Washington Nationals' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2015

Washington Nationals' Top 10 Prospects for 2015

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Lucas Giolito emerged as arguably the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues last year, as the 20-year-old right-hander—in his first full season after Tommy John surgery—dominated hitters in the South Atlantic League with a combination of size and stuff. 

    The team’s former top pitching prospect, hard-throwing right-hander A.J. Cole, didn’t miss as many bats as he did in previous seasons, but his mid-90s fastball, improving curveball and overall control should help get him to the major leagues in 2015.

    The Nationals, likely encouraged by the success with Giolito, took UNLV right-hander Erick Fedde in the first round (No. 18 overall) of last year’s draft. Fedde, 21, was viewed as a potential top-10 talent in the draft before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, the organization also added the best high school catcher, Jakson Reetz, in the third round.

    Toolsy center fielder Michael Taylor turned in a breakout performance this season between Double- and Triple-A, and as a result, he saw time with the Nationals late in the regular season. Things also came together quickly for 22-year-old shortstop Wilmer Difo, as he ranked among the South Atlantic League leaders in most offensive categories and ultimately captured the league’s MVP award.

    In general, the Nats system doesn’t have much depth at the present, but the talent at the top remains very strong and can make up for some deficiencies down the list.

    Here are the Washington Nationals' top 10 prospects for the 2015 season.

How They're Ranked

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Position Players

    • Body type/athleticism
    • Speed
    • Hitting mechanics, bat speed
    • Injury history
    • Statistical trends
    • Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age and that of the competition
    • Tools: Number of projectable tools a player possesses in relation to his position, age and competition; present vs. future tool grades
    • Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool is the most importantbut also the hardest to project.
    • League and park factors
    • On-base skills: Approach; strike-zone management; pitch recognition
    • Makeup/character
    • Defensive tools and skill sets; present vs. projected position
    • Place on organization's depth chart
    • Positional scarcity; up-the-middle potential 

    Pitchers

    • Body type/athleticism/strength
    • Mechanics: Delivery; arm speed; release point
    • Age vs. highest level of experience
    • Injury history (durability)
    • Statistical trends
    • Arsenal quality and depth
    • Pitch projections: Present vs. future grades
    • Hitability: How tough is he to barrel? Does he keep the ball on the ground/in the park?
    • Control/command: Is he usually around the zone? Does he effectively command his stuff? How much development/refinement is needed?
    • Pitchability: Feel (and confidence) for using and sequencing entire arsenal.
    • Approach: Does he fearlessly attack and challenge opposing hitters?
    • Projection: Does he project as a starter? If so, what type? Or is he likely to be relegated to the bullpen? If so, why?

    Resources

Close Calls

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    Pedro Severino, C

    Jefry Rodriguez, RHP

    Jake Johansen, RHP

    Brian Goodwin, OF

10. Austin Voth, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 06/26/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’1”, 190 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Fifth round, 2013 (Washington)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A/A+/AA): 24 GS, 126.2 IP, 2.77 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .197 BAA, 0.5 HR/9, 2.7 BB/9, 9.4 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    60505060

    Scouting Report

    Austin Voth, who has a lean and athletic 6’1”, 190-pound frame, has no problem repeating his simple delivery, which in turn allows him to work from a consistent arm slot and pound the zone with his full arsenal.

    Speaking of his arsenal, Voth sits comfortably in the low 90s with his fastball and has the present command to locate the pitch throughout the strike zone. The right-hander throws his slider on the same plane as his heater, which will help him continue to miss bats at a favorable rate as he moves up the organizational ladder. His changeup should continue to improve too, to the point where it represents a third average-or-better offering.

    However, while Voth’s stuff is plenty good, it’s his plus control profile that makes him a name to watch moving forward, as it could help him reach the major leagues ahead of schedule.

