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Washington Nationals

Original Published Date: Nov. 15, 2013

There are no longer names like Strasburg, Harper, or Rendon in the Washington Nationals minor league system, but there is still talent; and some of it is impact talent.

The Nationals gambled on Lucas Giolito and while they lost a year of development, he has the upside of a number one and is still only 19-years-old.  A.J. Cole is another impressive arm with a plus future arsenal if he can refine his secondary pitches.  Rounding out the pitching prospects are Nate Karns, Sammy Solis, and Robbie Ray.  All three have big league potential and are already pitching in the upper minors.

Brian Goodwin and Michael Taylor are the top two positional players in the system.  Both are extreme athletes with huge upside but struggle making contact.

It’s a good system from the parent club down through the lower levels of the minors.  It’s conceivable that a 2016 starting lineup in Washington could include: Harper, Goodwin, and Taylor in the outfield; Rendon, Desmond, and Zimmerman in the infield; and Strassburg, Zimmermann, Giolito, Cole, and some combination of (Solis, Ray, and Karns) in the starting rotation.

All home grown talent – which is pretty impressive!

1. Lucas Giolito (RHP)

2014 Age: 19 Ceiling: #1 starter
Ht: 6-6 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 R 36.2 28 8 1 3.44 9.57 1.96 1.15

Fifteen teams passed on 17 year-old Lucas Giolito in the 2012 draft due to a forearm strain that he suffered early in his senior year at Harvard-Westlake High School in California.  The Nationals rolled the dice and shelled out nearly $3 million dollars to sign the 6-foot-6 right-hander; just to have Giolito go under the knife for Tommy John Surgery (TJS) 60-days later.  It was gamble for sure, but one that looks like it might pay off…and pay off big for the Nationals.

The first fear in coming back from TJS is will the velocity return.  While I have first-hand observation of Giolito sitting 92-94 MPH and touching 95 several times, other reports have him sitting a few ticks higher.  It doesn’t look like it’s much of a stretch to believe that Giolito’s mid 90’s fastball will fully return.  What about his control?  In the game in which I saw him, the control was ok – not great, but again, both reports and his stat line are indicating that he’s going to be just fine.

While there will likely be ups-and-downs in 2014, it appears that Giolito will fully recover from his surgery.  The arsenal will be elite – a mid 90’s fastball that he can keep down in the zone, a hard curve that sits 83-85 MPH and is going to be a monster pitch, and a change-up that will only get better over time.  Both the fastball and curve could grade out to be plus-plus pitches and delivered with tremendous plane.

The delivery is clean, although there is a slight wrist-wrap that could limit his ability to command his pitches.  The momentum is good but his balance is not consistent.  It just looks like he gets a little out of control at times and needs to slow it down.  Repetition and experience should solve this.

Even after a catastrophic injury and an entire year of rehab, Giolito should start 2014 in Hagerstown and be one of the youngest pitchers in the league.  The arsenal has top-of-the-rotation potential.  Whether he becomes a number one or something less, will depend on how his command develops and whether he will stay healthy.  While nothing is a sure thing, I’m better the over.

Fantasy Impact:  The time to have gambled on Giolito was last year.  With a 39K/14BB ratio in 36.2 innings, most people will expect him to be completely back.  It’ll be hard to argue against that.  If you own him, congratulations, you might have a future fantasy ace on your hands.

2. Brian Goodwin (OF)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: Role 5-6
Ht:6-1 Weight: 195 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2014-15
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2013 AA 457 82 10 40 19 .252 .355 73.5 14.4 .321

Every time I see Brian Goodwin play, I see a star.  He’s a plus runner with bat speed and future plus power potential while playing an above-average outfield.  I then take a look at his stats and just don’t get why he has a career .265/.368/.435 minor league slash line.

After an injury plagued 2012 season, Goodwin managed to stay healthy in 2013 while repeating Double-A.  Goodwin’s hitting mechanics are solid with a nice compact swing and great bat speed.  The setup is a little noisy, but he’s able to get the bat head into the zone quickly and rotate his hips well to drive the ball.  Once again, I saw him during the Arizona Fall League and the bat played well, showing pop to all fields.  He also has an approach at the plate and is able to work the count – posting a 14% walk rate in 2013.

