Washington Nationals

Original Published Date: November 24, 2017

Due to promotions and some very expensive trades, the Washington Nationals farm system is not what it once was.  Their pitching depth was eliminated in the Adam Eaton trade and given the development of Michael Taylor and the rise of Victor Robles, I’m not sure it was worth sending Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning to complete the trade.  Will Eaton become trade bait in the offseason?  Will Taylor?  I hope Robles does not as he’s one of the more exciting young players in the game – a Top five prospect.

Juan Soto is also an exciting prospect who can really hit and the chance for plus in-game power.  Carter Kieboom is the final big name bat in the system who has major league regular as his upside.

The highest ranked pitcher is Erick Fedde.  He finished the season on the disabled list and it could have been a result of the Nationals moving him back-and-forth between starter and reliever.  The other big arm in the system is Seth Romero.  He has a great arm but multiple suspensions and eventually being kicked off his college team raise makeup concerns.

The Nationals must plan for the post-Bryce Harper era and assuming they keep Robles and Soto, I believe they are well positioned.  My concern is their pitching depth. I believe they will have to dip into the free agent market to remain title contenders over the next five years.

Victor Robles (OF)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 Fantasy Player

While Ronald Acuna was going all Mike Trout on us, there were a couple of other minor league players who were doing equally impressive things – like Victor Robles.  In fact, if you compare their stays in High-A and Double-A, Robles posted a .872 and .883 OPS respectfully while Acuna posted a .814 and .894 OPS.  Acuna showed more over the fence power but stolen base wise, it was very close.  Sure, Acuna is a year younger, but Robles played the entire season at 20.

The bottom line is that Robles had a great season and was rewarded by the Nationals with a September call-up.  While I’m sure it provided great exposure, it was a head-scratcher from a service-time standpoint.  Why promote a kid when he’s not on the 40-man roster or it’s unlikely that he starts the following season in the big leagues?  Clearly, the Nationals thought he could help now and in fact, he did.

Robles will likely see more time in Washington next season but will truly get his chance in the post-Harper era as the Nationals move to their second wave of talent in Turner-Robles-Soto in 2019.  While Turner has already established himself, Robles might be the better talent and has a chance to be an elite performer at the highest level.

Scouting Report: How much work is left?  Actually, not a whole lot.  Heck, Robles is already a big leaguer.  He showed the ability to control the strike zone with a 15% strikeout rate a 7.5% walk rate.  With his speed and likely high BABIP, that’s a recipe for a .300 hitter.  The power started to show a little last season but there is still a lot more in the tank.  He’s got plus bat speed and the size to eventually hit 20 home runs.  His swing is currently more geared to doubles than over-the-fence power, but as we’ve seen over the last couple of years in the big leagues, that can change overnight.

What has shown up is his blazing speed.  He’s an 80-grade runner that should be able to steal 30 to 40 bases annually.  In fact, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch him and Trea Turner running wild on pitchers over the next few years.

So let’s summarize: Plus approach – check; Double-plus speed – check; great fielder – check; potential above-average power – check.  Potential number one overall prospect – check.

Fantasy Impact: Robles has similar fantasy upside as Byron Buxton, which means he has number one overall prospect potential.  Plus, I’ve always compared Buxton to Andrew McCutchen or maybe a young Carl Crawford and believe Robles has that same type of potential. He’s just about ready…buckle up…

Juan Soto (OF)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 OF

While Victor Robles is the future center fielder for the Nationals, his right-field teammate will eventually be Juan Soto.  Soto moves from our emerging prospect to number two on our list despite an injury-riddled 2017 season.

On May 3rd he broke his ankle sliding into home plate that cost him two months of the season.  In rehabbing in the GCL, he broke his hamate bone a week later and missed another seven weeks.  In the end, he only played in 32 games across Low-A and the GCL but made the most of it.  He slashed .351/.415/.505 with three home runs.  He also walked more than he struck out.

