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February 21, 2014

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Washington Nationals Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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Prospect rankings primer
Last year's Nationals list

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Lucas Giolito
  2. RHP A.J. Cole
  3. CF Brian Goodwin
  4. CF Michael Taylor
  5. RHP Jake Johansen
  6. RHP Jefry Rodriguez
  7. 1B Matt Skole
  8. C Pedro Severino
  9. RF Drew Vettleson
  10. 3B Drew Ward

1. Lucas Giolito
Position: RHP
DOB: 07/14/1994
Height/Weight: 6’6” 225 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Harvard-Westlake HS (Los Angeles, CA)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #70 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: 0.64 ERA (14 IP, 9 H, 14 K, 4 BB) at short-season Auburn, 2.78 ERA (22.2 IP, 19 H, 25 K, 10 BB) at complex level GCL
The Tools: 8 potential FB; 8 potential CB; 7 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: After only appearing in one game before falling victim to Tommy John surgery in 2012, Giolito returned to the hill the following summer, making 11 starts and hitting 100 on the gun.

Strengths: Elite size/strength; creates steep plane to the plate; elite arm strength; easy explosion from the hand; fastball works comfortably in the 94-97 range; can touch 100; big late life; future elite pitch; curveball is true hammer; thrown with slider velocity with big 12-6 shape; second elite future offering; changeup shows late vertical life and will eventually become monster pitch because of the arm action and fastball fear; good pitchability for a power arm.

Weaknesses: Easy release but delivery can show some effort; he has a lot of body to control; can struggle with mechanical consistency; command is fringe at present; changeup underdeveloped at present; good action but struggles to command the pitch.

Overall Future Potential: 8; elite starting pitcher

Realistic Role: 7; no. 1/2 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; TJ on resume; yet to pitch at full-season level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If everything breaks right, Giolito could end up as the best pitcher in the major leagues one day. On the other hand, acting like that’s a given could get you into serious trouble in dynasty leagues. The fact that he’s a top-20 fantasy prospect while not having thrown a pitch in full-season ball shows you the upside—he could be elite in all four categories. Ignore the uncertainty or time frame at your own risk.

The Year Ahead: On paper, Giolito has the highest ceiling of any arm in the minors, and that list includes Taijuan Walker and Archie Bradley. It’s an almost irresponsible combination of size and stuff, a 6’6’’ power righty who can sit in the mid-upper-90s with a lively fastball and back it up with an unhittable hard curveball that can show intense vertical depth. He’s not far removed from Tommy John surgery and the command profile needs refinement, but the 19-year-old arm should dominate at the A-ball level in 2014, and when the Nationals take the governor off the semi in 2015, Giolito should erupt into the premier arm in baseball, if he doesn’t already have claim on that distinction after his full-season debut. This is what it looks like, folks. This is a future no. 1 starter at the major-league level.

Major league ETA: 2016

2. A.J. Cole
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/05/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2010 draft, Oviedo HS (Oviedo, FL)
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org)
2013 Stats: 2.18 ERA (45.1 IP, 31 H, 49 K, 10 BB) at Double-A Harrisburg, 4.25 ERA (97.1 IP, 96 H, 102 K, 23 BB) at High-A Potomac
The Tools: 7 FB; 6 CH; 5 SL

What Happened in 2013: Cole survived the season without getting traded, and he awarded the developmental patience with developmental progress, pitching his way to the Double-A level.

Strengths: Prototypical size; excellent arm action; easy plus arm strength; fastball is plus-plus; can work comfortably in the mid-90s; spots it up; changeup is solid-average to plus; smooth from the arm with good action to the arm side; commands blended breaking ball; effective in sequence; improved in Double-A; plus command profile.

Weaknesses: Secondary stuff lags behind the fastball; breaking ball is often indistinguishable; slurvy and loose; can show occasional curveball depth but more often than not lacks sharp bite; utility of changeup is inconsistent.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited Double-A experience; questions about breaking ball.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The statistics look awfully impressive, but when you have good command of a 70 fastball, that’s often enough against the level of competition. Without a step forward in the slider, he’s going to have a tough time replicating a strikeout rate of 26 percent at the major-league level, but it should still remain above average and be flanked by strong ratios.

