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Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, Lucas Giolito headlines the Washington Nationals farm system.

Lucas Giolito
Lucas Giolito
Mark Cunningham, Getty Images

Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!

All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.

QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS

Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other 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. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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: Age 20, fully recovered from Tommy John, posted 2.20 ERA with 110/28 K/BB in 98 innings in Low-A. Mid/upper 90s fastball, excellent curve, change-up steadily improving, control solid for a young power arm, potential number one starter if he maintains his health.

2) Michael Taylor, OF, Grade B+:
Age 23, toolsy outfielder hit .313/.396/.539 in Double-A with 34 steals, excellent center field defense. Physical tools have always been here and he’s taken several steps forward with the skills, may not hit for average but could do everything else well or better.


3) A.J. Cole, RHP, Grade B+/Borderline B: Age 23, went 13-3, 3.16 with 111/32 K/BB in 134 innings in Double-A/Triple-A, 148 hits. A bit more hittable last year but throws three pitches for strikes, I still believe he can be a fine mid-rotation starter. Some people have prospect fatigue with this one I suspect, like Jake Odorizzi entering 2014.

4) Trea Turner, SS, Grade B:
Age 21, Padres 2014 first-round pick out of North Carolina State hit .323/.406/.448 with 23 steals in his debut between Northwest and Midwest League. Sound defender and looks like he can hit enough to play regularly. Still with the Padres system officially but everyone knows he will be the "player to be named" in the big trade. It will be interesting to see if they can work out a player loan arrangement until the deal can officially go through in late June.

5) Joe Ross, RHP, Grade B:
Age 21, another component of big trade with Padres although this one can be made official. 3.92 ERA with 106/29 K/BB in 122 innings between High-A and Double-A, steadily gaining command of power sinker, slider, change-up. Should be a workhorse.

6) Wilmer Difo, INF, Grade B-
: Age 22, came out of nowhere to hit .315/.360/.470 with 49 steals and 14 homers in Low-A. Switch-hitter, speed and some pop, competent defender at both second base and shortstop. "Wilmer Difo" is a good name for a Jedi Knight.

7) Erick Fedde, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 21, first round pick out of UNLV despite being on shelf with Tommy John surgery. Pre-injury, worked in mid-90s with a power slider and decent change-up, number two starter projection. We’ll have to see how he comes back from the injury.

8) Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 21, posted 1.08 ERA with 70/26 K/BB in 83 innings between NY-P and Sally League, can hit 98, curve and change-up still under development, has an injury history so we’ll have to see about stamina. Number two upside if the durability and change-up come along, power reliever if they don’t.

9) Drew Ward, 3B, Grade B-:
Age 20, hit .269/.341/.413 with 10 homers, 42 walks, 121 strikeouts in 431 at-bats in Low-A. Working to turn raw power into game power, defense needs polish too, but held his own overall coming out of a small Oklahoma high school into full-season ball.

10) Brian Goodwin, OF, Grade C+:
Age 24, disappointing season in Triple-A, just .219/.342/.328 in 274 at-bats before going down with torn labrum. Still has the tools, good runner and fielder, draws walks but offensive production is otherwise very erratic. Stock slipping.

11) Austin Voth, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 22, posted 2.77 ERA with 133/38 K/BB in 127 innings, 89 hits between Low-A, High-A, Double-A. Scouts don’t like him as much as the numbers, seeing a back-end starter with an 88-93 MPH fastball and decent but not excellent slider and change-up. Pitchability adds to the package, however, and he could surprise the doubters.

12) Rafael Bautista, OF, Grade C+:
Age 21, hit .290/.341/.382 with 69 steals in 487 at-bats in Low-A. Very fast, athletic but lacks big power potential and needs more polish on defense, often projected as a fourth outfielder. Something of a strange case, normally scouts drool over athletic speed players like this. He’s not too old for his levels but is often overlooked.

13) Jakson Reetz, C, Grade C+:
Age 19, third round pick from Nebraska high school, highest ceiling among intriguing group of Nationals catching prospects, hit .274/.429/.368 in rookie ball. Good strike zone judgment, good defensive tools, needs experience. Could vault up the list next year.

