Washington Nationals Top 30 Prospects
There are pretty simple tiers to the Nationals farm system. Lucas Giolito reigns above all as our tall, handsome overlord. Next come the two elite bat prospects, Trea Turner and Victor Robles. Next come B-level prospects with upside in Erick Fedde, Reynaldo Lopez, A.J. Cole, and Wilmer Difo. After them come guys with the upside to be solid ML starters in Anderson Franco, Austin Voth, and Andrew Stevenson. And after that top 10, all hell breaks loose and it’s more of a pick-your-poison type of thing.
For the record, Michael Taylor, Joe Ross, Felipe Rivero, and Sammy Solis have all graduated and are no longer eligible, and I do not consider Rafael Martin or Michael Brady to be prospects because of their age. Here are my top 30 prospects:
1. RHP Lucas Giolito (2015 mid-season rank: 1) – He’s going to be a monster. Giolito maintained an excellent K/BB ratio of 3.54 while facing tougher competition and throwing more innings than he ever had in his professional career. The 21 year old can still use a little more seasoning in the minors, but will be the most talented option to turn to when the Nats need a starter at some point during the season.
2. SS Trea Turner (2015 mid-season rank: 2) – Turner is the Nats’ #1 hitting prospect on my list, edging out Victor Robles. The lighting-fast infielder had a good albeit weird season, spending 58 games with San Diego’s AA squad in San Antonio before finally being allowed to join the team he was unofficially traded to in December 2014 and playing in 10 games in Harrisburg, 48 in Syracuse, and 27 in DC. Turner hit .322/.370/.458 in the minors in 500 PA and .225/.295/.325 in the bigs in 44 PA, stealing a total of 31 bases in 29 attempts. Turner is not without flaws, as he still strikes out a little too much (20.4% K%). That being said, it’s nice to have a 22 year old with a .321/.381/.446 career batting line in the pros with elite speed knocking on the door to the majors.
3. OF Victor Robles (2015 mid-season rank: 7) – I debated between Robles, Fedde and Lopez at #3. Maybe it's because I'm just excited that the Nats have a homegrown hitting prospect for once, but I gave him the edge over the two arms. It’s hard to temper my expectations with Robles, as he just hit .352/.445/.507 with 20 extra base hits and 24 steals in just 61 games (261 PA). I’m not as sold as many on his power – yet – but even if it remains doubles/triples power, we’re still talking about an excellent contact hitter who can fly on the basepaths and play a solid CF. The sky is the limit for Robles, but at just 18 years old and no experience beyond short season A ball, the floor isn’t as high as Trea Turner’s.
4. RHP Erick Fedde (2015 mid-season rank: 6) – Fedde Wap gets the edge for me at #4 because he's got a higher floor than Lopez and a higher ceiling than Cole. He put up solid numbers in first pro season: 3.38 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 3.12 GB/FB in 64 innings. Fedde formulates his 1-2 punch with a plus two-seam fastball and a plus slider, and the expectation is that his change-up develops into a solid third offering; all he needs is time to develop that change-up and build up his endurance. Fedde was the subject of substantial interest at the 2015 trade deadline, but the Nats would be wise to keep him around as a long-term investment.
5. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (2015 mid-season rank: 5) – Lopez is the player in the Nats system that I have the most trouble evaluating consistently. He has an electric arm, with a fastball that can touch 100. Lopez’ curveball has developed into a good second offering, and he has shown an ability to adapt his arsenal to the situation, which is rare for a 22 year old flamethrower. I don’t have a great gut feeling on his ability to stay healthy long-term because of his smallish frame, but that’s not based on any real evidence. If healthy, the sky is the limit with Lopez.
6. IF Wilmer Difo (2015 mid-season rank: 8) – I don’t know what it is about Wilmer Difo, but I still am not sold on him as a future ML starter. He showed enough at AA in 2015 for me to not write off 2014 as a fluke year. I'm not super pleased about the dip in BB% and raise in K%, but not super concerned either. There's nothing specific about his swing, skills, or minor league numbers that really set off a red flag for me, but the overall package still looks like a future utility or semi-regular guy to me. The Nats would be wise to give him a full year between AA and AAA this year to hone his skills against better pitching rather than stashing him on the ML bench.
7. RHP AJ Cole (2015 mid-season rank: 9) – Cole has fallen down many people’s prospect rankings over the last two years, partially due to performance and partially due to prospect fatigue. The shine is obviously not as strong as it was when he was an overslot HS draftee in 2010, but he's still close to the ML and has a live enough arm to still make it as a number 4 starter or late inning bullpen guy. The instability in the Nats’ bullpen could work in Cole’s favor, as that is his best way to see ML service time in 2016 with the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Laffey and Lucas Giolito available to join the rotation if needed. And please never let me list Giolito in the same sentence as Arroyo or Laffey ever again.
