2014 Top 10 Prospects: Washington Nationals

The Nationals don’t have an overly deep system but a willingness to gamble on draft picks like Lucas Giolito could pay off in the long run. Shrew trades have also brought Top 10 talent into the organization from other teams such as Tampa Bay and Arizona. Slowly but surely, this system is turning itself around.

 

#1 Lucas Giolito | 65/SS (P)


Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
18 11 11 36.2 28 1 9.57 3.44 1.96 2.74

The Year in Review: The 16th overall selection from the 2012 draft, Giolito may have gone much higher if he had been healthy. Unfortunately, he injured his elbow prior to the draft and later underwent Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound in late 2013 and dominated despited the layoff. At two short-season levels, Giolito struck out 39 batters with a strong ground-ball rate in 36.2 innings. He allowed just 28 hits.

The Scouting Report: The California native has an impressive repertoire that includes a mid-to-high-90s fastball that can touch triple digits, as well as a potentially-plus curveball. His changeup show flashes of potential but has yet to become a consistent offering. Giolito has a strong frame so he should bounce back well from Tommy John surgery and be able to handle a large pitching load. He has a strong understanding of fundamentals and both his command and control should be better than average.

The Year Ahead: Giolito will likely move up to Low-A ball to play a full season but his pitch counts and inning totals will be monitored closely. It’s conceivable that he could see High-A ball in the second half.

The Career Outlook: In a year’s time, Gioltio could be one of the Top 3 arms in all of minor league baseball. He’s that good. The Nationals prospect has the ceiling of a No. 1 or 2 starter.

 

#2 A.J. Cole | 60/AA (P)


Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
21 25 25 142.2 127 15 9.53 2.08 3.60 3.23

The Year in Review: Signed out of high school in 2010 for $2 million, Cole was traded to Oakland in late 2011. He spent one disappointing season with the A’s and was then flipped back to the Nationals. Cole’s 2013 was quite successful. The right-hander solved High-A ball in his second attempt and then pitched well in seven games at the Double-A level. In total, he struck out 151 batters in 142.0 innings.

The Scouting Report: Cole has solid heat in the 93-96 mph range and the pitch has good movement. His secondary stuff, though, still needs a lot of work. His changeup is inconsistent but is usually average. The slurvy breaking ball needs the most attention and its development will ultimately determine if he can stick in the starting rotation. Both his command and control have an opportunity to be above-average.

The Year Ahead: Cole should return briefly to Double-A at the beginning of 2014 to work on his secondary offerings. Once he gets more consistent with those he should receive a shot at Triple-A.

The Career Outlook: Cole has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter if he irons out his wrinkles. If not, though, he could potentially develop into a solid set-up man.

 

#3 Brian Goodwin | 55/AA (OF)


Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
22 621 139 23 12 70 143 22 .258 .352 .413 .352

The Year in Review: Goodwin reached Double-A in his first pro season in 2012 but returned to the level in 2013 and spent the entire season there. He produced a respectable — but hardly eye-popping — line. The speedster stole just 19 bases and was caught 11 times. After the season ended, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .296 with a .778 OPS in 19 games.

The Scouting Report: The North Carolina native strikes out too much for a player with average to slightly-above-average power potential. On the plus side, he’ll take some walks, which helps his on-base percentage. He also doesn’t utilize his speed effectively on the base paths and needs to become a smarter runner. Defensively, he shows the potential to play center field but he needs to improve his reads and routes to become an above-average fielder.

The Year Ahead: Goodwin will move up to Triple-A in 2014 but needs to continue to get better in all facets of his game. The prospect’s play in the coming year could help the organization determine if it’s going to pick up incumbent center-fielder Denard Span’s $9 million bonus for 2015.

The Career Outlook: Goodwin needs to continue developing if he’s going to become an above-average regular. Worst case scenario for the prospect’s future is probably a platoon outfield role due to his struggles against southpaws.

 

#4 Sammy Solis | 55/A+ (P)


Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
24 21 20 88.2 91 4 7.31 2.64 2.94 3.08

The Year in Review: Like far too many pitchers in the Nationals organization, Solis lost a year of development to Tommy John surgery. Since turning pro after being a second round pick in 2010, the southpaw has yet to pitch a full season and missed all of 2012. He came back looking good in 2013 and posted a 3.43 ERA in 13 appearances in High-A ball. He then made another seven starts in the Arizona Fall League.

