Announcement: For my analysis – including Ranking the Top 250 Prospects, Ranking the Farm systems, and in-depth commentary for over 900 minor leaguers – check out my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, now available on Amazon!
For an explanation on the CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect classification system I derived, click here.
1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
|Born: 07/14/94 Age: 20 Height: 6-6 Weight: 255 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Michael Bowden, Robbie Erlin, Hunter Harvey, Johnny Barbato, A.J. Cole|
Background: Armed with the mentality that the club would take the best overall talent in the draft, the Washington front office gambled on Giolito, who was garnering first pick hype prior to some elbow issues, with the 16th overall pick. One Tommy John surgery later and the massive 6-foot-6, 255-pound right-hander has rewarded the organization for their wager. Giolito returned from the procedure in early June 2013, appearing in eight games for the Nationals’ Gulf Coast team, posting 25-to-10 strikeout to walk ratio. The organization then promoted him to the New York-Penn League in late August for three (dominating) starts.
Last year, his age-19 season thanks to a late birthday, was spent overpowering the South Atlantic League hitters as he built up arm strength/stamina. He whiffed 110 of the 386 batters he faced, or 28.5%, while issuing just 28 free passes en route to winning the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.
For his career, albeit a couple short-sized samples cobbled together, Giolito has fanned 150, walked 42, and posted a barely-there 2.17 ERA in 136.2 innings.
Projection: Obviously, the Nationals will err on the side of caution a la Stephen Strasburg, but Giolito is poised to move quickly through the minor leagues. So much, in fact, that he could conceivably be teaming with the former San Diego State star by the end of 2016. The young right-hander offers a potentially limitless combination of plus-strikeout ability and very few walks. He’s not the once-in-a-lifetime talent, but he’s going to be very, very, very good.
Ceiling: 6.0-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2016/Early 2017
2. Trea Turner, SS
|Born: 06/30/93 Age: 22 Height: 6-1 Weight: 175 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Ehire Adrianza, Jose Javier, Jason Donald, Jordany Valdespin, Jason Altenhof|
Background: For the first time in history North Carolina State University had two first round picks in the same year – the first being, of course, dominant southpaw Carlos Rodon and the second, Turner, who was taken ten selections later by the Padres. Turner, who was acquired – or rumored to be part of – the three-team deal with Tampa Bay and San Diego involving Wil Myers, Steven Souza Jr., and a plethora of prospects, was a three-year starter for the Wolfpack.
The 6-foot-1 shortstop, who was originally a 20th round pick of the Pirates coming out of high school, burst onto the collegiate scene as a true freshman, hitting a robust .336/.422/.459 with 13 doubles, a pair of triples, five homeruns, and a whopping 57 stolen bases in only 61 attempts.
Turner followed that up with an even better offensive showing the following year, slugging .368/.449/.553 with another 13 doubles, an eventual career high four triples, seven homeruns, and 30 stolen bases in 36 attempts. He would take a minor downturn during his final campaign – he hit .321/.416/.516 with 26 stolen bases – but was still one of college baseball’s most valuable bats.
His professional debut got off to a bit of an auspicious start as he struggled through the Northwest League, hitting .228/.324/.283, before San Diego opted to promote him up to the Midwest League. And then he looked like the Turner of old. Over his final 46 games, all of which came with the TinCaps, Turner batted a scorching .369/.447/.529 while topping the league production by 80%.
Projection: I remained rather pessimistic towards Turner’s future prior to the draft, writing:
“He’s going to be an above-average base stealer, showcasing plus-speed and a knack for a high success rate, but the actual hit tool and patience look like average skills at this point. And it’s not likely he’ll top 10 homeruns in a season either.”
I concluded by saying that,
“Turner’s a nice prospect, one with a league average or slightly better ceiling. And, really, how much separation is there between someone like Turner and some recent failed first round collegiate shortstops like Christian Colon or Deven Marrero?”
And as impressive as his showing was in the Midwest League, it’s important to point out that (A) he’s a polished collegiate prospect playing against inferior competition and (B) much of the production was inflated by an unworldly .478 BABIP. Still, though, he looks like a solid 3.0-win player in the long term.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2016/Early 2017
3. Erick Fedde, RHP
|Born: 02/25/93 Age: 22 Height: 6-4 Weight: 180 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: N/A|
Background: Because it worked so well the first time, the Nationals once again dipped their toes into the gambling riptide and selected another high-ceiling-but-injured hurler in the middle of the first round. Fedde, the former University of Nevada, Las Vegas ace was in the midst of a breakout junior campaign last season before an elbow injury – and subsequent Tommy John surgery – limited him to just 11 starts. He finished his college career on a high, though, posting a miniscule 1.75 ERA to go along with some dominant peripherals: 82-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio
Projection: Prior to his injury I wrote,
“One of the more intriguing arms in college baseball, Fedde is another upper-rotation-type arm, perhaps peaking as a lower end #2. He’s going to miss a good amount of bats, limit free passes, and if the current trend holds, keep the ball on the ground with some regularity.”