    Ceiling (OFP): 50 (No. 4 starter)—Medium risk

9. Drew Ward, 3B

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 11/25/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 210 lbs

    Bats/Throws: L/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2013 (Leedy HS, Oklahoma)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 10

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (A): 115 G, 478 PA, .269/.341/.413, 33.6 XBH%, 10 HR, 9.8 BB%, 25.3 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5055305545

    Scouting Report

    Drew Ward’s top tool is his raw power, though he’s still learning to apply it in games. The left-handed hitter has good bat speed and generates decent lift after contact, which suggests many of his doubles could begin to clear fences in the coming years. Beyond that, the 20-year-old employs an advanced and patient approach for a player his age, especially in terms of his feel for the strike zone and pitch recognition.

    Ward is an average athlete with a physically mature 6’4”, 210-pound frame and below-average speed, so naturally there already are concerns about his ability to stick at third base. He lacks the range and footwork for a favorable long-term projection at the position, making him a candidate to shift to first base—where even more of his future value will be tied to power.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—High risk

8. Jakson Reetz, C

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    Position: C

    DOB: 01/03/1996 (Age: 19)

    Height/Weight: 6’1” 195 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Third round, 2014 (Norris HS, Nebraska)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats (Rk): 43 G, 155 PA, .274/.429/.368, 25.0 XBH%, HR, 6 SB, 16.8 BB%, 19.4 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5555506055

    Scouting Report

    Jakson Reetz has a consistent, balanced swing from the right side, with above-average bat speed, excellent bat-to-ball skills and strong hands/wrists that allow him to fire the barrel through the hitting zone. His combination of feel for the strike zone and outstanding plate coverage results in hard contact to all fields. The 19-year-old has a physically strong 6’1", 195-pound frame, but his swing is geared toward making hard, line-drive contact rather than tapping into raw power.

    In general, Reetz is an excellent athlete with above-average speed and arm strength, and he could enjoy a career at several other positions if catching doesn’t work out. His athleticism is obvious behind the plate, as he moves well in all directions and makes quick adjustments. The pop times aren’t impressive due to catch-and-throw issues and inefficient footwork, while his receiving skills are likely to improve as he handles more high-quality pitchers.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—Extreme risk

7. Wilmer Difo, SS/2B

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    Position: SS/2B

    DOB: 04/02/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 175 lbs

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Signed: 2010 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (A): 136 G, 610 PA, .315/.360/.470, 30.0 XBH%, 14 HR, 49 SB, 6.1 BB%, 10.7 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5545706050

    Scouting Report

    Wilmer Difo put himself on the prospect radar in 2014, as the 22-year-old middle infielder collected 52 extra-base hits and 49 steals while playing in a career-high 136 games. Before that, Difo hadn’t played more than 64 games in a season.

    At the plate, Difo, a switch-hitter, has a short, quick swing from both sides of the plate as well as good barrel awareness through the hitting zone. He does have some strength to his 6’0”, 175-pound frame and once in a while will jump the yard, but I wouldn’t expect him to match his 2014 home run total at higher levels.

    Difo’s plus-plus speed could make him an extra-base and base-stealing threat atop the batting order, and that also should help him stick at either middle infield position for a long time.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55 (solid-average regular)—High risk

6. Joe Ross, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 05/21/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’4”, 205 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2011 (Bishop O’Dowd HS, California)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 5 (Padres)

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A+/AA): 23 G/22 GS, 121.2 IP, 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, .260 BAA, 0.6 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 7.8 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    65605045

    Scouting Report

    Joe Ross took another big step forward in 2014, holding his own in the hitter-friendly California League before moving up to Double-A San Antonio for the final month of the season. However, the 21-year-old was traded to the Nationals earlier this offseason as part of a three-team deal with the Rays and Padres.

    A 6’4”, 205-pound right-hander, Ross’ size and smooth mechanics produce a plus fastball in the low to mi- 90s, maxing out around 95-96 mph. His slider flashes above-average potential in the low to mid-80s with good tilt and late, sharp break. His changeup is raw and used sparingly, though he utilized the pitch more last season as he worked deeper into games and faced more advanced hitters in the California and Texas Leagues.

