John Manuel Has Nationals #26

This is the first I have seen Baseball Amercia on CNNSI, but John Manuel has ranked the top & bottom five farm systems in a just published article. And, he has the Nationals at #26 overall. His comment …

26. Nationals: They have the best prospect in the game in No. 1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg, plus solid talents in catcher Derek Norris, right-hander Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa. Beyond that, though, the Nats have very little help, especially at the upper levels, which is a pity considering the state of the big-league roster

That’s a bit surprising to me. By no means are they a top ten organization but I figured that they would do no worse than their #21 ranking from the beginning of 2009.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, I guess I can understand BA’s claim on a certain level (though I don’t necessarily agree), given their fondness for project-ability. It’s difficult to assess the overall strength/weakness of a system based on their top 10 alone but I’m going to try and use that as the basis of my defense of the #26 ranking (ignoring the fact that I’d need to do a similar analysis for all of the BA teams in the 15-30 to see how teams rise/fall).

Rank Last Year This Year
1 Zimmermann Strasburg
2 Detwiler Norris
3 Marrero Storen
4 Burgess Desmond
5 McGeary Espinosa
6 Norris Marrero
7 Hood Kobernus
8 Nieto Maxwell
9 Ramirez Burgess
10 Gonzalez Hood

The Nats “graduated” Zimmermann & Detwiler from last year but added Strasburg & Storen. Add that to Norris’ breakout season should have bumped them up from #21. But it’s the rest of the equation that starts to show why they might have slid.

Burgess, McGeary, Ramirez & Nieto did not progress as I’m sure BA was anticipating. That hurts the project-ability to a large degree as all four are younger players who were viewed with higher ceiling last year.

The picture of Marrero has come into sharper focus. While last year, BA may have seen him as being more of an impact bat, the 2009 season began to paint a picture of a ceiling as a solid major league regular.

Smiley falls completely off the map.

Adding Espinosa, Kobernus, Desmond & Maxwell is more indicative of solid guys entering the assessment … just not guys who are likely to be stalwarts at the top of a major league lineup.

The bottom line is that if you use the BA top 10 as an arbiter of the overall strength, it could be argued that the gains of Strasburg, Storen, & an improved Norris cannotr offset the “graduations” and reduced ceilings of some of the younger guys.

  1. #1 by JayB - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:08


    The more things change the more they stay the same for the Nats. Those Jimbo years and Mark Lerner’s refusal to hold Jimbo accountable was inexcussable. Lost of us have called it for years. We are not smarter than others we just do not drink the cool aid.

    They can not continue to sit on profits and tell the fan base lies about how the rest of the league loves their farm system and wish they had it. Has anyone heard a peep out of Stan this off season? They are really going to pay a steep price in ticket sales.

  2. #2 by Sue Dinem - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:11

    Well, I’m glad to see nobody went off the deep end and declared the sky is falling based on the opinion of one person that doesn’t rank systems on a regular basis.

  3. #3 by Sue Dinem - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:17

    Oops, too late. (BTW, it was Flavor-aid)

  4. #4 by peric - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:20

    It does appear that the farm system is still pretty weak. Given the professed Nats strategy to build from within using the farms? Last year’s draft may have improved the pitching situation. They have lots of prospects but the jury is still out, its too soon to know beyond Storen and Strasburg.

    No one really knows what Kobernus will do. It is said that he is a natural leader, he was the quiet leader in college. But will he be able to hit major league pitching? And he did go down with injury. Their best bet for rapid improvement in the skill positions looks to come perhaps? from the Domenican Republic. And that part of the system is also undergoing restructuring?

    The best thing that happened was that a whole bunch of very bright baseball people were hired to make rapid improvements especially in the farms? How long will it take is anyone’s guess?

  5. #5 by Jay - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:32

    I don’t understand the drop, even considering the “projectability” factor. I don’t think BA saw Marrero as a potential All-Star last year, or he wouldn’t have ranked behind Zimmermann and Detwiler (who had just finished a disappointing season).

    Seems to me that in ‘09, the top 2 or 3 are “projectable” as All-Stars, 4-6 as regulars, and 7-10 as role players or uknowns with potential. In ‘08 it was more like 1 A-S, 2-6 regulars and 7-10 role players/unknown.

  6. #6 by JayB - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:36

    The best thing that happened was that a whole bunch of very bright baseball people were hired to make rapid improvements especially in the farms? How long will it take is anyone’s guess?


    The Nats 0rgaizational history show they are a joke in the eyes of their peers. I understand Sue’s constant excuses of MLB ownership but that is old news now….No Excuses rationalize this current continued failure of the farm system and the MLB roster. Incompetent ownership is correct by not MLB ownership…Lerner Ownership is the problem.