Goodwin turns 23-years-old this fall and should start 2014 in Triple-A.  While Denard Span is blocking his path to the major leagues, Span is only signed through 2014 with a club option for 2015.  This should dove-tail nicely for the Nationals as Goodwin should provide an offensive upgrade while not taking much away defensively.

Fantasy Impact: Goodwin’s name is no longer in the discussion of elite fantasy prospects.  I think this is a mistake and believe he has fifth round future potential. He could easily be a 25/20 guy with high on-base percentage, with upside on the power.  Invest!

3. A.J. Cole (RHP)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A-AA 142.2 127 57 15 2.08 9.53 3.60 1.12

In 2011, the Nationals traded A.J. Cole to the Athletics and then re-acquired him 13 months later in a three team deal that sent Mike Morse to the Mariners and John Jaso to the A’s.  Moving Morse proved to be expensive as the Nationals struggled with injuries for the majority of the season and could have used his bat.  So, was it all worth it?

Yeah, I think so.  Let me share why…

I’ve always liked Cole’s arm as his delivery is clean and easy.  His fastball is a plus offering that sits 93-96 MPH and can touch higher.  His curve ball also flashes plus while his change-up is still fringy.

During the 2013 Futures Game, the arsenal was in full display as he threw his fastball: 93, 96, 95, 97 with a nice curve ball at 79 MPH and a change-up at 82 MPH.  The mechanics were smooth and deliberate with a mid-three-quarters delivery with good balance.  The momentum was also good showing nice extension.

Cole should start 2014 back in Double-A but could move very quickly with a promotion to Washington later in the summer not out of the question.  His has front line stuff with a ceiling of a number two.  Expect some ups-and-downs as his secondary pitches are not fully developed but he throws hard and he can command his fastball.

Fantasy Impact:  Cole was another prospect that was a buy-low candidate in 2013.  He still doesn’t have great name recognition and therefore presents a buying opportunity in all Dynasty Leagues.  He also might be a sneaky late round pick in an NFBC draft-and-hold style format for 2014.

4. Michael Taylor (OF)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: Role 5-6
Ht:6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws:Right ETA: 2015
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2013 HiA 509 79 10 87 51 .263 .340 74.3 10.8 .331

Selected in the 6th round of the 2009 draft, Michael Taylor quietly had a nice season in Potomac putting up a slash line of .263/.340/.426.

Taylor’s carrying tool is plus-plus speed that helped him to steal 51 bases at a clip of 88%.  He also is a plus defender with great reads on the ball and the speed to cover a lot of ground.  The primary problem with his game is his ability to make consistent contact.  While there is bat speed, the swing is long and at 6-foot-4, that is a recipe for swings and misses.

On the bright side, he improved his contactability in 2013 and managed to hit 41 doubles which led the Carolina league.  Plus, the athleticism is impressive and if he can continue to stay inside the ball and stay direct to the ball, he has the upside of a solid regular.  If not, he’s a fourth outfielder.

Fantasy Impact: I’ve been following Michael Taylor since he was drafted and still believe there is tremendous fantasy upside in his game.  He has the look, which doesn’t win you a fantasy title, but allows you to dream on what is possible; a 20/40/.260 player hitting at the top of a lineup.  Of course, he could also be a bench player that gets 150 at-bat a year.

5. Nate Karns (RHP)

2014 Age: 26 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 AA 132.2 109 48 14 3.26 10.52 3.26 1.18

Nate Karns was called up on May 28th to make his major league debut against Baltimore and lasted 4.1 innings while giving up three earned runs, striking out three, and walking two.  It wasn’t a great debut and the two starts that followed were also rather pedestrian.  However, his plus arsenal has made him a sleeper prospect for a while.

Karns has a solid three-pitch arsenal that consists of a 92-95 MPH fastball, a power curve that sits 82-85 MPH, and a change-up that’s also an above average pitch.  It’s a good arsenal with two plus pitches, with his curve possibly grading out as a plus-plus pitch.  Yet, he logged a 7.50 ERA and was sent back to the minors for the remainder of the year.  What happened?  The strikeouts were there but so were the home runs.  He gave up five in 12 innings and that will get you sent back in a hurry.

