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Point/Counterpoint: Impact rookie in 2014?

Jan 20, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

Associated Press AP

THIS WEEK’S DEBATE: WHICH MEMBER OF THE NATIONALS’ FARM SYSTEM WILL MAKE HIS MLB DEBUT IN 2014 AND BECOME A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTOR?

MARK ZUCKERMAN: Unlike the last two seasons, there isn’t an obvious, slam-dunk choice here. There’s no Bryce Harper or Anthony Rendon in the pipeline, poised to make an immediate impact in the big leagues. But the Nationals do have several under-the-radar prospects who might just fit in and take on key roles this year. From that group, I’ll take Sammy Solis. The left-hander is fully recovered from 2012 Tommy John surgery and pitched well last season at Class A Potomac. He’ll open 2014 at Class AA Harrisburg, and given his advanced age (25), I think the Nats will try to move him up the ladder with some speed. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Solis is a member of the Nationals’ bullpen by June and makes several spot starts for them while one or more of the regular rotation members is injured. This seems like a guy who could make a difference very soon, both because of his ability and because of the Nats’ need for more lefties.

CHASE HUGHES: This is a tough question because if you look at the Nationals’ depth chart, there’s very little room for a guy to break in. Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza would both be good choices, but the Nats have plenty of outfielders. With that in mind, I’ll go with corner infielder Matt Skole. Yes, I know he only played two games in 2013. But I think Skole could find himself in the right place at the right time. He plays first base — or at least that’s the long-term plan — and the Nats may want to see what they have in him. When healthy, he hits home runs and holds a high on-base percentage. He also bats left-handed. Those factors should at least earn him an opportunity; we’ll see what he does with it. If I had to guess, I’d say he comes up around the All-Star break and makes a decent case to be the starting first baseman in 2015.

MZ: Skole is an intriguing guy, and one who probably deserves a look this year, but I just don’t see an opportunity opening up for him in D.C. in 2014. The only way it would happen would have to involve Adam LaRoche either being hurt or woefully ineffective. And even if either of those scenarios played out, you’d think Tyler Moore would get first shot at the job. I could see Skole getting a September call-up — and maybe an opportunity to play if the Nats are out of the race — but it’s tough to see him getting more than that. Solis, on the other hand, seems to have a better chance of seeing action this year because there are seven jobs in the bullpen, and there’s always turnover with injuries and poor performances. Maybe a left-handed reliever isn’t as significant in the long run as a starting first baseman, but in this case I’ve got to think Solis has a better chance to turn heads in 2014 than Skole.

CH: I can’t disagree with the fact Solis will probably get the first shot. He fits a need as a lefty and is already 25. But I see several scenarios where Skole could get his chance, at least a few months into the season. Injuries to either LaRoche, as you mentioned, or Ryan Zimmerman could in turn open up a spot on the bench. Or, if Moore is injured or ineffective, Skole could establish himself as the next man up. It all depends on how Skole begins the year, but with his potential on offense he could definitely force the issue. The fact he projects as a first baseman, given LaRoche’s contract, almost ensures he will get an opportunity at some point. It may come in September, but I think he will make the most of it.

  1. natsjackinfl - Jan 20, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    I’ll take Sandy Leon. The market for backup catchers is pretty slim. Sandy has shown marked improvement over the past 2 seasons, especially defensively. And his showing in Winter ball has me thinking he’ll get a solid look in Spring Training.

    • NatsLady - Jan 20, 2014 at 7:51 AM

      I’m with you on Leon. Leon and Solano will “battle” it out in ST, with Leon winning. If Ramos falters down the road and Leon isn’t ready, look for another Suzuki-type trade. But if Ramos catches 5 or 6 games of every 7, we’re fine.

  2. David Proctor - Jan 20, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    How about AJ Cole? He dominated at AA last year and the Nats have shown a willingness to call up guys from AA. I think they’ll want him to compete for a rotation spot in 2015, so I could definitely see him getting some time in 2014.

  3. nationalsprospectsdotcom - Jan 20, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    If they decide that they can no longer wait for Karns to solve his command issues, he could be effective as a reliever, taking the innings that went to Ryan Mattheus. As for Skole, people keep forgetting he has very limited experience about Low-A — 20 regular-season games (18 in A+, two in AA), 35 in the AFL, where he struggled in his second go ’round.

  4. scnatsfan - Jan 20, 2014 at 8:20 AM

    Soooo lets say we sign Balfour… and long as we are at it, sign Lewis…. then you have surplus players of Espinosa, Storen and Moore. Would bring a darn good player…. except we are set in our lineup. Don’t see a player being traded for depth, not with this team so close. But it is an interesting conversation.

    As for the rookie, get me on the Leon bandwagon. If the kid can hit at all he will be here all year.