8. 3B Anderson Franco (2015 mid-season rank: 22) – There are very clear tiers of talent in the Nats’ system: #’s 1-3 are elite, #’s 4-7 are solid, and everything else is a giant cluster. Franco is my lottery pick here; I need to see more video on him, but I like what I see so far. The 18 year old Dominican infielder got a $900,000 bonus from the Nats in 2013 and shows a solid combination of raw power, defensive skills, and arm strength, although the power has not translated into much game power yet. Unlike a lot of young guys with raw power, he doesn’t have huge issues commanding the strike zone, as evidenced by his career 10.4% BB% and 17.5% K%. I like the fact that the Nats are being relatively aggressive with his development, giving him a short stint in Auburn towards the end of the season (is there a better 18th birthday gift than a one-way ticket to Auburn, NY?!?). We’ll see how he handles the challenge in 2016.
9. RHP Austin Voth (2015 mid-season rank: 11) – Voth is the type of pitcher that I always bump down my list because he doesn't have ridiculous upside, but that's my flaw, not his. I love the results he's put up in the minors, but still kinda question how the stuff will play at the big league level; Voth features a solid 1-2 punch of a low-to-mid 90s fastball and decent change that he commands well, but needs to develop his curve into an average third offering to keep batters off balance at higher levels. To me, he’s a slightly better version of Taylor Hill. He could push towards an ML role in 2016, and excelled in a full season at AA in 2015, with a 2.92 ERA, 2.29 BB/9 and 8.47 K/9.
10. OF Andrew Stevenson (2015 mid-season rank: 16) – When he was drafted this season, I wasn’t totally impressed with Stevenson’s overall value, but he’s starting to grow on me. I like that he made adjustments to shorten his swing to make line-drive contact instead of living and dying by the long ball (which for a guy without much power means living and dying by the 350 ft. fly out). He can fly and play defense, and is a fairly high floor type of player (with his speed/defense, he can be a 4th OF if his bat isn't a complete zero). Stevenson needs to improve his batting profile to reduce strikeouts and get on base more if he wants to be a leadoff guy, and I’m confident that he’ll progress on that front, as he has proven an ability to adapt in the past.
11. 2B Chris Bostick (2015 mid-season rank: 15) – A lot of people move Bostick down their lists because he’s not a physical freak or a shortstop, but nonetheless he’s a guy who I really like. The former Oakland 44th round draft pick (2011) was added to 40 man roster after an impressive .268/.333/.549 performance with 10 extra base hits and 6 SB in just 78 PA in the Arizona Fall League. He hit a more pedestrian .258/.312/.398 in 2015 with 12 HR and 31 SB, and the power/speed combo is nothing new, as he’s put up 11+ HR and 24+ SB in each of the last 3 years. I like that Bostick has shown a willingness to play all over the field, with starts at 2B, SS, LF, and CF in 2015. I think he can develop into a nice utility player that can provide speed and power off of the bench, with the upside of becoming a more agile version of Ronnie Belliard (who was a lot more useful than you probably remember). To be honest, if I’m Mike Rizzo, I probably use Wilmer Difo as a trade chip and develop Bostick into the utility guy.
12. OF Rafael Bautista (2015 mid-season rank: 23) – Despite missing three months due to a finger injury, Bautista’s prospect profile did not take too big of a hit, as he still stole bases at an excellent clip (.39 SB/game). While Bautista’s .275/.315/.341 triple slash does not look very impressive, it’s worth noting that his BABIP was significantly lower than his career norms (.311 BABIP in 2015 vs. career .365 BABIP); a moderate improvement in BABIP combined with the sustainment of his improvement in K% (10.8% K% in 2015, down from 14.1% in the rest of his career) would make him look a lot more like a Ben Revere-type of player.
13. C Pedro Severino (2015 mid-season rank: 12) – Seemingly every year, the Nats have a young catcher whose defense is ML-ready but their bat is still not there. It’s easy to get bored with this profile of a player, but backup catchers with strong defensive abilities do have value (just not fantasy baseball value). While Severino’s batting profile didn’t improve in 2015, it didn’t fall apart completely against stronger competition; his isolated power fell back in-line with his pre-2014 career norm, but his batting average, BABIP, and BB/K ratios were pretty much the same as in 2014. I want to see him for one more season at AA/AAA before dropping him too far.
