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Washington Nationals

Original Published Date: November 25, 2016

nationalsFor those who follow me on Twitter or listen to our podcast know that I wasn’t happy when Trea Turner started the season in the minor leagues.  My thoughts: “Here we go again with Dusty Baker”.  Granted, my gripe was not totally transparent as I was a huge holder of Turner in fantasy leagues and was tick…bummed…annoyed…take your pick.  But, I have to give it to Dusty, he and the Washington brass did the right thing and brought up Turner and he blew up and helped bring a divisional banner to the Nations Capital.

The Nationals are good and should be good for a while.  The have strength in their lineup, pitching staff with some excellent options still in the minor.

Lucas Giolito continues to lead the list and while he didn’t have a great major league debut is still the real deal and just needed a bit more grooming.  Reynaldo Lopez also saw time in Washington and the results were mixed.  I still maintain he’s a reliever with a chance to be a dominate high-leverage guy.  As we’ve seen in the last three playoffs, it’s about the reliever and I think you are going to start to see that reflected in salaries very soon.  Erick Fedde is still a year away with a ceiling of a number two starter.  Also, the Nats 2016 first round draft pick, Dane Dunning has huge upside.  In fact, don’t be surprised if Dunning’s stock takes a huge uptick in 2017.

Finally, there’s Victor Robles, a player I thought I ranked high last year but clearly many of you think he’s the best player…well, ever.  Perhaps 100 was too low but he still has a ways to go.  However, there’s no denying the upside and I promise to rank him higher than 100 this year.  Also, spend some time reading my capsule of Juan Soto.  He doesn’t have the upside of Robles but it’s in the same ballpark.

There’s still a lot to like in Washington and I still believe they win it all over the next two to three years.  Will it be with Dusty, I bet it won’t.

Lucas Giolito (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SP

It was an eventful year for now 22-year-old Lucas Giolito.  He started the season in Harrisburg of the Eastern League and got off to a very slow start.  The walks were up, the strikeouts were down and the ERA on May 4th stood at 5.52.  There was some worry around the league…ok, more like around my house, but not with Giolito as things started to click and the ERA righted itself; although he still walked more than he had in the past.  It didn’t matter as the Nationals called him up on June 28th to make his major league debut.

It was a one and done outing.  In 3.1 innings, he gave up four hits, two earned runs and three more walks and was sent back to the minors, but this time to Triple-A.   He was called up for good in September and likely is done with his minor league training.  Is he ready?  Candidly, he still has some work to do on his fastball command as well as throwing consistent strikes, but he’s good…really good.

Scouting Report:  Giolito continued to demonstrate 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 (94.40 in his major league outings) bumping 96.  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.

At 6-foot-6, Giolito will likely fight his control for the next couple of years.  Long-levered pitchers just struggle, but he’s athletic and I believe he’ll eventually have average, if not better control.  He has simple and smooth mechanics and gets very good extension on his pitches.  The upside continues to be a number one starter…not next year or even in 2018, but it would not surprise me to see him compete for a CY-Young or two.

Fantasy Impact:  Giolito is owned in all Dynasty Leagues and should be owned in all 2017 re-draft leagues.   While he’s going to be very good, I would tap the breaks just a little next year and not overdraft him.  I would target him as my number four pitcher and let him go if he’s draft ADP shows something higher.

Victor Robles (OF)

Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 fantasy player

I had Victor Robles as my emerging prospect last year and the number 100 overall prospect in the game and took a beating.  Some of my readers thought he should be at least in the top 25, perhaps even top 10.  I disagreed as I just don’t believe an 18-year-old who has so much development left should be ranked that high.  There’s just too much that can go wrong.  Part of doing rankings is to balance upside vs. risk and I just believed that there was too much risk last year with Robles to rank him that high.  But after spending time in both Low and High-A, we have a better feel for what he can do and what work is left.

Scouting Report: How much work is left?  Actually, not a whole lot.  Robles showed an impressive hit-tool in three months in Low-A, hitting .305 with a 13% strikeout rate and a 6.3% walk rate.  He was aggressive, but a 6% walk rate at 19-years-old isn’t terrible.  He showed his double-plus speed and stole bases at will.  Everything pretty much translated upon his promotion to the Carolina League.  He showed excellent contactability and similar plate patience.  He also stole 18 of 23 bases.

What didn’t show up was the power and it’s probably a couple of years off.  He’s got premium bat speed but the swing is pretty level.  As he matures and gets stronger, I think he will naturally gain loft resulting in more home runs.  He’s not going to be a slugger, but he could hit 15 to 20 home runs down the road.

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 comp’d Buxton to Andrew McCutchen or maybe a young Carl Crawford and believe Robles has that same type of potential.  He’s still a two to three years away, but the Nationals are moving him quickly, so it could come faster.  Buckle up…

Erick Fedde (RHP)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP

It’s been two years since Erick Fedde had TJ Surgery and in 2016, the right-hander pitched to the level that many believed would lead to a Top 10, or even higher draft selection.   He pitched most of the year in High-A, posting a 2.85 ERA, striking out over a batter an inning while walking 1.87 per nine.  Upon his promotion to Harrisburg, he continued to pitch well, striking out close to a batter an inning and walking just three per nine.