Clearly the home runs were an outlier and in fact, his minor league performance has never shown a high home run rate.  In fact, his 0.9 HR/9 in Triple-A was his high water mark and that was simply league average.  Plus, at 6-foot-3, he does get good plane on his pitches with a ground-ball-to-fly-ball rate averaging 1.81 over his minor league career.

Karns has a chance to be a very good major league pitcher but youth is longer on his side.  He’ll be 26-years-old to start the 2014 season and time is ticking.  Plus, he’s had a history of shoulder injuries, so the Nationals should give him every chance to make their roster out of Spring Training.

Fantasy Impact:  Karns has a ceiling of a number three, but age and injury history are not on his side.  He should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues and in NL-Only leagues for 2014.  He’s one of my rookie sleepers going into 2014.  Then again, Brandon Maurer was one of my sleeper prospects for 2013 and that didn’t turn out so well.

6. Robbie Ray (LHP)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 170 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2014-15
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 A-AA 142 116 53 13 3.93 10.14 3.36 1.25

Robbie Ray had an excellent year showing the ability to command the strike zone while missing plenty of bats; except for the day I saw him.  On that hot mid-August Tuesday evening in Trenton, Ray lasted only 4.2 innings, striking out two, walking three and giving up five earned runs.  The fastball had nice velocity, sitting 90-93 MPH, but he was leaving it up in the zone and the Thunder batters were hitting it hard.  The slider sat 84-86 MPH but was flat and very hittable.  The change-up looked ok and was the one pitch that missed bats that night.  I’d grade it as an average pitch with the potential for more.

So, what do you do when the advanced scouting reports don’t match what you saw?  In Scout school, you are taught to trust your eyes and don’t let yourself be influenced by outside factors.  While true, to provide a complete picture of a prospect, you must get other information as anybody can have an off night.

In speaking with others that had seen him, the quick scouting report was: plus fastball that he keeps down in the zone, fringy slider, and a developing change-up.  Hmm…kind of what I saw except he lacked fastball command that evening; and that shows the razor thin line between success and failure.  Ray’s stuff is not overwhelming and if he doesn’t have command of his fastball during an outing, he’s going to get hit hard.

Ray has the ceiling of a number three starter and he could be competing with Karns and Solis for playing time in Washington later in 2014.  While I like Karns , Ray is not that far behind and if he can improve his slider, he could even have more upside given his ability to throw strikes.

Fantasy Impact: Ray is a top 300 player for me and could be a rosterable fantasy asset if he improves his secondary pitches.  While I’m not running out to add him to my Dynasty team, he’s somebody that I will keep an eye on during the season.

7. Sammy Solis (LHP)

2014 Age: 25 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 230 Bats: Right Throws: Left ETA: 2014
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 R-HiA 59.2 59 22 3 2.89 6.54 3.34 1.32

Coming off Tommy John Surgery, Sammy Solis missed the entire 2012 season and only pitched 57.2 innings in High-A as a 25-year-old in 2013. The performance was ok, but more importantly, it proved that he was healthy once again.

The 6-foot-5, 230 pound lefty was selected in the second round of the 2010 draft out of the University of San Diego. He has a nice three-pitch mix of a four-seam fastball that sits 91-93 MPH, a 78-80 MPH curve with nice shape and the ability to miss bats, and a feel for a change-up. He has a nice presence on the mound and is able to mix his pitches well and get strikeouts when needed. While he only managed a 6.27 K/9 in 2013, his stuff is better than that and was baffling hitters when I saw him in the Arizona Fall League in October.

The pitching mechanics are ok with nice balance in the release but he also lands very straight-up, causing his body to take the full effect of the recoil. Not only is that bad on the arm, it also reduces the deception on his pitches.

Solis should start 2014 in Double-A and could see Washington sometime during the season. He has good stuff and can throw strikes. Provided he can stay healthy, he still has the ceiling of a number three or four starter.

Fantasy Impact:  While I like Nate Karns better, Sammy Solis has looked great every time I’ve seen him pitch. He’s a top 200-250 player for me and should be drafted in deeper Dynasty Leagues and deeper NL-Only leagues for 2014.

