Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Washington Nationals

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The Nationals have an extremely interesting system, highlighted by a handful of consensus big-upside prospects in Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, and Reynaldo Lopez. Though it doesn’t have the name recognition throughout that some of the top-rated teams have, this is one of the more exciting organizations to cover as a prospector (prospectator?). The Auburn and Hagerstown affiliates may end up being the most exciting groups to watch by mid-season.

In general, the Nationals seem to have found a niche bringing in a ton of underrated hit-tool-heavy guys that are hitting their stride at the same time. Expect a lot of turnover with this list by next year, as the top guys are due for full-time gigs in Washington, and the upside prospects start to separate themselves a bit more. If you could criticize any part of the system, there are a few less high-upside arms in the lower minors than many teams like to stockpile. In terms of total value, however, this group doesn’t have a problem stacking up against the rest of the league.

Following the top four are a sizable number of 50+ prospects who provide the big-league club with sufficient low-cost resources to hold them over until their talented crop of players in the lower levels have time to sort themselves out. Though I find myself lower on a few popular prospects like Pedro Severino, Juan Soto and Rafael Bautista, I am equally more enthusiastic than most on less established players like Telmito Agustin, Kelvin Gutierrez and Taylor Hearn.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I communicate scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels. If you prefer the traditional methodologies of other publications, I would suggest averaging the latter two grades together to get a semi-optimistic view of where a player projects.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list.

Organizational Overview

The Nationals find themselves in an interesting position; contenders with a young core, but no real possible path to keep this group together. The organization has attempted to blend short-term contention while also stockpiling assets to keep the team competitive even as free agency dismantles their current roster, and may have managed to thread that needle. The team looks excellent now, and with a wave of young star talent on the horizon, they should be able to plug the holes that open up as players depart. And having the best hitter in baseball doesn’t hurt. The team will change faces from year to year, but there’s enough assets here for the Nationals to remain a force in the NL for years to come.

50+ FV Prospects

Video courtesy of Mick Reinhard
1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
Current Level/Age: Double-A/21.7, 6’6/255, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 16th overall (1st round) in 2012 out of California HS by WAS for $2.925 million bonus
Previous Rank: 1

Giolito already has one of the best 1-2 punches in the minors with his fastball and curveball. His fastball runs 94-98 with movement, and his curveball is nearly unhittable at times. Though he commands his curveball extremely well, his ability to locate his fastball lags behind a bit. He should be able to have average command overall, and his changeup is at least a solid-average future pitch.

As he continues to build up innings this season, he will work toward his ceiling as a first or second starter. I remain concerned about his arm health in the long run given the elbow surgery in his draft year and the stress he puts on it still. He doesn’t get the most use out of his core, and he has a huge acceleration force on his elbow at release. On his potent curveball, in particular, he doesn’t finish well, throwing it without ever letting his forearm pronate. The stuff is sufficiently good that even if he does miss time, he’ll be at least as valuable as a number-three starter.

He has looked better the further removed he is from surgery, and there’s enough hope he can find a balance between the unbelievable effectiveness of his stuff and keeping his arm healthy. If he were guaranteed to be unaffected by further issues, I’d have him down for a full grade higher on his likely and ceiling values. He remains one of the highest-upside starters in the minor leagues, but he needs to demonstrate he can do it sustainably over a few seasons before I’ll really buy into the top end of his possible outcomes.

Fastball: 60/65/70 Curveball: 65/70/75+ Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 55/60+/70

2. Trea Turner, SS
Current Level/Age: MLB/22.7, 6’1/185, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 13th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of North Carolina State by SD for $2.9 million bonus, traded to WAS in June 2015
Previous Rank: 3

Turner’s still pretty young as far as his baseball skills are concerned, and yet would already fit on the Nationals’ big-league roster as a valuable contributor. He has excellent speed and a quick bat, with enough glove to be a decent shortstop or an above-average second baseman. His footwork could use some sharpening, and he’s still figuring out how best to utilize his speed on the base paths. His ground-ball swing takes away some potential on the offensive side, as well, though he has shown signs of leveling out his path and driving more balls in the gap over the last year.