The gamble seems to have paid off for the Nationals; much like it did when they selected an injured Lucas Giolito in 2012.  Fedde should start the season back in Double-A with a chance to see the major leagues in the second half.   His upside is a solid number three major league starter with a chance to be one of the better pitchers in the league.

Scouting Report:  Fedde has a nice three-pitch mix that features a fastball that sits 92 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.

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 two starter.

Fantasy Impact:  Fedde is a really good pitcher that continues to fly under-the-radar in Dynasty League circles.  The arsenal is improving as he gets further away from surgery and with elite control and improving fastball command, he has a chance to be a Top 30 starting pitcher with a good strikeout rate and excellent ratios.

Reynaldo Lopez (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer

Looking to fill-in for injuries, the Nationals tried a variety of pitchers in the number five spot including 22-year-old Reynaldo Lopez.  After taking it slow with the hard throwing right-hander early in his career, the Nats moved him through two levels last season before his promotion.  He held his own but overall, did not pitch all that effective.  In 11 appearances including six starts, he pitched to a 4.91 ERA, striking out almost a batter and inning but also walked 4.5 per nine.

He had moments of showing the potential that made him our XX ranked prospect last year.  For instance, in a September start against the Pirates, he pitched 5.1 shutout innings giving up three hits, striking out six while walking two.  In a three inning relief appearance against the Mets, he didn’t give up a hit.  However, mixed in were some ugly outings that proved the he was just not ready.

Scouting Report:  Lopez throws really hard, averaging an impressive 96.77 MPH in his 44 innings in the majors.  When he pitched in relief, he hit triple-digits.  His best secondary pitch is a 77 to 79 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 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).  While the Nats will continue to push Lopez as a starter, I think the delivery and lack of a quality third pitch will eventually cause a move to the bullpen.  Just to be clear, I feel the same way about Severino.

Fantasy Impact: I expect Lopez to split time between Washington and Syracuse next season.  I think he will also continue to be a starter, at least early in the season.  However, if the Nationals need bullpen help, I don’t think they will hesitate to move him there.  Plus, Lucas Giolito should log significant innings and Erick Fedde could see starts as well.  It might just make sense all-around for the Nationals to simply move him to the bullpen.  If that happens, the upside is a closer, and potentially a dominate one.

Juan Soto (OF)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF

In trying to learn from my Victor Robles mistake, at least that’s what you tell me, I’m ranking 17-year-old Juan Soto in the Nationals Top 10 list.  No, he doesn’t have the same upside as Robles, but he has an advanced approach like Robles with more present power.  He’s also not the same level of athlete, but as with Robles, he can hit and that should take him a long way.

The Nationals signed Soto to a $1.5 million dollar signing bonus as a 16-year-old coming out of the Dominican Republic in 2015.  He opened his professional career in the GCL and had no problem.  In fact, he was one of the better performers in the league, batting .361 with five home runs and a 1:1.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  He struck out only 13.7%; all as a 17-year-old.

Scouting Report:  Soto’s carrying tool is his ability to hit.  In fact, his hit-tool is so advanced that the Nationals will likely start him in Hagerstown of the Sally to begin next season.  He has very good bat speed but doesn’t sell out for power, instead barreling up pitches and driving them to all fields.  Over time, the power will come with a chance to hit 20 home runs annually.

He has average foot speed currently, but that will decline as he fills out.  I would place his stolen base potential at high single-digits early in his career but tapering off quickly.  Defensively, he’s mostly played right field but could move to left or even first.  I believe the bat will play enough for both.

Fantasy Impact:  Everyone wants to know about sleepers…well…here you go.  The upside is 20 home runs with a .280/.360 batting average/on-base percentage.  While he’ll play the entire 2017 as an 18-year-old, I expect most of that to be at Low-A.  That could easily put his arrival in Washington at 2020, or even a year earlier.  He would be 21-years-old, the same age that many college players will be drafted that year.

Dane Dunning (RHP)

Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP

The Nationals had back-to-back picks in the first round last June and selected Dane Dunning with their second pick.  Dunning, a right-handed pitcher from Florida was both a starter and reliever in college but he moved to the starting rotation after being signed by the Nationals.

He pitched well in eight starts, seven in the New York Penn League, posting a 2.02 ERA with 32 strikeout and only seven walks in 35.2 innings.  With his improving stuff, size and polish, he should move through the system quickly with a chance to see the big leagues as early as 2018.

Scouting Report: Dunning has good stuff but it plays up because he pounds the strike zone with double-plus control.  It’s an approach that’s a double-edge sword.  You want to throw strikes but if the stuff is not good enough to miss bats, you can get pounded. I don’t think that will be the case with Dunning as the fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH with a lot of movement.  His best secondary pitch is his change-up but his curve ball does show promise and continues to improve.  In fact, reports that I received during the Fall Instructional League were very encouraging.

Fantasy Impact: As a legitimate first round draft pick, Dunning is an intriguing arm to own in a Dynasty League.  I would target him in the third to fourth round in a rookie draft.  The upside is a nice fourth starter on a fantasy team with seven to eight strikeouts per nine, an excellent WHIP but a slightly inflated ERA.