Assuming he bounces back from TJ, the analysis still holds.
Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: Late 2017/Early 2018
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
|Born: 01/05/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-5 Weight: 200 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Zach Putnam, Jesse Litsch, James Parr, Aaron Laffey, Erasmo Ramirez|
Background: Signed for a whopping $2 million out of high school, a record for a fourth round pick, Cole’s back in the organization after a quick – and disappointing – jaunt through Oakland’s farm system. Cole, who was dealt to the Athletics as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade in December 2011, was reacquired by the Nationals just 13 months later as part of the three-team deal involving Oakland and Seattle.
The lanky 6-foot-4 right-hander opened the 2014 season back with Harrisburg, where he finished the previous year by posting a 2.18 ERA in 45.1 innings. Cole’s numbers regressed a bit in his second stint – 61 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 71.0 innings – though they were enough to convince the front office he was ready for the highest minor league level. He would finish the year with a 111-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 134.0 innings.
Projection: Sans his dreadful – and unlucky – eight-game stint with Stockton a couple years back, Cole’s been a steady, reliable source of minor league production. He’s incredibly stingy with the free pass and misses enough bats. The lone red flag: he’s been a bit homer-friendly at various points in his career. Cole’s a fringy #3-type arm.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: 2015
5. Joe Ross, RHP
|Born: 05/21/93 Age: 22 Height: 6-4 Weight: 205 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Michael Watt, Jeff Locke, Jayson Aquino, Trevor Bell, Robbie Ross Jr.|
Background: The second former first round pick acquired by the Nationals in the Steven Souza Jr. deal, Ross, a 6-foot-4 right-hander out of Bishop O’Dowd HS, was the 25th overall pick in 2011. The then-21-year-old made 19 starts for Lake Elsinore in the California League, posting a run-of-the-mill 3.83 FIP with matching peripherals (20.0% K% and 6.4% BB%). San Diego pushed him up the Texas League for four games to close out his year. Overall, he finished 2014 with a 3.92 ERA, 106 strikeouts, and 29 free passes in 121.2 innings.
Projection: Basically the lite version of A.J. Cole – a lively armed right-hander with better than average control and a semblance of missing bats. The difference, though, is that Cole missed a ton of bats in the lower levels and Ross’ career average is just 7.2 K/9. He does generate a ton of groundballs, nearly 49% since 2011, which will help compensate for the lack of strikeouts. Ross is a solid #4-type arm that could very easily be pushed into the backend of a bullpen.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2016
6. Drew Ward, 3B
|Born: 11/25/94 Age: 20 Height: 6-4 Weight: 210 B/T: L/R|
|Top CALs: Kevin Ahrens, Koby Clemens, Alex Liddi, Cody Gunter, Jeimer Candelario|
Background: The club’s third round pick two years ago, Ward spent the entire season as one of the Sally’s youngest everyday players, hitting .269/.341/.413 with 26 doubles, a trio of triples, and 10 homeruns, tied for the third most among players younger than 20. His overall production, per Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 12% better than the league average.
Projection: It’s a promising start for the well-built lefty-swinging third baseman. Ward showed vastly more power than his in debut in the Gulf Coast two years ago, a decent eye at the plate, and the ability to handle fellow southpaws well enough (for now). There’s really no standout tool, but he’s done enough to prove that he’s ready for High Class A.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2018
7. Austin Voth, RHP
|Born: 06/26/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-1 Weight: 190 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Ben Pfinsgraff, Doug Brandt, Jeffrey Johnson, Trevor Frank, Dan Bennett|
Background: During his junior season Voth was a do-everything pitcher for the Washington Huskies, leading the ballclub in innings pitched, starts, strikeouts, and strikeout rate while also earning a single save. The Nationals grabbed the 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander in the fifth round, 166th overall, and he’s continued to display his go-get-‘em attitude. He made starts in the Gulf Coast, the NYPL, and the Sally during his debut season. And he followed that up last year with another 13 starts in the Sally, six more with Potomac, and his final five in the Eastern League. Overall, Voth finished with 133 strikeouts, 38 free passes, and a clean 2.77 ERA wrapped up in 126.2 innings of work.