The Year Ahead: You can make a convincing argument that Cole is undervalued and underappreciated in the prospect community. Most 6’4’’ power arms with sharp feel for command of a mid-90s fastball and fading change that have found success at the Double-A level tend to get acknowledged for their impact potential. Cole appears on most prospect lists, but often lacks helium because of his fringe-average and non-descript breaking ball and the bias that some have against oft-traded players. I’m guilty of the latter, as I have consciously limited my glowing affection for Cole simply because he was traded twice before he even reached the Double-A level. Instead of scouting the arm and projecting accordingly, I was caught looking for the blemishes that made him expendable. Based on the scouting, Cole could develop into a no. 3 starter at the major-league level, and if the breaking ball can continue to take steps forward, that reality could come sooner than most expect.

Major league ETA: Late 2014

3. Brian Goodwin
Position: CF
DOB: 11/02/1990
Height/Weight: 6’1” 195 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Miami Dade South Community College (Miami, FL)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #74 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: .252/.355/.407 at Double-A Harrisburg (122 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential power; 6 run; 5 arm; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2013: In a return trip to the Eastern League, the former first round pick showed all five tools but struggled with inconsistency at the plate and in the field.

Strengths: Strong/athletic build; incredible hands at the plate; very fast bat; very good low ball hitter; can drop the bat head and drive the ball; hit could play solid-average to plus; raw power is plus; game power could play average or better; plus run; solid-average arm; glove to play center.

Weaknesses: Mechanically inconsistent at the plate; can get noisy; shows all fie tools but can see them play down in game action; struggles against quality off-speed stuff; can get too pull happy when he looks for power; reads/routes aren’t always crisp in center; can play with more athleticism than baseball instincts.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; achieved Double-A level; needs consistency against better pitching.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The results haven’t always been pretty in pro ball for Goodwin, but the tools are all still there for him to be a five-category contributor. There is still opportunity to take advantage of the less-than-exquisite stats and deal for him at a discount. He could be a 20/20 player with a .270 average—and he even gets a tick up in OBP leagues.

The Year Ahead: Goodwin a very good athlete, with a strong upper body and the ability to impact the game in all areas. But he struggles with consistency and his feel for tool execution can come and go, causing the impressive physical gifts to play down in game action. He’s a low-ball hitter that can do serious damage once he gets extended, and if he can keep himself in hitter’s counts and stay back on secondary stuff, he should be able to hit for both reasonable average and power. He can play centerfield, but has the tool versatility to play in either corner, so if the bat fails to develop to projection, he can still carve out a long career as a fourth outfielder. This year should see Goodwin move up to Triple-A, where a steady diet of secondary junk will aid in his offensive development, and if everything breaks correctly he could become a lineup staple in 2015.

Major league ETA: Late 2014

4. Michael Taylor
Position: CF
DOB: 03/26/1991
Height/Weight: 6’4” 205 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 6th round, 2009 draft, Westminster Academy (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2013 Stats: .263/.340/.426 at High-A Potomac (133 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential power; 6 run; 6+ glove; 6 arm

What Happened in 2013: In a return trip to the Carolina League, the toolsy Taylor showed some developmental progress, putting more bat to the ball and putting his speed to use on base.

Strengths: Excellent size; improving strength; plus athlete; shows loud raw tools; very big raw power; leveraged swing capable of distance bombs; game power could play above average; plus run; plus range in center; potential for a well above-average glove; strong arm; complete package in center; weapon on base.

Weaknesses: Lacks consistency at the plate; below-average balance; swing can get too long and leveraged; struggles with velocity inside; will expand his zone and chase off-speed; hit tool could spoil the party.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division/all-star

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average major leaguer/bench outfielder

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to play at Double-A level; hit tool likely to play below-average

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: You could make the argument that Taylor has the second highest fantasy upside in this system, next to Giolito. The only problem is that if he’s going to hit 25-plus homers and steal 20 bases at the major-league level, he’s going to have to take a big step forward in the hit tool. This could be a George Springer-light profile for fantasy, as there’s a good chance he could be a .220 hitter in the end.

