos Gomez did it this year, and Kevin Kouzmanoff was down at 0.17).

Yes, he slugged 20 homers--when he gets ahold of a pitch, he can drive it. But he has gigantic holes in his swing that any major league pitcher will expose. He just hasn't projected into the guy people saw when he was a sleek 20-year-old athlete, and it's been two years since everyone else figured out that Guzman is a bust. Twenty-nine other GMs collectively rolled their eyes at this JimBo special. FJB bottom-line: two thumbs down and a big bronx cheer.


Nate said...

Brad Eldred gets one thumb up and Joel Guzman gets two thumbs down?


Yup, I'm speechless, albeit unsurprised.

Steven said...

Well it's not like my comments on Eldred were all that glowing. I said he'll never help us win but will be fun to watch in BP.

I guess if I was going to be a real stickler for consistency I'd be giving both thumbs down, but I'm trying to come up with more excuses to be positive.

Hendo said...

We need another backup Guzman, as the services of the most recent one might not be available for a while.