The Scouting Report: Solis returned from surgery with his good control but his command was inconsistent. He needs to keep his 89-94 mph fastball down in the zone by utilizing his height to create a solid downward plane. His changeup has a chance to be a plus offering for him and the curveball may eventually develop into an average pitch.

The Year Ahead: The 2014 season will hopefully represent Solis’ first full year in pro ball and he’ll likely start out in Double-A. He could see Triple-A in the second half and, possibly, even the Majors in September.

The Career Outlook: Solis projects to develop into an innings-eating, No. 4 starter.

 

#5 Felipe Rivero | 55/A+ (P)


Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
21 25 23 127.0 122 7 6.45 3.69 3.40 3.88

The Year in Review: Rivero broke the 100-inning mark for the second straight season in 2013 while pitching in High-A ball. He struggled (uncharacteristically) with his control by walking 52 batters and he struck out just 91 batters in 127.0 innings. He was traded by the Rays to the Nationals shortly before spring training along with backup catcher Jose Lobaton and fellow Top 10 prospect Drew Vettleson.

The Scouting Report: Rivero is a talented southpaw but he needs to improve his command — especially with the fastball. Getting ahead in the count more often will certainly help him cut down on the base runners and improve his strikeout rate. His fastball works in the low 90s and he shows potential with his curveball. The changeup is also making strides and could be an average offering when all is said and done.

The Year Ahead: The Venezuela native should open the year in Double-A and will need to polish his command if he’s going to succeed against the more advanced hitters in the league. The trade to Washington eases his path to the Majors with fewer quality arms ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Career Outlook: As mentioned, Rivero needs polish and improved command but he has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter if he realizes his full potential.

 

#6 Steve Souza | 55/AA (3B/OF)


Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
24 385 99 26 16 49 91 32 .305 .400 .538 .419

The Year in Review: Souza appeared to be on the way to a very impressive 2013 campaign but injuries limited him to just 81 games. At the Double-A level, he hit .300 with 40 of his 84 hits going for extra bases. He also stole 20 bases in 26 attempts. Healthy in the fall, he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .357 with another 10 steals in 11 games.

The Scouting Report: Souza is one the more toolsy players that you’ve never heard of. Health issues, maturity concerns and even a performance-enhancing suspension have all marred his career to date. He became more dedicated to the game in 2012 and the change in his performance has been startling. Souza has 20+ home run potential thanks in part to outstanding bat speed. His eye at the plate is much improved but he still struggles against the soft stuff. He has above-average speed, which could help him become an above-average fielder when paired with his plus arm strength.

The Year Ahead: Souza should be ready for the challenge of Triple-A and, if he can stay healthy, he’ll likely see Washington at some point in the summer.

The Career Outlook: Souza turns 25 in late April but the former prep draft pick (way back in 2007) appears almost ready for The Show and he has 20-20 (home runs-steals) potential if he can break into a full-time starter’s gig.

 

#7 Zach Walters | 50/MLB (3B/SS)


Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
23 9 11.1 % 0.0 % .375 .444 .625 .454 195 1.0 0.2 0.2

The Year in Review: I ranked Walters as the 10th best prospect in the system entering 2013 and he made good on that… and more by finally tapping into the raw power that was alluded to in his previous writeup. He slugged 29 home runs with another 37 extra base hits in 134 Triple-A games and earned an eight-game MLB trial. He spent part of his off-season playing in the Venezuelan Winter League.

The Scouting Report: Walters’ power potential has exploded over the past two seasons, and it’s even more valuable because he swings from both sides of the plate. With that said, he has more thunder from the left side of the plate. The biggest downside to Walter’s game is his overly-aggressive approach, which leads to high strikeout rates and very few walks. Originally a shortstop, the prospect’s future is probably at the hot corner where his strong arm would be an asset.

The Year Ahead: There aren’t many openings on the Nationals roster so Walters could spend much of the 2014 season back in Triple-A. However, if Danny Espinosa is traded, he could find himself with a bench role.

The Career Outlook: Walters, 24, reminds me a little bit of former Nationals outfielder Michael Morse and projects to have a similar ceiling.

 

#8 Drew Vettleson | 55/A+ (OF)


Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
21 516 128 29 4 40 78 5 .274 .331 .388 .331

The Year in Review: One of my favorite sleeper prospects in the Rays system, Vettleson was acquired by the Nationals in February. His 2013 season was solid but unspectacular as the Florida State League’s large parks sapped much of his pop and he managed just 39 extra base hits in 121 games. On the plus side, he struck out just 78 times.

