Highlighting Each MLB Team's Most Impressive Prospect so Far This Season

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

Highlighting Each MLB Team's Most Impressive Prospect so Far This Season

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    Gene J. Puskar

    There's an old saying in scouting circles that basically says scouting the stat line is a good way to get fired. It's true that putting all of your faith in the numbers for a player is not smart, though it's hardly a crime to judge a player by performance. 

    It also helps, in this case, when we are able to put the numbers in perspective by knowing and understanding the scouting reports. All of the players on this list aren't doing anything shocking, especially for prospect junkies, but it's important to talk about what it all means. 

    There might be a few players with better stats, though oftentimes they are going to be a 25-year-old in Double-A. That's not the kind of prospect—using that term loosely—worth talking about. 

    All of these players have the potential to be at least everyday players in the big leagues, some even boasting superstar upside. 

    Now that we have painted the picture, it's time to look at the top prospect in each system who has gotten off to the most promising start. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Player: Braden Shipley, RHP (Low-A South Bend)

    Stats: 2 GS, 1-1, 0.79 ERA, 11.1 IP, 7 H, BB, 10 K 

    Arizona got a steal when Braden Shipley fell to the No. 15 pick in last year's draft. He's not as refined as you want a college pitcher to be, a result of being a position player for a long time, but the fastball-curveball combination are lethal when the right-hander is on top of things. 

    The Diamondbacks are being conservative with Shipley, starting him in Low-A, which is a level he should dominate as a 22-year-old college pitcher with first-round stuff. He's got to refine the changeup, which can come out a little too firm, but he is a tremendous athlete who, if he repeats his mechanics well, can grow into a No. 2 starter.

Atlanta Braves

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    Player: Jose Peraza, SS (High-A Lynchburg)

    Stats: 22 G, .315/.340/.370, 3 2B, 3B, 6 RBI, 3 BB, 13 K, 11 SB

    If there's one thing the Atlanta Braves have been great at recently, it's finding international shortstops. Andrelton Simmons is a star at the big-league level, and Jose Peraza, while certainly not the defender Simmons is, has all the makings of a starting MLB shortstop. 

    Peraza's best tool, as you can probably guess, based on the stats, is speed. He's lightning quick out of the box and in the field, giving him excellent range with the glove.

    Because of a small 6-foot, 165-pound frame that lacks projection, the soon-to-be 20-year-old doesn't offer much power, but he is so quick and makes a lot of contact to hit an empty .260 with plus defense in the future.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Player: Hunter Harvey, RHP (Low-A Delmarva)

    Stats: 4 GS, 1-0 0.86 ERA, 21 IP, 11 H, 9 BB, 23 K

    It's hard to stand out in a system that also includes Kevin Gausman and, when his rehab is done, Dylan Bundy, but Hunter Harvey has some serious helium right now that isn't going away. 

    The 22nd overall pick in last year's draft, Harvey ranked No. 58 on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 entering 2014. He's got an electric arm with a 91-95 mph fastball that moves all over the place and a curveball that DeWalt Hammer is trying to copyright. 

    There's still a lot of work to be done, as Harvey has more control than command with the fastball at this point, and his changeup can come out too hard. But the ability to throw strikes, keep hitters off balance and a projectable 6'3", 175-pound frame makes the 19-year-old a star prospect.

Boston Red Sox

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    Player: Mookie Betts, 2B (Double-A Portland)

    Stats: 19 G, .405/.441/.643, 9 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 8 K, 8 SB

    If you just look at Mookie Betts in a uniform, there's a strong possibility you will assume he is a kid masquerading as a baseball player. He's listed at just 5'9", 156 pounds, but put a bat in his hands and he's absolute dynamite. 

    Trying to stand out in a loaded Boston system is difficult, yet Betts has put all of his peers to shame with some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the minors. He's not going to have much over-the-fence pop, but he makes solid contact so consistently that plenty of doubles will come. 

    Combining that with a .280 average projection and above-average speed and defense at second base, you have another Dustin Pedroia on your hands.

Chicago Cubs

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    Player: C.J. Edwards, RHP

    Stats: 4 GS, 1-0, 2.61 ERA, 20.2 IP, 14 H, 8 BB, 20 K

    I was prepared to sing the praises of C.J. Edwards until he was shut down with what the Chicago Cubs are calling fatigue and inflammation following an MRI on Thursday. 

