If you didn't get a chance to read my primer on the series, click here to get the recipe to my "secret sauce" and how I go about ranking prospects. Here is a quick review on how the grading system works.
The Grading System
My grading system will be familiar to those who keep up with college football recruiting or played the MLB2K video game series as I use a star rating system from one to five stars with half grades in between. An outline of what each level would represent looks like this, but remember these are examples and not definite.
The cream of the crop. A five star rating is reserved for the elite talents of the minor leagues. These players do not have a glaring weakness and if there is a blemish on their record, it is miniscule. Don't expect to see many of these, as this is reserved for players with the best chance to become super stars or top of the rotation stalwarts. Call this a 75-80 or A rating.
The rest of the elite. A 4.5 star rating encompasses players that are still elite, but not the potential mega stars a five star player would have. Receiving a 4.5 star rating means the player has all-star caliber potential with a good chance of being in a contending team's starting line up and have a long career. A 4.5 star pitcher could be generalized as a future #2 or 3 starter. Equal to 65-70 or A-/B+ type.
Garnering a four star rating means the player has the potential to be a productive major leaguer with an all-star season or two in his career. Four star players should develop into regulars in the lineup, dominant relief arms or a mid-rotation starters. This kind of player may have a true talent level higher but injuries may hold him back from reaching their full potential. Similar to a B/B+ or 55-60 rated player.
A player receiving 3.5 stars projects to see time as starters in the majors, but more than likely on a team out of the playoff picture where a below-average season once in awhile won't kill them. Innings eating strike throwers would fall into this category, as would set up men and defensive-oriented starters. This would be a 50 or B-/C+ type of player.
Three star players are your 4th outfielders and relievers with live arms and control problems. Hitters who may lack enough tools to hold down a starting gig, futures as a platoon players, and swing men types capable of spot starting would be three star players. Recent IFA's with little or no track record usually are included here as well. A 45 grade or C+/C type player would fall here.
Not every one gets to collect MLB paychecks, but some get them every once in awhile. 2.5 star players are your up and down guys who shuttle between the big leagues and AAA. September cups of coffee cielings fall here, as are the injury replacements and players riding the waiver wire. These players aren't expected to make any serious impact. 40 grade players and C type or lower organizational filler.
Anything below 2.5 stars is someone who doesn't project to be a major league player, therefore they are not mentioned.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are the Top 20 Prospects in the Washington Nationals organization. All ages are for the upcoming 2015 season and the affiliates mentioned are where I project them to begin the 2015 season.
1. RHSP Lucas Giolito - 20 years old, A+ Potomac
Photo courtesy of Carl Kline/MiLB.com
2014 stats -
This is what a future stud looks like. The only blemishes on Giolito's record so far have been his Tommy John surgery, and he hasn't shown how durable he can be. He's got the frame, checking in at a stout 6'6 and 255 pounds, but hasn't had the opportunity as the Nationals front office only allowed him to surpass six innings in a start once and also shut him down early. When he was on the mound though, it was pure bliss to witness. A lively 93-98 mph fastball headlines his arsenal which can hit triple digits when he reaches back for a little extra stank and features some serious downhill plane. An 80-83 mph double overhand yella hammer should have been illegal for him to use against Low A hitters, it was THAT good. Giolito can put both pitches where he wants them with good command and can use the hook to get a called strike or as a chase pitch. He's also got a change up in the same velocity range that has excellent fade with the same arm speed as the heat and a solid 10-15 mph difference, and get this...he's still toying with it and working on making it even better. That's two monster, elite pitches in the fastball and curve and a third pitch that I'd already consider plus with potential to be better. Add that to a 6'6, 255 pound frame, a bulldog mentality, top shelf makeup, and a great fielder and you get what managers and front office members dream about.
2015 Outlook -
2. CF Michael Taylor - 24 years old, AAA Syracuse
Photo courtesy of Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports
2014 MiLB (AA and AAA) stats -
2014 MLB stats -
Taylor turned in an incredible age 23 season split between AA Harrisburg and AAA Syracuse, then topped it off with a cup of coffee with the Nationals in September. He showed an exciting power/speed combo while riding a massive BABIP to a 154 wRC+. The 6'3, 210 pound center fielder is like watching a gazelle in the outfield with incredible range built on plus speed, a quick first step, and great instincts. He reads balls well after contact, takes good routes, and has good closing speed. His arm is also an asset, making 12 outfield assists in 2014 after gunning down 19 the year before. He's also shown excellent raw power to every part of the park, at the expense of a lot of strike outs. Mistakes will be punished mercilessly by Taylor with his excellent bat speed, but those are few and far between the higher you move up the ladder. I'm a bit worried about the huge gap between his batting average and BABIP. Namely because usually when you see a guy that has a BABIP over .400, his batting average is well over the .300 mark. The incredibly athletic Taylor has the skill set seen in players that can maintain a high BABIP, but this isn't the first time he's seen a difference of at least 80 points in his career.