If he just stays on track with what he’s doing now, he’s a plus performer at short or second with the ability to impact the game on every side of the ball. Just a touch of improvement on the bases or in the field vaults him even higher, while consistently getting his swing on a level plane could make him one of the better hitters in the game when combined with his bat speed and contact ability.

Hit: 50/55/60 Power: 40/45/55 Run: 60/65/70 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 45+/60/70+

Video courtesy of Mick Rosenbaum
3. Victor Robles, OF
Current Level/Age: Low-A/18.9, 6’0/185, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2013 out of Dominican Republic by WAS for $225,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 18

Robles has the raw tools to be an interesting prospect, but it’s his advanced ability to utilize those tools at a young age that pushes him to the top of this list. He has plus-plus speed and nearly as high a grade on his arm, while his defense in center is already regarded as a plus. Most importantly, he puts together fantastic at-bats for a young hitter, making tons of contact yet not relying on it too much by being ultra aggressive.

The only tool of his that may turn out to be below-average is his power, but even that has average upside as well. He has the bat speed, and occasionally he will throw out some really nice swings that show good lift and use of his body. Most of the time, he still swings with a lot of downward motion to his swing path, hinting at more of a ground-ball/low-line-drive batted-ball profile in the future. With the speed he has there may be pressure to actively try to put the ball on the ground, which would take away from his power production despite a quick bat.

Hit: 35/55/60 Power: 25/40/50 Run: 65/70/75 Field: 55/60/60 Throw: 65/65/65
Overall: 30/60-65/70+

Video courtesy of Baseball America
4. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
Current Level/Age: High-A/22.2, 6’0/185, R/R
Acquired: Signed in 2012 out of Dominican Republic for $17,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 2

Lopez had another fantastic development year in High-A Potomac, improving his strikeout rate while keeping his walks at a promising level given his raw stuff on the mound. He doesn’t have true command of his pitches yet, but he stays around the zone enough to continue down the starter path. His mid-90s fastball can reach the triple digits and has good life, while his curveball and changeup remain around average offerings with 55+ potential.

Despite his medium-sized frame, Lopez has one of the quickest rotational timelines of any pitching prospect, resulting in consistently high velocity with relatively clean arm actions. He could use a little better deceleration with his arm, often ending his motion with a lot of recoil and locking out his core. He’s athletic enough that I have less concern over his future command and stress on his arm than most guys who throw as hard as he does, and I’ll be hoping to see him live in the lower end of his velocity band where he can command the ball better.

He wouldn’t need much more time in the minors to be a shutdown closer, though he has an excellent chance of turning into a number-three starter or better if he makes some adjustments. His curveball could use some fine-tuning, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it morphed into more of a slider to better play off his big fastball. His changeup is a straight offering with enough velocity difference to keep most hitters off balance. He slows his arm down a bit, but his fastball gets on the hitter quickly enough that it almost doesn’t matter.

Fastball: 60/70/75 Curveball: 45/50/55-60 Changeup: 45/50/55 Command: 40/45+/50
Overall: 45/55-60/65

Video courtesy of Ryan Sullivan
5. Erick Fedde, RHP
Current Level/Age: Single-A/23.1, 6’4/180, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 18th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of UNLV for $2.511 million bonus
Previous Rank: 4

Fedde has recovered nicely from Tommy John surgery to be on track for a big-league rotation spot, though his ceiling may not be as high as his college stuff and production suggested before the draft. His arsenal features a heavy sinker in the low-90s, serving as a ground ball-inducer and generating whiffs against minor-league hitters. He throws an impressive amount of strikes compared to most sinker-slider prospects, giving hope that he can turn his good control into above-average command. His slider and changeup show potential, but his command of both offerings hasn’t completely developed yet.

