Baseball fans love prospects. They represent a clean slate and give us hope for the future of the franchise. Most of all, it's fun to watch these youngsters play the game they love.
The Washington Nationals have some promising prospects. Currently, the organization is ranked 13th according to Baseball America's 2013 Organizational Talent Rankings.
But which of these prospects can be considered cornerstones of the Nationals' future?
To answer that question, here is a list of five prospects the Washington Nationals can build around.
Note: Prospect list courtesy of MLB.com's 2013 Prospect Watch.
Note: All statistics courtesy of MiLB.com unless noted otherwise.
Robert Benincasa pitching for Florida State at the 2012 College World Series.
Over the past few years, the Washington Nationals have built around a dominant late-inning reliever in the case of both Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard. The organization can do it again with Robert Benincasa.
The 23-year-old closer was drafted out of Florida State in the seventh round of the 2012 MLB Draft, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
This season, Benincasa had an 0-5 record with 27 saves and a 3.00 ERA in 45 relief appearances split between Single-A Hagerstown and Single-A Advanced Potomac. Benincasa walked 14 and struck out 64 in 51.0 innings while surrendering four home runs and a .231 batting average. The Tampa native led the Nationals organization in saves according to their affiliate statistics.
Benincasa's performance so far has proven that he is another dominant reliever the Nats can build around.
Billy Burns representing the Potomac Nationals at the 2013 Single-A Advanced All-Star Game.
The 24-year-old Burns stole 74 of 81 bases at both Single-A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2013 for a gaudy stolen base percentage of 91.4 percent. In case you were wondering, Hamilton stole 75 of 90 bases at Triple-A Louisville, for a stolen base percentage of 83.3 percent.
Burns also had a .315 batting average and a .425 on-base percentage in 444 at-bats over 121 games, with 12 doubles, nine home runs, 37 RBI and 96 runs scored.
As a result, Burns was named the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year, according to a team press release.
Speed kills, and the Nationals can use Burns to turn an already dangerous running game into a deadly weapon.
Brian Goodwin is listed as the Nationals' number one prospect by MLB.com, and is considered the best athlete in the Nationals' farm system by Baseball America. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com believes that "there’s no question Goodwin posseses [sic] all five tools on the baseball field. All he needs to do is learn how to use them consistently,"
Goodwin may be learning, slowly but surely. In 122 games at Double-A Harrisburg this season, Goodwin batted .252 in 457 at-bats, with 19 doubles, 11 triples and 10 home runs while driving in 40 runs and scoring 82. He walked 66 times and struck out 121 for a .355 on-base percentage, and stole 19 of 30 bases.
This is excellent progress for Goodwin, who struggled at Double-A in 2012. Plus, Jonathan Mayo noted that Denard "Span's arrival allows Washington the luxury of letting Goodwin develop at his own pace."
It's said that a baseball franchise should be strong up the middle. A building block of Goodwin's caliber can help the Nationals do just that.
A.J. Cole at the 2013 All-Star Futures Game.
There is a reason GM Mike Rizzo reacquired AJ Cole from the Oakland Athletics as part of the three-team deal that sent Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners. Rizzo knows that Cole is the type of starter you can build a rotation around.
The 6'4", 180-pound right-hander was originally drafted out of Oviedo High School in Florida by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Cole was then traded to the Athletics on Dec. 23, 2011 with three other prized prospects for another front-line starter in Gio Gonzalez, according to ESPN.com.
Now that Cole is back in the fold, he should not be leaving anytime soon. He is a top-of-the-rotation starter that can dominate the competition. Cole began to show that in 2013 while pitching at Single-A Advanced and Double-A, finishing with a 10-5 record and a 3.60 ERA in 25 starts to go with 33 walks and 151 strikeouts in 142.2 innings pitched. Opponents hit .236 with 15 home runs against him.
According to the Nationals affiliate statistics, Cole ranked fourth in wins, third in strikeouts and fifth in WHIP among all of Washington's minor league pitchers in 2013.
If the 21-year-old Cole continues to build on his own success, the Nationals will soon be building off it as well.
Lucas Giolito being introduced by the Washington Nationals on July 17, 2012.
In the 2009 MLB Draft, the Nationals began rebuilding their organization with an ace for the front of their rotation when they selected Stephen Strasburg as the first overall pick, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Although they were no longer rebuilding three years later, the Nationals repeated this winning formula during the 2012 MLB Draft when they selected Lucas Giolito straight out of Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles.
The Nationals may have found a near-replica of Strasburg in Giolito who has a few notable qualities in common with the Nationals' ace. And that does not include the two right handers' comparable physical size and shared California roots.
Among all Nationals' prospects, Giolito was rated by Baseball America as having the best fastball and the best curveball in the organization. Strasburg himself earned identical superlatives from the same prospects' website back in 2010.
Another thing Giolito now has in common with Strasburg is that he has torn the Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) in his throwing arm, therefore requiring Tommy John surgery. Giolito's development has been slowed as a result, but not stopped.
This year, Giolito pitched to a 2-1 record and a 1.96 ERA in 36.2 innings over 11 starts split between the Rookie League and Single-A Short Season. Giolito walked 14 and struck out 39 as he gave up only one home run and compiled a .217 batting average against.
Right now, this 19-year-old building block is incomplete. But once Giolito is ready for MLB service, the Nationals will have built themselves a completely dominant rotation, able to systematically deconstruct any lineup.