I liked the Nationals’ deal to move Steven Souza for Trea Turner and Joe Ross and they’re doing a nice job finding prospects despite lower draft position and international bonus pool. Being aggressive with injured pitchers in the draft (Giolito) has already paid off big and may soon pay off again (Fedde).
Stacking this system up with the other 14 I’ve done so far, I realize the reason I don’t have a ton to say is the Nationals system is very average, which is an accomplishment given that they are perennial contenders focused on their big league team: they haven’t busted their international pool, gone after high profile international free agents or had the extra picks to spend as much as some other big market clubs with better systems.
Washington made the most of their time in the cellar (and were fortunate that it coincided with Bryce Harper‘s and Stephen Strasburg’s draft years), will make a deal for prospects when they like the value, have a couple high end prospects (which some teams with higher draft positions still don’t have), a solid middle class with okay depth, along with some longer shot upside bets to watch. I’d bet they end up in the 13-17 area when I rank the systems at the end of this process, which shows a large net positive contribution from the scouting and player development staffs.
Here’s the primer for the series and a disclaimer about how we don’t really know anything. See the links above for the ongoing series about how I evaluate, including the series on the ever-complicated hit tool.
Most of what you need to know for this list is in the above links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due to injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report. The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (a notch better than the projected tools, or a 75% projection while the projected tools are a 50% projection) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.
Below, I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets that the Nats have in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. I’m working on a bunch of lists at the same time, so up next in the series will be the Braves, Orioles, Yankees and A’s, in the order that I finish them.
Big League Growth Assets
1. Anthony Rendon, 2B, Age 24, FV: 75
2. Bryce Harper, RF, Age 22, FV: 70
3. Wilson Ramos, C, Age 27, FV: 55
4. Blake Treinen, RHP, Age 26, FV: 45
5. Tyler Moore, 1B, Age 27, FV: 45
6. Taylor Jordan, RHP, Age 25, FV: 45
Organizational Overview by Dave Cameron
The Nationals short-term outlook is extremely strong, with a strong roster and weak divisional competition making a 2015 postseason berth highly probable. They also boast multiple young franchise players, creating a core that should allow the Nationals to remain strong for years to come, provided they can find the money to sign them all to long-term contracts, anyway. 2015 will be the last hurrah for this particular group before free agency forces the team to find new role players, but if Mike Rizzo can keep stealing quality players from other organizations for little in return, the Nationals won’t have too many problems maintaining a strong roster for years to come.
50+ FV Prospects
1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
Current Level/Age: Low-A/20.5, 6’6/255, R/R
Drafted: 16th overall (1st round) in 2012 out of California HS by WSH for $2.925 million bonus, Agency: CAA
Fastball: 65/70, Curveball: 60/70, Changeup: 45/55, Command: 45/50+
Scouting Report: Giolito was nationally know by scouts all the way back to when he hit 95 mph at age 15, so he was hyped as a potential high first rounder in the 2012 draft for years. He dominated over the summer and winter and was in the running to go 1-1 as one of the top prep pitchers of all-time, until he was shut down with a sprained UCL in his elbow. This led to an expected Tommy John surgery one outing after he signed for an $800,000 overslot bonus as the 16th overall pick, as the Nationals moved all-in to make Giolito most of their total 2012 draft expenditure.
That gamble paid off as Giolito was almost back to normal late in 2013 when he returned to throw 36.2 innings at two short-season levels. The stuff was all the way back this year as he dominated Low-A at age 19/20 in his first full year coming off of surgery. The Nationals were understandably conservative with pitch and innings counts in 2014, wanting to keep Giolito at the same level in a low stress environment so he wouldn’t go too deep in innings/games or be tempted to reach back for the 100 mph heater he’s thrown many times before.
Giolito will work 93-96 and hit 98 mph regularly and his knockout curveball, which gets 65 or 70 grades from scouts is his signature off-speed pitch, giving him among the best two-pitch combos in the minors. His changeup is rapidly improving and flashes 60 for some scouts, but he doesn’t throw it much given his competition and his other two pitches. Giolito can throw his curveball for strikes or use it as a chase pitch, showing a surprising amount of feel for a young power pitcher coming off off TJ, when it normally take a couple years for command to come all the way back. He’s broadly built with some remaining projection and the delivery for at least average command, so every source I’ve talked to projects him as a starter without reservation and he could still get better.