The Year Ahead: Taylor has the highest tool-based ceiling on the Nationals farm (position player), but the profile comes with a great deal of risk. A high-end athlete with improving strength, Taylor’s pop took a step forward in 2013, with 57 extra-base hits in 133 games, including 10 bombs. With well above-average potential in the field and well above-average utility on base, Taylor could blossom into an all-star if everything clicks, but the hit tool could end up playing below average, dragging down the raw power and limiting his ability to stay in a lineup. As a floor, Taylor is going to have value at the major-league level because of his glove and run, but if he can continue to progress at the plate, shortening his stroke and finding more consistency in his mechanics, he could really step up in the prospect world and develop into a future first-division talent. Double-A will be the big test.

Major league ETA: 2016

5. Jake Johansen
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/23/1991
Height/Weight: 6’6” 235 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2013 draft, Dallas Baptist University (Dallas, TX)
Previous Ranking: NA
2013 Stats: 5.79 ERA (9.1 IP, 13 H, 7 K, 5 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown, 1.06 ERA (42.1 IP, 22 H, 44 K, 18 BB) at short-season Auburn
The Tools: 7 FB; 6+ potential SL

What Happened in 2013: Despite an uneven amateur career, Johansen was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft, and made 12 starts across two levels after signing.

Strengths: Huge size; excellent present strength; physical and intimidating on the mound; elite arm strength; fastball works in the mid-upper 90s; leveraged offering with weight; plus-plus offering; hard slider is second plus offering; sharp with late-glove side slice.

Weaknesses: Despite size and stuff, can lack confidence on the mound; command is fringe at present; can work up in the zone and lose size advantage; changeup is below average at present; overthrows the pitch with more deliberate mechanics; shows fringe curveball; can get too loose and loopy.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience; 23 years old with two plus pitches

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Johansen may have the upside of a starting pitcher, but there’s a very high probability that he will end up as a reliever. Of course, a reliever with two pitches of this quality would be one that matters for fantasy, it’s just that the bullpen is not where you should be spending your minor-league roster spots.

The Year Ahead: Johansen is a power arm with a power build, but at the end of the day its probably more of a late-inning profile than a workhorse starter. The 23-year-old is behind the developmental curve, so you can expect to see an accelerated timetable going forward, and with only average pitchability and a fringe changeup, the big Texan might end up in the bullpen before he arrives at the major league level. But even out of the ‘pen, Johansen is going to be a weapon, with a plus-plus fastball and hard slider, both pitches capable of missing bats and barrels alike.

Major league ETA: Late 2015

6. Jefry Rodriguez
Position: RHP
DOB: 07/26/1993
Height/Weight: 6’5” 185 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2012, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 2.45 ERA (47.2 IP, 40 H, 43 K, 20 BB) at complex level GCL
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 6 potential CB; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: The former shortstop continued to take steps forward on the mound in his stateside debut, showing a plus-plus potential fastball and a graphic amount of physical projection.

Strengths: Highly projectable; long and lean; very athletic; leveraged fastball already works 92-95; touches 97; shows the ability to spin a projectable curveball; pitch has good 11/5 shape and can show depth; changeup is new but looks good out of the hand with some late action; good feel for pitching despite limited experience.

Weaknesses: Raw; needs to add strength and stamina; fastball heavy approach at present; curveball is inconsistent; changeup is underdeveloped; command has a long way to go.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 2/3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; complex league resume

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Another very exciting rookie ball arm, Rodriguez could be almost anything at the major league level. But with his stuff, he should miss bats regardless of role. If you’re looking for a breakthrough arm for 2014, and a guy who could move up the rankings in a big way, Rodriguez is a pretty good arm to take a chance on.

The Year Ahead: Rodriguez has impact upside regardless of future role, but the risk is very high because the converted shortstop is relatively new to pitching and the overall utility is still very raw. With a highly projectable body and a present fastball that already works comfortably in the 92-95 range, Rodriguez could really step forward as he adds strength and experience. The breaking ball shows promise, and despite the inexperience, the 20-year-old shows some feel for the mound and the work ethic to put in the necessary wrench work to improve. It’s not going to be an overnight success story, but he’s definitely a high-ceiling talent to follow closely in the coming years.