The Scouting Report: Vettleson has a well-balanced approach with a good eye as a left-handed hitter but he needs to drive the ball with authority on a more consistent basis if he’s going to be an everyday corner outfielder. The Idaho native has the potential for more pop thanks to good bat speed; he just needs to make some mechanical adjustments. He also needs to improve significantly against southpaws after posting an OPS .200 points lower against them than right-handers. Defensively, he shows solid range and a strong arm that should allow him to handle right field.

The Year Ahead: Vettleson will enter his first spring training in the Nationals organization looking to earn a spot on the Double-A roster. He has a couple of solid outfield prospects ahead of him on the depth charts but he’s still just 22 years old.

The Career Outlook: The young outfielder projects to develop into an average big league corner outfielder or, in terms of floor, a very good bat off the bench.

 

#9 Michael Taylor | 50/A+ (OF)


Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
22 581 134 41 10 55 131 51 .263 .340 .426 .351

The Year in Review: Taylor (not to be confused with the A’s outfield prospect of the same name) has been sniffing around the Nationals’ top prospects lists for a few years now but he has yet to have the breakout that everyone keeps expecting. With that said, he posted some very impressive numbers during his second stint in High-A ball. He slugged 41 doubles and also nabbed 51 bases in 58 tries. Unfortunately, he struck out 131 times in 133 games.

The Scouting Report: Taylor’s greatest strengths aren’t even at the plate. He’s a plus defender in right field with outstanding range and instincts. He also possesses a plus arm. His above-average speed is starting to manifest itself on the base paths and he could steal 30 bases in a big league season if he can get on base enough. At the plate, Taylor has an inconsistent swing and an aggressive approach. That leads to poor contact rates and a pile of strikeouts. He may need to overhaul his approach and swing, and try to hit for less power while focusing on using more of the field.

The Year Ahead: After striking out more than 22% in each of the past three seasons, Double-A will be a stiff test for Taylor. The 2014 season could very well be his sink or swim year.

The Career Outlook: If he makes some adjustments at the plate, Taylor could be an above-average regular. If not, his defense and base running could still allow him to stick around the Majors as a fourth or fifth outfielder.

 

#10 Matt Skole | 50/AA (3B)


Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA
23 71 10 2 3 17 20 0 .185 .380 .426 .380

The Year in Review: Skole appeared poised for a big 2013 season but his campaign ended after just two games when he suffered a serious elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm. He returned in time for the Arizona Fall League but was out-of-synch and hit just .184 with 18 strikeouts in 15 games.

The Scouting Report: The Georgia Tech alum has plus power from the left side of the plate and could eventually slug 20+ home runs in the Majors. He also has a good eye and produces strong on-base percentage thanks to high walk totals. His pull-heavy approach leads to high strikeout rates and he may not hit more than .250-.260 in the Majors. Defensively, Skole can handle third base but his range is fringe-average. He picked up first base quite quickly and looks like he could develop into an above-average fielder at that position.

The Year Ahead: Now 24, the lost development time definitely hurt Skole but a hot start to the 2014 season could allow him to split the year between Double-A and Triple-A with an eye on the Majors for the following campaign.

The Career Outlook: If he can make a little more contact, Skole could emerge as an average big league first baseman.

The Next Five:

11. Drew Ward, 3B: A man-child at 6-4, 210 lbs, the 19-year-old Ward had a much better pro debut than expected. Considered a bit of a wild card coming into the 2013 draft, he signed as a third rounder and then hit .292 with 25 walks in 49 Rookie ball games. However, his best tool — his raw left-handed power — failed to show up in his debut and he went deep just once. A shortstop in high school, Ward moved over to third base and was better than expected although his lack of premium range could become an issue.

12. Jake Johansen, RHP: A starter in college, Johansen may be better suited to the bullpen. He has a power fastball that works in the mid 90s but can touch the upper 90s. All of his secondary offerings — curveball, slider, changeup — are fringe-average or worse right now so he might be better off dropping a pitch or two. He needs to improve both his command and his control.

13. Pedro Severino, C: One glance at his three-year offensive stats line and you might wonder how Severino made the list. He’s an outstanding defensive catcher who will likely make the Majors on the strength of his glove alone. He’s an excellent receiver, handles pitchers well and has a strong arm. The development of his bat will dictate whether he’s a starter (although all he needs is fringe-average offense for a catcher) or a 50-game-a-year back-up.