  7. #7 by Sue Dinem - December 3rd, 2009 at 15:59

    I will say this much JayB: You are efficient. Every post you make says absolutely all that you know about the subject without a single word left over.

  8. #8 by Roberto - December 3rd, 2009 at 16:12

    Jay :

    I don’t understand the drop, even considering the “projectability” factor. I don’t think BA saw Marrero as a potential All-Star last year, or he wouldn’t have ranked behind Zimmermann and Detwiler (who had just finished a disappointing season).

    Seems to me that in ‘09, the top 2 or 3 are “projectable” as All-Stars, 4-6 as regulars, and 7-10 as role players or uknowns with potential. In ‘08 it was more like 1 A-S, 2-6 regulars and 7-10 role players/unknown.

    I don’t understand it, either. Strasburg is by BA’s way of reckoning things, a huge upgrade over Zimmermann and Norris nearly so over Detweiler whose stock, at this time last year, was definitely in “sell” mode. Throw in Storen and it’s hard to see how it can’t be an upgrade.

  9. #9 by Natty Fan - December 3rd, 2009 at 16:13

    JayB, I agree with both you and with Peric. It is obvious now that Jim Bowden made poor decisions regarding personnel, and those decisions are manifested in the Nats’ lack of talent at the major league and minor league levels. I also agree that since Mark and Ted Lerner allowed Bowden to operate, some skepticism is warranted.

    However, I agree with those that feel there has been a fundamental change in this team with the removal of Bowden and the emergence of Mike Rizzo. Whether or not you like Stan Kasten’s PR schtick, I don’t think he should be held accountable for Bowden’s mistakes. Based on the reporting during the last off season and after Bowden’s dismissal, it was clear that Kasten did not have “control” of Bowden’s decisions, nor was he required to give explicit approval. His (unenviable) job was to go to the press and justify the decisions his team made, including some of Bowden’s more questionable moves. It was also clear to baseball insiders that Kasten did not think highly of Bowden and was frustrated by Bowden’s influence with the Lerners.

    I believe the real change began with Mark Lerner’s acceptance and approval of Mike Rizzo. It was Mark Lerner’s misplaced faith in Bowden that stalled this team’s development. It seems that Rizzo has won the Lerners’ confidence, and confirmed Stan Kasten’s choice of Rizzo. The organization is now being run the way it should — with a strong, experienced baseball mind making player personnel decisions and hiring a robust support organization, and with the President, Stand Kasten, focused with business and marketing matters.

    The Lerners are first-time sports franchise owners, and they’ve made some mistakes. But if they continue to learn from them, I don’t think they’ll be a “problem.” They may even become an asset.

  10. #10 by Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 - December 3rd, 2009 at 16:21

    Also JayB the Lerners are not going to go away.

  11. #11 by Ryan - December 3rd, 2009 at 16:26


    Are we at the point where we can really question if the first 5 years of this organization have been a complete waste of time? There has been zero progress at the MLB level, as the 2005 team was the best roster we have had in history and have had a worse record each year. Then to look at the lack of progress Internationally and to see that we have a bottom 5 farm system (which is a bit harsh but we are certainly in the bottom third).

    At what point does it become fair to ask what this organization’s plan is and when do they do well? I have not witnessed any progress within MY team in 5 plus years now. And personally, I am tired of waiting.

  12. #12 by exporam - December 3rd, 2009 at 16:48

    To me, jimbo basically spun his wheels in upgrading the major league talent, but gave the org a bad name.

    As far as the farm – the way the ownership feels about paying to upgrade talent there can be summed up in two words – Trevor Holder.

  13. #13 by JayB - December 3rd, 2009 at 17:08

    Sue what a nice person you must be…….Ryan it is time for accountability by Stan and Lerner’s. They have failed at every turn to improve the team and the organization. From 2006 to today the story is the same….one step forward and two backwards. I will still keep my tickets but it is going to be empty in the stands this year. If Rizzo does not start making moves to improve the club we will be faced with Josh Bard,O. Perez and Livo being signed in March and another 100 loss season.

  14. #14 by JayB - December 3rd, 2009 at 17:12

    Think of it…..2005 season ticket base was what 25,000? Last year Stan could not bring himself to tell us but it was maybe 10,000……2010 is headed for 5,000. If so what does that look like in the Park? Just a sad because it did not have to be like this Mr Lerner.

  15. #15 by peric - December 3rd, 2009 at 17:59

    JayB, I think we have to give the new front office (just on the cusp of being hired!) a chance to show whether they can produce the goods. You’ll just have to accept the recent past as the Lerners learning to be primary sports owners of a major league franchise. There is a learning curve. Some never learn: see Dan Snyder.

  16. #16 by Pilchard - December 3rd, 2009 at 18:22

    Willing to give Rizzo a chance and the Lerners, as MLB virgins, get a small dose of forgiveness for being duped by Bowden.