Fedde has come into 2016 with more developed build, particularly noticeable in his lower half, which was the basis for a lot of his reliance on pure arm strength prior to getting hurt. His arm action still isn’t perfect, but the increased support from the rest of his body and improved direction to the plate should give his arm the best chance of staying healthy. The key for this season will be logging innings and improving the command of his secondary stuff, just what his well-controlled fastball will give him plenty of good opportunities to do.

His exceptional control gives him a higher upside than most sinker-ballers, but without the mid- to upper-90s velocity he showed in college, his fastball will still be a weak contact pitch rather than a true swing-and-miss offering. If his slider can reach its ceiling, he’s a solid number-two starter. If he stays the course, I still like him as a mid-rotation guy who will roll through ground ball-hitting teams.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 45/55/60 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/55/65

Video courtesy of Adam McInturff
6. Andrew Stevenson, OF
Current Level/Age: Single-A/21.8, 6’0/185, L/L
Acquired: Drafted 58th overall (2nd round) in 2015 out of LSU for $750,000 bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Stevenson has exceptional contact skills, plus speed and at least plus defensive value in center field despite a weak arm. His bat is still a bit of a question mark because of some funk in his college swing, but a lot of that has been smoothed over in pro ball. He does appear to be an extreme ground-ball hitter, making him very reliant on his speed and finding holes in the infield. There won’t be any power without wholesale changes to his swing plane, but he hits the ball hard enough to see him making it work.

He only needs to be somewhat close to average with the bat to be a full-time center fielder, since his base-running and fielding abilities have enough value to make up for the lack of impact at the plate. If he can maintain decent walk rates, and he ends up being more of a 65 fielder, you’re looking at All-Star type of production.

Hit: 45/50/55+ Power: 25/30/35 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 60/60/65 Throw: 40/40/40
Overall: 40/50/65

Video courtesy of Major League Baseball
7. Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS
Current Level/Age: MLB/24.1, 5’11/200, B/R
Acquired: Signed in 2010 out of Dominican Republic for $20,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 7

Difo is a strong contact hitter with extremely fast hands, having exhibited the ability to put a ton of hard-hit balls in play at the big-league level. He has a bit more natural lift from the right side than his left. His lefty swing gets pulled across by his stronger right hand, resulting in more low line drives and ground balls to the pull side than his more balanced swing on the right. Though he’s likely a better overall hitter from the right side as a result, there’s plenty of potential on both sides to be a dangerous switch-hitter.

He will need to develop a bit more selectivity to continue producing against major-league pitchers, for which he’s shown enough potential in the minors not to be a concern in the long run. He has plus-plus potential on the bases, and his defense is good enough that he can play a solid second base or a slightly below-average shortstop. I like his chances of being a regular big-league second baseman with the expected approach improvements, possessing plus potential if his hit tool develops fully.

Hit: 45/55/60 Power: 35/35-40/40 Run: 65/65/70 Field: 50/50+/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 40/50+/60

Video courtesy of Minor League Baseball
8. AJ Cole, RHP
Current Level/Age: MLB/24.2, 6’5/215, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 116th overall (4th round) in 2010 out of Florida HS for $2 million bonus
Previous Rank: 6

While Cole isn’t throwing in the upper-90s as often anymore, he has sufficiently put himself back into the future rotation plans of the Nationals with continued solid performance. He may not have more than mid-rotation upside at this point — none of his pitches project better than above-average — but his command and fastball-changeup combination will allow him to produce useful innings as a starter.

Both of his breaking balls are more notable for his prospective command than their movement. He throws from a closed-off landing, often causing his arm to be late and leaving his breaking balls up in the zone. He’s a good athlete with solid feel for throwing strikes, so I think that’s something that gets better with adjustments over time. Look for Cole to get another look in the big-league rotation this year should a need arise.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Slider: 45/50/55 Curveball: 45/50/50 Changeup: 50/55/55 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 45/50/55+

45+ FV Prospects

9. Taylor Hearn, LHP, VIDEO, Low-A

Hearn is a lanky left-hander who was taken out of Oklahoma Baptist in the fifth round last year. He has a ton of athleticism and physical projection, while his fastball already reaches the upper-90s in short outings. He’s mainly a two-pitch hurler right now, pairing his strong heater with a potential plus slider. He has a changeup as well, but it is a distant third pitch at present.