14. OF Telmito Agustin (2015 mid-season rank: 27) – I can’t wait to see Agustin play in person. The 19 year old has a career .318/.400/.484 triple slash, 35 steals, 41 extra base hits, and a 50 BB/69 K ratio in just 448 career PA (mostly in the DSL and GCL). His performance has been eerily similar to that of Victor Robles, and while he’s still very far away from being seen in DC, I find his combination of skills and production strong enough to push him above some of my previous top-20 mainstays in these rankings.
15. OF Blake Perkins (2015 mid-season rank: 24) – Perkins is essentially the Nats’ second chance at developing Brian Goodwin. He’s a good defender in the outfield, has solid speed, and decent raw power, but making solid contact can be an issue for him. Fortunately for the Nats, the switch hitter just turned 19 in September, and has plenty of time to work on his swing in hopes of developing his game into a Dexter Fowler-type of hitter.
16. RHP Abel De Los Santos (2015 mid-season rank: 14) – 2015 was a prove-it year for De Los Santos, and he held his own, putting up an 8.58 K/9 and 1.87 BB/9, the latter being his best mark since 2011. He has an above average fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a solid but inconsistent slider. De Los Santos has been known in the minors to leave the ball up too much, and as predictably gave up 9 HR in 66 innings split between AA, the AFL, and MLB. I wouldn’t say he did much to improve his prospect status in 2015, but he didn’t hurt it; if he can command his pitches a tad better, he can turn into a good bullpen arm.
17. RHP Koda Glover (2015 mid-season rank: NR) – I see a lot of Tyler Clippard in Koda Glover. The big righty out of Oklahoma State lives in the upper half of the zone, but has the mid-90s velocity to blow it by batters. Glover’s 19.0 K/BB ratio (not a typo) is outright sexy, with 38 K and just 2 walks in 30 innings pitched. If he keeps pitching like this, he’ll move up the ladder quickly.
18. RHP Jefry Rodriguez (2015 mid-season rank: 19) – 2015 was not a year to remember for the 6’5” flamethrower, as he allowed 76 runs in 111 and 1/3 innings, putting up a 1.572 WHIP thanks to 58 walks and 117 hits allowed. Despite all of that, he’s still just 22 years old, has a sturdy frame, and has shown the ability to dominate batters in small sample sizes in the past. If everything clicks (mechanics and health, mainly), he’s got enough talent to move into the top 5 at this point next year. But as with all prospects (especially pitching prospects), that’s a pie-in-the-sky chance, not a likely scenario.
19. OF Juan Soto (2015 mid-season rank: 26) – The Nats do not have a track record of doing well with their high-dollar IFA signings, but they are hoping to buck the trend with Soto, who signed for $1.5 million on July 2, 2015. The 6’3”, 180 lb. lefty corner outfielder has a nice, natural swing that projects to hit for both average and power. I’m more confident in Soto than most other IFA bats because his swing does not need to be overhauled; a few small tweaks and he’ll be good to go. I highly recommend checking out this NatsGM article where Ryan Sullivan talks to Baseball Prospectus “Hitting Guru” Ryan Parker about Soto.
20. C Jakson Reetz (2015 mid-season rank: 13) – Let’s not sugarcoat it: Reetz’ 2015 season was awful. He followed up his decent 2014 debut (.274/.429/.368) with a turrible .212/.326/.248 triple slash in 132 PA. Because he was a 19 year old playing in short-season A ball while working hard to improve his receiving skills, I’m willing to give him a pass for now, but would really like to see at least a .260/.340/.400ish triple slash this season as he repeats short-season A.
21. SS Osvaldo Abreu (2015 mid-season rank: HM) – Abreu made a statement in 2015 with a .274/.357/.412 triple slash, 45 extra base hits and 30 SB in his first full season stateside. I honestly am pumped about this guy, because he improved upon pretty much every aspect of his batting profile in a full season at a more difficult level. You go, Osvaldo Coco.
22. 1B/3B Drew Ward (2015 mid-season rank: 17) – Every time I make a prospect list, I lose a little more faith in Ward. After a decent debut in 2013 and solid first full season in 2014, Ward regressed to a .246/.327/.359 triple slash in 2015, and nothing suggests his drop in average or power is really an outlier. He’s still got the frame to bring the boom stick if things start clicking, but I’m losing confidence that things will start clicking.