14. Tony Renda, 2B: Renda produced some impressive numbers in 2013 but he was also a 22-year-old college product that spent the entire year (curiously) in Low-A ball. He has some gap pop and a good eye at the plate. He stole 30 bases in 2013 but is more of a smart base runner than a true speedster. He plays a competent second base and could develop into a solid backup infielder.

15. Matt Purke, LHP: A former highly-regarded amateur, injuries have significantly diminished Purke’s ceiling and he currently projects as more of a No. 4 starter, or possibly a seventh-inning reliever, in the Majors. His fastball velocity is down in the 88-91 mph range, which is respectable for a southpaw but he’s going to have to re-work his approach from his college days and focus down in the zone more in an effort to induce more ground-ball outs. His slider has a chance to be average or better, while the changeup is still a work in progress.



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


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Eminor3rd
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Eminor3rd
2 years 3 months ago

Haha, shrew trades

swieker
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Member
swieker
2 years 3 months ago

The trading of the shrew

bada bing
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bada bing
2 years 3 months ago

Where would Robbie Ray have ranked on this list?

RPMcSweeney
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RPMcSweeney
2 years 3 months ago

How much you want for that shrew?

Vlad the Impaler
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Vlad the Impaler
2 years 3 months ago

With the pending salary crunch in 1-2 years, the Nats really need one or two of these guys (especially Goodwin, so Span can be declined, as Marc said) to produce for $500,000.

Souza at 3B would be a nice get so that Zimmerman could move to 1B after Laroche’s dead weight contract is up this year.

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)
2 years 3 months ago

Whether Span’s option is picked up will pretty much solely depend on whether he’s worth $9m or not [which he almost certainly will be, barring injury]. If he’s blocking Goodwin then he can be traded.

Shauncore
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Shauncore
2 years 3 months ago

Really think the number grades need a tweak overall. For instance the difference between a potential Top 3 pitching prospect and a guy who’s upside is a 3 or possibly a setup guy is a 65 vs a 60.

Frankensense
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Frankensense
2 years 3 months ago

The Nationals need to trade (Denard) Spain for (Luke) French. Done.

JCCfromDC
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JCCfromDC
2 years 3 months ago

It’s always interesting to read an assessment of prospects in a system. My one quibble is the throwaway line “Slowly but surely, this system is turning itself around.” I would argue that the system has been in steadily improving shape ever since Mike Rizzo took over. A little over two years ago, prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade, the Nationals’ farm was rated as one of the top systems in MLB. Baseball America had the system rated #1. Just a few years earlier (2007) the system was rated dead last. Between Omar Minaya, Jim Bowden and the Smiley Gonzalez debacle it was a deserved ranking. The turnaround happened five years ago when Bowden was forced out and Rizzo took over.

Since then the ranking from year to year has fluctuated as talent left the system either through trades or graduation to the majors. But rankings are just snapshots – the system hasn’t needed to be turned around, it’s been going in the right direction for years.

FWIW, I probably would have included Felipe Rivero, Jeff Kobernus and Jefry Rodriguez in the “Next 5” list, certainly ahead of Renda and Purke.

frivoflava29
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frivoflava29
2 years 3 months ago

Rivero is ranked #5

Shauncore
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Shauncore
2 years 3 months ago

It must be mentioned that a large piece (if not 75% of it) of the Nats ranking was due to having back to back generational talents in Strasburg and Harper being draft eligible. That’s a pretty good leg to be propped up on and was brought on by being the worst team in baseball for two straight years.

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)
2 years 3 months ago

Matt Skole may have “hit just .184 with 18 strikeouts in 15 games”, but that was coupled with a mighty impressive .375 OBP (and naturally, a ridiculously unlucky .214 BABIP). If the Nats trade Tyler Moore away [as rumoured, to the Astros] then he might make MLB fairly soon.

Bill Brasky
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Bill Brasky
2 years 3 months ago

Am I missing something? Is there a reason (beyond their farm system being terrible) the Milwaukee Brewers do not have a Top 10 Prospects piece?

Mark W
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Mark W
2 years 3 months ago

Bill – I’m in the same boat. I cannot find the Brewers top Prospects for 2014 either. Does Marc Hulett of Fangraphs have a twitter address?

CK
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CK
2 years 3 months ago

Drew Vettleson grew up 6 houses down from me in Washington state. I played fall ball with him as kids, his dad was our coach.

Idaho native is incorrect. His parents still live down the street from mine to this very day.

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