    You can see how difficult Edwards' pitches are to hit so far in Double-A, thanks to a loose arm and tremendous deception that makes the ball hard to pick up out of his hands. The big knock against the right-hander is a 155-pound frame because he may not have the stamina to stick in the rotation.

Chicago White Sox

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    Paul Sancya

    Player: Micah Johnson, 2B (Double-A Birmingham)

    Stats: 23 G, .360/.447/.528, 4 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 13 BB, 15 K, 7 SB

    As a second baseman, Micah Johnson doesn't grade out as an elite prospect because the power is well below-average. Yet when you watch him play, there's very little the 23-year-old can't do. He's one of the fastest runners in the minors, leading all levels with 84 stolen bases in 2013.

    Johnson has also shown a strong hitting aptitude, squaring up pitches consistently and letting that speed do the work. He's not a natural second baseman, lacking awareness and instincts, but he since can cover a lot of ground with his feet, it's not hard to see average potential with the leather.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Player: Jesse Winker, OF (High-A Bakersfield)

    Stats: 20 G, .333/.413/.551, 8 2B, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 11 BB, 15 K, SB

    Jesse Winker is a prospect no one really knows what to do with. He's not an outfielder because the speed and arm strength are below-average, meaning first base is his long-term position. First basemen have to hit for average and power to project as big leaguers. 

    The good news is Winker has one of the prettiest swings you will see from a young hitter. He also knows how to control the zone and has an excellent plan at the plate. There's also some power in the bat, though it's in the above-average territory (18-23 at peak). 

    If Winker can develop into a .300 hitter with that kind of pop, he'll be at least a second-division starter. There's no defensive value at all, further limiting the ceiling and overall future potential. But is that a gorgeous swing or what?

Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak

    Player: Trevor Bauer, RHP (Triple-A Columbus)

    Stats: 4 GS, 3-0, 1.40 ERA, 25.2 IP, 18 H, 7 BB, 28 K

    Give credit where it's due. After more than a year of hearing people criticize the way he operates, including former Arizona teammate Miguel Montero, Trevor Bauer has responded with an excellent start to 2014. 

    The most encouraging sign for Bauer, and the Cleveland Indians, is the way his velocity has moved back to the 92-96 mph range that it was at UCLA. He's also more confident throwing the fastball and is getting ahead of hitters, forcing hitters to chase those breaking balls in the dirt. 

    As long as Bauer keeps throwing strikes, he will be a factor in Cleveland's rotation very soon instead of just making spot starts in doubleheaders.

Colorado Rockies

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    Player: Eddie Butler, RHP (Double-A Tulsa)

    Stats: 5 GS, 1-2, 2.87 ERA, 31.1 IP, 25 H, 7 BB, 25 K

    Last year's breakout pitching prospect, Eddie Butler is proving that wasn't just a fluke. He's still learning to command the fastball, which will allow the plus-plus slider and above-average changeup play to improve, but the 23-year-old is on the fast track to Colorado. 

Detroit Tigers

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    Player: Javier Betancourt, SS (Low-A West Michigan)

    Stats: 23 G, .313/.352/.343, HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 13 K, 3 SB

    Times are tough in Detroit's farm system, so even the discussion around a player such as Javier Betancourt has to be tempered due to the fact that he doesn't really project to be more than a utility infielder. 

    There's some good contact skills and average potential at second base, due to below-average arm strength and little range, but Betancourt's ability to hit the ball gives him a chance to stick on a 25-man roster when he's ready.

Houston Astros

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    USA TODAY Sports/USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Jonathan Singleton, 1B (Triple-A Oklahoma City)

    Stats: 22 G, .314/.417/.688, 6 2B, 3B, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 16 BB, 28 K

    Even if George Springer hadn't been promoted to Houston, Jonathan Singleton still would have rated as the Astros' most impressive prospect to start the 2014 season. He's found the sweet left-handed swing that was missing for much of last year, when he missed time due to suspension and never looked right upon returning. 

    Most impressive about Singleton's start, while acknowledging it's still a small sample, is a 1.519 OPS against left-handed pitching. He's always crushed right-handed pitching, but he has had issues driving the ball against arm-side hurlers.

