Washington Nationals

Original Published Date: November 20, 2015

What happened?

On paper the Washington Nationals had the best team in baseball in 2015 and they fell…flat.  Granted, there were injuries but Bryce Harper emerged as the player we always thought he would be and Scherzer was also very good.  However, poor managerial execution and lack of performance ultimately sunk the team.

The good news is that there is still a ton of talent on the major league squad as well as depth and quality in the minor leagues.  Lucas Giolito is one of the top three pitchers in the minor leagues and could be ready by mid-season.  Trea Turner should start the season at shortstop for the Nationals and could be the dynamic leadoff hitter to replace free agent Denard Span.   A little further away are Erick Fedde and Reynaldo Lopez.  Both have a chance to be solid starters in the big leagues as soon as 2017.

The future is still bright for the Nationals but Strasburg will be free agents in 2017 and Harper in 2019.  While there is still time to win a Championship, time is marching on and the Nationals need to put it together soon.

1. Lucas Giolito (RHP)

2016 Age: 21 Ceiling: #1 starter
Ht: 6-6 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AA 117.0 113 41 3 2.85 10.08 3.15 1.28

Every prospect watcher knows the name Lucas Giolito.  Drafted in the first round of the 2012 first year player draft (pick 16), Giolito pitched two innings that year before blowing out his elbow and having season ending Tommy John reconstructive surgery.   While the Nationals have been extremely careful with their prized 6-foot-6 right-hander, Giolito has excelled at each level and despite the late start, is on track to make his big league debut next year at 21-years-old.

In 2015, Giolito pitched 117.1 innings across High and Double-A and was dominate.  Yeah, you can point to the 3.80 ERA he posted in the Eastern League, but he struck out nearly a batter an inning with a 3.23 walk-per-nine rate and a 2.08 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.

While some argued that Giolito should have seen Washington this year, there was really no reason to rush him.  The Nationals had plenty of pitching and for the most part, they did their job.  With the likely departure of Jordan Zimmermann next year and the pending free agency of Stephen Strasburg in 2017, the timing should work out well for the Nationals.  I would expect Giolito to begin the 2016 season in Triple-A and then get the call in mid-June.  While all rookies have their struggles, the stuff and polish of Giolito should allow him to hit the ground running and be very, very good.

Scouting Report:  Giolito has some of the best stuff in the minor leagues.  He has two double-plus pitches in his fastball and curve ball.  The fastball sits 93 to 95 MPH and can touch into the upper nineties.  His curve ball, a hard offering at 80 to 83 MPH with nasty and deceptive break, is his best pitch and could be Clayton-esque in quality.  He shows a feel for a change-up, but it’s clearly his third pitch.   He can throw all of his pitches for strikes with very good command of his fastball and curve.

Despite his 6-foot-6 frame, Giolito has very good control.  He gets this from his excellent and smooth mechanics, enhanced by the extension he gets and his high three-quarters delivery.  The mechanics and stuff all point to a ceiling of a number one.  While Alex Reyes and Tyler Glasnow have arguably better raw stuff, with Giolito’s combination of present stuff and command and control, the floor is higher.  How high?  At worse, I think he’ll be a low number two.

Fantasy Impact:  Giolito is owned in all Dynasty Leagues and should be owned in all 2016 re-draft leagues.  The 2016 upside is Noah Syndergaard.  The long-term upside is multiple Cy Young awards.

2. Trea Turner (SS)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: All Star
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 175 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AA,AAA 454 68 8 54 29 .322 .370 78.6 7.6 .390

I’m writing this before the free agent season, but I think it’s safe to predict that Trea Turner will be the starting shortstop for the Washington Nationals to begin the 2016 baseball season.   Not only did he perform extraordinarily well across Double and Triple-A, he did it under some of the strangest circumstances.

Turner was the player-to-be-named later in the three-way trade that sent Steven Souza to Tampa, Wil Myers to San Diego and Joe Ross to the Nationals among others.  Because of an antiquated rule, Turner could not join the Nationals until after his signing anniversary and had to play the entire first half of the year as a Padre.  It all worked out with a lot of credit going to San Diego, but it had to be strange and challenging for Turner.

The Nationals rewarded him with a promotion to the majors in late August where he promptly sat on the pine.  Yeah, by then Ian Desmond was playing better, but in hindsight, it really didn’t make any sense.  Hopefully the extra time allowed him to get more comfortable with the cadence of being a big leaguer.