As Jeff Zimmerman pointed out last June, the competition Hearn was facing didn’t require a third pitch, and he may not need one to stay in the rotation as a pro, either. His fastball is not only quick, but also has exceptional movement, solid command and deceptive arm speed. His slider looks to develop into at least an above-average pitch, and his changeup just needs to be mildly adequate to play well off his great fastball.

The only thing keeping me from going higher on his overall grades is the apparent willingness to move him into the bullpen. The Nationals will let him develop as a starter, but his potential as a fireballing lefty reliever may be too good to pass up in the short-term. I like his arm and stuff enough to want him in the rotation, though with a strong year in Hagerstown this season that may become the consensus very quickly.

Fastball: 55/65/70 Slider: 45/55/60 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 40/45-50/55+

10. Koda Glover, RHP, VIDEO, MLB

Taken in the eighth round last year out of Oklahoma State, Glover combines a mid- to upper-90s heater with a potential plus low-90s slider, throwing both for quality strikes. He struck out 38 batters while allowing only two walks last year in 30 professional innings. He opens this season in High-A and could see the big-league pen soon if he continues throwing with the same command.

Fastball: 65/65/70 Slider: 55/55/60 Changeup: 40/40/40 Command: 45/45+/50
Overall: 40/45/50

11. Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, VIDEO, Low-A

I like Gutierrez’s actions at the plate and at third base, but he really has to improve his swing plane to tap into his raw power. If he hits the same way he does now, he could challenge for the league lead in ground-ball percentage. I think physical development will help his batting average, but it won’t do much for his power unless he creates more lift with his swing. Regardless, I like his chances of being at least a platoon/fringe starting option at third, with upside as a regular if he makes even slight adjustments.

Hit: 30/45+/50 Power: 25/40/45 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 50/50+/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 25/45/50+

12. Austin Voth, RHP, VIDEO, Double-A

Voth has average grades across the the board with above-average command potential. I feel like I’ve seen more strike-throwing ability than enough command to really jump above a back-end starter projection. Though there isn’t a crazy high ceiling on his mound work, he’s as much of a lock to be a useful big-league pitcher as anybody in the minors.

Fastball: 50/50/55 Slider: 50/50/55 Changeup: 45/50/50 Command: 50/55/55
Overall: 40/45/45-50

40+ FV Prospects

13. Telmito Agustin, OF, VIDEO, Low-A

Agustin has quick hands at the plate and the potential for at least plus base-running value. He’s raw defensively, and he won’t hit for a ton of power despite his bat speed because of his approach, but there’s sizable upside if he continues getting on base. He makes solid contact and hits the ball hard, so he’ll be an interesting hitter to follow in Hagerstown this year.

Hit: 25/50/55 Power: 20/35/40 Run: 55/60/65 Field: 45/50/55 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 20/40-45/55+

14. Osvaldo Abreu, SS/2B, VIDEO, Single-A

Improved strength and plate discipline led to Abreu’s breakout season last year, but he still has work to do if he’s to project as a starting option in Washington. His power may end up being more gap shots, and though he makes good contact, he still needs more development in his approach to get to an average hit tool. He has quick hands and good balance in batting practice, so a lot of it is tied to his game approach letting his natural abilities go to work.

Defensively, he probably won’t have the range of a typical shortstop, but the hands and arm are perfectly good enough there. He could play a solid second base, or he could be one of those shortstops that isn’t flashy but gets the job done. Either way, he’s an above-average fielder with the arm strength to match. He has the speed and aggressiveness to steal some bases, but he doesn’t have the elite speed or the experienced reads yet to project for more than above-average base-running.