Kansas City Royals

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    Player: Raul Mondesi, SS (High-A Wilmington)

    Stats: 19 G, .299/.365/.429, 2B, 3 3B, HR, 5 RBI, 7 BB, 22 K, 5 SB

    It's so exciting, and rare, to see an 18-year-old draw rave reviews for his baseball maturity and the raw tools to project as an All-Star. Raul Mondesi, son of the former MLB player, is a slick-fielding defensive shortstop growing into his 6'1" frame. 

    As you would expect for a player his age, Mondesi still has a lot of refinement left but not as much as you typically find in a teenager. His biggest weakness is trying to do too much all the time, instead of letting the game come to him. That will get better over time, at which point the Royals will have an All-Star shortstop on their hands.

Los Angeles Angels

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Player: C.J. Cron, 1B (Triple-A Salt Lake)

    Stats: 23 G, .315/.357/.598, 11 2B, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 5 BB, 20 K

    The scouting report for C.J. Cron hasn't changed nor will it ever, but the best thing that can be said about him so far in 2014 is that the huge raw power he possesses is playing out in games. That hasn't always been the case for the slugger in two full minor league seasons. 

    There's still gaping holes in Cron's swing, as evidenced by the high strikeout and low walk totals, but at least he's driving the ball. Some of that has to do with playing in the Pacific Coast League, which can make even mediocre hitters look like stars, though it would be foolish to chalk all of his stats up to that.

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Player: Joc Pederson, OF (Triple-A Albuquerque)

    Stats: 22 G, .378/.485/.659, 8 2B, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 17 BB, 22 K, 6 SB

    Another player getting a boost from the Pacific Coast League, Joc Pederson is a much better athlete and baseball player than Cron, so his numbers bear a little more weight than the Los Angeles Angels' prospect. 

    Unlike Jonathan Singleton, Pederson's problems against left-handed pitching are still very prevalent. His OPS is almost 1,000 points higher against righties (1.446 to .513) so far this season, giving him an almost Shin-Soo Choo-like projection. That's still a helluva player and one the Dodgers would be happy to insert in their lineup, if/when they can find an opening in the outfield.

Miami Marlins

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    Carlos Osorio

    Player: Andrew Heaney, LHP (Double-A Jacksonville)

    Stats: 5 GS, 2-1, 2.25 ERA, 28 IP, 24 H, 6 BB, 28 K

    When Andrew Heaney was coming out of Oklahoma State, he was projected as a fast-moving No. 3 starter. That's kind of safe college arm every team wants in its system, but having this safe option doesn't do much to get anyone excited. 

    A funny thing has happened along the way: Heaney's stock has risen. His fastball, while not overpowering at 91-94 mph, plays up, thanks to a deceptive delivery and excellent command. The southpaw also has a plus slider and above-average changeup to put hitters away. 

    Now Heaney has the upside of a No. 2 starter because of his ability to put the fastball where he wants to and the improvement in his breaking ball.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    John Minchillo

    Player: Jimmy Nelson, RHP (Triple-A Nashville)

    Stats: 4 GS, 2-1, 1.80 ERA, 25 IP, 13 H, 7 BB, 25 K

    There's a lot of interesting talent at the lower levels of Milwaukee's system, but the Brewers desperately need players in the upper levels to take a step forward to provide some hope for the immediate future. (You'll excuse me if I don't think the MLB team's fast start will last.)

    Jimmy Nelson is the best chance Milwaukee has to develop its own starting pitcher since Yovani Gallardo. The right-hander doesn't have top-of-the-rotation stuff and is more control than command, but he's shown the ability to throw enough strikes to get outs at the MLB level. 

Minnesota Twins

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    Player: Jorge Polanco, OF (High-A Fort Myers)

    Stats: 21 G, .354/.446/.532, 6 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 12 BB, 9 K, SB

    The top of Minnesota's system has been decimated by injuries (Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano) and suspensions (Eddie Rosario), though there's so much depth and high-level talent throughout that it's hard to be upset. 

    Jorge Polanco is an advanced hitter with excellent plate discipline and sprays line drives all over the field. He's not going to hit a lot of homers, but he will keep his average up and steal a lot of bases to be considered an above-average, offensive-minded second baseman.

New York Mets

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    The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Brandon Nimmo, OF (High-A St. Lucie)

    Stats: 23 G, .379/.514/.483, 4 2B, 3B, HR, 14 RBI, 24 BB, 20 K, 5 SB

    Brandon Nimmo continues to impress with the adjustments he's been able to make over the last year, turning the raw ability that made him a first-round pick in 2011 into quality baseball skills. There's always going to be a limitation on his skill set because the tools are more average than plus across the board. 