Scouting Report:  When Turner was drafted, we all knew about his double-plus speed, but what I didn’t realize was how good of hitter he had become.  He has plenty of bat speed with a short and compact swing and a good approach at the plate.  He sometimes will get pull-happy and try to show off his raw power, but he’s best when making hard contact to all fields.

His ability to control the strike zone, get on-base and steal bases will make him a quality leadoff batter in the majors.  He also has all the makings of a high BABIP guy with a consistent .300 batting average possible.  The speed will play and Turner should be able to build on his 18 stolen bases he posted in the minors leagues in 2015.

Fantasy Impact:  Turner should have the inside track on the NL rookie of the year in 2016.  Anything can happen and it usually does, but he has a chance to be a very good player, including next year.  Once he’s fully acclimated to the big leagues, a line of a .310 hitter with 30 stolen bases, 100 plus runs scored and a handful of home runs are entirely possible.

3. Reynaldo Lopez (RHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 99.0 93 45 5 2.55 8.55 4.09 1.22

Reynaldo Lopez has graduated from our 2015 Emerging Prospect to land at number three on this year’s Top 10 list.  We wrote:  “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.”

The Nationals in fact started Lopez in High-A and he did dominate by striking out nearly a batter an inning while walking under three per nine.  What they didn’t do was push him and kept him at Potomac for the entire year.  He did miss the last two weeks of the season with a back injury but it was considered minor.

Scouting Report:  Lopez throws really hard.  He routinely hits the upper nineties with his fastball while sitting 95 to 96 MPH.  His secondary pitches are still emerging.  He throws a 79 to 81 MPH curve ball that will flash plus but is still very inconsistent.  He does show a feel for a change-up when he throws it, but that occurs very infrequently.  As he moves to Double-A in 2016, it’s a pitch that will need to improve for him to turnover a more advanced lineup.

As with Luis Severino, which is a very good physical comparison, Lopez stands 6 feet tall with a delivery that is very top-heavy.   He does have a high three-quarter delivery which helps create plane and reduce fly balls (2.02 G/F).  However, the delivery as with Severino is one that usually winds up in the bullpen.  That said, Severino has been very good in his first 10 starts in the big leagues and Lopez could have similar early success.

Fantasy Impact:  The Nationals will continue to push Lopez as a starter but even if he winds up in the bullpen, he has closer stuff.  That’s a win-win scenario for fantasy owners.  The upside is a number two starter with a strikeout an inning, low WHIP but a higher ERA than you would expect.  He’ll be a Top 100 prospect for us with a chance to see Washington in the second half of next season.

4. Erick Fedde (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 SS,A 64.0 62 24 2 2.25 8.30 3.38 1.22

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.

He had a solid 2015 season, pitching 64 innings across the New York Penn League and Sally League posting a 3.38 ERA.  At 22-years-old, he was clearly old for both leagues, but it was great for the Nationals to see that he had fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery.

Scouting Report:  Fedde has a nice three-pitch mix that features a fastball that sits 91 to 94 MPH (T96) with a plus slider and a feel for a change-up.   The stuff does play up because he is able to throw all of his pitches consistently for strikes.  This was true in college as well as after his surgery.

He has a quick delivery with good extension and balance on his landing.  There is some effort to his delivery and sometimes when he rushes, he can have bouts of wildness.  However, when he slows things down, he can be very effective with a ceiling of a number three starter with a chance to be a half a grade better.

Fantasy Impact:  Fedde is a really good pitcher that flies under-the-radar in Dynasty League circles.  He doesn’t have a premium arsenal but there’s enough there with the ability to throw strikes that should make him a very effective fantasy starter.   The upside is eight strikeouts per nine with better than league average ratios.

5. Wilmer Difo (SS)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 195 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 A+,AA 434 61 5 53 30 .286 .325 78.8 4.3 .350

When you look at the back of the baseball card for Wilmer Difo, it looks strange.  He spent five years in the lower minor leagues (2010 to 2014) and then plays in the major leagues the following year (2015).  You just don’t see that very often.  Did something just click for the Dominican shortstop?  Did the Nationals have a Tony LaRussa moment and call up the wrong guy?  Whatever happened, Wilmer Difo is a major leaguer and has a chance to be a solid everyday player.

Difo spent the bulk of his 2015 season in Double-A, and posted very good numbers.  He made good contact (78%) and used his plus speed and base stealing ability to steal 26 of 27 bases.  However, his approach is uber-aggressive, so much so that if corrections are not made, it could limit his ultimate upside.

