Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2017
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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses. The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.
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. 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) Victor Robles, OF, Grade B+/A-: Age 19, signed out of Dominican Republic for $225,000 in 2013; dominated Low-A (.305/.405/.459 with 19 steals in 233 at-bats) and held his own after moving up to High-A (.262/.354/.387 with 18 steals in 168 at-bats); 70-grade speed and 65-grade throwing arm with good instincts make him an excellent defensive outfielder already; uses speed well on the bases, manages the strike zone reasonably, and is young enough to develop more power; makeup also highly-rated; main question is long-term home run projection. ETA: late 2019.
2) Erick Fedde, RHP, Grade B+: Age 23, first round pick in 2014 from UNLV; full Tommy John recovery as shown by 3.12 ERA in 121 innings between High-A and Double-A, 123/29 K/BB, 118 hits; development made it easier to part with Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito in the Adam Eaton trade; fastball up to 94 with electric movement, slider and change-up have improved, command has been very solid to this point, throws all three pitches for strikes; had a few rough patches late in the year but also fanned 12 in his last start. ETA: 2018.
3) Juan Soto, OF, Grade B: Age 18, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2015 for $1,500,000; hit .368/.420/.553 in 190 at-bats with 17 walks, 29 strikeouts between rookie ball and New York-Penn League; I normally take a wait-and-see approach with guys like this but in my opinion Soto is definitely for real; features bat speed, raw power, sound swing mechanics, and a good batting eye; has the tools to be an excellent hitter and the skills to make those tools work are advanced; mediocre speed is the main weakness but he can handle a corner and I strongly believe in the bat. ETA: late 2020..
4) Carter Kieboom, SS, Grade B-: Age 19, first round pick in 2016 from high school in Georgia; hit .244/.323/.452 with four homers, 12 walks, 43 strikeouts in 135 at-bats in rookie ball; rookie ball stats showed more power but less batting average than anticipated, granted sample is small; expected to be a solid across-the-board hitter when he matures with more pop than typical for shortstop; strong throwing arm, may shift to third base if he loses too much range as he gets older. ETA: late 2020.
5) Koda Glover, RHP, Grade B-: Age 23, eighth round pick in 2015 from Oklahoma State; reached majors extremely quickly; posted 2.25 ERA in 56 innings, 66/14 K/BB over three levels, then 5.03, 16/7 K/BB in 20 MLB innings; classic bullpen stuff in mid-90s with hard slider, control was very sharp in the minors, has a chance to close games and at worst case a strong middle man. ETA 2017.
6) Austin Voth, RHP, Grade B-: Age 24, fifth round pick in 2013 from University of Washington; 3.15 ERA with 133/57 K/BB in 157 innings in Triple-A, 138 hits; fastball generally 88-93 with a touch higher at times; plays up due to command and contrast with solid-average slider and change-up; whole tends to be greater than the sum of the parts here; should be workhorse fourth starter or reliable bullpen presence. ETA 2017.
7) Sheldon Neuse, 3B, Grade B-: Age 22, second round pick in 2016 from University of Oklahoma; hit .230/.305/.341 in New York-Penn League, well off the .369/.465/.646 spring he had for the Sooners; best tool is arm, college shortstop looked comfortable at third base in NY-P; will need to get the hitting back to project well at the hot corner but scouts still seem confident that he will hit for average and moderate power with more adjustment time. ETA late 2019.
8) A.J. Cole, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 24: 4.26 ERA with 109/35 K/BB in 125 innings in Triple-A; 5.17 ERA in 38 innings in the majors, 39/14 K/BB, still rookie-eligible entering 2017; with two and a half years in Triple-A under his belt there isn’t much left to prove there and prospect fatigue has set in; throws strikes with low-90s fastball, changeup, slider; breaking ball remains erratic; at this point looks like a four/five starter and inning-eater. ETA 2017.
9) Andrew Stevenson, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 22, second round pick in 2015 out of Louisiana State; hit .304/.359/.418 in 273 at-bats in High-A, then .246/.302/.328 in 256 at-bats after moving up to Double-A; combined to steal 39 bases; very athletic, 60-grade speed and excellent instincts in center field; lacks arm strength and distance power; controls strike zone reasonably well but will have to show his bat will hold up against the best pitching; still working to hone swing mechanics. Regular CF if he hits enough, glove-and-speed fourth outfielder if he doesn’t. ETA 2018.
10) Drew Ward, 3B, Grade C+: Age 22, third round pick in 2013 from high school in Oklahoma; hit .278/.377/.491 in 230 at-bats in High-A but just .219/.310/.309 in 178 at-bats in Double-A; 60-grade power but can’t always tap it, had contact problems against advanced pitching but willing to take a walk; strong throwing arm and has made some defensive improvements but needs to take step forward with bat. ETA late 2018.
11) Wilmer Difo, INF, Grade C+: Age 24, hit .258/.317/.352 in 415 at-bats in Double-A with 28 steals; hit .276/.362/.379 in 58 major league at-bats; has gone past rookie eligibility on service time but is still under the regular at-bat limit so I will list him here given that people ask about him; overall I think he’s a .250-.270 hitter with occasional gap power and enough speed and defensive versatility to have a long career as a useful reserve.