Summation: Giolito will start in High-A this year and the reigns will be loosened, with higher IP/pitch limits and if he keeps performing the same way, there’s an expectation that he’ll get promoted to Double-A in 2015. The Nats have a slow early/fast late promotion tendency and they told me once he gets to Double-A, they’ll evaluate where he is and set an MLB timetable based on what he looks like there. If there appear to be no ill effects from the elbow surgery, he could be on the fast track with a solid start to 2015 and he has true #1 starter upside, but TJ is completely in the rear view just yet.
FV/Role/Risk: 65, #2/3 starter, Medium (3 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: High-A/AA, 2016: AA/AAA/MLB, 2017: MLB
Video Credit to Jeremy Houghtaling
2. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
Current Level/Age: Low-A/21.0, 6’0/185, R/R
Signed: IFA at age 18 on June 21, 2012 out of Dominican Republic by WSH for $17,000 bonus
Fastball: 65/75, Curveball: 50/55, Changeup: 45/50+, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: Lopez signed with no fanfare, getting a $17,000 bonus at age 18 near the end of the 2012 signing period. He sat in the upper 80’s at the time, then his velo steadily climbed a tick each month until he hit the mid-90’s in 2013. He only pitched a handful of innings in 2013 due to a sore arm, which is somewhat expected for a teenager whose climbing velocity is putting new stresses on his arm.
Lopez got back on the mound in 2014 and took off, sitting 93-97 and hitting 100 mph on many occasions. He adds and subtracts from his fastball, showing surprising feel for a young power arm and his changeup and command both flash average to slightly above potential because of his advanced body control and feel for his delivery. The player development staff helped Lopez tweak his delivery for 2014, making him more direct to the plate and more downhill to leverage the ball better and cut out the east/west movement in his delivery. The result was more arm speed from the same slot, more plane, more life to his fastball, more grounders and all of that added up to make weak contact swings and misses.
Lopez also tweaked the grip on his curveball and, in combination with this delivery adjustment, gave the pitch more of an 11-to-5 tilt that he confidently used to both sides of the plate. He shows advanced mound presence, easy to his delivery and has grown by leaps and bounds recently to the point that scouts are unsure what his ultimate upside is. There’s a lack of projection to his frame but he’s athletic and strong with very good feel for his delivery, so it’s almost a plus that he isn’t still growing into his frame and he may move quickly.
Summation: Lopez is a hot name with scouts and multiple teams have asked about him in trades and without reservation gushed about him to me; this is a little uncommon for a player from a rival team without a lot of hype. He moved up a couple spots after every scout I talked to about him and, after emerging in the 2nd half of 2014, he may take another step forward in 2015 toward the top of overall prospect lists.
FV/Role/Risk: 55, #3/4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A/High-A, 2016: High-A/AA, 2017: AA/AAA/MLB, 2018: MLB
3. Trea Turner, SS
Current Level/Age: Lo-A/21.5, 6’1/175, R/R
Drafted: 13th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of North Carolina State by SD for $2.9 million bonus, Agency: CAA
Hit: 20/50, Raw Power: 40/40, Game Power: 20/40, Run: 70/70, Field: 50/55, Throw: 55/55
Note: As I tweeted after Turner’s name came up in the rumors around the Wil Myers trade, he became eligible to be traded on December 13th, which was exactly 6 months after he signed his draft contract on June 13th. A player-to-be-named-later can be in question for up to 6 months and a drafted player has to wait until one year after he signs his contract to be traded. Turner will play for the Padres organization until June 13th, 2015, then will be shipped to the Nationals. He’s technically Padres property, but I’ll list him here, since everyone knows he’s going to Washington and maybe soon if the MLBPA grievance speeds up the process.
Scouting Report: Turner is polarizing but more because he hasn’t played much in pro ball and he had a bad draft year at North Carolina State. Scouts with history back to his underclass years with the Wolfpack (the above video is chronological and starts in his sophomore year and with Team USA later that summer) are more optimistic because they saw the good version of Turner and know that a mechanical adjustment can explain almost all of his offensive struggles.