    But I am wondering, at what point does MLB’s mismanagement of the franchise until 2005 no longer become an excuse for this team’s poor player development record. Every non-minor league FA in the system was signed or acquired after MLB transferred control to the Lerners, and the consensus is that the talent in the system is in the bottom 1/3, if not worse, in baseball.

  17. #17 by JayB - December 3rd, 2009 at 18:36

    Pilchard, don’t ask questions just accept it for what it is and like it…..that is what I am told is what enlightened fans do.

  18. #18 by Mike - December 3rd, 2009 at 22:32

    I wonder if there isn’t another explanation for the rather low ranking of the farm system compared to that of other teams: Given the incompetence at the major league level, the Nats have had to bring up talented minor leaguers before they’re fully ready – or at least before other teams would bring them up. So, for example, on a team with excellent big league pitching, Zimmermann and Detwiler (and perhaps others) would still be in the minor leagues. Add those two to our top 10, and maybe the Nats’ farm system is in the top half, maybe even top 10?

  19. #19 by Guy Holly - December 4th, 2009 at 00:54


    Don’t be such a glass half empty guy until you see what plays out this winter. Give new people a chance. I hate to see your comments because they are so negative. As I have said before relax, its just a game. Breath and relax before you write. You’re going to give yourself a coronary for Christmas.

  20. #20 by JayB - December 4th, 2009 at 09:43


    You are right in a sense but we have seen this before year after year……I will be fine health wise…I have seen my doctor….I just hate to see our chance at baseball in Washington wasted because of repeated incompetence.

  21. #21 by VladiHondo - December 4th, 2009 at 11:50

    I think the rating is near spot on, I would’ve said about 24 (ahead of the Mutts!). Looking back, how many drafts have we had that have been very good?

    Let’s see what we’ve actually gotten out of the 2k drafts, as far as ML talent. We’ll classify as All-Star/Very Good, Regular, Sub, and Fringe (limited ML action)

    2001 – 4 Fringe (Hinckley, Labandeira, Bentz, Schroder)

    2002 – 1 Sub (Bergmann), 2 Fringe (O’Connor, Rasner)

    2003 – 1 Regular (Cordero), 1 Sub (J Owens), 4 Fringe (Casto, D Thompson, Montz, Whitesell)

    2004 – 1 Regular (Desmond – gut says Sub), 2 Subs (Bray, Balester), 2 Fringe (Montz, B Campbell)

    2005 – 1 All Star (Zimmy), 1 Regular (Lannan), 1 Sub (J Maxwell), 2 Fringe (Estrada, Stammen)

    With the rest, lots of projection enters in:

    2006 – 1 Regular (Marrero), 1 Sub (Rooney), 1 Fringe (S King)

    2007 – 1 All Star (Norris – reaching a bit), 3 Regulars (J Zimmy, Detwiler, Meyers)

    2008 – 1 Regular (Espinosa), 2 Subs (Hood?, Demny?)

    2007 showed how terrible our system was, when we signed and used 11 of our last 15 draft picks – i.e. 11 picks after round 35!!!

    So we’ve had 2 good drafts (not great) , 2k5 and 2k7. 2k7 may end up as very good, if J Zimmy/Meyers/Detwiler become 2-3-4 starters. 2k6 is shaping up as a very poor draft; with 2 1st rounders and 2 2nd rounders- guys are just not panning out (Willems, Englund, King). Plus some big names from 2k7 are not advancing (Smoker, Burgess, McGeary). Those 2 drafts got us a 10 ranking. Results are not equaling the hopes back then.

    If you want to know what a Superb Draft year is, it was this: 2000 – 3 All Stars (Sizemore, C Lee, J Bay), 1 Regular (F Lewis), 1 Sub (S Hill), 4 Fringe.

    Right now, for 2k9, I’d say Strasburg an All Star, Storen a regular (his numbers now are almost identical to Zinicola after his 1st year) and maybe one sub and a Fringe or two. Not a “superb” draft, not a very good draft. To move to top half, we need every draft to be good or very good, instead of bouncing between good and poor drafts. Not even going to go down the Caribbean arena and our failings there – which should proved 25-33% of our talent.

  22. #22 by Wombat-socho - December 4th, 2009 at 13:09

    It amazes me that people expect Rizzo to snap his fingers and undo the damage done to the farm system by Bowden in his years as GM. It also amazes me that people would rip on the Lerners for letting Bowden prove to everyone’s satisfaction that he was an idiot – if it had been otherwise and the Lerners constantly meddling, those same people would have ripped the Lerners for interfering.

    It’s easier to ruin a team and its farm system through bad trades and retarded FA signings than it is to rebuild it, and people are just going to have to be patient. I don’t think things are as bad as BA says they are – as the OP says, they’re heavily into tools and projectability. I wish I knew how to run MLEs on our farmhands and at least get some idea how good/bad the hitters might be in a few years.

