Nationals Righty Lucas Giolito Impresses, As Expected

Anyone who follows prospects knows that Washington Nationals pitching prospect Lucas Giolito comes with considerable hype. After being in consideration for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft before succumbing to elbow problems, Giolito has repeatedly shown the sort of form that put him in that conversation (one that, given the performance of Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton to date, is frankly quite lofty).

I have seen Giolito twice over the past two years, and I’ve happened to take in two of his more notable outings. Last August, I witnessed him toss five scoreless innings working exclusively with his fastball and changeup, and last week, I watched him throw seven no-hit frames after entering in the second inning. As one might expect, the heralded hurler showed plenty of substance behind his acclaim in both outings.

Fastball: 70/70


Giolito worked at 94-97 mph in this year’s outing, coming out firing 95-97 mph heat for the first three innings before losing a single tick later on. He was more at 92-95 much of last year, so this represents an increase beyond what was already fairly formidable velocity. At 6-foot-6, Giolito’s long wingspan and high arm slot give him excellent downhill plane on the ball, and the pitch will flash some late life at times.

Curveball: 60/65


Giolito’s much-touted curveball might be the hardest true curve in the minors, coming in at 82-86 mph. At its best, it offers a near-unmatched combination of speed and vertical break. In this particular outing, Giolito showed some inconsistency with the pitch, struggling to find a feel for it early on before throwing several plus breakers, flashing near plus-plus, as the game progressed. As one might expect given the sort of competition he’s facing, he tends to bury the pitch looking for chases, and thus could stand to show more of an ability to throw it for quality strikes, but there’s no reason for long-term concern here.

Changeup: 50/55


No, Giolito’s 83-89 mph changeup is not in the same echelon as his other two offerings, but it’s a solid pitch that could continue to improve. He typically delivers the pitch with quality arm speed, and with his extension to the plate, that makes the changeup appear to freeze as it approaches its target. However, the movement on the pitch is inconsistent. At its best, it shows quality sink, like the .gif above, but it often comes in without much life, leaving it to rely on speed separation alone. The action the pitch flashes needs to be present more frequently if the pitch is to reach its plus ceiling. The movement does show up often enough to leave open a chance of it getting to that level.

Command: 45/50+

The raw stuff here is beyond reproach, leaving command as the weakest link in Giolito’s skillset. As his consistently solid minor-league walk rates indicate, he’s capable of throwing strikes with some frequency, enough to give the stuff plenty of room to play, especially against low-level competition. However, he’s a huge kid with some moving parts in his delivery, including a long arm action and some shoulder tilt, and that can lead to some bad misses when his upper and lower halves get out of sync, which happens at times. As mentioned before, he needs to show he can spot the curve for strikes, and he could stand to work his fastball up and down in addition to side to side.

All that said, he’s athletic and sound enough mechanically to allow for reasonable prowess in this area, and he does a good job attacking the zone with the fastball early in counts, giving him more room for error in other regards. Giolito is never going to be a surgical command, Roy Halladay sort of pitcher, but he should stack up well with other big-league starters.


This is a huge pitcher with clear frontline stuff. With his fastball regaining a tick and the changeup continuing to progress, Giolito is developing a well-rounded arsenal that is about far more than mere power. Add in his impressive size and aptitude, and you have the ingredients for the sort of high-end arm that would, indeed, match the hype. The only question is how consistent he’ll be able to be with his delivery and command. That will determine whether he becomes a true front-of-the-rotation pitcher or more of a high-end mid-rotation arm who slides in and out of dominance.


Also Impressing: Luis Cessa, RHP, Mets

I saw Luis Cessa pitch in June 2013, and I saw a pitcher working 90-95 mph and flashing two promising off-speed pitches. Given that the converted third baseman posted a dazzling 124/19 K/BB ratio in Low-A that season, I expected to see him get more attention than he seems to have over the following two years. I was left wondering if I had simply caught an abnormally interesting outing or if Cessa was one of the minors’ most well-kept pitching secrets. Finally, after a run of 13 starts in Double-A that saw him post a 2.56 ERA and 61/17 K/BB (getting him promoted to AAA), Cessa’s name is inspiring a few rumblings. And, sure enough, the stuff I saw over two years ago remains intact; in fact, it has taken a step forward.

When I saw him last month, he worked at 91-95 mph, touching 96, holding that velocity deep into the game and spotting the pitch consistently to all four quadrants of the zone. His 81-83 mph changeup has become his out pitch, with big speed separation and sink that can get both lefties and righties out in front and over the top of the ball. Cessa does have a tendency to slow his arm on the pitch, which needs to be ironed out if it’s going to maintain more than average effectiveness against MLB batters; given his overall ease and savvy, there is a chance he can make this adjustment in time. His slurvy 79-84 mph slider is clearly his third pitch, but it has its moments, particularly in the upper end of its velocity range. Cessa’s smooth, easy delivery allows him to spot the ball well; he has consistently excelled in preventing free passes in the minors and projects for above-average command. As his proximity to the majors decreases, Cessa is emerging as a good bet to be a nice innings-eater.

Fastball: 55/60
Slider: 45/50
Changeup: 50/55
Command: 45/55


Intriguing: Chris Lee, LHP, Orioles

When he pitched for the Rookie-level Greeneville Astros in 2013, Chris Lee drew some raves from scouts and opponents as the Appalachian League’s top left-handed pitcher, with some sources reporting high-90s velocity. However, that was the only season of Lee’s five-year pro career in which he posted a K/BB ratio better than 1.5; combine that with diminishing velocity, and it’s easy to understand how the southpaw ended up shipped to the Orioles in exchange for international bonus slots earlier this year.

Lee opposed Giolito in my look; while there is, needless to say, a massive gulf between the two when it comes to prospect cred, Lee both hung in with Giolito in the game (6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K) and, every now and then, flashed the sort of form that made those raves of two years ago make some sense.

Lee typically works at 89-93 mph with good late sink and run, but what’s particularly interesting is that he flashed an extra gear at the end of his outing, suddenly throwing 92-94 and touching 97 in the sixth. Rail-thin even after five pro years, Lee still has some room to add good weight and maybe find that sort of oomph more consistently with time. He pairs the fastball with an interesting breaking ball, an 84-88 mph slider that one might mistake for a cutter given its high velocity (relative to the fastball). But no, it’s a true slider with solid tilt when he finishes it properly. The speed of the pitch lets him use it like a cutter, though, and it’s at its best when he buries it under the hands of righties, resulting in some hapless swings. Lee also shows an 84-86 mph changeup with good sink and arm speed, though suboptimal velocity separation.

When he has all three pitches working at the same time, as he did at times in my look, Lee is very tough to hit. As his numbers indicate, though, he’s struggled with inconsistency virtually his entire career. His command comes and goes, and scouts see him as more of a thrower than a pitcher at this point. While his motion is low-effort and simple, there’s some length in the back and a very stiff landing, and his release point will wander, particularly with his off-speed pitches. Lee has limited batters to a .235/.324/.286 line over his last five starts, so there’s some evidence he’s making progress. If he does have an MLB future, it’s likely in relief, where maybe he could find the mid-90s heat in short bursts, but there’s a chance this flier could end up a worthwhile pickup.

Fastball: 50/55
Slider: 45/50+
Changeup: 45/50
Command: 35/45

Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.

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