Washington Nationals

Original Published Date: November 21, 2014

The Washington Nationals could be building a dynasty. With nearly a first division starter at each position and a starting rotation that is five deep, they are the definition of stacked. However, when you declare a team a dynasty, you need to go further; and that goes to their minor league system. While there are minor league systems that are stronger, when you combine the Nationals major league team with their minor league depth, they are by far the strongest in the majors.

Lucas Giolito could have the highest upside of any pitcher in the minors. The stuff is elite and the command is developing. The Nationals should really start to challenge the 20-year-old in 2015. Steven Souza arguably had the second best season of any positional player in the minors but is blocked. Michael Taylor also broke out in 2014 and while I like Souza better, Taylor has impact tools and just needs to cut down on his strikeouts to achieve his all-star ceiling.

A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde have solid number three starter potential with Cole likely seeing Washington in 2015. It doesn’t stop there as Rafael Bautista and Wilmer Difo are elite athletes that are coming on quickly and could be Top five prospects in just about any other system.

The Nationals overall system is deep, impressive, and should translate into one, if not more World Series rings.

1. Lucas Giolito (RHP)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: #1 starter
Ht: 6-6 Weight: 255 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A- 98.0 70 24 7 2.57 10.10 2.20 1.00

The gamble that the Washington Nationals took on drafting Lucas Giolito in 2012 is starting to look very smart. After missing his senior year of high school and subsequently having Tommy John reconstructive surgery, Giolito is now fully healthy and showing the kind of talent that should put him at the top-of-the-rotation for the Nationals.

While the Nationals wisely kept his innings low in 2014, Giolito was utterly dominating. In 98 innings, he had a 110K/28BB strikeout-to-walk ratio while giving up 70 hits. The only slight statistical blemish was the seven home runs that he gave up. While it was less than a home run per nine, Giolito’s stuff is so overpowering, I’m surprised that seven players were able to take him deep.

When I saw Giolito last year after surgery, his fastball was sitting 92 to 94 MPH and hitting 95. After regaining some arm strength, he’s now sitting 92-95 MPH and touching 97 MPH with great downward plane that he gets from his 6-foot-6 frame. The curveball is also back and will rival some of the best in baseball. What makes it nasty is the velocity in which he throws the pitch. It sits 79-82 MPH and starts off firm and then drops off the table.   In fact, it was the best pitch that I saw all season. Finally and not to be forgotten is his change-up. While it’s his third pitch, he shows a good feel for it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it develop into a plus pitch as well.

If you’re keeping count, that’s two current plus pitches that could get plenty of big leaguers out today and a third pitch that isn’t far away.

His mechanics continue to be excellent and the slight wrist wrap that I observed last year was less noticeable. The balance could be better but the momentum to the plate is outstanding. In fact, it makes his plus arsenal even that much more difficult to hit.

The Nationals are likely to loosen the leash on Giolito in 2015. He’ll start the season in Potomac of the Carolina League and should finish in Double-A with a chance to see Washington at some point. If that occurs, it’s likely to be in the bullpen so that the Nationals can keep his innings down. However, 2016 is a more likely timeframe for Giolito to make his major league debut.

Fantasy Impact: Giolito is one of the best pitching prospects in the game and has the arsenal and command to be an ace. While he does have TJS on his resume, his mechanics are clean and repeatable. He should be on all Dynasty Leagues at this juncture and if you were able to buy low on him in 2013, well done!

2. Steven Souza (OF)

2015 Age: 26 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-4 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2014 A+,AAA 357 123 18 77 28 .345 .427 77.6 12.4 .396

I know what you’re thinking…is Steven Souza really the best positional prospect in the Nationals system? While you can debate Michael Taylor, Souza has the superior hit tool and in my opinion, is the better all-around prospect, despite being two-years older. Of course the problem with Souza is that he turns 26-years-old in April and is completely blocked in Washington, at least for this upcoming season.

While Kris Bryant was rightly winning all of the year-end awards for the best minor league player, there was a strong argument for Steven Souza being the runner-up. In 96 games in Triple-A, he posted a 1.017 OPS with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases. His contact rate took a big step up in 2014 as he cut down his strikeouts substantially by improving his two-strike approach. He’s also become a more patient hitter which is putting him into more favorable hitting counts, resulting in well…more hits.