Andrew Stevenson (OF)

Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF – elite speed

Taken in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Andrew Stevenson had a fine season at two stops in 2016.  He handled the Carolina League with ease, batting .304 with an impressive 90% contact rate. The going got a little tougher in Double-A, but he still managed an 80% contact rate.  It’s an advanced hit-tool and with double-plus speed, he profiles to be a top-of-the-lineup threat at the big league level; kind of like a poor-man’s Trea Turner.

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.  Last season he stole 40 bases in 54 attempts.  That’s a solid percentage and given his ability to work a count and get on base, I think 40 stolen bases are doable at the highest level.

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 Trea Turner currently manning the position, he’s blocked.  However, I still think Turner moves to short and that could free up a spot for Stevenson.  If not, he could be moved in a trade.

Carter Kieboom (SS)

Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder

The Nationals decided to go with a familiar name when selecting their 2016 first round pick – Carter Kieboom, brother of Spencer, the Nationals fifth round pick in 2012 and who made his major league debut last season.  While Spencer is a catcher, with a catchers body, Carter is much more athletic and consequently, has a higher ceiling.

He had a strong professional debut, hitting .244 with a .452 SLUG in 36 games in the GCL.  He did strike out an alarming 43 times or 28% of the time.  However, he was only 18-years-old and everyone I spoke to about him thought he would be a good hitter…so, I’m giving him a mulligan.

Scouting Report: Kieboom has solid skills across the board but doesn’t have that one standout tool.  He has an excellent approach and assuming his contact issue last season was an outlier, he should hit for an average, if not more 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 how much stolen bases will be part of the profile.

Defensively, he should be able to stay in the dirt with a good chance to remain at shortstop.  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.

Koda Glover (RHP)

Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer

Guys that are 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds and can bump 100 MPH get my attention.  This is why Koda Glover makes our list, despite being a bullpen arm.  He has electric stuff, was a proven closer in college and has saved 13 games in the year and a half that he has played professional ball.

Glover started 2016 off in High-A, made a couple of appearances in the big leagues in June before coming up for good in mid-August.  While he didn’t have a great stat line in his 19 games in Washington, he’s been dominate in the minors.  In 59 games, he pitched to 2.09 ERA, striking out nearly 11 per nine while walking 1.7 per nine.  He’s got closer written all over him and with Mark Melancon a free agent entering 2017, he could get his chance.

Scouting Report: Glover throws really hard averaging nearly 98 MPH in his 19 games in the big league.  His best secondary pitch is a hard slider with nasty cutting action that averaged 91 MPH.  He’ll throw a curve and change-up every once in a while, but he’s pretty much a fastball/slider guy.  The stuff is not quite Ken Giles-ish but it’s pretty darn close.

His mechanics are clean and simple.  When you couple that with his size and stuff, it’s easy to see why I’m excited about the long-term prospects of him become a closer, and a possible lock-down one.

Fantasy Impact: The Nationals have a great team and I doubt they give the closer gig to Glover out of spring training.  In fact, it might not even be next year, but he’ll move from the 7th to the 8th and then to the goodness of fantasy owner’s hearts.  I’m buying and suggest you do as well.

Austin Voth (RHP)

Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire SP

Austin Voth arguably had the best statistical year of any pitcher in the Nationals organization.  In 27 games (25 starts) in Triple-A, he posted a 3.15 ERA with 133 strikeouts, 57 walks in 157 innings.  It was a nice year…a very nice year.  However, it’s more command and control over stuff and therefore, I think Voth profiles as an up-and-down guy or a fifth starter at the highest level.

Scouting Report: If you look at Voth’s minor league stat line, it’s easy to get excited about Austin Voth.  In 90 games, he’s pitched to a 2.84 ERA, striking out nearly a batter an innings and walked an impressive 2.6 per nine.  When you put a gun on him though, it’s just not impressive.  His fastball sat 87 to 89 MPH and bumped 91 once, when I saw him.  It was a pretty flat offering but he was able to locate it well.  He kept batters off-balance with a nice tight slider and a very good change-up.  The feel for pitching was excellent.

The problem I have is there is just a lot of pitchers what that profile and they usually wind up as fifth starters.  While there is nothing wrong with that, for fantasy owners, you are looking for more.  That said, he’s ready for the next step and therefore, he’s a guy to monitor.

Fantasy Impact:  The profile for me is a fifth starter but given Voth’s proximity to the majors, owners in deep re-draft leagues, or NFBC Draft and Hold Leagues should consider a flier on him.

2017 Emerging Prospect

Drew Ward (3B)

I wanted to get Ward into the main list but he just fell a little short.  So, I decided to include him on my emerging list.  I saw Ward play in Double-A this year and he looks the part.  He’s strong with plus power potential and a better hitter than I thought.  I know he hit .219 at Harrisburg, but he made decent contact and had better contact prior to the promotion.  I think there’s eventually going to be 20 home run power and a decent .260 batting average.  It’s not a first division profile, but with a little more loft in the swing, he might surprise.

 

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