23. RHP Austen Williams (2015 mid-season rank: 28) – Williams put up a nice year statistically in 2015, with a shiny 2.58 ERA and a solid 3.21 K/BB ratio in 139 and 2/3 innings mostly between Hagerstown and Potomac (with one bad outing in Syracuse mixed in). I am not really not sure about Williams’ long-term role, whether it be in the rotation as an innings eating #4 or 5, in the bullpen as a long reliever, or perhaps as a Craig Stammen-type.
24. OF Rhett Wiseman (2015 mid-season rank: 21) – When the Nats take guys like Wiseman in the first 3 rounds, I am usually bummed out. Sure, he was an established college player with a relatively high floor, but there’s not a ton of upside to talk about. Wiseman had a mildly intriguing 5 HR and 6 SB in his 54 game professional debut, but will need to take a leap forward in getting the bat on the ball (22.5% K%) if he wants to improve his game.
25. OF Brian Goodwin (2015 mid-season rank: 18) – Once an exciting prospect, injuries and strikeouts have curbed Goodwin’s rise towards the big leagues. He’s still fast and solid defensively in CF, but his bats seemingly have holes in them, with a .223/.306/.336 triple slash over the last two seasons in AA and AAA. The now-25 year old got a little bit of wind back in his sails with an impressive .316/.401/.459 with 5 steals and 3 HR in 35 Venezuelan Winter League games this year, and survived the winter still on the 40-man roster, so maybe this will be the year he finally breaks out. Maybe this will be the year I’ll hit the lottery, too.
26. LHP Nick Lee (2015 mid-season rank: HM) – I’m sure if you told Nick Lee this time last year that he’d be on the Nats’ 40-man roster and in big league Spring Training, he would have called you crazy, as he allowed 31 runs in 30 and 2/3 innings pitched in 2014. The Nats protected him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft after a rebound season, as he’s always had a solid arsenal of pitches (mid-90s fastball, a good change, and a decent curve). Lee has struggled with both command and control throughout his career, with 34 career wild pitches and 19 HBP in 261 innings and a 4.9 career BB/9, but that shiny 9.6 career K/9 is too pretty to give up on. Lee is the anti-Grace, and I’m excited to see if Mike Maddux can fix him up during Spring Training.
27. LHP Taylor Hearn (2015 mid-season rank: NR) – The fourth time was a charm for teams trying to draft Hearn, as he was taken in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 drafts by Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Minnesota, respectively. The lanky lefty (6’6”, 215 lbs.) hits the mid-90s with his heater and could add more velocity if he eats more steaks. I was expecting Hearn to struggle in his pro debut because he was used to overpowering his competition, but he held his own, and even posted up better BB rates than I expected. He’ll be a fun sleeper to keep an eye on.
28. RHP Andrew Lee (2015 mid-season rank: NR) – Koda Glover’s debut was excellent, but Andrew Lee’s deserves some notice as well; after being selected in the 11th round out of the University of Tennessee, Lee logged 38 and 2/3 innings where he allowed just 23 hits, 8 runs (7 earned), and 10 walks while striking out an impressive 47 batters. For you history majors out there like myself, that’s a 1.63 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 5.4 H/9 and 4.7 K/BB ratio. While Lee doesn’t blow batters away with his low-90s fastball, he has a nice mix of secondary stuff that keeps batters off balance (and at 6’5” 225, there’s room to add some velocity).
29. 2B Max Schrock (2015 mid-season rank: NR) – Before you look at the 5’8” 180 lbs. (if he’s carrying a bowling ball) second baseman and think Steve Lombardozzi, pump your brakes. While he checks all of the boxes in the GRIT and GAMER categories, Schrock also adds value with intelligent base-running, agility on defense, and a little bit of pop (16 extra base hits in 46 games in Auburn. The lefty-hitting infielder makes excellent line drive contact and has an excellent feel for the strike zone. If the future NL MVP were 2 inches taller, he would have gone at least 10 rounds earlier in the draft last year.
30. C Spencer Kieboom (2015 mid-season rank: NR) – Cool name? Check. Catchers gear? Check. 40-man spot? Check. Those are the three factors that merit Kieboom’s inclusion on prospect lists this year. I’m hesitant to put much backing behind a guy who has only played in 203 minor league games in four seasons (none above A+), so he’s lower on my personal list than on the lists of many others. That being said, he’s a good defensive catcher, supposedly a good locker room leader, and has a pretty good grasp of the bat (career .279/.352/.410 triple slash, 36 BB/30 K ratio in 2015). All-in-all, he’s a longshot to be anything more than a career backup at the MLB level, which is still a good outcome for a 5th round draft pick.
Next week, I will publish my top 100(ish) list, with blurbs on select sleepers that I dig.