Souza also has plus raw power that is generated from strength and bat speed. The 18 home runs he hit in 346 at-bats is just a teaser. There is 25 plus home run power in his game. He’s also an above-average runner which he combines with great reads on the bases. The result was 26 of 33 stolen bases and despite being 6-foot-4, I think the speed will remain for the next few years.

With nothing left to prove in the minors, the Nationals clearly need to figure out a plan for Souza. It seems like a waste to make him their fourth outfielder, but unless there is some player movement, I don’t see Souza getting much playing time. Of course there’s always a chance of injury or a trade, but short of that, Souza is stuck.

Fantasy Impact: I own Souza in all of my Dynasty Leagues and believe that he will break out in 2015 or 2016. If he gets 500 at-bats, there is 25/25 upside in the package with a .280 batting average. That’s a monster fantasy player.

3. Michael Taylor (OF)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht:6-3 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2014 AA,AAA 428 81 23 64 37 .304 .390 66.4 11.6 .408

Based on the season that Michael Taylor had in 2014, you can argue that he should have been ahead of Steven Souza on this list. While Taylor has three very loud tools in his power potential, speed and defensive ability, the excess swing and miss in his game give me pause to push him above the better-rounded Souza.

Taylor spent most of his season in the Eastern League where he put up some ridiculous numbers. In 384 at-bats, he hit 22 home runs, stole 34 bases but also batted .227. While he showed some plate discipline by walking 50 times, he also struck out nearly 30% of the time (130Ks). Nevertheless, when Steven Souza decided to eat the right field fence in August, the Nationals promoted Taylor to the majors.

He started his major league career off with a bang by going 2 for 4 with a home run in his first game. Ultimately the game proved too fast for the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old as he struggled the rest of his time in Washington. While it’s easy to get down on him, it’s totally understandable. Taylor is young and needs more development, particularly in shortening up his swing when he gets two strikes. While the swing is long and you can debate how much he can correct that, he does need to think about altering his approach with two strikes. The problem is he swings as hard on two strikes as he does when he’s 0-0.

As with Souza, he’s stuck behind a solid core of outfielders. However, he’s a plus defender and is the natural successor to Denard Span in centerfield. The Nationals hold a club option on Span in 2015 and will likely exercise that option which will give Taylor one more year to work through his contact issues. Can he adjust? Possibly, but I’m not convinced.

Fantasy Impact: Taylor is a special talent with the kind of loud tools that fantasy owners love. While the upside is 25/25, or even more, it could come with a .220 batting average. Even with a 10 to 12% walk rate, he might only be able to post a .300 OBP which will likely take him out of the leadoff spot; limiting his stolen base potential. Taylor needs to be owned in all Dynasty Leagues but I would consider selling high on him as I just worry about his ability to hit at the highest level.

4. A.J. Cole (RHP)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 AA,AAA 134.0 148 47 10 2.15 7.46 3.16 1.34

Fatigue is part of life and prospect watchers are starting to get prospect fatigue with A.J. Cole.   At 19, he bursted onto the scene in 2011 when he dominated the Sally League striking out almost eleven per nine while walking 2.43 per nine. Since then, he’s been a mainstay on Top 100 list, showing excellent strike throwing ability and command.

Cole has very good stuff with a fastball that sits 93-96 MPH and can touch higher in shorter burst. While his secondary pitches are good, nothing grades out as more than a 50 to 55 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale. His curve ball sits in the upper 70’s but doesn’t have great depth but plays up because he can throw it for strikes. His change-up is the better of the two pitches and can flash plus with the potential to be a true swing and miss pitch.

The delivery is smooth and clean with good balance and average momentum to the plate. While the delivery is one that should keep him healthy, it does lack deception and could eventually tap down his ceiling. The bottom line is he’s hittable because batters get a good look at his pitches. Additionally, he doesn’t use his height to his advantage and pitches up in the zone and while he’s not given up many home runs, he is a fly ball pitcher.

Fantasy Impact: Cole is nearly big league ready and should get the call to Washington sometime during the 2015 season. His ceiling is a 200 innings pitcher with 150 strikeouts but could struggle with his ERA given us fly ball tendencies. Home runs have not been a problem to-date, but unless he keeps the ball down in the zone, that is likely not going to be the case in the big leagues. The ceiling is a number three starting pitcher.

5. Erick Fedde (RHP)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 DNP

As with Lucas Giolito in 2012, the Nationals decided to roll the dice with Erick Fedde in the first round of the 2014 first year player draft. Fedde injured his elbow in the spring and had Tommy John reconstructive surgery in mid-May. However, the Nationals loved the upside and took him with the 18th overall pick, paying him a $2.5 million dollar signing bonus.