Turner had a couple minor leg injuries and then spread his feet too far apart, probably to generate more power, which caused his base to be weak and collapse at contact, undermining his natural bat control. He made the adjustment weeks before the draft and everything seemed in order in pro ball. Turner taps into his raw power in games when he’s making hard contact and he could be an 8-12 homer guy at maturity, but that isn’t really a big part of his game, more of a perk when he’s making lots of contact.
With a full season in 2015 of solid performance, I would likely adjust Turner’s hit grade up at least one notch, as I’m already on the optimistic side right now versus scouts who only saw him struggle with Team USA and early in his draft spring.
Turner was a late bloomer that was largely unscouted in high school until very late in his senior spring and he played third base his freshman year in college. He slid over to shortstop as a sophomore and eventually settled in to where his hands, instincts and actions are enough to be average at the position and his 55 arm is enough to make the play in the hole. Due to some of those minor leg injuries, Turner’s 80 speed is now more of a 70 in game situations, but that difference is tough to notice unless you’re using a stopwatch.
Summation: The Padres were pleasantly surprised that Turner was on the board for them at 13th overall last summer and worked out an above slot deal to make sure he’d make it though those last couple picks ahead of them. He’ll start in A-Ball next year but could be a quick mover if he reverts to his 2013 form in 2015.
Upside: .280/.350/.420, 10-12 homers, plus plus base running, solid average defense
FV/Risk: 50, Medium (3 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Hi-A/AA, 2016: AA/AAA, 2017: AAA/MLB
4. Erick Fedde, RHP
Current Level/Age: None/21.9, 6’4/180, R/R
Drafted: 18th overall (1st round) in 2014 out of UNLV by WSH for $2.511 million bonus, Agency: Boras Corp
Fastball: 60/65, Slider: 50/60, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 40/50
Scouting Report: Fedde jumped on the national scene as a power arm last summer on the Cape and also on Team USA’s loaded pitching staff. He slowly progressed during his draft spring but then had Tommy John surgery a couple weeks before the draft. Given his slight build for a power pitcher, there are some durability questions and his velo would vary game-to-game, but the stuff is top shelf at it’s best.
On his best days, Fedde would sit 92-95 and hit 97 mph with a plus slider, an average changeup and command, projecting as a #2/3 starter. In other outings, he’d sit 90-93 with a 55 slider and a fringy changeup and command, with some scouts suggesting he’d fit better as a closer.
Fedde is throwing already and is expected to get on a throwing program in March. His pre-signing physical didn’t show any problems, so the expectation is that Fedde will be back to 100% in the next year or so, like fellow former injured Nationals draftee Giolito. If Fedde wasn’t hurt, he would be #2 on this list, but TJ’s roughly 80% success rate means there’s still a decent chance his stuff and/or command aren’t the same after this surgery. It’s normally about 2-3 years until we know with some certainty if everything came back as it was pre-surgery.
Summation: The plan is for Fedde to appear back on the mound in simulated games around mid-season and then to proceed cautiously, meaning lower levels then either instructs or the Arizona Fall League is a likely path. He would then be set up to loosen the reigns in 2016 and, if everything comes back as expected, Fedde could be on the fast track and a couple spots higher on this list.
FV/Role/Risk: 50, #4 starter, High (4 on 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2015: Low-A, 2016: High-A/AA, 2017: AA/AAA, 2018: AAA/MLB
45 FV Prospects
5. Michael Taylor, CF Video: Taylor is easy to like as the 6’3/210 athlete can make a big first impression: plus raw power and speed and good defensive instincts to go with an above average arm. He’s also already reached the big leagues, but the 23-year-old really struggled in his 43 plate appearances in September. That’s the crux of what scouts worry about with Taylor: he has good bat speed but will probably always have contact issues. Taylor chases the slider off the plate, doesn’t have a great grasp of the strike zone and finds himself off-balance with poor timing at the plate, with mechanical and plate discipline problems that can feed off each other. He’s so talented that he needs to be in the big leagues to be challenged enough to make adjustments, but many top prospects with this profile never figure it out.
Taylor has his share of good hitting characteristics, as his power is to all fields and his big league homer was to the opposite field. He’s also made adjustments/improvements at the plate, particularly last year, and is still relatively young, so there’s some thought Taylor needs to face an extended big league challenge to make the leap. That said, a contending team may not have the patience to wait for that to happen. It’s also worth noting that some are very high on Taylor’s defense: one Nats official said he’s behind only Span in the org in terms of center field defense, playing shallow and covering lots of ground. Drew Stubbs has been tossed around as a reasonable comp and the speed, defense and raw power mean Taylor could even be terrible contact-wise and still a good backup outfielder.
