Breaking Down Washington Nationals' Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

Will GroomsCorrespondent IApril 2, 2014

Breaking Down Washington Nationals' Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

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    Alex Brandon

    The Washington Nationals may have established their 2014 25-man opening day roster, but haven't forgotten about the untapped potential that lies dormant in their farm system.

    Whether recipients of spring training invitations or not, the future is bright for a number of young rising stars.

    The list to follow will break down the 10 best prospects that wait in the wings in Washington's minor league system.

No. 10 Danny Rosenbaum

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    Alex Brandon

    Danny Rosenbaum, after failing to make the Nationals, will likely be relegated to Triple-A Syracuse, the same squad he struck out 102 batters for over the course of 158 innings.

    The southpaw gains value as a quick-delivery pitcher who's a ground-ball specialist. It'll be difficult for Rosenbaum to work his way up on a very competitive pitching club, but as long as he continues to gain experience in Syracuse, he'll always have a chance.

No. 9 Steven Souza

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    Carlos Osorio

    Due to vast depth in the outfield, Steven Souza will once again spend the beginning of the season in the minors, however this time it will be with Triple-A Syracuse.

    Souza's promotion to Syracuse exceeds the highest level of baseball the 24-year-old outfielder has experienced entering his eighth year in the organization. 

    Still young, throughout his long tenure, Souza has improved his batting numbers at the plate. The former third-round pick finished 2013 with a minor league career-high .297 batting average.

No. 8 Jake Johansen

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    Jake Johansen is a work in progress that still may be a year or two away from being considered for a big-league roster spot. The 23-year-old right-hander tossed 51.2 innings at the Single-A level in 2013, allowing just 35 hits and striking out 51 batters.

    Johansen is a prospect that could go either way, be it a long-inning reliever or a low-rotation starter. The Texas native has a four-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider—per ScoutingBook.com.

No. 7 Michael Taylor

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    Michael Taylor had a rough go at the plate during his brief spring training stint. The 23-year-old outfielder, primarily known for his defensive prowess, batted just .188, recording three hits in 16 at-bats.

    It's not all bad, as Taylor will be relegated to Double-A Harrisburg, an upgrade from Single-A Potomac, his previous stomping grounds for the past two seasons.

    Taylor batted .263 in 577 plate appearances for Potomac last year. As long as he continues to stay healthy and get lots of at-bats, he'll likely become a viable option in the future.

No. 6 Sammy Solis

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    Alex Brandon

    Despite early injuries resulting in a demotion to Double-A Harrisburg, per Mid-Atlantic Sports Network's Dan Kolko, Sammy Solis is still an interesting prospect for the Nationals as he enters year four in their farm system.

    Solis went 2-1 in 11 starts for Single-A Potomac in 2013 and posted a 3.25 ERA. The University of California San Diego product has a powerful fastball that he supports behind a 6'5", 250-pound frame.

No. 5 Brian Goodwin

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    Alex Brandon

    Brian Goodwin's untimely demotion to the minor league Camp just two weeks before the season began was a result of many factors.

    The addition of Nate McLouth added depth to a starting outfield that already includes Denard Span, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth—the latter two being All-Stars.

    Goodwin produced respectably for the majority of spring training, despite finishing with just a .200 average. The former 17th-round pick is a risk-reward player, capable of both batting brilliance and poor decision making—exemplified by three extra-base hits and eight strikeouts. 

    Goodwin still figures to be a player manager Matt Williams will have his eye on in the coming years. 

No. 4 Matt Skole

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images
    Ranked as the Nationals' fourth-best prospect by Baseball America, Matt Skole was part of Washington's first round of cuts, despite an impressive showing in spring training's early going.

    Coming off of Tommy John surgery on his left elbow early in 2013, Williams deems it to be more practical to let Skole develop and get lots of plate appearances before pressing the gas on him—per MASN's Dan Kolko.

    I know Matty from the (Arizona) Fall League, and again, the ability to play both corners in the infield and certainly power (is impressive). With all that happened to him last year, I think he needs some consistent at-bats. So that's why we made the move today, get him some multiple at-bats in a game and let him get his timing back a bit. When you miss that amount of time, it's difficult, though. That's the reason. He's going to play third and first. He'll be on his way.

    The former Georgia Tech standout is versatile defensively, with the ability to play on either infield corner. Skole is presumed by some to become the full-time starter at third base once Ryan Zimmerman makes the move to first, even though more critics project him as a first baseman long term.

    Skole excelled at the plate this spring, driving in five runs on as many hits in 14 plate appearances while scorching three doubles and a home run.

No. 3 Zach Walters

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Zach Walters' demotion to Triple-A following the conclusion of 2014 spring training may have simply been, like Goodwin, a matter of poor timing. 

    Other than a stellar minor-league resume, the former ninth-round pick had only this year's spring training, albeit solid, and a brief September stint from last year to draw from.

    Walters supplemented his .375 batting average in nine 2013 plate appearances with 11 hits in 29 at-bats with five runs batted in this spring.

    The continued efficiency of Anthony Rendon, however, coupled with the resurgence of Danny Espinosa and Kevin Frandsen left Walters in no-man's-land, and the 24-year-old infielder was sent down. Regardless, expectations are still high for the youngster.

No. 2 A.J. Cole

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    Alex Brandon

    A.J. Cole was acquired by Washington via the 2010 MLB draft, but was discarded via trade to the Oakland Athletics, a deal that included the Nationals' 2011 addition of Gio Gonzalez.

    Returning to Washington just 13 months later, Cole appeared in the 2013 All-Star Futures Game where he faced and retired just two batters en route to the first save of his life.

    "It was kind of fun closing," Cole said after the game, according to Paul Hagen of MLB.com. "But I'd still rather start."

    Cole's in luck, as he figures to be a big-league starter for a long time. At 6'5", 200 pounds, the former fourth-round pick has drawn comparisons to Justin Verlander with a fastball that tops out at 95 miles per hour, a curveball and a changeup. 

    Cole struck out 151 batters in 25 starts for Single-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg in 2013.

     

No. 1 Lucas Giolito

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    Alex Brandon

    At just 19 years old, Lucas Giolito has already begun to establish himself as a big-league starter in the near future. The former first-round pick is progressing faster than many thought he would following Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in August 2012.

    Less than a year later, Giolito was on the hill for the Gulf Coast League Nationals—Washington's rookie-level minor-league affiliate. In just 22.2 innings of work, the Harvard-Westlake High School product struck out 25 batters and posted an ERA of 2.78 before being promoted to Auburn, the Nationals' Class-A affiliate.

    Giolito continued to rise to the occasion, fanning 14 batters in 14.0 innings of work and earning a win.

    With a fastball that tops out near 100 miles per hour, a devastating curveball and a newly developed changeup, Giolito potentially has the repertoire to, one day, become an All-Star.

     

    All stats acquired via Baseball-reference.com