Nationals: Washington's Best Prospect at Every Position
It is time, once again, to take a look at the Washington Nationals' top prospects.
But this time, we will look at the Nationals' top prospect at every position.
There will be names you recognize, like Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin (pictured, l-r).
But there will be many names you don't recognize. And that's the main purpose of this exercise: to make you familiar with the breadth of the Washington Nationals farm system.
Here is the list of the Washington Nationals best prospects at every position. The list will follow the order according to the number assigned to each defensive position.
1. Lucas Giolito, P
The upper echelon of Nationals pitching prospects has changed a lot recently. Top prospect Alex Meyer was traded early in the offseason to acquire Denard Span. And then fellow top prospect AJ Cole returned to the Nationals in the Michael Morse. But despite all that movement, Lucas Giolito is the Washington Nationals best pitching prospect.
Baseball America ranks Lucas Giolito second among the Washington Nationals' top 10 prospects. And regarding the "best tools" in the organization, Baseball America says Giolito has the best fastball and best curveball in the Nationals system.
But any excitement towards Lucas Giolito must be tempered by injury concerns. The California native was drafted straight out of high school in the 2012 MLB Draft with the 16th overall pick. Giolito fell to that pick because of worries about a strain Ulnar Collateral Ligament. The Nationals took a chance on him, but Giolito eventually tore that very same UCL in his first professional start, prompting the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Nationals director of player development Doug Harris told James Wagner, of The Washington Post, that the highly-regarded Lucas Giolito is still a work in progress:
He’s a big physical kid and he’s still growing into his body. It’s just getting him on the mound and getting repetitions and allowing him to mature. He’s doing well. He’s on track. He’s continuing the rehab process. When we get to spring training, we’ll ramp it up.
2. Sandy Leon, C
Sandy Leon played 12 games for the Washington Nationals last season.
Leon is considered the "best defensive catcher" in the Nationals system, according to Baseball America. And the Venezuelan backstop is ninth, according to FanGraphs.com's Washington Nationals top 15 prospects.
Here is more on Sandy Leon from Marc Hulet at FanGraphs.com on Sandy Leon:
...Leon’s greatest asset is still his defense. The catcher has above-average arm strength with good catch-and-throw mechanics. He’s also a very good receiver and calls a good game. Even after Jesus Flores was non-tendered, Leon still has big leaguers Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos ahead of him but he offers more upside than fellow catching prospect Jhonatan Solano, who is also on the 40-man roster. He should open 2013 in triple-A but could be the first catcher recalled when injuries strike.
Sandy Leon is expected to split time between Triple-AAA Syracuse and Washington once again in 2013, although most likely in an emergency backup role behind Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki.
3. Matt Skole, 1B
Chris Marrero is the best natural first baseman prospect in the Washington Nationals system. But Matt Skole is a better overall prospect.
Last season, the 23-year-old earned the Washington Nationals minor league player of the year award after hitting .291 with 27 home runs and 104 RBI with a .986 OPS in 119 games split between Class-A Hagerstown and Class-A Advanced Potomac. Skole's average actually increased by 28 points when he was promoted to Class-A Advanced for 18 games.
The left-handed swinging Skole is currently ranked fourth by FanGraphs.com among the Washington Nationals top 15 prospects.
But Skole is not a natural in the field. The 6'4", 230-pound Georgia native played third base at Georgia Tech and has struggled with his defense as a professional, as explained by Mike Newman of FanGraphs.com:
Skole’s defense at the hot corner is behind his offensive development and there is some concern that he won’t be able to stick at the position. The contact I spoke with said the Georgia native has made “incredible strides this year at third base” and has good hands and a strong arm but admitted Skole may never have great range. The prospect has gotten a lot of experience at first base lately, playing the position in both the fall instructional league and the Arizona Fall League in an effort to increase his versatility and possibly open up a direct route to the majors. “He has a chance to be a very good (fielding) first baseman,” the contact stated.
Matt Skole will probably move to first base for the good of the team, and the move will have the added benefit of making his path to the major leagues a little easier.
4. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
Jeff Kobernus played the 2012 season at Double-A. He is ranked sixth on FanGraphs.com's list of Washington Nationals top 15 prospects.
Marc Hulet of FanGraphs.com describes the 24-year-old as thus:
When I asked a contact about Kobernus, he described the prospect as a “table-setter” who sprays line drives with gap strength. He also provides steady defense at second base. Although he’s played the keystone almost exclusively in his career there has been some talk of expanding his defensive repertoire to include other positions – in an effort to perhaps prepare him for a future utility role – but a cracked rib derailed the experiment during the fall instructional league. Kobernus should open 2013 in triple-A with an eye on reaching the majors late in the season, although a trade of big league middle infielder Danny Espinosa could accelerate his timetable. With a little more patience at the plate, the prospect could turn into an average big league second baseman with a floor projection of back-up infielder.
In a system full of talented infielders, Jeff Kobernus has stayed under the radar. But he may find himself on the Nationals' radar in short order.
5. Anthony Rendon, 3B
Anthony Rendon is the crown jewel of the Washington Nationals system.
The 22-year-old third baseman from Rice is ranked 37th on the Minor League Rankings at Scout.com, 33rd among the Top 100 Prospects at MLB.com, 30th on the top 500 Baseball Prospects for 2013 at ScoutingBook.com and 18th on the 2013 top 100 at Prospect361.com.
As far as specific skills are concerned, Rendon is considered by Baseball America to be the best hitter for average, the most disciplined hitter and the best defensive infielder among all Nationals' prospects.