6. A.J. Cole, RHP Video: Cole’s been on the prospect map for what seems like forever, as a high profile prep arm in the 2010 draft that was an overpay in the 4th round. He was traded to Oakland in a package for Gio Gonzalez in 2011, then back to the Nationals for Mike Morse in 2013. Cole has a solid 6’5/200 pitching frame and is a good athlete that repeats his delivery well, projecting for at least average command. He sits mostly 91-94, but has been as high as 98 mph at times. Cole’s changeup is above average and is his best off-speed pitch and he also throws a slider and curveball, with both around average and the slider the better of the two. Cole projects as a 4th starter, had some success at Double-A and Triple-A in 2014 and will be 23 in 2015, with a shot to get into the big league rotation at some point.
7. Wilmer Difo, 2B Video: Difo came out of nowhere in 2014 to have a breakout season at age 22. He signed out of the Dominican in 2010 at age 18 and got his first real playing time in a full season league last year, with outstanding results: he hit 14 homers and stole 49 bases while also striking out in under 11% of his plate appearances. He has real tools, too, as his speed is plus-plus and he isn’t bad defensively at shortstop, but he likely ends up playing second base, where he should be at least average.
Difo isn’t much of a power threat and his swing isn’t geared for power, but multiple Nats sources called him pound-for-pound the strongest guy in the system. He made big strides on and off the field last year but he still needs to make some higher level adjustments to let his tools play at the upper levels, having a consistent approach in each at bat and getting his hands loaded on time in each swing. Given his age, the Nats may skip High-A altogether and start Difo in Double-A if he appears up to the task in Spring Training.
Note: Taylor, Cole and Difo all could make a good case for being 50 FV. As I’m putting together all 30 lists to prepare for the overall top prospect list, I’ve split the 40 FV and 45 FV groups further, by adding 45+ and 40+ FV. I’ll continue to present the lists as I have so far, but I’ll make a note of which guys qualify for the higher grouping (Ward, Reetz and Voth are all 40+ FV).
The function of this is mostly to help me make each group smaller so when it’s time to rank players across lists that there’s fewer to compare to each other. The current plan is to have my overall prospect list include all players 45+ FV and up, which will be well over 100 and closer to 200 prospects.
8. Joe Ross, RHP Video: I wrote about Ross after he was traded to the Nationals in the Wil Myers three-way deal in December. Ross is a very athletic 6’4/205 with a clean arm action, a solid delivery, an explosive fastball (92-95 mph with plus life) and starter traits, along with good pedigree (25th overall pick 2011 out of high school) and bloodlines (younger brother of Padres RHP Tyson Ross). Some scouts suggest that Ross is a bit soft and question his mental toughness, which jives with the varying reports on his off-speed stuff.
Ross has above average control (think BB rate) but only projects for fringy to average command (think K/BB ratio) because his off-speed stuff varies night to night and he has trouble hitting exact spots with a plan. I’ve heard future grades range from 45 to 55 (some mention it flashes 60) on his slider, with most scouts agreeing it’s a future average to slightly above pitch, with the same range on the changeup, with most scouts calling it fringy, but he doesn’t throw it much, so I rounded up to average.
On the right night, you may see a 70 fastball, 55 slider, 55 changeup and solid average command and think you’re watching a future #3/4 starter. On other nights, everything is a notch worse and you think you’re seeing an 8th inning reliever. Scouts that saw him late in 2014 said the energy and arm speed were down and they wondered if he was fatigued, unfocused, hurt or some combination thereof. He’s a solid bet to return big league value and has the traits that scouts like to see to bet on future improvement; I see a fastball-reliant, groundball-generating back end starter.
9. Brian Goodwin, CF Video: Goodwin is more the typical type of center fielder compared to Taylor, the toolshed ranked 5th on this list. Goodwin is still plenty toolsy, as a plus runner (with just okay instincts, projecting average defensively in center) with an above average arm and fringy raw power. Goodwin has a line drive type approach, so the power is more 10-13 homers, still above average for the position. Like Taylor, Goodwin’s value comes down to his bat, but Goodwin’s offensive skills are more likely to translate at the big league level. He’s a late-count hitter than can get too passive at times, get in a rut and start over-thinking, causing problems only in his head, because his mechanics are consistent and he has above average bat speed. Goodwin will show flashes of leadoff hitter skills and will get a chance to redeem himself at Triple-A again in 2015.