  5. flnatsfan - Jan 20, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    I still don’t get the whole Balfour thing. We already have 3 closers and a battle for bullpen spots during spring training. It’s not like we need any more right-handed pitchers. And who would we trade Storen for? A backup catcher? We have Espinosa, Moore, Matheus and others we could trade. Why Storen? I just don’t see the point…

    • Hiram Hover - Jan 20, 2014 at 10:00 AM

      I wouldn’t get too twisted up about the Balfour talk. I think there’s a good chance it’s some combination of hot air, misdirection, speculation, sports journalists needing to generate copy, and/or blowing a single conversation out of proportion.

    • chaz11963 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:30 PM

      I don’t think Storen is held in very high esteem in the front office, and I’ll be they don’t want Soriano to save 62 games in 2014 to vest his contract and come back in 2015.

    • Section 222 - Jan 20, 2014 at 4:59 PM

      I agree that the Balfour thing is probably just talk. But to answer the question (“We have Espinosa, Moore, Matheus and others we could trade. Why Storen?”), what do you think we could get for Espinosa, Moore, Matheus, or all three of them combined? Probably not much. Frankly, I’m not sure how much we get for Storen at this point either. But surely more than Matheus, Espi or Moore.

  6. sjm308 - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    Good call on Leon Natsjack, especially with what we saw this winter. I was thinking as I read this piece that we might not see any rookie position players make an impact but Leon makes sense. It also speaks to the fact that we really do not have a lot on the farm at this time with the exception of some very promising center fielders. I would like this groups opinion on how weak we really are concerning position players and also if this is an issue?
    Rizzo obviously stresses pitching and it seems we are loaded at just about every level but when I see Cutter Dykstra as one of our top infielders, I get a little nervous. I can see that most of our infielders on the big club, with the exception of first base ,are young enough to play for several more years but I am wondering how we compare to other teams concerning minor league depth. I have a hard enough time following our own team and maybe its the norm.

    My feelings on first base are that we will fill that spot via a trade and not with what we have in our system right now. I just don’t feel strongly about either Moore or Skole although as Luke points out, Skole has not had a ton of experience at first or actually anywhere in the last year.

    Go Nats!!

  7. zmunchkin - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    Add me to the Leon bandwagon. Primarily because he has the best opportunity to make the club. His defense has always been very good. And if he hits anywhere close to what he did in Venezuaela, he is likely the backup catcher.

    But hard to argue with either Solis or Skole. Another way Skole gets some time on the big league club is it Moore is traded.

    And finally, the Balfour talk makes no sense to me. Hoping that is just an agent trying to use the Nats for leverage.

  8. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    Is Taylor Jordan still a rookie?

    Rendon was hardly an impact rookie. Yes, he held his own but I am not sure about impact rookie. Roark was more of an impact rookie last season than Rendon.

    • David Proctor - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      I’d argue he was an impact rookie just because of how big of an upgrade he was over the two guys he replaced.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 10:00 AM

        no doubt he replaced an awful Danny but he did not have any significant impact on the lineup. He was a league average bat. anyways, it is just nitpicking on my part but Roark excited and had impact with his play more than Rendon last season.

    • Hiram Hover - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      Jordan barely misses it. MLB definition of rookie is 50 or fewer IP in prior seasons. Jordan had 51.2 last year.

      I’m also not sure if Leon qualifies. He only has 31 MLB at-bats (cutoff for rookies is 130), but has accumulated 131 days of MLB service time. You’re also officially no longer a rookie if you’ve spent more than 45 days on the 25 man roster.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        that’s unfortunate but neither would have been my picks for ROY. Roark also disqualifies I guess.

      • nationalsprospectsdotcom - Jan 20, 2014 at 1:12 PM

        Leon was on the 25-man roster from May 13-15, and July 19-August 4 in 2012. Depending on whether MLB gives credit for the last day, that’s roughly 14 days during the 25-man roster period for the purposes of ROY consideration. The 0.131 figure listed elsewhere refers to his service time based on the 180-day maximum for a year.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 20, 2014 at 1:50 PM

        Natsprospects

        Appreciate the clarification there – 131 days didn’t sound right, but i saw it in a couple of places (baseballprospectus and cotts).

        A couple of questions, if you don’t mind:

        1. Where did you get the actual dates on the 25 man roster?

        2. Do you know how they get from the 17-18 days indicated by those dates in May and July-August to 131 days? As I understand it, days spent in the majors after the roster expands in Sept doesn’t count for rookie status (tho any AB or IP in that period does). But I still don’t understand the relation to the 180 day limit or the total they gave here.

      • nationalsprospectsdotcom - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:42 PM

        1) I run a website dedicated to the Nats minors (http://www.nationalsprospects.com) so I remember the callups, then verified them against the transaction data on MLB.com

        2) It’s 0.131 years on baseball-reference.com, which works out to be roughly 24 days. As you noted, the service time and ROY clocks are different. It’s a titanic PITA but typical of MLB, they never make it easy to figure out.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 21, 2014 at 7:50 AM

        Natsprospects

        This thread is probably dead, but I’ll put this comment here just in case you see it –

        I poked around some more about Leon. In 2012, he was injured in his first career start and went on the DL, and days on the DL counts towards MLB service time (if you were placed on the DL while on the 25 man roster). So the 49 days he spent on the DL counted as 49 days of service time.

