January 27, 2011

Not Quite Good to the Last Drop

Look, when the Nationals DFA Justin Maxwell to make room for Todd Coffey you're going to get puns. Deal with it.

There was a time when I thought Justin could be another homegrown draw for a franchise that desperately needs to forge connections to its community. A Maryland native and University of Maryland grad, Maxwell would have formed a great 1-2 punch with Ryan Zimmerman. Both were 2005 draft picks. Justin would have been UMD to Zimm's UVA, cannon-armed outfielder and slick-gloved infielder, Stevie Wonder to Ryan's Frank Sinatra. Alas it was not meant to be.

A series of Nick Johnson-esque injuries prolonged Maxwell's road to the majors, and walk-off dramatics aside, he never showed enough with the bat to earn regular playing time. He never hit for contact, struck out more than you'd like to see in a guy who had just okay minor league power numbers, and didn't hit either lefties or righties well enough to distinguish himself as a platoon candidate. Justin peaked as a 5th OF/defensive replacement/pinch hitter, and his fate was more or less sealed when the Nats signed Rick Ankiel earlier this offseason.

This may not be the end of the road for J-Max in DC, but it is a sizeable pothole. The team has 10 days to trade Justin, release him, or attempt to clear him through waivers back to the minors. A 27 year-old outfielder with a 201/319/379 career line isn't likely to be enticing trade or waiver wire bait, so there's a fair chance Maxwell will be back at AAA Syracuse in 2011.

January 18, 2011

Down on the Farm

The acquisition of Tom Gorzelanny does not make me tingle in my special places. (In case you were curious, my special places are Charlottesville, Edinburgh, and Montego Bay.) He's youngish and left-handed, which can be accounted pluses, but also wildly inconsistent both in terms of results and underlying stats. He strikes me as another version of Lannan/Marquis/Livo/Maya, but not necessarily a better one. However, I come neither to bury Gorzelanny nor to praise him.

I'm more interested in what the trade that brought him to DC says about the Nats farm system. As has been noted, Washington sent OF Michael Burgess and pitchers AJ Morris and Graham Hicks to Chicago in exchange for Tom Ter...adequate. None of the three was a consensus Top Ten prospect, though Burgess did sneak onto the bottom of a few lists courtesy of big power and a cannon arm in right field. Coupled with those tools was pitch recognition and strike zone discipline that was postively Pena-esque, and that's Wily Mo, not Carlos. Still, Burgess was rightly recognized as the centerpiece of the return for the Cubs.

Morris and Graham are both good not great young arms who, barring unexpected improvement, will probably max out as big league middle relievers. Burgess has the raw tools to succeed, but will never progress if he can't learn to identify and lay off a curve ball in the dirt. You can argue over whether these three players represent a fair return for Gorzelanny. What you can't dispute is that Burgess, Morris and Hicks, a quad-A slugger and two back-end starter/middle reliever-types are mid-level Nationals prospects.

The cream of the farm system basically begins and ends with proto-phenom Bryce Harper. Catcher Derek Norris has great plate discipline, but needs to reestablish his power and demonstrate the tools to stay behind the plate because his ceiling at 1B is basically Nick Johnson with less pop. Beyond Harper and Norris it's tough to identify any premier offensive prospects.

On the mound, starting pitchers Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole are highly regarded, but so were Ross Detwiler and Jack McGeary not so long ago. More established youngsters like Tom Milone and Brad Meyers have back-of-the-rotation skill sets. Way too much is riding on Stephen Strasburg's rehab and Jordan Zimmermann's continued development.

To be sure, the farm system would be much more impressive if youngsters like Strasburg, Danny Espinosa, Drew Storen and Wilson Ramos hadn't already graduated to significant roles in DC, but great teams have a prospect pipeline. The Nationals have a prospect sprinkler.