  23. #23 by Sue Dinem - December 4th, 2009 at 15:07

    VH – By your system, what constitutes a “very good draft” and likewise a “good draft?” Three starting pitchers in one draft (let’s assume you’re right) seems rather unusual, even if they’re (at this point) #5 starters, never mind getting a starting position player to boot.

    As for the ranking, this gets to the heart of where I have a problem with ranking organizations — as you put it:

    Those 2 drafts got us a 10 ranking. Results are not equaling the hopes back then.

    So does this mean that the Nationals drafted poorly, or does this mean that BA overrated the picks? BA always seems to escape the latter question and it bothers me that their opinions seem so sacrosanct. The opposite has to be true: That same year, a team that was ranked in middle of the pack may have actually been a Top 10.

    I’m also concerned with BA’s obesiance to “star power” (never mind it’s the primary kingmaker) when the grandfather of the whole idea of farm systems put the standard at being able to replace one starter per year (and by replace he meant “good enough for me to be able to trade away”).

    Sure, free agency has changed that dynamic to a certain extent, but if the Nationals were at that level (JayB, that means I don’t believe they’re there yet), it would mean only having to fill in one or two holes in an offseason (yes, even the defending champions fit that bill) versus three, four, five or more (hey, that rhymes).

  24. #24 by Roberto - December 4th, 2009 at 17:51

    Well put, Sue. I cannot help but recall that the same BA that is now excoriating the Nats’ farm system loved the selections of Detweiler, Smoker and McGeary only two years ago. At what point do they acknowledge their mistakes?

    For that matter, let us recall that at this time last year Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson had one foot, if not in the HOF, at least in an upcoming All-Star Game. Oops. Ditto for several Royals prospects. Oops again.

    I welcome criticism of the Nationals system — it’s part of holding them accountable. But let’s not pretend that BA is a completely impartial arbiter of talent or that isn’t subject to the same quirks and mental habits the rest of us are. How long did they insist that Alex Gordon was a better player than Ryan Zimmerman? A lot longer than they want anyone to remember. Why? I suspect it was in part “that’s our story and we’re sticking to it” and an emphasis on “projectibility” and “upside.”

  25. #25 by JayB - December 4th, 2009 at 19:00

    I think BA just did admit how wrong they were about the 2007 draft class. Look at the new ranking and how they have admitted and dropped these guys. All that really says to me is we drafted well and developed poorly…..good thing were keeping Spin Williams, he sure has done a great job with a ton of top draft picks that BA and others loved before he worked with them.

  26. #26 by BinM - December 4th, 2009 at 21:52

    It strikes as somewhat odd that BA would shuffle their Nationals top-10 rating so much. Granted, Strasburg & Storen are top-5, based on either projection or accomplishment in 2009, and replace the graduates. But to drop both Marrero & Hood in the rankings after they both moved up in the minors seems a little harsh.

    I just don’t see the system as bottom-5 overall.

  27. #27 by catocony - December 7th, 2009 at 10:09

    Out of the last few years, at this point, the only true “what the hell were they thinking” bust is Stephen Englund. The outfielder who couldn’t hit or play D, so bad they sent him back to the GCL to try out as a pitcher, now out for 50 games on a drug beef. That’s a real bust for a 2nd rounder.

    As to the rest, 05 shapes up as good since there’s one All-Star out of it (Zimmerman) plus a solid starter (Lannon) and Maxwell and Stamman to boot.

    06 is questionable at this point, the whole crew seems to be moving pretty slowly through the system. I think Marrerro will eventually make it, who knows about Willems. Guys like Zinicola and VanAllen, they seemed to be chugging up the ladder nicely and then hit the ceiling. This was a very celebrated draft and I bet that a few of those guys at least make it up for a cup of coffee or two.

    07, it looks good. Detwiler and Zimmermann should be servicable to good in the Bigs. Smoker and Burgess and Rooney and Norris and even McGeary, those guys are all 20-21 years old now. Remember folks, when you draft high school guys, you won’t really know for 4 years what you have. We’ll start getting a good read on the ceilings for these guys this year. Same goes for Willems in the 06 draft.

    08 and 09, who really knows beyond Strasburg, Storen and probably Espinoza? Lots of high school guys in there as well, so we won’t know for a couple of years.

    One thing I do know – not signing Aaron Crow was probably a fortunate turn as so far, he’s shown he has rocks for brains and I don’t like stupid pitchers. He wastes a season and a half and ends up taking less money from KC than what the Nats offered. And, he risked it all by playing in the Indy minors while waiting for a club to pay him what he thought he was worth. Monumental boneheaded move, it looks like all it did was set him back a year or so in development and that’s the most positive thing about his actions.

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