2015 Outlook -
While he made his major league debut in 2014, the Nats' depth chart is pretty full at the big league level. Couple that with Taylor only having 95 total plate appearances above the AA level leads me to believe he will break camp with AAA Syracuse, moving Brian Goodwin over to left. Depending on the health of the Nationals outfield, 2015 could be a season where he makes multiple trips between AAA and the parent club while Denard Span plays out the last year of his contract.
3. RHSP Reynaldo Lopez - 21 years old, A+ Potomac
Photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt
2014 stats -
Reynaldo Lopez may have been the biggest break out player of the entire minor leagues in 2014, absolutely dominating at short season Auburn and Low A Hagerstown despite just 16 professional innings under his belt prior to the year. The 6'0, 185 pound Domincan right hander was practically unhittable all year long, establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with and excellent compliment to Giolito in the Hagerstown rotation. Despite his stellar line, he spun his wheels to start the year, allowing six of the 10 earned run he surrendered all season in his first two starts. Eight times he threw at least five innings with two hits or less allowed. He was able to pull of feats like that because he was blowing 94-99 mph heaters past everyone with ease. The explosive heater featured more movement in the lower velocty range, as most fastballs do, and it's paired with an 11-5 curve in the high 70's that is developing into a plus weapon. Lopez gets good depth with it and he's learning how to use it for early strikes in the zone and to use it as a chase pitch late in the count. Like most pitcher heading into their age 21 season, he needs to develop more consistency with the pitch for it to be a true weapon. He also will throw a mid 80's change up that has late drop and a bit of fade to it. Although it has the bones for an above average offering, he still needs to work on maintaining arm speed, not telegraphing the pitch, and losing a few mph's on it. The control this year was solid and the command is coming around.
2015 Outlook -
With a truly dominant finish to the year, Lopez has proven he can handle Low A hitters with ease. There's a very high probability he breaks camp with A+ Potomac to continue to form one of the most potent 1-2 punches in minor league baseball with Lucas Giolito. If he can come anywhere close to replicating his monster year, he could be on the fast track despite the limited experience, and that could lead to him finishing the year in AA Harrisburg.
4. SS Trea Turner - 22 years old, A+ Potomac
5. RHSP AJ Cole - 23 years old, AAA Syracuse
6 RHSP Erick Fedde - 22 years old, A- Auburn
7. RHSP Joe Ross - 22 years old, AA Harrisburg
8. 3B Drew Ward - 20 years old, A+ Potomac
9. RHSP Austin Voth - 23 years old, AA Harrisburg
10. SS Wilmer Difo - 23 years old, A+ Potomac
11. C Jakson Reetz - 19 years old, A- Auburn
12. CF Rafael Bautistia - 22 years old, A+ Potomac
13. 2B Tony Renda - 24 years old, AA Harrisburg
14. RHSP Taylor Hill - 26 years old, AAA Syracuse
15. C Raudy Read - 21 years old, Low A Hagerstown
16. LHSP Felipe Rivero - 23 years old, AAA Syracuse
17. 2B Chris Bostick - 22 years old, AA Harrisburg
18. RHSP Robbie Dickey - 21 years old, Low A Hagerstown
19. RHP Abel De Los Santos - 22 years old, AA Harrisburg
20. LHP Gilberto Mendez - 22 years old, AA Harrisburg
Honorable Mentions (Other three star players) - RHP Derek Self, CF Brian Goodwin, C Pedro Severino, C Spencer Kieboom, 3B Anderson Franco, RHSP John Simms, RHSP Steven Fuentes, RHP Neil Holland
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Team codes: AAA - Syracuse Chiefs, AA - Harrisburg Senators, A+ - Potomac Nationals, A - Hagerstown Suns, A- - Auburn Doubledays, R - Gulf Coast League Nationals, DSL - Dominican Summer League Nationals, DNP - Did Not Play