Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but we are in the final stretch of production. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Lucas Giolito, RHP, Grade A-: Has the stuff to be a number one starter but I want to see how he holds up to a full workload coming back from Tommy John and how his changeup develops before going with a straight A. Even with a few questions to answer, he ranks among the very elite and with a good season he could be the top pitching prospect in baseball six months from now. Let's give him some time first.
2) A.J. Cole, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+. Could wind up with B+ depending on how I want to slot him on the Top 50 pitching prospect list, so I should have a final grade here next week. Still some concerns about breaking ball consistency but he’s made a lot of progress over the last year and could develop into a number two starter.
3) Brian Goodwin, OF, Grade B: Excellent tools but baseball skills remain erratic/inconsistent, particularly with his swing mechanics. If a time traveler told me Goodwin became an All-Star, I’d believe it. I’d also believe it if they told me he became a fifth outfielder.
4) Matt Skole, 1B-3B, Grade B-: Power/patience hitter not likely to produce a high average in my opinion but should be productive in OBP and SLG. Needs to shake off rust after missing almost all of 2013 with wrist/elbow injuries suffered in a harsh collision.
5) Drew Ward, 3B, Grade B-: Another high ceiling power/patience bat, third round pick last year out of rural Oklahoma, has the arm to remain at third base and his hitting skills have looked surprisingly polished so far given his background.
6) Michael Taylor, OF, Grade B-: Outstanding defensive outfielder, stole 51 bases in High-A last year. Has some power potential as well, although hitting skills less refined than defense/baserunning. Contact troubles may prevent high batting average but his broad base of tools will get him to the majors eventually. I am optimistic about his bat but it will take more time.
7) Steven Souza, OF, Grade B-: Older prospect turns 25 this month, held back earlier in his career by injuries, PED suspension, excessive strikeouts, and makeup issues. The Nationals didn’t give up on him because he has intriguing power/speed combination and will take a walk. High-shelf tools here and the skills have improved a lot. Just needs to keep himself together.
8) Felipe Rivero, LHP, Grade B-: Venezuelan lefty acquired in trade with Tampa Bay Rays. I like him better than the numbers say I should but with command refinements I think he can be a solid number three or four starter, or at worst a power reliever.
9) Tony Renda, 2B, Grade B-: Undersized 5-8 second baseman from University of California shows baseball skills, polished hitter with good plate discipline and some gap power, 48-for-57 in steals so far in his career, gets on base, steady glove, terrific makeup. We need to see him at higher levels but he has outperformed expectations in college as well as pro ball. Consistently plays above his tools and I think that will continue.
10) Drew Vettleson, OF, Grade C+: Acquired from Rays after he hit just four homers in the Florida State League. Supplemental first round pick in ’10 has across-the-board average tools, cut down on his swing and reduced strikeouts last year but lost power in so doing. Change of scenery could help but off to a slow start in Double-A (3-for-23).
11) Jake Johansen, RHP, Grade C+: Power arm drafted from Dallas Baptist in 2013, second round, can hit 98-99 MPH. Erratic in college due to shaky secondaries but looked better in New York-Penn League. Could be very impressive starter if slider and changeup develop properly with relief a backup option.
12) Eury Perez, OF, Grade C+: Very fast, .303 career hitter in Triple-A, good glove. Lack of power and a very aggressive hitting approach are problematic but even with his present skill set he should be useful on a bench.
13) Zach Walters, INF, Grade C+: Versatile infielder on defense. Stereotype of a utility infielder is a contact hitter who lacks power but Walters is more of a Mirror Universe utility-man, featuring impressive power but lots of strikeouts and a low OBP/batting average.
14) Aaron Barrett, RHP, Grade C+: University of Mississippi product off to good start in big league bullpen and has multi-year track record of successful relief work. Velocity has picked up, command is also much sharper than earlier in his career.
15) Rafael Bautista, OF, Grade C+: Toolsy outfielder from Dominican Republic off to fast start at Low-A Hagerstown (.343/.395/.486), following up successful ’13 GCL campaign (.322/.400/.391 with 26 steals). Speed stands out but he could develop more punch as he matures. A bit under the radar right now but I think that will change.
16) Sammy Solis, LHP, Grade C+: I’d rank him higher if he could stay healthy. Good changeup and breaking ball, fastball velocity varies depending on health status, knows how to pitch. Potential number four starter with good makeup if his body lets him do it.
17) Blake Treinen, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+ Decent results as a minor league starter but in the bullpen now and looks like a good contributor in that role, picking up grounders with fastball and slider. Up to 97 MPH in relief role.
18) Jefry Rodriguez, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+: Very projectable high-ceiling arm, 6-5, 185, performed well in Gulf Coast League last year. Age 20, secondary pitches need development but could wind up as a guy with a 95-MPH fastball and at least one other plus pitch. Watch for a breakout in the New York-Penn League, much higher grades possible eventually.
19) Randy Encarnacion, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+: Another GCL guy heading to the NY-P, hit .349/.437/.523 last year at age 19. Good solid tools across the board. Began his career under the name Randy Novas.
20) Osvaldo Abreu, SS, Grade C: Borderline C+: Another high-ceiling talent from the GCL, impressive defensive skills with good speed, hit .286/.369/.381 with 16 steals, age 20. Lacks pop but more may come, another guy to watch in the NY-P for a breakout.
OTHERS: Dakota Bacus, RHP; Isaac Ballou, OF; Robert Benincasa, RHP; Anderson Franco, 3B; Christian Garcia, RHP; Neil Holland, RHP; Destin Hood, OF; Richie Mirowski, RHP; Brett Mooneyham, LHP; Nic Pivetta, RHP; Matt Purke, LHP; Blake Schwartz, RHP; Austin Voth, RHP
This is a system in a transitional phase, as many of their highest-ceiling prospects are just beginning their careers.
The big star here (hopefully) is Lucas Giolito. It feels strange to consider a Grade A- ranking as "cautious." His talent is immense but I’d like to keep expectations from getting out of control until we see how he looks later this year. A.J. Cole has solid potential and there are several bullpen arms that project well. They could use more depth here, but keep an eye on Jefry Rodriguez as well as sleeper prospects Austin Voth and Nic Pivetta, who both have the talent to get out of the "Others" section and vault up the list this year.
The hitting side doesn’t feature any projected stars at this point although there are quite a few potential regulars. Goodwin, Skole, Taylor, and Souza should all contribute eventually. All of them have breakout potential but which one will actually do it? Drew Ward needs more attention than he’s received so far, and the New York-Penn League team at Auburn should be very intriguing.
The Nationals do some outside-the-box thinking, bargain hunting in Latin America for example (although they did spend more money last year, beginning with third baseman Anderson Franco) and taking gambles on pitchers with injury histories. That latter strategy has paid dividends in the past and should do so again with Giolito, although Matt Purke hasn’t panned out as hoped.
Overall I think this is an average system currently but it has the potential to improve quickly.