10. Pedro Severino, C Video: Severino is very fun to watch and in my very limited look at him in the AFL a few months ago, he jumped off the field at me. He’s an above average runner and defender with a plus arm and all kinds of energy. Severino’s swing is solid and he has some pop, but the offensive tools haven’t quite added up to big performance yet. The glove will be his calling card for now and Severino is an excellent pitch framer and game caller that’s already one of the better English speakers in the Nats system. If he can focus on making contact and staying short to the ball, there’s a potentially long career for an athletic catcher with above average defense that isn’t terrible at the plate.
40 FV Prospects
11. Jakson Reetz, C Video: Reetz was a high-profile prospect on the showcase circuit as a standout talent from Nebraska that had everyday catcher tools, hit well at nearly every event, was into the low-90’s on the mound and was a three sport star in high school. His body got heavier late in the summer and his swing path got more uphill, but he fixed both during the spring, a time when scouts had trouble evaluating Reetz against poor Nebraska prep competition.
Reetz flashed average speed at times over the summer but has lost a tick since then. He has the tools to stick behind the plate with an above average arm, lots of energy and a grinder mentality. Reetz has advanced bat control and solid average raw power, so if he can keep his swing in order, there’s real upside here. Catchers typically take longer to develop and are less predictable but Reetz has the indicators you like to see.
12. Drew Ward, 3B Video: Ward had tons of buzz as a high school underclassman because he was so physical for his class and showed above average left-handed power with good performances at top events while playing shortstop. The problem is that he was very old for his class: playing with the 2014 prep draft class and aged like an older 2013 kid. Once scouts realized what they were looking at, he became a more ordinary prospects.
Given that he’s a big power hitter that physically matured quickly, he was close to being a finished product (for an amateur) in his junior season of high school, so he reclassified to enter the 2013 draft, where the Nats took him in the 3rd round. He was always seen as a third baseman and, depending on how much weight he added, eventually a first baseman. Ward has an above average arm and his hands are fine, but he’s 6’4/210, still growing, has trouble staying low on grounders and is a 35 runner, so first base seems inevitable.
Ward’s carrying tools are his bat and power and, competing at Low-A at 19, he was finally facing his peers in 2014 and he performed well. Ward is a power hitter so honing his approach to tap into his power without striking out too much is an important adjustment. He’s also just now facing real competition and dealing with failure after weak Oklahoma prep competition, so there’s reason to expect growth. He has some feel for the strike zone and tapping into his power in games and the tools are here for 55 hit and game power, which he’ll need to profile everyday at first base.
13. Austin Voth, RHP Video: Voth is an advanced pitchability guy that was drafted in the 5th round from Washington in 2013 and has limited physical projection left. He works with a fringy fastball and solid average changeup, working in a curveball that he doesn’t use enough but at times is above average. Voth threw a lot of innings in college, so the Nats think with a more regular usage pattern in pro ball, his velocity will climb from 88-90 to 91-93 and he has hit 95 mph before, so that isn’t just wishful thinking. Voth will pitch in the upper levels in 2015 and if the stuff ticks up a bit, he could be a threat for the 2016 rotation, with a better chance he settles as a #5 starter or swingman.
14. Aaron Barrett, RHP Video: Barrett is a reliever that just turned 27 and threw 40 innings in the big leagues last year, but he still technically qualifies for the list. He’s close to a finished product, performing well in his rookie year and the stuff is setup caliber: 92-95, touching 96 mph with a 55 slider. Barrett uses the slider a lot, tripling up on it at times and has no problem throwing strikes, but is more of a control (BB rate) over command (K/BB rate) guy. His ceiling is as a 45 FV setup guy and relievers are notoriously volatile, so this feels like a good spot for him, even though he’s a secure big league contributor. Also, his linked video doesn’t include him pitching, but it’s pretty funny.
15. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP Video: Rodriguez got lumped with Lopez as the talented young Latin arms in the system at one point, until Lopez took off in the second half of 2015 and Rodriguez is still more of a projection bet. He’s listed at 6’5/185 but both numbers are on the conservative side and with his broad shoulders, you can be sure Rodriguez will add more upper body strength. He was 20/21 in the 2014 season and is a converted infielder, so it’s a pleasant surprise that he’s already flashing starter traits and dominate at times. Rodriguez sits 92-96 and hits 97 mph with a curveball that’s above average at time and lots of plane, but the changeup is below average. He’ll get his first taste of full-season ball in 2015 and has a huge ceiling.
16. Felipe Rivero, LHP Video: Rivero was acquired with #23 on this list Vettleson and C Jose Lobaton last year from Tampa Bay for RHP Nate Karns. Rivero still hasn’t had it all click for him, but there’s #4 upside if he can make the delivery adjustments to consistently command his pitches in the zone. The first time I watched him pitch, I noticed Rivero’s glove hand dangling by his waist at release (the same problem Taijuan Walker had), which will vary slightly pitch to pitch and affect his timing and release point; this is something Washington acknowledged they’re working on. As a starter, Rivero sits 91-95 and hits 97 mph with a curveball and changeup that both flash 55 but are more often a consistent 50. I’m betting he becomes a setup guy and even if he stays a starter, the Nats rotation depth may push him to relief to get a big league opportunity.
17. Nick Pivetta, RHP Video: Pivetta was an arm strength 4th rounder out of a Juco in 2013 that showed some idea of how to pitch, but has made strides in that area since signing. He sits 92-94 and hits 96 mph with a slider that’s slurvy but above average at times, along with a curveball and changeup that are fringy. Pivetta has a durable workhorse frame and low miles on his arm as a Canadian that’s become a legit prospect in the last couple years. He’s a control over command guy that has a chance to stick as a back-end starter if he can be more consistent; Pivetta will head to High-A in 2015.
18. Victor Robles, CF: Robles is one of the most exciting players in the system and his only experience since signing for $225,000 on July 2, 2013, was this year in the DSL and a limited stint in instructs this fall. He’ll head to the GCL next year and could shoot up this list if the raw tools convert into performance, as he’ll be aged like 2015 draft high school players. He raked at age 17 in the DSL thanks to an advanced/patient approach, especially given his age and background, average raw power, and plus bat speed, foot speed and arm strength.
19. Matt Skole, 3B Video: Skole is less exciting than Robles because he’s already 25, missed most of the 2013 season with wrist/elbow surgery and is fringy at third base, so you’re hoping for a lefty corner utility bat. He has above average raw power and is a late-count hitter that can punish mistakes, but his swing can get uphill at times and he can be too passive as well. He’ll head to Triple-A next year and could be close to contributing, but is likely a true three outcomes corner utility or platoon guy you’re always trying to upgrade.
20. Sammy Solis, LHP Video: Solis is another older prospects, as he’s already 26 and hasn’t been on the mound much due to a number of arm injuries. In his medical, there’s significant back and quad injuries, along with a 2012 Tommy John and a 2014 that was almost completely washed out due to soreness in the same elbow. Given his age and injury history, you would assume the stuff is pretty good for him to still be on the list and it is: 90-93, with some life, hitting 95 after TJ and 97 before it, an inconsistent but solid average slider and an above average changeup. Everything is in order health-wise for him to return to the upper level and to the bigs, if he can stay healthy and the stuff is still there.
21. Rafael Bautista, CF Video: Bautista wasn’t hyped, signing in 2012 just before he turned 19 and hitting well in the DSL, GCL and Sally League in his three pro seasons. He’s a plus-plus runner that knows how to use his speed at the plate, on the bases and on defense. There are some questions about his game power, bat speed and his feel to hit in general, with one scout saying he could see Bautista turning into a 4th outfielder Jarrod Dyson type.
22. Drew Vettleson, RF Video: Vettleson was a sandwich rounder out of high school in 2010 as a right fielder with an above average arm, average power and advanced feel to hit from the left side. He performed well at the A-Ball levels for Tampa Bay in 2012 and 2013, but had some trouble tapping into his raw power in games, opting for more of a contact approach. In 2014 after being traded to the Nats, Vettleson really struggled at Double-A in a half season, regressing in almost every statistical category. It would appear to be a terrible sign for his potential platoon/low end everyday projection, but Vettleson missed two months with a broken hand a couple weeks into the season and never really got going. He looked back to normal in instructs and could be in line for a bounce-back 2015 at Double-A.