Major league ETA: 2017

7. Matt Skole
Position: 1B
DOB: 07/30/1989
Height/Weight: 6’4” 220 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2011 draft, Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2013 Stats: .200/.429/.400 at Double-A Harrisburg (2 games)
The Tools: 6+ power potential; 5 potential hit; 5+ arm

What Happened in 2013: A lost year for the former fifth round pick, as an early-season collision fractured his wrist AND damaged his elbow to the point that Tommy John surgery was required.

Strengths: Big raw power; shows bat speed and the ability to lift the ball; makes pitchers work; can discern balls and strikes and will wait for his pitch; game power could play to plus; strong against right-handed pitching; run producer; arm is average.

Weaknesses: Limited defensive profile; below average at third; hit tool lacks big projection; likely to play average or below; struggles against quality arm-side stuff; can bust him inside with velocity; well below-average run.

Overall Future Potential: 5; major league regular

Realistic Role: High 4; platoon bat/below-average regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited experience in the upper minors; wrist/elbow (TJ) injury in 2013.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Skole is far more interesting from a fantasy perspective than in real life because if he is able to be a .270 hitter with 20-25 homers, he’ll be owned in nearly all leagues, regardless of eligibility. Until then, he’ll just have to settle for being Craig Goldstein’s favorite player.

The Year Ahead: Skole projects to hit for power from the left side of the plate, and that alone makes him a top 10 prospect, despite his limitations on defense and a lost season in 2013 that put the 24-year-old behind the developmental curve. At the end of the day, Skole might not be more than a platoon bat at first with enough versatility to play a below-average third base in a pinch, but if he can return to form and continue to rip right-handed pitching, he’s going to end playing at the major league level for a long time. I expect Skole to step forward at the Double-A level in 2014, likely showing power to go along with a strong approach, and positioning himself for a major-league opportunity in some form in 2015.

Major league ETA: 2015

8. Pedro Severino
Position: C
DOB: 07/20/1993
Height/Weight: 6’1” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: .241/.274/.333 at Low-A Hagerstown (84 games)
The Tools: 7 arm; 6+ potential glove; 5 potential hit

What Happened in 2013: After two years at the complex level, Severino moved up to full-season ball and was named a mid-season Sally League all-star, mostly on the back of his plus defensive profile behind the plate.

Strengths: Athletic with improving strength; arm is a weapon; plus-plus raw strength with a quick release; projectable glove; receives well; learned English; short to the ball at the plate; bat speed improved in 2013; contact bat with easy plus potential behind the dish.

Weaknesses: Offensive profile is light; well below-average power; lacks plate coverage; needs to use more of the field; struggles against velocity and quality spin; hit tool likely to play below average; glove-first profile.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; backup catcher

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to play in upper minors; questions about the bat.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This isn’t the first one of these comments I’ve written, and it won’t be the last, but Severino isn’t worth rostering in fantasy at this point. He could get to the point where his bat has enough upside to be worth picking up, but right now he’s ranked here for his defense.

The Year Ahead: Severino has the type of defensive profile to get excited about, with a well above-average arm and all the necessary ingredients to develop into a plus receiver. The bat is light, but he showed improved bat speed in 2013, and as he continues to add strength to his frame and learn how to find his pitch, he could develop into a down-the-lineup contact bat. The 20-year-old Dominican can ride his defensive chops all the way up the chain, but his ultimate upside will depend on the development of his stick, which could be the difference between a first-division type if everything clicks and a backup catcher at the major-league level if the profile remains lopsided.

Major league ETA: 2017

9. Drew Vettleson
Position: RF
DOB: 07/19/1991
Height/Weight: 6’1” 185 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2010, Central Kitsap HS (Silverdale, WA)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org – TB)
2013 Stats: .274/.331/.388 at High-A Charlotte (121 games)
The Tools: 6+ arm; 6 power potential; 5 potential hit; 5+ potential glove

What Happened in 2013: Acquired in an offseason trade with the Rays, Vettleson lacks the flash of a top prospect but brings playable baseball skills to the table.

Strengths: Good athlete; good feel for the game; good path to the ball at the plate; gets good extension and can drive through it; raw power is plus; game power could play average or better; hit tool shows average or better; strong against right-handed pitching; good approach; very strong arm in the field; plays plus or better; glove is solid-average or better.