Scouting Report:  As teammates, Robles and Soto will be linked and monotonously compared.  However, they are different players.  While Robles is the unique five-tool talent, Soto should have more power, less speed but could be the better hitter.  While his stat line has been limited, he’s always shown the ability to control the strike zone with great contact.

The Nationals also love his swing.  He has great bat speed and the swing is already showing loft.  This should eventually translate into 20 to 25 home runs once he matures.  He’s far from a burner but has enough foot speed to project eight to ten stolen bases annually.

If you add it all up, it’s an all-star profile.  A potential .280 to .300 hitter with 100 points on top of that for an OBP, 20 to 25 home runs and a handful of stolen bases.  That might not be Victor Robles, but that’s a really good player.

Fantasy Impact:  It’s a shame that Soto was hurt so much this year.  Fortunately, they were not soft tissue injuries so worrying about him be injury-prone is not warranted at this time.  However, his timetable is likely slowed with a realistic arrival of the 2020 season to the major leagues.  The impact could be impressive.  A .280/.380 hitter with 20 to 25 home runs and high single-digit stolen bases.

Carter Kieboom (SS)

Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS

The Nationals selected the man with an 80-grade name, Carter Kieboom in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft.  The Nationals assigned him to the Sally League where he got off to a great start, slashing .333/.388/.586 through mid-May.  Unfortunately, a hamstring injury caused him to miss the next six weeks of the season and once he returned, he never really got it going.

Scouting Report: Kieboom has solid skills across the board but doesn’t have that one standout tool.  He has an excellent approach which should allow him to hit for a high batting average.  He has good bat speed and as he fills out, he should be able to hit for average power.  He’s also a good runner but doesn’t have a great first step, so I’m not sure if stolen bases will be part of the profile.

Defensively, he should be able to stay in the dirt but is 50/50 on whether he can stay at short long-term.  He has an above-average arm.

Fantasy Impact: Kieboom is a kid to keep on your radar.  While there’s no standout tool, he could be an effective fantasy player, particularly if stays at shortstop.  The upside is 12 to 15 home runs, a .270 batting average and the potential for plenty of runs scored.

Erick Fedde (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP or Reliever

It was a tough year for Erick Fedde.  He started the season in Double-A where he pitched well in seven starts, posting a 3.16 ERA in 42.2 innings. Then the Nationals decided to move him to the bullpen in order to help a really bad major league bullpen.  He initially pitched ok, but then the Nationals changed course and decided to move him back to the starting rotation.  Things seem to unravel after that.

After his promotion to Triple-A, he posted a 4.76 ERA, striking out 25 and walking five in 34 innings. The results were enough for the Nationals to promote him to the big leagues where he pitched inconsistently in three starts.  In his last start, he hurt his forearm and was sent to the disabled list at the end of August.

Starter to reliever to starter and hurt.  How many times have we seen this?  It’s a shame but that’s the life of a minor league ballplayer trying to establish himself.  They do what they are asked and sometimes it ends up this way.  Hopefully, Fedde can return next season healthy and get his career back on track.  He has the stuff and pitchability to be a mid-rotation starter or possibly a long reliever, but he’s got the talent to make it.

Scouting Report:  I had a chance to see Fedde in Trenton and was less than impressed with his overall stuff.  First, the fastball is solid.  It sat 92 to 94 MPH (T95) with some nice late movement His secondary pitches though were average.  His slider was a little too firm and didn’t have the separation I like to see with a fastball.  The change-up was below-average and the splits back it up as left-handed batters hit nearly .300 in Triple-A and the major leagues.

I see a mid-rotation starter or if he can’t improve his secondary pitches, a middle reliever.  Secondary pitches, particularly a change-up can improve with instruction, so in the end, I think he’ll be ok.  But, he’s no longer an elite starting pitching prospect for me.

