|Original Published Date: November 27, 2018|
I recently spoke to a die-hard Nationals fan and he was not happy. His comment: “With all that talent, why haven’t they won more?” It’s the right question to ask and one that I’m afraid is beyond the scope of this article. Over the past four years, there hasn’t been a more underperforming team in major league baseball. Most of their young prospects are now in the major leagues or traded for other major leaguers and the system is thinning.
Thinning, yes…but not yet thin. Victor Robles still qualifies as a prospect and is a Top 3 prospect in the game. While Juan Soto deservedly got all the press last season, Robles has a chance to be the better player. Perhaps not the better hitter, and in fact, Soto might one day win a batting title. But the combination of speed, emerging power and defensive acumen is going to make Robles special. Carter Kieboom is also a Top 100 prospect in the Washington organization and has a chance to be a solid performer in the big leagues. After that, it does get thin.
While some are high on Luis Garcia, I’m not sure how great of a fantasy player he’ll be. I do like Daniel Johnson and named him one of my sleepers. I also like the upside of Telmito Agustin and Yasel Antuna. All three players need to be monitored in Dynasty Leagues.
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1. Victor Robles (OF)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: First round pick
If Victor Robles had not injured himself in the fourth game of the year, Juan Soto would probably be in Double-A. Let that sit for a moment. As good as Soto is, Robles tools and upside are still greater. Sure, Soto’s hit tool is better and perhaps even his future power will be higher, but Robles’ is a double-plus defender with double-plus speed. As a fantasy player, he has more upside. But, and this is important, Soto has done it for 100 plus games in the big leagues and Robles has not. And to double-down, he’s not just “done it”, he put up a .406 on-base percentage…as a teenager. I mean, come on.
It was a tough year for Robles that ended well. He spent most of the time on the DL but did return to Triple-A in late July to post a .278 batting average with a .356 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases and two home runs. Then, he had a September call up where he continued to play extremely well hitting .288 with three home runs and three stolen bases in 21 games.
Robles has all the tools to be an absolute stud. While the power has not shown up, he has elite bat speed and the body type to at least project average, if not more power. I think the ceiling is a .280/.350 hitter with 15 home runs and 40 plus stolen bases. For those of you who remember, that’s Carl Crawford in his prime.
2. Carter Kieboom (SS/2B)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
Carter Kieboom had an outstanding 2018 season and appears to be just about ready for the big leagues. He split his time between High and Double-A slashing .280/.357/.444 with 16 home runs and nine stolen bases.
Kieboom is a hitter first with average power and enough speed to steal 5 to 10 stolen bases annually. He struck out 19.5% of the time while walking 10.5% of the time. While he hit 16 home runs, I don’t see him building on this too much. However, it seems like 15 to 16 home runs in the minor leagues turn into 20 to 25 in the major leagues, so I would not be shocked if he hit low 20s home runs annually.
While he’s primarily played shortstop in the minor leagues, a move to second makes sense. First, he’s blocked by Trea Turner and second, he’s arm strength and footwork are better served at the keystone than short.
3. Luis Garcia (SS/2B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SS
Luis Garcia is yet another young middle infielder that is working quickly through the system. Across Low and High-A, he hit .298/.336 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. He did hit 21 doubles to give him a .406 SLG. Since he has good bat speed, as he adds more strength, he could eventually hit 12 to 18 home runs annually. His speed regressed though and that does raise a red flag for fantasy owners. I expected him to steal 20 plus stolen bases in the future, but it might be time to downshift on that projection.
Garcia is a nice player with the ability to make hard, consistent contact (15% strikeout rate). He is an -aggressive hitter and does need to learn more plate patience. But, if you add it all up, he’s a 15-15 performer who should be able to hit .270/.330.