    Even though Nimmo likely ends up in left field, due to average arm strength and limited range, he's got the offensive skills, particularly baserunning and solid approach, to make him a good leadoff hitter in the future.

New York Yankees

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    Matt Slocum

    Player: Manny Banuelos, LHP (High-A Tampa)

    Stats: 5 GS, 2.84 ERA, 12.2 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 14 K

    New York is obviously taking it slow with Manny Banuelos following Tommy John surgery in October 2012, starting him in High-A which is a level the left-hander dominated in 2010. 

    The fact that Banuelos is back, throwing strikes and getting outs is all the Yankees can ask for right now. It's going to take time for his stuff to be as crisp as it was pre-surgery, though the early returns are promising.

Oakland Athletics

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    Player: Max Muncy, 1B (Double-A Midland)

    Stats: 21 G, .267/.412/.373, 3 2B, 3B, HR, 10 RBI, 19 BB, 13 K, SB

    After Addison Russell, currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Oakland's farm system lacks excitement and punch. 

    A player such as Max Muncy isn't going to change the fortunes of a team nor is he likely to be an everyday MLB player, but there's something to be said for a first baseman who has above-average raw power and excellent on-base skills (shocking for a college hitter drafted by Billy Beane).

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Player: Jesse Biddle, LHP (Double-A Reading)

    Stats: 5 GS, 2-2, 2.86 ERA, 28.1 IP, 23 H, 7 BB, 38 K

    After a disappointing 2013 season that saw him walk 82 hitters in 138.1 innings, despite posting a 3.64 ERA and 154 strikeouts, Jesse Biddle is off to a sizzling start in 2014.

    Biddle, repeating Double-A, is still needing more control and command, but at least the strikes are coming with more regularity. He's not an overpowering lefty, despite the high strikeout total, but he is able to keep young hitters off balance with a deep arsenal and an excellent ability to sequence. 

    As long as the walks don't pile up, Biddle has the upside of a No. 3 starter and could be in Philadelphia by the end of the season.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Player: Gregory Polanco, OF (Triple-A Indianapolis)

    Stats: 22 G, .402/.458/.655, 6 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 23 RBI, 8 BB, 15 K, 4 SB

    When you look at Gregory Polanco's performance in Triple-A, combined with Pittsburgh right fielders Travis Snider and Jose Tabata combining to hit .225/.282/.284, how much longer can the Pittsburgh Pirates afford to keep their top prospect down?

    Polanco is a star in the making. His one big knock is a long swing that could lead to high strikeout totals, but he's got a good approach at the plate, has grown into plus power, runs incredibly well for a 220-pound man and has the athleticism to play center field. 

    (Andrew McCutchen isn't going to give up his spot in Pittsburgh, which is just fine because an outfield group of Cutch, Polanco and Starling Marte won't let many balls fall.)

San Diego Padres

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    Darron Cummings

    Player: Matt Wisler, RHP (Double-A San Antonio)

    Stats: 5 GS, 1-0, 2.16 ERA, 25 IP, 22 H, 5 BB, 30 K

    The San Diego Padres are developing an interesting stable of young arms, led by 21-year-old right-hander Matt Wisler.

    A seventh-round pick in 2011, Wisler really amped up his game last season by posting a 2.78 ERA with 107 hits allowed and 131-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 136 innings between High-A and Double-A. 

    He hasn't slowed down so far in 2014, showing a low-90s fastball that eats hitters alive because it's got such good natural movement and a wipeout slider. The right-hander does have some issues with delivery, leading to some command issues, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with more coaching.

San Francisco Giants

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Player: Andrew Susac, C (Triple-A Fresno)

    Stats: 16 G, .291/.391/.455, 3 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 BB, 12 K

    Andrew Susac doesn't offer much behind the plate, besides arm strength, but that's not a huge problem for San Francisco because Buster Posey isn't too shabby at this baseball thing. 

    If Susac is going to stick in the big leagues, his bat will be the tool that sustains him. He's got a nice swing through the zone, generating good power with some loft at the end to project for above-average power. Making contact can be an issue at times, though he's always had a good eye at the plate and should get on base enough to be an average hitter.