Abreu has around average tools across the board, but with the possible value of the hit tool remaining a little obscure, I have to go somewhat conservative on his likely future grade. This year in High-A will tell us a lot about where his power and approach are going, and we can better nail down whether he’s a real starting infield option or more of the solid bench role to which he seems destined right now.

Hit: 30/45/50 Power: 30/45/50 Run: 55/55/55+ Field: 50/55/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 25/40+/55

15. Anderson Franco, 3B, VIDEO, Low-A

Franco has a lot of potential with the bat, showing an advanced approach and the potential for plus power when he matures. I really like his swing and potential for consistent lift, backed by a large frame and enough strength to reach plus power if he continues to improve his pitch recognition. Having also played shortstop, he is regarded as an above-average third baseman with a strong arm.

The question is how much his hit tool will develop. He’s shown some issues recognizing spin and laying off tough pitches. Though he has good swing path, he is more pull-heavy at present and can rush his hands to contact a bit too much. I think he has a better chance than most sluggers of his ilk to maintain his swing and learn to hit offspeed pitches with more experience.

How he develops his pitch-tracking over the next year or two will go a long way toward determining whether he’s a bench bat or an above-average regular. I’m definitely a fan but got enough reports about questions surrounding his hit tool to temper expectations for now. I’ll be sure to get more looks at him this season, wanting to see signs that he can be on time for all speeds without needing to guess before the pitch is on its way.

Hit: 20/45+/55 Power: 25/55/60 Run: 30/30/30 Field: 45/50/50+ Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 20/40/55

16. Blake Perkins, OF, VIDEO, Rookie

Perkins has an easygoing, handsy swing from the right side, and he has gone back to switch-hitting for the foreseeable future. It may take a couple years to get a grasp on his ultimate ability, but the athleticism is there in every aspect of his game. He has the speed, arm and instincts to man center field long-term, and his legs give him a chance to be a plus base-runner. I won’t read much into his results this year, but I’ll be interested to see how he looks from the left side of the plate. This is a conservative ranking, and one that could go way up after getting a better look at him later in the summer.

Hit: 20/45/50 Power: 20/35/40 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 50/55+/60 Throw: 45/50/50
Overall: 20/40+/55+

17. Jakson Reetz, C, VIDEO, Low-A

Reetz is an interesting combination of raw tools and advanced baseball skills, though it hasn’t coalesced quite yet because of injuries and some mechanical deficiencies on both sides of the ball. He has a quick, powerful lower half and the makings of good hands, both in the box and with his throwing. They don’t connect well yet, with his shoulders getting muscled and taking over his actions, but he shows real potential to be an above-average thrower and hitter if things come together.

He’s a work in progress with his receiving behind the plate and his pitch recognition at bat. And yet, he has a patient approach that allows him to get on base even when he’s not timing up well with the ball. I’m cautiously bullish on him figuring things out, while openly admitting it’s going to take some time even if it were inevitable.

The spread between his likely and ceiling grades are more a product of how much improvement he has to make than my level of confidence in his abilities. He begins the 2016 season in Low-A Hagerstown, which will be a tough but important placement for him to demonstrate how close he is to turning the corner.

Hit: 25/45/50 Power: 25/40/50 Run: 45/40/45 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 50/55/55
Overall: 25/40+/55

18. Rafael Bautista, OF, VIDEO, High-A

Bautista is a tremendous athlete who is just starting to tap into the baseball applications of his tools. With plus-plus speed and excellent bat speed, it’s easy to dream on how good he could be if the game skills reflect his raw athletic talent. He doesn’t have a great approach at the plate, and his swing is athletic yet very much geared toward putting ground balls in play instead of driving gaps. With plus potential defense in center, his floor is pretty high as a situational bench player. He needs to make adjustments with the bat to profile as more than that.

He’s been aggressively pushed to Double-A to start the 2016 season, which may limit how much he’s going to change his approach at the plate. I’m not counting on big changes, so the future likely holds a fourth- or fifth-outfield role for Bautista.