8. Matt Skole (3B)

2014 Age: 24 Ceiling: Role 4-5
Ht:6-4 Weight: 220 Bats: Left Throws:Right ETA: 2014-15
Year Class AB R HR RBI SB AVG OBP CT% BB% BABIP
2013 AA 5 1 0 2 0 .200 .429 60.0 40.0 .333

After crushing 27 home runs in the Sally League as a 22-year-old college draftee, I was anxious to see how Matt Skole would fair in the upper minors.  However, his season ended in April as he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and did not play again.

Skole has plus raw power with an excellent approach at the plate.  However, there is a lot of swing and miss in the bat and many sources are worried that he’ll hit enough to get to his power.  The swing is long and most of the power he generates is to the pull side.

The best news on Skole’s recovery is that he played in the Arizona Fall League.  This should accelerate his re-acclimation to baseball and allow him to knock off some of the rust that surely resulted in missing six months.  Hopefully, he will work on his swing and try to cut down on the amount of strikeouts, which will improve his chances for success at the highest level.

Fantasy Impact:  While power is a scarce commodity in Fantasy Baseball, Matt Skole should only be monitored at this stage.  If his contact rate improves into the 70-75% range in Double-A, and is still showing power, that will be a time to jump on him.

9. Matt Purke (LHP)
Much was expected out of Matt Purke when he was signed by the Nationals in 2010 for a significant over slot bonus of $2.75 million dollars.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t lived up to expectations partially because he has fought shoulder problems that have plagued him since his college days at Texas Christian.  When I saw him in the Arizona Fall League, his fastball was sitting 88-91 MPH and touched 93 a couple of times.  The slider was inconsistent but when it did work, he was able to get swings and misses.  The change-up was also an ok pitch.  While the Nationals have a lot invested in Purke, I’m not sure he’s much more than a back-of-the-rotation starter or a middle reliever.

10. Jake Johansen (RHP)
The Washington Nationals didn’t have a first round pick in 2014 and decided to go safe with their first overall pick: collegian Jake Johansen (pick 68).  The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher throws hard and can touch the upper 90’s if he just rares back and throws.  His secondary pitches though are under-developed with his slider being the best of the lot.  In college, his strikeout rate was below average and while that improved in his first taste of professional ball, most of his strikeouts occurred within a weak NY Penn League.  He’s probably a bullpen arm long-term but the Nationals will continue with him as a starter entering the 2014 season.

2014 Emerging Prospect:

Michael Taylor (OF)
Well, I have a repeat as my 2014 emerging prospect. It’s…drum roll…Michael Taylor.  Yes, he repeated High-A, but the guy is athletic, with bat speed and can fly.  While some will argue that’s he no more than a fourth outfielder, I’m betting the over.

11 comments on “Washington Nationals

  1. Strasburg… not Strassburg

  2. What are your thoughts on Zach Walters? He has a .518 slugging percentage as a 3B/SS prospect and I am curious what you think of him and how the Nationals could fit him into their lineup.

    Thanks!

    • A crazy year for him. Not only did he slug .517 but he hit 29 home runs. He never came close to showing that power before (12 HR’s in 2012). Before the explosion, he profiled as a utility guy, but now…. In my research, I didn’t talk to anybody who had seen him this year but something happened. Outlier or baseline? I would think you’d have to say outlier but candidly, I don’t know. Somebody to watch for sure next year or if he gets moved.

  3. Michael Taylor – “Selected in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft,” He was taken in the 6th round of the 09 draft.

  4. Has Steven Souza broken into the picture for the Nats? Looking around I read he will project as a potential 20-20 type of guy with an ETA for 2014-15, but would like to hear your thoughts. thanks.

    • I spoke about him on Sunday’s podcast at length and suggest you go back and listen. I’m a big fan of both his redemption story and his tools when I saw him at the AFL this fall. He just missed my Nationals list but I should have gone back and re-worked the list after seeing him in October. Big bat speed with future plus power and can really run as well. No where to play but if Werth or Harper gets injured, watch out. I like him a lot.

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