14) Felipe Rivero, LHP, Grade C+:
Age 23, 3.35 ERA with 50/19 K/BB in 54 innings, mostly in Double-A with a handful of low level rehab outings due to injury. Live arm, nice low-90s fastball, curve and change flash plus but needs more consistency. Number three starter if he maxes everything out, more probably a four/five or a solid reliever.

15) Pedro Severino, C, Grade C+:
Age 21, excellent throwing arm, developed some power last year, hitting .247/.306/.399 in High-A. He’s made progress but there are still questions about offensive development.


16) Raudy Read, C, Grade C+: Age 21, another catcher with sound defensive skills and a good arm, hit .281/.332/.462 in the New York-Penn League, greatly improved over his rookie ball production. Another candidate to leap the list.

17) Spencer "There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering" Kieboom, C, Grade C+:
Age 23, Clemson product had excellent year in Low-A, .309/.352/.500 in 330 at-bats. His defense has always been highly-rated but nobody thought he could hit like this. Can he keep it up? Maybe.

18) Tony Renda, 2B, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .307/.381/.377 with 19 steals but zero homers in High-A. Stereotyped scrappy second base type, contact hitter, very reliable at second base but lacks the tools to play shortstop. Double-A will tell us a lot.

19) Chris Bostick, 2B, Grade C+:
Age 21, acquired in trade with Rangers, hit .251/.322/.412 with 11 homers, 24 steals, 47 walks, 116 strikeouts in 495 at-bats in High-A. Needs to tighten up defense as well as strike zone, but could become a multi-category contributor if he can handle Double-A.

20) Nick Pivetta, RHP, Grade C/Borderline C+:
Age 21, posted 4.22 ERA with 98/39 K/BB in 132 innings in Low-A, 142 hits. Mediocre stats but a live arm, can hit mid-90s, good size at 6-5, 220, curve and change show potential. Possible mid-rotation arm with more development.

OTHERS: Isaac Ballou, OF: Robert Benincasa, RHP; Abel De Los Santos, RHP; Robbie Dickey, RHP; Anderson Franco, 3B; Matt Grace, LHP; Taylor Hill, RHP; Neil Holland, RHP; Jake Johansen, RHP; Gilberto Mendez, LHP; Stephen Perez, SS; Victor Robles, OF; Jefry Rodriguez, RHP; Derek Self, RHP; Matthew Skole, 1B; Drew Vettleson, OF

The Nationals system was starting to look a little thin to me, but trades this winter have boosted talent depth with the addition of Ross and Bostick and the pending addition of Turner. Much of the major league talent is home-grown of course and the Nationals have shown the ability to recharge quickly, so in general this is a solid system.

Pitching depth is intriguing, beginning with (hopefully) future ace Lucas Giolito but extending to other live arms. Prospect fatigue is setting in with A.J. Cole but I still think there is more to like with him than dislike. Ross is a good pick-up, Lopez had a breakthrough last year and just needs to add some durability to the mix. The Nationals hope that Erick Fedde follows the Giolito "injured pitcher" example rather than the Matt Purke and Sammy Solis examples. There are a several hard-throwers (Pivetta, Rivero, Johansen, Rodriguez) who haven’t done much statistically yet but who could develop into very useful properties. The Nationals don’t eschew pitchability and can also find some polished strike-thrower types like Voth and Taylor Hill. Sometimes those guys surprise us. . .maybe there’s another Tanner Roark in the group.

On the hitting side there is a definite lack of obvious star potential, but there is considerable depth in C+ types. The best of the crop is Taylor, a potential multi-skilled regular. Turner (whenever he moves over from the Padres), Difo, Bostick, Renda, and the large group of catchers provide up the middle talent at premium defensive positions. They could use more power. Matt Skole’s disappointing season wasn’t good news after missing almost all of 2013 with injury. Drew Ward has upside but isn’t there yet.

The Nationals have a reputation for finding hidden gems on the international market and their rookie ball team should be very interesting, with several exciting players headlined by Franco and Robles making the transition from the Dominican Summer League.