Hit: 40/45/45+ Power: 25/30/35 Run: 65/70/75 Field: 55/55/60 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 35/40/50

19. Max Schrock, 2B/OF, VIDEO, MLB

Not highly regarded after putting up some impressive numbers at South Carolina, Schrock is getting the opportunity to turn some heads now after getting nabbed in the 13th round last year. He doesn’t have flashy bat speed or a big frame, but he creates easy lift with an efficient swing to produce decent power. He walks about as often as he strikes out with a fantastic understanding of the strike zone. When he swings, he doesn’t miss much, and he could end up with an above-average or better hit tool.

He’s relegated to second base defensively, but the hope is that he can be serviceable there. If not, he also has outfield experience as well. He won’t steal a ton of bases, but here again, his base-running instincts are solid and won’t embarrass a team, either. If his hit tool continues to progress, he has starter upside. The realistic role for him is as a bench bat with an offensive slant.

Hit: 40/50+/55-60 Power: 35/40/45 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 40/45/45+ Throw: 45/45/45
Overall: 30/40/50

20. Andrew Lee, RHP, VIDEO, Low-A

Lee has had a nice introduction to the Nationals minor leagues, tallying 57 strikeouts and only 14 walks (plus no home runs) in his first 48.2 professional innings. He has a Tommy John surgery in his past, and there are some effort and sequencing issues that could limit his durability in the future. He has a decent fastball and a sharp curveball that should help him continue breezing through A-ball this season. He needs to build up innings after being a two-way player in college to see where he’s really at developmentally, but reports have him as a possible back-end starter with upside.

Fastball: 50/50+/55 Slider: 40/45/50 Curveball: 50/55/60 Command: 45/45+/50
Overall: 40/40+/45-50

21. Pedro Severino, C, VIDEO, MLB

Severino made his big-league debut last year and should get another opportunity there if either of the parent club’s options have to miss time. A defense-first catcher, he makes decent contact at the plate but doesn’t have much ability to drive the ball. His is a decent line-drive stroke that may let him BABIP his way to a couple decent offensive years, but he’s not an asset there.

Though many regard his defense as an easy plus, I have that as his ceiling with a present 55 grade. I don’t see him as better than a solid-average receiver behind the plate. He keeps his body quiet while catching pitches, but he stabs at the ball slightly as he reacts to where the ball goes. That’s different from most plus or better receivers who are able to beat the ball to the spot and give umpires a better look.

He is great at blocking pitches and has a cannon for an arm with a quick release, so he’s still a valuable option behind the plate; perhaps just not a starting backstop automatically because of his defense.

Hit: 35/40/40 Power: 35/35+/40 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 55/55+/60 Throw: 65/65/65
Overall: 35/40/45+

22. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP, VIDEO, Single-A

Rodriguez saw his command get exposed a bit in 2015, but there’s still decent potential in his arm. He’s more likely to end up in the bullpen with an inconsistent delivery and some effort, but the fastball and curveball will play very well there. It all hinges on his command improving a tick, giving him the upside of a seventh-inning type of role.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 40/40-45/45
Overall: 35/40/45+

23. Rhett Wiseman, OF, VIDEO, MLB

Wiseman was one of the most fun players to watch on last year’s Vanderbilt team, with a solid all-around game, a power outburst and great energy on the field. The power he has is almost strictly to his pull side and very reliant on him staying on his legs during his swing, something that happened very little against advanced offspeed pitching in pro ball last summer.He has good hands and contact ability when he’s not trying to do too much, and I think he’d be better off if he went with a more low-key approach and let the power come naturally.

With average tools on the bases and in the field, he has a good floor as a fourth or fifth oufielder, but there’s more to his game if he can develop it properly. I’ll be watching to see how he does letting breaking balls get to him instead of his upper body rushing toward the pitcher. If he can do that, his hit tool should be good enough to work into a more active role, perhaps as a platoon outfielder or fringe starter.