Perhaps the best analysis of Anthony Rendon and his talents as a baseball player is provided by Rich Wilson, of Prospect361.com:
Very few right-handed hitters have a beautiful swing, but Anthony Rendon is an exception. His setup is quiet; gently sliding his hands back into his load before exploding the bat through the zone. His swing is compact giving his bat maximum contact ability as it travels through the zone. It’s a plus hit-tool, with future plus power potential. However, it’s hard to perform when you’re constantly sitting on the DL.
Barring another injury, Anthony Rendon will likely make his major league debut during the 2013 season.
6. Zach Walters, SS
Zach Walters is the 10th best prospect in the Nationals system, according to Baseball America, which also rates Walters as having the best infield arm in the Natls system.
Like other infield prospects in the Nationals system, Zach Walters will find it crowded at the top. Unlike other infield prospects in the Natls system, Walters skills may slow his rise to the big leagues.
But as Jonathan Mayo, of MLB.com, explains, the switch-hitting Walters' versatility may be the key to his professional career:
The Nationals acquired Walters in return for Jason Marquis at the 2011 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They showed early that they weren’t afraid to challenge him, immediately moving him up to the Class A Advanced Carolina League, where he held his own. Washington continued to push him in 2012, promoting him first to Double-A Harrisburg in mid-June and again to Triple-A Syracuse in early August. He has solid tools, with the ability to hit for average and get on base with a little pop and some speed. He might be able to stay at shortstop, but he’s also played multiple positions as a pro and could contribute as a good-hitting utility man.
7. Destin Hood, LF
Destin Hood is ranked ninth among the Washington Nationals' Top 20 Prospects, according to MLB.com.
But the 23-year-old, who played Double-A ball in 2012, is only the fourth best outfield prospect in the Nationals' system, according to that same list.
However, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs.com explains that Destin Hood is a very talented prospect whose unique skill set should be a perfect match for left field:
The contact I spoke with said Hood has a simple, quiet approach. The organization made a tweak to his load (trigger) during the fall instructional league to try and gain more leverage in his swing. I’m told the prospect also creates some of the best back spin in the organization which, coupled with his raw strength, gives him some real power potential. Hood also has solid speed and has made strides on his base running but he hasn’t been inclined to steal many bases. It helps him in the field, though, where he shows good range in left field, which helps him make up for his lack of arm strength.
The talent evaluator I spoke with felt that Hood’s true breakout season could come in 2013. “He can do a lot… He just needs to put it all together.” He should return to double-A to open 2013 and could be ready for the majors at some point in 2014.
8. Brian Goodwin, CF
Brian Goodwin is the best athlete in the Washington Nationals system, according to Baseball America. The scouting publication also considers the center fielder as the third best prospect overall among the Washington Nationals' top 10 prospects.
FanGraphs.com was even more praiseworthy of Brian Goodwin, rating him first overall among the Washington Nationals' top 15 prospects.
And Ryan Kelley, of BaseballNewsHound.com, gives a glowing scouting report of the Nationals' prized prospect:
Brian Goodwin is a true five-tool athlete. He’s equipped with all of the ingredients for super-stardom– bat speed, a sweet swing, acrobatic body control and Ferrari running speed. But Goodwin truly separates himself from other flashy, toolsy prospects with his work-ethic and seemingly inherent feel for the game. He polishes his mechanics and fundamentals daily, and always strives to improve himself. He can run like a track star and make leaping catches like an NFL wide receiver, but most important, he can hit like a big leaguer.
Labels like tools prospect continues to follow him around, and yes, he has the tools to garner these labels. But, unlike other five-tool players, he isn’t a raw player development project. In fact, he’s anything but. He steps up to the plate and carries a well-coached approach in to the box. He takes a smooth, refined cut, and exercises veteran-grade pitch selectivity.
He’s surprisingly polished for a twenty-two-year old kid straight out of college. For those scouts who firmly believe you can’t teach plate discipline, check-out Brian Goodwin’s track record. He’s gone from a hacker, to one of the more smart, disciplined batters in the Nats’ organization. He simply does everything well. Only one season in to his professional career, he’s already playing ball like a future big league star, and aptitude like that is rare, even in league’s jam-packed with blue-chip talent.
This first round selection from the 2011 Draft will make an impact whenever he arrives in the major leagues. But with newfound organizational depth at his natural position, Brian Goodwin can take his time to develop.
9. Michael Taylor, RF
Michael Taylor is a natural center fielder who ranks as the sixth best prospect in the Washington Nationals system, according to MLB.com.
Jonathan Mayo, of MLB.com, explains that the talented 21-year-old is already drawing favorable comparisons to a current major leaguer:
Because of his tools and the fact he’s a former shortstop who has moved to center field, Taylor gets compared to the Orioles’ Adam Jones. The Nationals hoped he’d started turning those raw tools into performance after a very strong second half of 2011, and they moved him up to Class A Advanced Potomac for 2012.
Taylor has tremendous potential with the bat and has very good bat speed that generates above-average power. He’ll tap into that more when he improves his plate discipline. His above-average speed should allow him to steal some bases and he’s made a good transition to the outfield. Patience is the key and the payoff could be huge.
But center field is crowded in the Washington Nationals farm system. And, according to Baseball America, Michael Taylor is not only the best defensive outfielder in the Nationals' system, he also possesses the best outfield arm. These specific tools, especially the latter, would make him an excellent right fielder.