    Ceiling (OFP): 55/60 (No. 3 or 4 starting pitcher)—Medium risk

5. Erick Fedde, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 02/25/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 170 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2013 (UNLV)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NA

    ETA: 2018

    2014 Stats: DNP

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    65605555

    Scouting Report

    Erick Fedde seemed to be a near-lock to be selected in the top 15 picks of last year’s draft after he posted a 1.76 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 76.2 innings covering his first 11 starts. However, his promising season took an unexpected turn for the worse in early May, when he missed a start with elbow soreness, which of course was followed by news that he’d need season-ending Tommy John surgery. However, that didn’t discourage the Nationals from selecting the right-hander with their first pick.

    At 6’3”, 170 pounds, Fedde has a highly projectable frame with plenty of room to add strength. His fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range with decent late life and topped out at 95-96 mph prior to the injury. Fedde’s slider is a potential above-average offering, thrown in the low 80s with good tilt and late break, and he has the confidence to throw it in any count and work both sides of the plate against right- and left-handed hitters.

    Fedde’s changeup is a below-average offering that could add a full grade with the proper development. Right now, the right-hander lacks a consistent feel for the pitch, throwing it too firmly at times in the 82-84 mph range, though he does generate decent fading action.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)—Extreme risk

4. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/04/1994 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6’0”, 185 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Signed: 2012 (Dominican Republic)

    Last Year’s Ranking: NR

    ETA: 2017

    2014 Stats (SS/A): 16 GS, 83.1 IP, 1.08 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .149 BAA, 0.1 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 7.6 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballSliderChangeupControl
    7560455050

    Scouting Report

    Reynaldo Lopez was one of the biggest breakout prospects of the season, as the 21-year-old right-hander posted a minuscule 1.08 ERA and 0.82 WHIP while allowing just 42 hits in 83.1 innings (.149 BAA) between the Short Season and Low-A levels. He was especially dominant over his final seven starts in the South Atlantic League, with a 0.23 ERA, .303 opponents’ OPS and 34-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 39.2 innings.

    Lopez is undersized at 6’0”, 185 pounds, but the right-hander has a huge arm that consistently produces fastballs in the 94-98 mph range. The rest of his arsenal isn’t as dynamic, however, as only his curveball currently flashes above-average potential. His two other offerings, a slider and changeup, will require refinement in the coming years, but he already demonstrates a good feel for sequencing with both pitches and knows how to keep opposing hitters off-balance.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)—High risk

    Lopez could be a fast riser next year given the Nats’ lack of upper-level pitching talent, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he opens the season back in Low-A or moves up to High-A. Regardless, Lopez probably won’t be challenged until he reaches Double-A, which could happen at some point during the second half of the 2015 season.

3. Michael Taylor, CF

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    Position: CF

    DOB: 03/26/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’3”, 210 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Sixth round, 2009 (Westminster Academy, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 9

    ETA: Debuted in 2014

    2014 Stats (AA/AAA): 110 G, 493 PA, .304/.390/.526, 35.4 XBH%, 23 HR, 37 SB, 11.6 BB%, 29.2 K%

    2014 MLB Stats: 17 G, 43 PA, .205/.279/.359, 3 2B, HR, 7.0 BB%, 39.5 K%

    Tools Breakdown (Future Grades):

    HitPowerRunArmField
    5060606070

    Scouting Report

    After years of flashing his potential at lower levels, Michael Taylor, 23, finally put things together last season in the high minors, doing a little bit of everything offensively while offering his usual plus defense in center field. The breakthrough performance resulted in a trip to the major leagues, where he continued to showcase loud tools on both sides of the ball.

    Taylor is a physical specimen with an athletic, 6’3”, 210-pound frame that's loaded with quick-twitch muscles. Speed and defense are carrying tools, as he’s a plus runner with outstanding range in center field. Specifically, Taylor gets terrific reads and routes and goes back on the ball better than many big league center fielders, while his plus arm strength is an underrated weapon at the position.