Weaknesses: Lacks high-end impact tools at the plate; hit tool is more average; struggles against arm-side pitching; game power is more gap-to-gap than over the fence; power could end up playing light for an outfield corner; tweener profile.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average major leaguer

Realistic Role: Low 5; second-division player

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to play at Double-A level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If it seems like Vettleson’s pro career has gone in slow motion, it’s because it has. But if he can show some of that power in Double-A, he can move towards becoming a 20-plus homer bat at the major league level. And if he can keep improving his contact rate as he moves up, the batting average won’t hurt you either.

The Year Ahead: Vettleson is a solid-average prospect with a solid-average profile if everything clicks; a strong right fielder with a bat that might play a little below standard for a corner spot. Vettleson shows a lot of present baseball skills, with some feel for contact and the strength and bat speed to drive the ball into the gaps. Double-A pitching will present a challenge for the 22-year-old, and his production at that level will elevate Vettleson up this list or push him off completely. Despite a clear major-league projection and good overall feel for the game, the margin of error is small because the bat isn’t likely to put him in the middle of a major-league lineup, making Vettleson more of a tweener type: a player with a corner profile but an up-the-middle bat.

Major league ETA: Late 2015

10. Drew Ward
Position: 3B
DOB: 11/25/1994
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round pick, 2013 draft, Leedey High School (Leedey, OK)
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: .292/.402/.387 at complex GCL (49 games)
The Tools: 7 potential power; 5 potential hit; 6 arm; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2013: In his professional debut, the third round pick showed a very advanced approach and feel for hitting in his limited complex league sample.

Strengths: Excellent size/strength; athletic for his size; big boy raw power; capable of tape measure bombs; power projects to play plus (or better); leveraged left-handed swing that shows bat speed; very mature approach at the plate; excellent pitch-recognition ability; makes pitchers work; strong arm in the field; hands work well; glove could play average or better at third; big makeup reports.

Weaknesses: Swing can get long; more line-drive stroke at present; hit tool lacks same projection as power; can get too passive at the plate; looks for perfect pitch; below-average run; fringe range at third; physical projection could limit his profile at third.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited professional experience

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A very sneaky pick late in dynasty drafts this year, Ward has the potential to move his stock upward in short order. A third baseman who could hit .280 with 20-plus homers is not something to shake your head at, but he’s got a long road ahead of him to get there.

The Year Ahead: Ward is a big, strong kid with a smooth left-handed stroke, and the type of power potential and patience to get very excited about. He can play third at present (was a shortstop in high school), with a strong arm and a decent glove, but he could end up outgrowing the position and putting all the pressure of value on his stick. The ceiling is very high, regardless of where he ends up playing on the diamond, mostly on the back of his well above-average raw power that has a good chance to arrive in game action because of his functional hit tool and ability to recognize pitches early and react accordingly. Ward could use another year of short-season ball in 2014, but scouts universally praise the 19-year-old for his makeup and work ethic, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see a more advanced assignment if he shows up strong in camp.

Major league ETA: 2017

Prospects on the Rise:
1. OF Rafael Bautista:
In his stateside debut, the 20-year-old Dominican really stepped forward on both sides of the ball, showing a leadoff profile at the plate and up-the-middle chops in center. While Bautista isn’t a big power threat, he is very strong and physical, and has a linear, line-drive stroke capable of sending balls to all fields. He’s a 7 runner with plus range in center and a solid-average arm, so he can provide defensive value even if the bat plays a little light.

2. SS Osvaldo Abreu: Another product of the Nationals’ Latin American program, Abreu made his Gulf Coast League debut in 2013, making good contact and flashing his defensive potential at shortstop. The 19-year-old has really fast hands and strong wrists, which gives him bat control at the plate and the necessary actions in the field. A plus athlete, Abreu projects to stick around at the position for the foreseeable future, and if the bat can continue to take steps forward in 2014, he should jump into the conversation for top 10 prospects in the system. Legit upside.