12) Pedro Severino, C, Grade C+: Age 23, from the Dominican Republic, hit .271/.316/.337 with two homers, 19 walks, 45 strikeouts in 291 at-bats in Triple-A; hit .321/.441/.607 in 28 at-bats in the majors; that’s a small-sample fluke; in a larger sample he’s a .250 hitter without much power, though he is young enough that may improve eventually; superior defensive catcher with strong throwing arm and receiving skills; will last for years as a reserve and may eventually hit enough to get beyond that. ETA 2017.
13) Brian Goodwin, OF, Grade C+: Age 26, has moved up and down prospect lists for years, back up again after hitting .280/.349/.438 with 14 homers, 15 steals in Triple-A then .286/.318/.429 in 42 major league at-bats; lefty hitter with speed, still flashes power, track record highly erratic, type of player who can hit .290 one year then .210 the next; defense is like his hitting: outstanding at times, but with the occasional WTF play. Goodwin has always had the natural talent to be a fine player and he showed signs of doing it more consistently in ’16. ETA 2017.
14) Tyler Watson, LHP, Grade C+: Age 19, 34th round pick in 2015 from high school in Gilbert, Arizona; would have gone 30 rounds higher except he was committed to Loyola Marymount; signed for $400,000; 6-5 southpaw with strong ’16 campaign, 2.64 ERA with 64/15 K/BB in 58 innings between NY-P and Low-A, 46 hits, just one homer; low-90s heat with more projectable; already throws strikes with strong curveball, change-up coming along; highly intriguing prospect with breakthrough potential. SLEEPER ALERT. ETA 2020.
15) Rafael Bautista, OF, Grade C+: Age 23, hit .282/.344/.341 with 45 walks, 94 strikeouts, 56 steals in 543 at-bats in Double-A; excellent speed, 70-75 grade; also a fine defensive outfielder with plus instincts, average arm strength; can steal bases almost at will when he’s going well; draws some walks but lacks power and not likely to develop much; fourth outfielder with speed/glove unless he shows more pop or proves he can keep his OBP elevated. ETA 2018.
16) Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, Grade C+: Age 22, from the Dominican Republic, hit .296/.349/.401 with four homers, 25 steals, 35 walks, 75 strikeouts in 446 at-bats between Low-A and High-A; strong throwing arm works well at third base and he’s improved his reliability; may show more power as he matures physically but won’t be rushed; ETA late 2019.
17) Osvaldo Abreu, INF, Grade C+: Age 22, another product of Nationals Dominican program, hit .247/.328/.346 with 55 walks, 18 steals, 108 strikeouts in 497 at-bats in High-A; above-average speed and throwing arm, shows an occasional spark of power and plate discipline but hasn’t put together his offensive game just yet; more defensive projection than Gutierrez. ETA late 2019.
18) Joan Baez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, another Dominican signed by the Nationals, posted 3.94 ERA with 119/64 K/BB in 126 innings in Low-A; sleeper type hasn’t gotten much attention outside Nats circles yet; plenty of arm with fastball up to 96; both curveball and change-up need more work, as does general command and control; there’s upside here that should be tracked. ETA 2020.
19) Yasel Antuna, SS, Grade C+: Age 17, signed out of Dominican Republic this past summer for $3,900,000; hasn’t played yet so this is all projection; switch-hitter with plus speed, plus throwing arm, and enough power projection to excite scouts; some feel he will move to third base eventually but others think he can remain at shortstop, too early to tell in other words; high ceiling player but we need to see how his skills look in real games. ETA: 2022.
20) Rhett Wiseman, OF, Grade C+/C: Age 22, third round pick in 2015 out of Vanderbilt, hit .255/.325/.410 with 13 homers, 19 steals, 42 walks, 104 strikeouts in 478 at-bats in Low-A; lacks a premium tool but no serious physical weaknesses, either; runs and throws pretty well, projects average power; Sally League performance was a bit weaker than anticipated and he has some work to do shortening his swing; feels like the type of player who could leap forward with just a few tweaks. ETA: 2019.
OTHER GRADE C+: Austin Adams, RHP
GRADE C: Telmito Agustin, OF; Nick Banks, OF; Tres Barrera, C; Jimmy Cordero, RHP; Matthew Crownover, LHP; Austin Davidson, 3B; Anderson Franco, 3B; Luis Garcia, SS; Daniel Johnson, OF; Spencer Kieboom, C; Andrew Lee, RHP; Jesus Luzardo, LHP; Jose Marmolejos, 1B; Kyle McGowin, RHP; Jake Noll, 2B; Blake Perkins, OF; Raudy Reed, C; Jakson Reetz, C; Mariano Rivera Jr, RHP; Ian Sagdal, 2B; Armond Upshaw, OF
Obviously yesterday’s trade of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning weakens the system a great deal by taking three impact arms off the top. They still have Robles and Fedde and I am a huge fan of Soto, but there’s no question that system depth takes a hit here.
We can discuss anyone you like in the comments section.