4. Mason Denaburg (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
The Nationals have never shied away from high-end talent with questionable medicals. In fact, they seem to thrive on drafting kids that had just had Tommy John surgery or would need it soon (Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde to name two). Mason Denaburg was another kid who dropped at the draft table due to a bicep injury. When he dropped to the Nationals at pick 27, they jumped on him.
They kept him back in the Complex, but from all accounts, he is healthy. Assuming he is, he has the size (6-foot-4 and a 195 pounds) to go along with a big fastball that gives the Nationals a lot to work with. The ceiling is clearly high but very risky. Not only is he 18-years-old, but he missed time in his senior year of high school and might even still be hurt. But as the Nationals have proven, with risk can many times come great reward.
5. Daniel Johnson (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
I was introduced to Daniel Johnson in 2017 in the Arizona Fall League and liked the athleticism he showed. He’s a burner and showed it both in the field and on the basepaths. He also showed nice raw power in batting practice. As a hitter, he made good contact but was extremely aggressive at the plate. I was intrigued and wanted to see if he could build on the promise I saw last year.
He got off to a strong start in Double-A and then missed six weeks with hamate surgery. All-in-all, in 89 games in Double-A, he hit .267/.321 with six home runs while stealing 21 bases (he was only caught 4 times). He also struck out 23% of the time while continuing to be aggressive (walking 6% of the time). In other words, it was about the same as what he did in 2017 minus some power regression which you would expect after having hamate surgery.
While there is fourth outfielder risk, the tools are real and fantasy owners need to take note. If he got full-time at-bats, he could easily steal 30 bases, perhaps more while adding double-digit home runs. With more plate patience it could all be there. For me, he’s the definition of a sleeper and a guy in which I would be investing.
6. Yasel Antuna (2B)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B with risk
Yasel Antuna was our emerging prospect last season on the backs of the Nationals spending $3.8 million dollars to sign the 6-foot shortstop. The Nationals challenged him to a full-season assignment to Hagerstown and it didn’t go well. In 87 games he only hit .220 with six home runs. Then in July, he had Tommy John surgery and was lost for the rest of the season. Perhaps his elbow bothering him the entire year.
I’m willing to give Antuna a mulligan. I believe the swing path is geared for contact and he definitely has an idea at the plate. In other words, I don’t believe he’s a .220 hitter. He also has great bat speed and as he matures, I believe he develops at least average power. The upside for me is still an impact fantasy performer with a .270/.340 average with 20 plus home runs and high single-digit speed. I doubt he stays at shortstop and in fact, the Nationals have already started to play him at second.
7. Telmito Agustin (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Telmito Agustin got off to a blistering start but dislocated his finger in mid-May and was not the same player when he returned. He was batting .386 with four home runs and three stolen bases prior to the injury but only managed to hit .238 with only one more home run the rest of the way.
While I don’t think Agustin is a .386 hitter, I do love his swing and athleticism and believe he could hit .280/.340 with 20 stolen base potential with a little bit of pop. That likely makes him a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, but he does have excellent bat speed and if he can develop some loft, he could develop more power and that would increase his upside.
8. Wil Crowe (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Over the first half of the year, Wil Crowe was one of the best pitchers in the Carolina League. In 16 games, he pitched to a 2.69 ERA striking out over eight per nine while walking 3.1 per nine. In August, he was promoted to Double-A and he struggled. In just five starts, he walked more than he struck out resulting in a 6.15 ERA.
While Crowe has a good fastball, he doesn’t have a top-of-the-rotation arsenal. He does throw strikes with a good feel for pitching. As a senior sign back in 2017, primarily due to having Tommy John surgery in his junior year (the Nationals do like guys who have arm trouble), the Nationals have him on a fast path to Washington. He’ll likely start back in Double-A to begin the 2019 season but should see Triple-A or even the Majors in the second half.
His likely ceiling is a number four starter on your fantasy team but I’ll hedge just slightly above that.