Scouting Report:  Difo has plenty of athleticism that he shows in the field and on the base paths.  While he spent the majority of his time at shortstop this year, assuming he stays with the Nationals, he’ll likely be moved to second.  An infield of Rendon, Turner, Difo and Zimmerman would give the Nationals a plus defender at each position, not to mention long-term team control.

Offensively, Difo has a short compact swing but lacks leverage and therefore only projects to hit a handful of home runs annually with a ceiling of high single-digits.  He does have double-plus speed with excellent base stealing instincts.  In 466 minor league games, he has stolen 150 of 183 bases for an 82% success rate.

Fantasy Impact:  With the ability to steal 30-plus bases annually, Difo should be on all fantasy owner’s radar.  He does need to improve his approach or the ceiling could drop from everyday regular to a utility player.

6. A.J. Cole (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AAA 105.2 91 37 9 2.90 6.47 3.15 1.18

Talk about prospect fatigue?  I’ve been writing about A.J. Cole for the past four years and he’s still prospect eligible.  He did get a chance to pitch in three games in Washington this year, including a forgettable start in late April against the Braves where he gave up eight hits and nine runs (4 earned).

After the dreadful start, Cole was sent back to Syracuse where he posted impressive numbers.  In 21 starts, he posted a 3.15 ERA while striking out 76 and walking 34.  His strikeout rate has really fallen off over the past two years but he continues to pound the strike zone with an impressive 2.27 walk-per-nine rate across his minor league career.

Scouting Report:  As Cole has matured, his stuff has actually taken a step backwards.  Just two years ago, his fastball was sitting 93 to 96 MPH but in his limited big league exposure, his fastball averaged 91.66 MPH.   In his lone start, his fastball averaged 90.35; which probably explains the eight hits he gave up.  Making matters worse, Cole pitches up in the strike zone and without premium velocity, he’s going to be susceptible to the long ball. His off speed pitches continue to be above-average with his change-up taking a big step up in 2015.  He is throwing his slider more now than his curve ball and PitchFx data shows that it’s a quality pitch.

Cole’s pitching mechanics are very clean and repeatable.  He has outstanding balance with good posture which is all contributing to him throwing a ton of strikes.  While that’s great, with his arsenal backing up a bit and Cole liking to pitch up in the zone, continued success in the big leagues is going to be very difficult.   The Nationals might want to introduce a two-seamer into the mix to neutralize some of the fly balls that he is giving up.

Fantasy Impact:  My ceiling for Cole has drop from a number two starter to a three last year; and now to a four.  I’m worried about the reduction in velocity and his tendency to give up home runs.  It’s not a recipe for success at the highest level and fantasy owners need to set their expectations accordingly.

7. Andrew Stevenson (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 185 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017-18
2015 R,SS,A 214 40 1 25 23 .308 .363 86.0 6.7 .349

After a tremendous junior year at LSU, the Washington Nationals drafted Andrew Stevenson in the second round of the 2015 first year player draft (pick 58).  In 62 games at LSU, Stevenson batted .348, striking out only 29 times in 247 at-bats with 16 walks.  He also stole 26 of 33 bases, which was third best in the SEC last year.

Once Stevenson signed, he continued hitting and stealing bases in his first taste of professional baseball.  In 55 games, he batted .308 with a .363 on-base percentage while stealing 23 of 30 bases.

Scouting Report:  Stevenson has two plus skills.  He’s an outstanding defender with comps to another recent SEC centerfielder, Jackie Bradley Jr.  His other plus skill is his foot-speed.  Not only does he have sub 4.1 times from home to first, he has great instincts on the base paths and will be a threat to steal 40 plus bases annually.

The hit tool is very contact-oriented with no leverage and therefore very little over the fence power.  He does have physical strength, but he just doesn’t incorporate his strength into his swing.

Fantasy Impact:  The ceiling for Stevenson is Ben Revere with a realistic ceiling of a fourth outfielder.  However, with his ability to steal bases, he should be on all Dynasty League owner’s radar.    He should be rostered in all Dynasty Leagues with 250 or fewer minor leaguers.

8. Rafael Bautista (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 165 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017-18
2015 R,SS, A+ 255 32 1 14 26 .275 .315 88.2 4.3 .305

Rafael Bautista missed the first three months of the season after breaking a finger in the fifth game of the season.  He didn’t return until early July and after a couple of weeks in the GCL and the New York Penn League, he returned to Potomac in the Carolina League.