Fedde is tall and lanky at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds. He has a very quick arm with a delivery that has some effort. The momentum is good to the plate but his balance on his landing is poor, yet he’s able to maintain his release point effectively. There is a slight inverted-W but it’s hard to pick-up based on the speed of his arm. However, when you slow down the video, you can see it. While the mechanics are not ideal, there is deception in his delivery and that helps him hide the ball and ultimately make him more effective.

Assuming Fedde comes back healthy, the arsenal is solid with a fastball that sits 91-93 MPH and can touch higher, a solid slider that can miss bats and a change-up that is underdeveloped but shows promise.

Fantasy Impact: Fedde is not Giolito and therefore Dynasty League owners need to consider downshifting on him during their upcoming drafts. His upside is a solid number three starter with six to eight strikeouts per nine and better than league average ratios. However, there is risk given his Tommy John surgery.

6. Brian Goodwin (OF)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-0 Weight: 200 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2014 AAA 274 31 4 32 6 .219 .342 65.3 15.2 .320

It was not a good year for Brian Goodwin. The oft injury outfielder played his last game of the season on July 1st before hitting the DL for the rest of the year. While presumable healthy, the first half of the year was not good either. In 81 games in Triple-A Syracuse, Goodwin slashed a poor .219/.342/.328. While I’ve always been a fan of Goodwin, I must admit that my confidence is starting to wane.

Every time I’ve laid eyes on Goodwin he’s impressed. He has a nice compact swing, plus speed with at least average power. His primary problem in 2014 was his inability to make consistent contact. In his 81 games, he struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances. While his plate discipline is excellent (15.2% walk rate), I would like to see Goodwin get more aggressive at the plate. Over the past couple of years, he’s gotten too passive and that is getting him into pitchers counts and the results are not good. If you’re aggressive, pitchers will not be able to count on strike-1, strike-2.   The bottom line, it’s a bad approach and it needs to be adjusted.

Goodwin is supposedly healthy again but the details of his second half injuries have not been widely available. He should start back in Syracuse but will need to move off center field to make room for Michael Taylor. He turns 24 in November, so time is still on his side. However, Goodwin needs to start performing if he’s to stay in the Nationals long-term plans.

Fantasy Impact: While I love the tools that Goodwin brings to the table, I’m worried about his approach and his ability to hit enough to be relevant at the highest level. He’s a center fielder, but with Michael Taylor nipping at his heels, Goodwin might be better served by a change of scenery. However, I doubt the Nationals will sell low on him and therefore, Dynasty League owners need to sit tight and hope for a turnaround. If it does, he has 15/25 upside with a .260 batting average and .360 on-base percentage.

7. Rafael Bautista (OF)

2015 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-2 Weight: 165 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2014 A- 487 97 5 54 69 .290 .341 85.2 6.1 .328

Rafael Bautista is one of the more intriguing prospects in the minor leagues. Blessed with 80-grade speed, Bautista stole 68 bases while being caught only 15 times in 134 games in Low-A. What makes Bautista intriguing is that he has the length and bat speed to develop some pop which could set him apart from many of the other “speed only” guys.

While the five home runs point to some potential power, Bautista still needs to put on weight; although I believe he’s heavier than his listed 160 pounds. His swing is solid with a quiet setup and leg lift for timing. He has a solid approach, above-average bat speed and makes very good contact (85%). He is a bit of a free swinger but his excellent hand-eye coordination helps to compensate and ensure at least an average future hit-tool.

Defensively, he has the chops to be an above-average defender in center field. He runs great routes and has the speed to track down anything. His arm is adequate.

Fantasy Impact: I will admit that Rafael Bautista reminds me of Roman Quinn of the Phillies and that of course makes me a huge fan. The speed is something that fantasy owners should covet and while I don’t think he’ll have more than average power at best, he’s strong enough for the speed to play at the highest level. As stated in the opening sentence…he’s one of the more intriguing players in the minors; and even more so from a fantasy perspective.

8. Wilmer Difo (SS)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-0 Weight: 175 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 A- 559 91 14 90 49 .315 .360 88.4 6.1 .333

Prior to 2014, Wilmer Difo had a slash line of .248/.344/.346 in 919 plate appearance across four seasons. Then things clicked and Difo posted a .315/.360/.470 with 14 home runs and 49 stolen bases. Talk about a breakout…

Even before Difo’s breakout season, he was making solid contact at 84% with an excellent walk rate of 11.8%. In fact his career 191K/145BB strikeout-to-walk ratio is indeed impressive.