23. Jake Johansen, RHP Video: Johansen was a 2nd rounder in 2013 out of Dallas Baptist as a giant 6’6/235 power arm that showed occasional feel for secondary stuff and command. He’s still mostly that guy now, sitting 93-95 and running it up to 99 mph in short stints with a cutter that’s solid average and a fringy curveball that flashes 55. The changeup and command are still a work in progress and this is probably a 7th/8th inning guy, but some think Johansen is still growing into his frame and starter traits will come out in the next couple years.
John Simms, RHP
There are appear to be neither any great strengths nor particularly debilitating weaknesses with regard to Simms’ repertoire. He has a reputation for throwing an average fastball and mostly average other stuff. Nevertheless, he’s produced mostly above-average strikeout- and walk-rate differentials as a minor leaguer — even while having generally been on the young side for his leagues. The result is an encouraging ZiPS projection (1.0 WAR in 94.2 IP) — on par with or better than more celebrated prospects within the system, including Jake Johansen and Joe Ross and Austin Voth. Having finished his age-22 season with Double-A Harrisburg, he’s a candidate to begin there in 2015.
Here’s an example of Simms’ breaking ball from his last start of the season, flashing probably slightly better than average:
Others of Note
There’s five upper level bats to keep an eye on: 2B Tony Renda (5’8/180 and was 2nd rounder out of Cal in 2012; good approach, has hit everywhere, has advanced bat control, gets on base but hasn’t played short and has little power; Nats may try him at short to see if he can contribute there), 2B Jeff Kobernus (2009 2nd rounder went to Cal like Renda but has had MLB cup of coffee; plus plus speed, below average arm and contact approach make him a nice fit for a 25th man), SS Chris Bostick (acquired with De Los Santos, listed below, in the Ross Detwiler deal with Texas; similar to Renda and Kobernus as backup second baseman that can’t play short, but he has above average bat speed, solid average foot speed and could hit double digit homers), SS Stephen Perez (the hitting tools are just okay, but he has feel for the strike zone and is good enough with the glove to be a utility guy that plays shortstop) and CF Isaac Ballou (late-blooming tools guy is a plus runner with an above average arm and average power that profiles as a 4th outfielder if he can make enough contact).
There are four bats from the lower levels to keep on your radar: 3B Anderson Franco (Video Dominican got $900,000 last July 2nd period and has easy above average power and arm strength with some feel to hit, should be in GCL in 2015), C Raudy Read (offensive-oriented catcher has feel to hit and some pop to go with a plus arm but is 21 and still raw defensively, with ability to stick with behind the plate with some work), C Spencer Kieboom (Owner of dope last name and defensive specialist was 2012 5th rounder out of Clemson and has hit more than expected; has a solid chance to turn into a big league backup but will be 24 next year and hasn’t been above Low-A) and SS Edwin Lora (Dominican teenager was GCL shortstop last year and took a step forward with the bat, is a guy to watch for in 2015).
There are three more pitchers form the upper levels to watch: RHP Eric Fornataro (recent waiver claim from St. Louis has had MLB cup of coffee and projects as 7th inning guy similar to Ryan Mattheus, with a plus fastball that generates grounders but Fornataro’s secondary stuff is a little crisper), RHP John Simms (Video 6’3/205 righty has stigma of being a Rice pitcher, but has stayed healthy and moved quickly as pitchability righty with a fringy fastball and above average breaking ball) and RHP Abel De Los Santos (recently acquired from Texas with Bostick for Detwiler; power reliever has plus fastball and flashes an above average breaking ball, but is more of a thrower right now)
Finally, there are three pitchers at the lower levels to monitor: RHP Robbie Dickey (2014 4th rounder from Texas Juco will flash above average fastball/slider at times, running it up to 96 mph and drawing backend starter projection, but the stuff understandably faded a bit after signing) RHP Luis Reyes (6’2/175 Dominican righty has upside that he’s starting to tap into, flashing starter traits and hitting 95 mph with a solid average curveball; he should make his full-season debut next year at age 20) and LHP Nick Lee (smallish power lefty has command/delivery issues and likely fits in pen sooner than later, but has four pitches and starts for now to develop his stuff; 90-93, touching 96 mph, above average curveball, fringy changeup and below average slider)
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.