Once back, Bautista did what does best – make great contact, get on base, and steal second.  In 226 plate appearances, he batted .272 with 23 stolen bases in 27 attempts while striking out only 22 times.  He was definitely up there ready to swing. In those 226 plate appearances, he walked only 11 times.

Scouting Report:  Bautista’s carrying tool is double-plus speed that he shows both on the base paths and in the outfield.  He does make great contact with a slappy-swing that is void of much power.  He’s simply trying to get on base and then use his wheels to make things happen.

The big concern with Bautista is whether his approach will work once he moves to the upper minor leagues.  Even speedsters like Billy Hamilton and Ben Revere have had to develop more strength to hang in against premium velocity.  However, at age 23, there is concern that Bautista will develop enough strength to be more than just a fourth outfielder.

Fantasy Impact:  The upside for Bautista is Ben Revere.  In XXX plate appearance in 2015, Revere struck out XX times while walking only XX times.   If you extrapolate Bautista’s stat line out in 2015, it comes very close to what Revere did this year.  Of course, Revere did it in the majors and Bautista is only in High-A. However, there’s enough there for fantasy owners to bite.  I would consider rostering him in leagues with 250 or fewer minor leaguers.

9. Chris Bostick (2B)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 5-11 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 A+,AA 530 57 12 81 31 .258 .312 81.1 5.3 .296

Chris Bostick has been a man of the move since signing in 2011 with the Oakland A’s.  He was moved to Texas for Craig Gentry and then moved before the2015 season to Washington for Ross Detwiler.  I know, not household names.

While Bostick doesn’t have plus tools, he’s played well at each level.  In 480 games across his five year professional career, he has a slash line of .267/.333/.419 with 41 home runs and 96 stolen bases.  After over 300 plate appearances in Double-A, Bostick is getting closer to be considered for a big league promotion.

Scouting Report:  I’ve long been a fan of Chris Bostick.  He’s a five tool player with speed, pop and good contactability.  Granted, none of the tools are plus, but the sum of the parts are definitely better than any individual skill.  He has premium bat speed with the chance for future above average power.  He’s also a good runner with excellent instincts on the base paths.  While there’s an outside shot for 20 HR/20 SB upside, a more realistic ceiling is a 15/15 player.

Since he was drafted in 2011, he has improved his contact every year.  He’s still aggressive at the plate and just doesn’t walk much.  He does have very good hand-eye coordination and with his ability to barrel the ball, he should be an average hitter at the highest level.

Fantasy Impact:  I still believe Bostick is a big leaguer, but he’s best suited at second or the outfield and I just don’t think that will happen in Washington.  Once he gets into the right situation, I think the upside is a 15 HR/15 SB player with a decent average but with a low on-base percentage.  That should be enough for a solid middle infielder in a deeper fantasy league.

10. Austin Voth (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #5 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA 157.1 134 51 10 2.29 8.47 2.92 1.11

Austin Voth was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 first year player draft out of the University of Washington and has been making steady progress through the minor leagues.  He broke out in a big way in 2015 by posting a stellar stat line.  In 157.1 innings in Double-A, he posted a 2.92 ERA with 148 strikeout and only 40 walks.

Scouting Report:  Voth is more command and control over stuff.  He throws a three pitch mix with a fastball that sits 89 to 91 MPH, a change-up that has good deception and a curve ball that has taken a step up this year.  None of the pitches though are plus but he can throw each for strikes with the ability to vary speeds to give hitters a variety of looks.

Voth has solid pitching mechanics and gets more plane on his fastball than his 6-foot-1 frame would suggest.  He’s able to repeat his delivery which explains his plus control.

Fantasy Impact:  Voth should see time in the major leagues next year and could be an interesting guy to draft in a draft-and-hold league.  While there’s nothing that sets Voth apart, he throws strikes and will keep the ball in the ballpark and that should give him enough upside to make him a back-of-the-rotation starter.

2016 Emerging Player

Victor Robles (OF)

There has been a lot of buzz about Victor Robles this year and after seeing him play in only one game, I concluded that the buzz is in fact true.  He’s extremely athletic with premium bat speed and strong hands that point to future plus power.  At 18-years-old, he has an idea of what he’s doing at the plate with the ability to adjust his swing when the situation dictates.  Finally, he’s a plus runner and the 46 stolen bases in 60 attempts are just a taste of his upside.   He could be special and if you’re in a fantasy league, now might be the last time to jump on the Robles band wagon.


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