    At the dish, Taylor’s game still features too much swing-and-miss, as evidenced by his 29.6 percent strikeout rate last season in the minor leagues, but his contact rate is still trending up and helped him established career highs in both batting average and home runs.

    His bat has been slow to develop due to inconsistent swing mechanics and an aggressive approach; he has a tendency to overstride and drag the bat through zone, and the timing of his swing is geared toward hitting fastballs. And while Taylor has grown into his frame over the last two years and learned to tap into his plus raw power, his power frequency in the major leagues likely will be determined by the development and progress of his hit tool.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (first-division player)—Medium risk

    Taylor has all the tools to be an impact everyday center fielder in the major leagues. However, at 23, he’s still a very unrefined player who has more natural ability than usable baseball skills. That said, he’s still very young and received his first taste of The Show this summer, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he continues to make developmental strides in 2015.

2. A.J. Cole, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/05/1992 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 6’5”, 200 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Fourth round, 2010 (Oviedo HS, Florida)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 2

    ETA: 2015

    2014 Stats (AA/AAA): 25 GS, 134 IP, 3.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .278 BAA, 0.7 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 7.5 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballSliderChangeupControl
    70556060

    Scouting Report

    A.J. Cole continued his ascent toward the major leagues in 2014, logging over 130 innings for the third consecutive year while splitting the season between Double- and Triple-A.

    The 23-year-old right-hander’s fastball sits at 93-97 mph with natural sink and decent arm-side run, and he demonstrates good command of the pitch, especially when challenging right-handed batters on the inner portion of the plate. Cole’s curveball is thrown with power but is largely inconsistent, as he possesses the arm speed to throw a hammer but struggles with his release point. Lastly, his changeup noticeably improved last season and projects as an average offering.

    Ceiling (OFP): 60 (No. 3 starter)—Low risk

    The development and consistency of Cole’s secondary arsenal will determine whether he comes close to reaching his ceiling as a starting pitcher. However, given his big-time arm strength and strike-throwing ability, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Nationals considered breaking him in to the major leagues with a bullpen role.

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 07/14/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6’6”, 255 lbs

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First round, 2012 (Harvard-Westlake HS, California)

    Last Year’s Ranking: 1

    ETA: 2016

    2014 Stats (A): 20 GS, 98 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, .197 BAA, 0.6 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9, 10.1 K/9

    Future Pitch Grades:

    FastballCurveballChangeupControl
    80756055

    Scouting Report

    In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, Lucas Giolito led the South Atlantic League (among pitchers with 90 innings) in ERA (2.20), strikeout percentage (28.5 percent) and opponents’ batting average (.196).

    Giolito, 20, throws both a two- and four-seam fastball, with the latter consistently registering in the 94 to 96 mph range and the two-seamer at 91 to 93. Based on velocity alone, the pitch graded mostly as a 65 or 70, but everything about Giolito—his size, mechanics, arm action, prior workload—suggests that more velocity will come with development. It doesn’t take much to envision him sitting in the upper 90s by the time he reaches the major leagues.

    Giolito’s curveball is possibly the best I’ve personally scouted in the last four years; it’s a 60/65 offering that has the potential to add a full grade as he moves up the ladder. Working from the same over-the-top arm angle as his fastball, he throws the pitch in the 76 to 83 mph range with legitimate 12-to-6 break and sharp, downer bite.

    The right-hander’s changeup is his least advanced pitch but still grades out at 50, and considering his overall room for improvement on all fronts, the pitch has the potential to be a 60/65 offering at maturity.

    Ceiling (OFP): 80 (No. 1/elite starting pitcher)—High risk

    Giolito is still a few years away from reaching the major leagues, but if he stays healthy and continues down his current developmental path, the right-hander should have a real chance to be a legitimate No. 1 starter for the Nationals.

Top 10 Index

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

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