Hit: 25/40-45/45+ Power: 35/45/50 Run: 50/50/55 Field: 50/50/50+ Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 30/40/45

Cistulli’s Guy

Paolo Espino, RHP, Triple-A

By way of a very technological and sophisticated coding mechanism, it’s possible for FanGraphs authors to “link” a player’s profile page to FanGraphs posts in which that same player’s name has been invoked. A brief inspection of Bryce Harper’s profile, for example, reveals links to a recent dispatch in which Dave Cameron compares the current iteration of Harper to Mike Trout, and then a piece in which August Fagerstrom examines the difficulties of striking out Harper, and then another (by Neil Weinberg) concerning the parity among the top teams in the NL East.

In stark contrast, one finds that all five of the posts to which Paolo Espino’s profile links have been authored by Carson Cistulli — all of them regarding some manner of obscure statistical distinction and all of them published over the course of a month in the autumn of 2013.

It needs to be said: left to his own devices, the present author would have dedicated this space to University of South Carolina product and former 13th-round selection Max Schrock. Indeed, a commendably researched article published at this very site presents an airtight case for Schrock’s future claim to the MVP award.

Unfortunately, Farnsworth has claimed Schrock for the main list above. So, instead, one finds here merely a passing reference to Espino’s success in the high minors and then three pitches selected from a plate appearance some time last August:

Quick Hits

Upper-level hitters: 1B Jose Marmolejos-Diaz (VIDEO) has loose hands at the plate and feel for hitting, and last year started to show some real power. I’m not ready to buy in yet because of some swing concerns, but the approach is there. I’ll be watching closely early this season. 2B/OF Chris Bostick (VIDEO) has a decent swing with gap-power potential, but he doesn’t walk or square enough balls up to make up for his lackluster defense and or profile as a guarantee as a bench option. C Raudy Read (VIDEO) has some offensive potential and a strong arm, but his receiving is still a work in progress and the bat won’t be strong enough to play another position.

3B Drew Ward (VIDEO) hits the ball hard but may not have enough hit tool or natural lift to have it translate. I’m not sold on him needing to move off third base yet, but that it’s being discussed tells you where he’s at presently on the defensive side. 1B/3B Matt Skole (VIDEO) brings power potential and some ability to get on base via walks, but his defense and lack of offensive consistency has him topping out as corner bench bat with some pop.

C Spencer Kieboom (VIDEO) has a good approach and loose hands at the plate when he’s on time. He could be a decent backup catcher if his walk rate holds, being a good bet to provide average defense behind the plate. OF Brian Goodwin (VIDEO) is a ground ball hitter that flashes some pull power and base-running ability. He could still carve out a fourth- or fifth-outfielder role out if things click and the strikeouts stay under control.

Lower-level hitters: OF Juan Soto (VIDEO) could go a bunch of ways with his power and hit tools, having some bat speed but a bunch of warts in his swing to go with it. He shows a good approach already. He should be able to play right field competently, but his physical development will hopefully be the key to injecting some baseball athleticism into his work at the plate. SS Edwin Lora shouldn’t have a problem sticking at short in the long run and has some potential on the bases, but a lack of power and pretty extreme rawness at the plate make his floor very low.

Upper-level pitchers: RHP Abel De Los Santos (VIDEO) has a hard fastball and an above-average breaking ball, both limited by poor command that keeps him from being more than a middle reliever despite flashing a nasty curve on occasion. LHP Nick Lee has a good fastball-curveball combo, but he’s an all-arm pitcher with tons of issues with consistency and deception.

Lower-level pitchers: RHP Joan Baez is an arm to follow for his big arm and projectable curveball, with command being his biggest hindrance. LHP Tyler Watson (VIDEO) was a late-round Arizona prep pick last year with a long, lanky frame and no meat on his bones. He had a nice debut, and the Nationals will hope his physical development will bring better control of his 6-foot-5 body and increased velocity.

Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

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If a little heavy, have to say that this system is way up there right now. Giolito is going to be a beast.


* top-heavy