9. Seth Romero (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with extreme risk
As we wrote about last year, Seth Romero had multiple disciplinary actions in college that gave teams pause at the draft table during the 2017 MLB Draft. The Nationals swooped in, as they are known to do, and grabbed him with the 25th overall pick. While there is clearly the talent, Romero was once again suspended, this time by the Nationals for violating team rules. His season didn’t start until June 7th.
In seven starts in Low-A, he pitched well pitching to a 3.91 ERA striking out over 12 per nine while minimizing his walks to less than three. But at 22-years-old from a major D1 school, he should have pitched well in A-Ball. Unfortunately after seven starts, he hurt his elbow and missed the rest of the season recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
Net-net…it was a bad year for Romero – disciplined for violating team rules and now major arm surgery. He turns 23 next season and there is a lot to prove. The stuff still points to a mid-rotation starter, but there is significant risk.
10. Wilmer Perez (C)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C with extreme risk
When the Nationals overspent in the International market in 2016, one of the below-the-radar signs was Venezuelan Wilmer Perez. Since signing, he’s done nothing but hit.
In 95 games over the DSL, GCL and New York Penn League, he’s hit .325 with a .386 OBP. His approach and ability to control the strike zone has been very apparent as he has a lifetime 15% strikeout rate and a nearly 10% walk rate. While he’s a catcher, he has some athleticism with enough bat speed to profile with average power in the future. He’s a lifetime away and will likely play one more year in Short-Season before being assigned to a full-season affiliate. But, for Dynasty League owners who love em raw and projectable, here’s a guy for you.
11. Raudy Read (C)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2017 Fantasy Ceiling: Second catcher
Raudy Read’s season got off to a late start as he served an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s PED policy. When he returned, things didn’t go very well as he wasn’t able to build on the 17-home-run performance he accomplished in Double-A in 2017. The Nationals promoted him to Triple-A in early July but he was demoted just two weeks into his tenure. There is a huge range of outcomes for Read including a career minor league catcher. For now, we have set his ceiling as a second catcher.
12. Tim Cate (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
The Nationals look for value in the draft and have a history of not only looking for diamonds in the rough but also are not afraid to draft injured pitchers. It’s a risky strategy for sure as you could be throwing away millions of dollars, not to mention the opportunity cost of who you could have drafted.
Tim Cate was drafted in the second round from the University of Connecticut after forearm tightness limited his playing time in his draft year. He’s a lefty who can run his fastball up to the mid-90s with a quality curveball. He’s only 6-feet tall, so he could be homer-prone. He pitched ok in his introduction to pro ball showing a good strikeout-to-walk ratio but gave up too many hits including too many home runs.
13. Jake Irvin (RHP)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
One of the more intriguing arms the Nationals drafted last June was Oklahoma right-hander Jake Irvin. At 6-foot-6, he’s got size with a fastball that can touch the mid 90’s with a slider that will miss bats. The best part is he throws strikes and given his size, that’s no easy feat. The upside is likely a mid-rotation starter but with some tuning and a couple of increase ticks on his fastball, the calculus could change quickly.
While he can be ignored at the draft table in most Dynasty League formats, he’s still a guy that I would monitor throughout the year.
14. Austen Williams (RHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Reliever, maybe a closer
In today’s baseball game, all pitchers are getting paid. Starters, closer and yes, even middle relievers. In fact, if you can get guys out, you’ll get paid. After struggling for four years as a starter, the Nationals moved Austen Williams to the bullpen and he excelled. He went from a pitch-to-contact pitcher to a strikeout machine. The transformation led to a late-season call-up and a potential to break camp with the big league club in 2019.
15. Gage Canning (OF)
Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Extra Bat
After an impressive three year career at Arizona State University, Gage Canning fell to the Nationals in the fifth round of last June MLB Draft. He showed both speed and power, although modestly so in college, it didn’t translate in his first year of professional ball. That said, the speed-power combination is intriguing and while he’s likely a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, he should be monitored at this juncture by Dynasty League owners.