Seattle Mariners

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    Player: Gabriel Guerrero, OF (High-A High Desert)

    Stats: 22 G, .337/.388/.551, 7 2B, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 7 BB, 23 K, 3 SB

    A disappointing .271/.303/.358 season at Low-A in 2013 dropped Gabriel Guerrero's stock in prospect circles. Lost in the shuffle of that performance was the fact he was doing it in the Midwest League, hardly the best place to develop hitters, espacially if the prospect is a 19-year-old. 

    Now that Guerrero is a year older and has more experience under his belt, you can see the results starting to show up. Like his uncle, some guy named Vladimir, Gabriel will chase anything and everything near the plate, though he's still refining his bat control and situation. 

    The 20-year-old has elite bat speed and plus-plus raw power to become a first-division player in the future. He's still has more tools that need refinement at this point, but early returns in 2014 are encouraging.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Player: Oscar Taveras, OF (Triple-A Memphis)

    Stats: 20 G, .303/.354/.474, 4 2B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 5 BB, 10 K

    After a slow start to the season, not unexpected after missing nearly 100 games in 2013, Oscar Taveras has found his footing in Triple-A and could be in St. Louis soon to help the struggling Cardinals offense. 

    Taveras' power is still returning, but his rare ability to control the bat all the way through the hitting zone and make solid contact on pitches inside, outside, up or down is very much present. 

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Player: Mike Montgomery, LHP (Triple-A Durham)

    Stats: 5 GS, 3-0, 2.81 ERA, 25.2 IP, 17 H, 12 BB, 28 K

    Mike Montgomery has been on the prospect radar for years, most notably when he was a top pitching prospect in Kansas City before moving to Tampa Bay in the Wil Myers deal, but he has yet to show that he can throw enough strikes to be an effective MLB pitcher. 

    Command and control still aren't Montgomery's strong suit, but the left-hander is starting to miss more bats and can touch 94-95 mph in short bursts. The Rays could use him in relief, allowing him to ditch an inconsistent slider and below-average curveball, making him an effective two-pitch bullpen arm.

Texas Rangers

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    Player: Joey Gallo, 3B (High-A Myrtle Beach)

    Stats: 22 G, .351/.464/.824, 4 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 22 RBI, 19 BB, 24 K

    There are few prospects more fun to watch than Joey Gallo, who has the best raw power in minor league baseball and arguably at any level of baseball (Giancarlo Stanton is the only player who can challenge him). 

    Gallo generates tremendous bat speed with excellent hip rotation and extension through the ball. He's got all sorts of problems against off-speed stuff and velocity on the inner half, leading to the high strikeout totals and limited average potential. 

    The most encouraging thing about Gallo's early performance in 2014 is the increased walk rate. If he starts showing enough patience to get on base and hit around .250, that power will make him a superstar.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Gene J. Puskar

    Player: Marcus Stroman, RHP (Triple-A Buffalo)

    Stats: 4 GS, 1-2, 2.18 ERA, 20.2 IP, 22 H, 6 BB, 26 K

    Marcus Stroman's numbers this season look even better when you realize that five of his walks came in one game against Lehigh Valley on April 9. 

    The diminutive right-hander will always face questions about his ability to start at the MLB level until he proves capable of handling the role, but the raw stuff, including a plus-plus fastball and cutter, is special. 

    Stroman is still working to find consistency with the slider, but there really isn't much for him to work on in Triple-A. He's got excellent command and control, attacks hitters and misses a ton of bats.

Washington Nationals

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    Player: Lucas Giolito, RHP (Low-A Hagerstown)

    Stats: 4 GS, 1-0, 2.65 ERA, 17 IP, 12 H, 8 BB, 20 K

    No one knew what to expect from Lucas Giolito after the big right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery before throwing a pitch in professional baseball, but after a brief 11-game sample to close 2013 and a strong start in 2014, any fears should be put to rest. 

    Giolito, a monster listed at 6'6", 225 pounds, has everything you want in a future No. 1 starter. He works down in the zone with ease, has an explosive mid-90s fastball that jumps on hitters, has a hammer curveball and has the makings of an elite changeup. 

    Because of the elbow reconstruction, the Washington Nationals are going to be extra cautious with their prize prospect. They have the success of Stephen Strasburg to fall back on, though he was further developed at the time. 

    Giolito also has to walk a tight rope because of his size; with so many moving parts, even the slightest alteration can reduce command. 

     

    Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

     

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