        The 0.131 of service time recorded is another annoying bit of MLB math – the # in front of the decimal is years of service time, the numbers after are days. So that’s not 13.1% of a year, it’s 131 days.

        I think he was a Sept call up in both years, so that’s roughly 60 days (tho those wouldn’t count towards rookie status). Plus the 49 (which also wouldn’t count in rookie calculations), plus a few other call ups here and there gets him, apparently, to the 131.

        PS – I’ve seen your site and enjoy it. Thanks for the work you put into that, and for your comments here.

      • nationalsprospectsdotcom - Jan 21, 2014 at 10:26 AM

        Hiram – Thanks for weighing in. As I’ve written on my site, there’s a reason why there are so many lawyers in front offices.

  9. Mark Zuckerman - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    Just for clarity’s sake, our debate this week was limited to guys who make their MLB debut for the Nats this season. So that eliminated Jordan, Roark, Leon, etc. Obviously any of those guys could make an impact this year.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 9:46 AM

      so you weren’t sticking with MLB’s definition for ROY. Thanks!

    • natsjackinfl - Jan 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM

      Thanks for the clarification, Mark. With that in mind, I’ll go with your pick of Sammy Solis but wouldn’t be surprised if we see Aaron Barrett should Matheus or another righty struggles or suffers an injury.

  10. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    I really hope Danny picks up his offense a bit and can at least be a bench player. I miss his awesome defense.

    • sjm308 - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:21 PM

      agreed

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 8:38 PM

        there was a time I thought Danny and Ian would be our starting middle IFs for years to come.

  11. Doc - Jan 20, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Leon, Solis, Skole, Goodwin, make rookie appearances with the Nats—in that order.

    Then again, there are always the Roarks and Jordans out there in every farm system to surprise us.

  12. Sonny G 10 - Jan 20, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    I’ll go with Sammy Solis. I believe he has the best chance for the reasons Mark stated.

  13. zmunchkin - Jan 20, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    With Mark’s clarification I will go with Solis as well. But a caveat. If Det is not the fifth starter and is in the BP I doubt Solis would be called up.

  14. cayucosbaseballconservancy - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    I think you’ll see Skole headed to the outfield. Werth is not young in fact he is older than the bench outfielders Hairston and NcLouth. Werth has had significant problems finishing years as a starter. His fate seems to be that of an expensive reserve 4th outfield. Meanwhile both Goodwin (now a likely corner outfielder) and Hood seem to be struggling more than progressing. But at the plate Skole appears to have a refined mature, high OBP approach with decent power. Given Zim’s almost sure move to first base starting this season with Rendon moving to third the Nats want to ensure they have a very strong defense in the infield. That rules both Moore and Skole out. But the outfield may be open with Span’s contract about to expire and Werth’s age. A left-handed power bat in left to go with Harper in right and Taylor in center? That may be where Skole’s opportunity iies.

    • unkyd59 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      So… Zim’s almost sure to move to 1B… This year?

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:15 PM

        Well, Mattie reportly asked him to go buy a trappers mitt.

    • Section 222 - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:04 PM

      Wow. Have we learned nothing from the Ty-Mo outfield experiment? Just say no to trying to get corner infield guys to play the outfield unless they can hit like Ryan Braun.

    • zmunchkin - Jan 20, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      Skole is a pretty big guy and to say he is not speedy would be an understatement. No way is he moving to the outfield. And I guess you did not see the same Werth that I did in Auguest and September. I have no idea what you mean by significant problems finishing the year.

      He was recently listed as one of the top 10 MLB right fielders by some of the analysts on the MLB network. And he is a health nut; takes very good care of his body. So it would not surprise me at all if he was still a very good defender (as well as hitter) for at least a couple more years.

  15. chaz11963 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    Those are really good selections, especially because they are both lefties, but what about Giolito?

    • sjm308 - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:12 PM

      not this year

  16. Sec 3, My Sofa - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Given the premise, that there’s no obvious player and no obvious position, then, anybody who does make a major impact as a rookie (as Mark and Chase are defining it here) is going to be a Plan B, if not an out-and-out surprise, probably due to an injury or two, like Rendon last year.

    I’m guessing that if that happens, it happens early-ish, like a May callup, and like Roark, somebody comes out of nowhere to stick on the roster and make a difference, if only for a few months before the league catches on to them (sort of like Espinosa’s hot start). Where are they most vulnerable? Middle infield, I think. Does Zack Walters still count, or is he off the list, too?

    There’s still time for a trade that could bring the rookie in question to the organization.

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