Projection: A fast riser that won’t get his first true challenge until next season, where he’ll (presumably) head back to the Eastern League for an extended look. Voth has been impeccable during his 173.0 professional innings, showcasing a tremendous feel for the strike zone, a strong feel for missing bats, and a good amount of action on the ground. He’s a potential back-of-the-rotation arm.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2015/Early 2016
8. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP
|Born: 01/04/94 Age: 21 Height: 6-0 Weight: 185 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Luke Eubank, Keury Mella, Antwonie Hubbard, Kenny Mathews, Kevin McAvoy|
Background: An older signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Lopez, who signed at the ripe ol’ age of 18, made five appearances in the Dominican Summer League that season, lasting just 10.2 innings. The club moved him stateside the following season, first to the South Atlantic League for a four-inning appearance and then demoting him to the New York-Penn League for one dreadful inning before shutting him down with an elbow strain the rest of the way.
So what Lopez did last season – he allowed 10 earned runs in 83.1 innings pitched, six of which came during his first two starts of the year – is eye-catching. After the pair of rough starts with Hagerstown to open the season, Washington pushed the lanky right-hander back down to the NYPL, where he would post a 3.14 FIP with 31 punch outs in 36 innings. The club would – once again – promote him back to Hagerstown at the end of July, and Lopez surrendered just one lone earned run while the opposition batted .115/.165/.137 against him.
The stats across his final 14 games (75.2 innings) are video game-worthy:
- Opposition batted .120/.199/.147
- 48 ERA
- 65-to-23 strikeout to walk ratio
Projection: With just 99.1 innings under his belt, Lopez could turn out to be anything from a potential front-of-the-rotation arm to a dominant backend reliever to a forgotten minor leaguer. But any time a 20-year-old posts that kind of line in a level – or levels – where the competition is slightly older, it’s definitely promising. Oh, yeah, he’s sporting a groundball rate north of 56%. Lopez is definitely, definitely, definitely one worth watching – closely.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
9. Michael A Taylor, CF
|Born: 03/26/91 Age: 24 Height: 6-3 Weight: 210 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Trayce Thompson, Justin Justice, Ronnie Welty, Michael Crouse, Brandon Jacobs|
Background: The 6-foot-3, 210-pound center fielder once again tantalized scouts and fans alike with his wide array of tools, including above-average power and plus-speed. Taylor, a former sixth round pick who, unsurprisingly, was drafted as a shortstop, had a major coming out party in 2014, hitting .313/.396/.539 with 17 doubles, a pair of triples, 22 homeruns, and 34 stolen bases en route to tallying a 160 wRC+. Taylor spent the final two months bouncing – and struggling – between Syracuse in the International League and Washington.
Projection: Again, plus-speed and above-average power, Taylor’s plate discipline has been trending in the right direction since 2012. But a lot of his success last season can be attributed to a .421 BABIP, by far and away the highest mark of his five-year pro career. CAL remains rather pessimistic, linking him to a bunch of failed prospects. As with Trayce Thompson and Brandon Jacobs, the tools are quite prevalent for Taylor, but don’t count on him cashing them in.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014
10. Matt Skole, 1B/3B
|Born: 07/30/89 Age: 25 Height: 6-3 Weight: 225 B/T: L/R|
|Top CALs: Aaron Judge, Mike Walker, Kyle Kubitza, Johnny Whittleman, Jared Keel|
Background: Granted, Skole’s work in the Sally two years ago comes with the rather caveat that he was a polished (dominant) collegiate slugger mashing in a less-than-tough environment, but it was still downright impressive: .286/.438/.574 with 27 homeruns and a 174 wRC+. He slowed a bit during his promotion to High Class A, but still batted .314/.355/.486 in 76 trips to the plate. He wasn’t a blue-chip, can’t-miss prospect, but one needed to take note.
And then he got hurt. Skole went down with Tommy John surgery and an additional wrist procedure, limiting him to just two games and seven plate appearances. Last season, his first back from the injury, Skole predictably got off to a slow start – he hit .177/.244/.228 in the month of April – but managed to rebound the rest of the way (.254/.372/.435 with 40 extra-base hits in 111 games).
Projection: Skole entered a rather tough predicament: he was coming off of two rather serious injuries and had totaled just 83 plate appearances above Low Class A. The fact that he got off to a slow start in Class AA was about as shocking as a Johnny Manziel all night rager. I still think there’s some additional untapped power in the bat. He could be a late bloomer.
Ceiling: 1.0- to 1.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: Late 2015
**All Statistics Courtesy of FanGraphs**