His carrying tool is plus-plus speed with sub 4.00 second burst from the left side on a jailbreak. While he’s unlikely to have more than average power, he does have bat speed and the physicality to hit 8 to 10 home runs at the highest level.

Fantasy Impact: If Rafael Bautista is already taken in your Dynasty League, go get Wilmer Difo. The speed is not 80-grade like Bautista, but the hit-tool is better with a chance to hit 8 to 10 home runs. His upside is a super utility player on a division contending team or a solid-regular on an emerging team.

9. Drew Ward (3B)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid-Reg
Ht:6-4 Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 A- 431 45 10 73 2 .269 .341 71.9 8.8 .353

The Nationals challenged Drew Ward, their 2013 third round draft pick to a full season assignment in Hagerstown and he responded with a solid season.

As one of the younger players in the league, Ward slugged .413 and hit 10 home runs. He was able to control the strike zone well but also showed a propensity to strikeout. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Ward has natural strength to project future plus power. However, his swing can get long and therefore, there’s always likely to be swing and miss in his game. Also, given his size, he’s likely to have to move off third base with first or even right-field as a possible destination.

Fantasy Impact: Ward is only ownable in Dynasty League with 300 plus minor leaguers, but given his power upside, he’s a player that needs to be monitored. If it all comes together, there is 25 home run potential, hitting in the middle of a lineup.

10. Jefry Rodriguez (RHP)

2015 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter or Closer
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A-,SS 33.1 43 18 0 2.43 5.41 4.86 1.56

I expected Jefry Rodriguez to take a big step forward in 2014 but an unspecified arm injury cost him most of the season. In fact, after pitching six innings of nine hit, no run ball on July 1st, he didn’t pitch again in 2014.

When he’s healthy, Rodriguez has an intriguing skill sets that starts with a plus-plus fastball that he can run up-to 97 MPH in short burst. His curve ball shows a lot of promise but is not yet missing very many bats. What Rodriguez is able to do is throw strikes as his 2.43 walk-per-nine rate clearly shows. Additionally, he uses his frame to the fullest to keep the ball down in the zone which produced a 3.15 ground-ball-to-fly ball ratio.

Fantasy Impact: There has been limited news on Rodriguez arm aliment and that puts a damper over his short-term development plans. While the strikeout rate is not yet there, the stuff has potential as either a mid-rotation starter or a high leverage reliever.

2015 Emerging Prospect:

Reynaldo Lopez (RHP)

Reynaldo Lopez has received a ton of Helium over the second half of the year after posting a 1.33 ERA in 47.1 innings in the Sally League. He has an explosive fastball that by itself can miss bats, but more importantly, Sally League batters had trouble squaring up the pitch and only managed 27 hits. His secondary pitches are behind his fastball but his hard curve ball and change-up are promising. Finally, despite being only 6-feet tall, he was able to induce a ton of ground ball (3.14 G/F in Low-A).

If you add it all up, there could be something there with Lopez. The Nationals will likely challenge him in High-A to start the 2015 season and if he continues to dominate, they will continue to push.

6 comments on “Washington Nationals

  1. […] You can see the Nationals 2015 Prospect List here. […]

  2. Hello again Rich,

    New to the site and do enjoy your write ups.

    I see this was published in November, before the Souza deal. Do you think Matt Skole has fallen out of the top 10? Coming off the injury his average and power were down. Considering this was his first full year in AA he still had a good BB/K ratio

  3. I’m such not a fan of Goodwin while I loved Micheal Taylor and let him be owned by another as he completely broke out in his BJ Upton way.

  4. Rich – just curious why Lopez is “only” your emerging prospect. I fully expect to see him in the top 5 of quite a few Nats’ prospect rankings. Is it just the fact that he’s so far from the upper levels at this point? Or do you have some questions about his ability to reach his ceiling? Or do you really just think there are 10 better prospects in the org currently?

    Thanks for your response – and I’ve been loving my Tuesday/Friday 361 prospect fixes.

    • A lot of helium and I had good reports on him. I’ve not seen him. Don’t think of my emerging prospect as #11. Many wind up very high the following year. However, he’s still very young with a lot of risk. The rest of the players in front of him are generally closer to the majors. He’s still a pitcher with all the associated risk. Does he have Top 5 talent in a deep Washington system…yes.

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