Fantasy Impact:  Fedde has taken a step back for me this year.  After seeing him in Double-A, the secondary pitches need improving and until that happens, I see a number 3/4 starter profile or even a middle reliever.  Maybe the Nationals are thinking the same thing and is why they had him going back and forth between the two roles last season.  That’s obviously not helpful either.

Seth Romero (LHP)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP

As the Nationals are prone to do, they took a gamble at the draft table last June in taking Seth Romero with the 25th overall pick in the draft.  It’s not that Romero doesn’t have talent, he clearly does, but his antics in college caused him to have multiple suspensions and to be eventually kicked off the team.   Once he fell, you just knew he would be a Nationals.  They’ve done it with Anthony Rendon, Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde, but they all fell because of injury issues and not getting kicked off their team.

Scouting Report:  Few question Seth Romero’s stuff.  He has a quality fastball/slider combination and is able to throw both for strikes.  In his 22 innings across the GCL and the New York Penn League, he struck out 35 while only walking eight.  The 4.91 ERA was not stellar but the underlying stats were indeed impressive.

As a college pitcher, Romero should move quickly through the minor leagues.  He’ll likely split time between Low and High-A next year before having a chance to see the major leagues in the second half of 2019 or in 2020.  The upside is a number three major league starter.

Fantasy Impact:  Assuming Romero’s youthful mistakes are behind him, he has a chance to be a solid contributor to your fantasy team.  I would definitely take a gamble on him in the second round of Dynasty League redraft as the talent is there.  The upside is a high strikeout pitcher with better than average ratios.

Andrew Stevenson (OF)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF

I know a lot of fantasy players who had a chance to see Andrew Stevenson last year at the Arizona Fall Leauge fell in love with his speed and the barrel control he demonstrated.  They saw visions of a top-of-the-order impact performer with 30 stolen bases and tons of runs scored.  While this is entirely possible, I think he’s likely more of a fourth outfielder that could provide spurts of fantasy goodness from time to time.

Scouting Report: Stevenson was overshadowed by Alex Bregman in college but for some who saw him, they liked his approach every bit as much as Bregman.  He’s patient at the plate and just doesn’t swing at bad pitches.  To use a baseball cliché, he’s a grinder.  The swing lacks any power as he doesn’t use his lower half very well.  Therefore, he’ll likely always have below-average power.

His best secondary skill is his double-plus speed but his position in the lineup will be critical for success.  If he’s batting at the back of the lineup, the stolen bases will not be there.  Given the current makeup of the Nationals system, Stevenson hitting at the top of the order doesn’t seem likely.

Fantasy Impact: With power up and speed staying static in the fantasy game, Stevenson becomes an intriguing player in a Dynasty League.  He can only play center field but with Michael Taylor, Adam Eaton and soon, Victor Robles competing for time, he’s blocked.  I think a trade is the best course for Stevenson owners.

Luis Garcia (SS)

Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2021-22, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 SS with extreme risk

Taken as one of the top international prospects in the J2 2016 signing period, Luis Garcia had a very nice debut in the GCL last season.  In 49 games, he hit .302 with 11 stolen bases, showing nice contactability.  He was very aggressive at the plate with a 4.3% walk rate.

The Nationals are obviously very high on their young Venezuelan shortstop and while he shows a nice feel for hitting as a 17-year-old, he’s still likely four to five years away from seeing the big leagues.

Scouting Report: Garcia is a great athlete whose baseball skills are very raw.  His carrying tool is his double-plus foot speed.  He also shows a feel for hitting and despite having good bat speed, has no current power.  He lacks physicality but that should come as he matures and fills-out.

Defensively, he should be able to stay up the middle at either short or second base.  The Nationals will likely keep him at short as long as possible.

It’s all about projectability with Garcia and if he develops, his ceiling is a Top 15 shortstop.  However, given his age and experience, the risk is extreme.
Fantasy Impact:  It’s always nice to roster one or two Luis Garcia’s on a Dynasty League team – high-risk lottery picks that might have future impact.  The likelihood is low but I do like Garcia and if you’re willing to wait five years, the payoff could be very nice.

Daniel Johnson (OF)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF

I had never heard of Daniel Johnson until I saw him in a game over the summer.  He went 3 for 4 and stung the ball hard in each plate appearance.

He had a very good season across Low and High-A.  In 130 games he slashed .298/.356/.505 with 22 home runs and 22 stolen bases.  To emphasize the point of how good his season was, only seven guys in the minor leagues went 20/20 this past season.  Most of those players were household names like Ronald Acuna, Scott Kingery and Franando Tatis.  Daniel Johnson was one of them.

Scouting Report: Johnson is pretty tooled up.  He has plus bat speed, is a plus runner and is showing the ability to control the strike zone.  On the negative side, he was old for both leagues and as a college player, maybe he should have dominated.  But tools are tools and he has them.

Double-A will likely be the big hurdle for him.  If he continues to hit, the stock will go way up.  If not, he will likely fall into obscurity.  Based on what I saw, I think he hits with a little pop and speed to go along with it.

Fantasy Impact:  Most Dynasty League owners have never heard of Daniel Johnson but if he hits next season in Double-A, people will.  While it’s risky, I would be adding him in Dynasty Leagues that roster less than 200 minor leagues.  If Double-A proves difficult, you simply drop him and move on.  But, the tools are fantasy friendly and I think he’s worth taking a gamble.

Kelvin Gutierrez (3B)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 3B

After Kelvin Gutierrez stole 19 bases in 2016, I became intrigued with the 6-foot-3 Dominican third baseman.  He was showing no home run power, but had the bat speed and size that projecting double-digit power seemed reasonable.

I was therefore disappointed when he only stole three bases and still showed very little power in 58 games in High-A.  Granted, he was injured for a good part of the second half.

Scouting Report:  I did get a chance to catch Gutierrez in a couple of games and I really like the swing and approach.  He showed patience and good bat speed.  Again, given his size, I think he will eventually hit for some power.  He’s definitely an above-average runner, so I think he has a chance to steal double-digit stolen bases.

Finally, he can really pick it at third with a strong arm.  I wouldn’t call it an accurate arm but he could develop into a plus defender.

Fantasy Impact: Gutierrez is still about projection and until we see the power develop, he should only be owned in very deep Dynasty Leagues.  If it does, he could be a 20/15 player with a .270 batting average.

Raudy Read (C)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Second catcher

The journey was has been long for Raudy Read after signing in 2010 out the Dominican Republic at 16-years-old.  Seven years later, he made his major league debut.  The combination of kids signing at 16 and the length of time it takes to develop as a catcher, makes the development time exceptionally lengthy for catchers like Read.

Scouting Report:  Read has always made good contact with a 15% career strikeout rate but really hasn’t shown much power.  However, the power started to show last season as he slugged .455 while hitting 17 home runs in Double-A.  He didn’t sacrifice much contact either.

Defensively he’s become a good defender, throwing out 31% of would-be base stealers.  While that’s not a sterling percentage, I have pop times on him at sub 1.9.  At 6 feet and 170 pounds, he’s also very nimble behind the plate and is learning to call a good game.

While the upside is likely a backup catcher if the power continues to develop he could turn into something more.

Fantasy Impact:  I’ve seen Read play a couple of times and liked what I saw.  The upside is likely a second catcher at best in a Dynasty League, but he can hit and is developing power so there could be more in the tank.  He’s a guy to monitor.

2018 Emerging Prospect

Yasal Antuna (SS)

The Nationals invested over $3.8 million dollars in Yasal Antuna in the 2016 J2 signing period.  He got into games last season and showed a surprisingly great feel for hitting.  In 48 games, he hit .301 and walked nearly as much as he struck out.  He’s an above-average runner with plus bat speed.  However, his swing is geared more for contact now but that will likely change as he matures and fills-out.

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