3. LHP Felipe Rivero: Not new to the prospect world. Rivero was acquired in an offseason trade with Rays, along with current top 10 prospect Drew Vettleson. Baseball Prospectus ranked Rivero no. 9 in the Rays system last season, but he fell off the list for 2014, mostly because of an inconsistent campaign in the Florida State League that saw his command abandon him. Taller than his listed height of 6’, the slender southpaw Rivero will eventually pitch in the major leagues because of an easy cheese mid-90s fastball that can just explode on hitters, but he could really jump up prospect lists next season if he can refine his delivery enough to throw more strikes and take steps forward with his curveball that can flash hammer potential when he stays over it.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
1. IF Zach Walters:
A ninth round pick in the 2010 draft (DBacks), Walters finally played his way to the major-league level in 2013 after close to 2,000 at-bats in the minors. It’s more of a utility profile than a regular, but unlike most utility types, Walters brings some legit thunder in the stick, especially from the left side where he 24-year-old blasted 25 bombs in Triple-A.

2. RHP Aaron Barrett: Also a ninth round pick in the 2010 draft, Barrett was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and projects to be a late-innings reliever at the highest level. With a heavy plus fastball and a very good hard slider, 26-year-old right-hander will be able to miss bats and keep the ball on the ground, and if the command steps up, he could eventually settle in as a setup arm in the back of the bullpen.

3. OF Eury Perez: You can make a case that Perez belongs in the top 10 based on his defensive profile in center and his easy plus speed, which gives him impressive range in the field and a weapon in the box and on base. Several sources questioned the utility of Perez’s hit tool, seeing more of a bench profile than a regular, and those doubts helped push him off the initial list, and could eventually prove prophetic and push him out of the Nationals’ long-term plans in center. It’s a crowded outfield at present, and with higher ceiling forces like Brian Goodwin and Michael Taylor on the rise in the minors, Perez needs to make the most of his opportunities in 2014 and step forward with the bat in order to stay on the radar.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/88 or later)

  1. Stephen Strasburg
  2. Bryce Harper
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. Anthony Rendon
  5. A.J. Cole
  6. Brian Goodwin
  7. Taylor Jordan
  8. Michael Taylo
  9. Jake Johansen
  10. Jefry Rodriguez

If you look back to the 2013 version of this Under-25 list, you will notice that Jason Cole struggled through an internal debate of how to rank Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Both players are burgeoning elite talents with the potential to leave a long-lasting mark on the game. In attempting to differentiate between a legitimate ace starter and a 21-year old entering his third year with the potential to be one of the great power hitters of all time, splitting the hairs between them comes down to personal preference. While I recognize Harper’s immense talent, I cannot bring myself to divert from the ace starter. Strasburg has made 58 starts for the Nationals since returning from Tommy John surgery and the gloves should truly come off in 2014; a circumstance that could result in an absolutely monster season with massive strikeout rates and minuscule hit rates.

My pause with ranking Harper ahead of Strasburg–aside from Strasburg’s own immense talent–stems from the reckless abandon with which he approaches the game. Harper’s aggressive style could continue to lead to nagging injuries throughout his career, and may impact his ability to make “the leap” toward becoming one of the all-time greats. That’s it. That’s the only reason I pause when considering Harper in this debate. In reality, he rates as an equal to Strasburg on this list.

I believe Anthony Rendon becomes an above-average major leaguer but, similar to my preference for Strasburg, I cannot steer myself away from Giolito’s future as a potential ace. Backed by absurd scouting reports coming out of instructs, Giolito appears poised to explode in spite of workload limitations in 2014.

Rendon’s experience at the major-league level and his potential to continue improving there in 2014 places him ahead of Cole, who has open questions about his breaking ball and has yet to master the upper minors.

Toward the back half of the list, the only Nationals player in the mix was right-handed starter Taylor Jordan. Jordan raced to the big leagues last season and appeared ready to step into the major-league rotation in 2014 before the acquisition of Doug Fister from Detroit. With Fister around, Jordan is likely relegated to the minor leagues as he awaits a roster spot in Washington. Despite his impressive success during his rookie campaign, Jordan’s projection comes up a little short of the top handful on this list, offering more of a back-end profile. That can be a valuable commodity for any franchise but the projection seems disappointing when you consider those ranked toward the top.

The 2013 season might have been a disappointing one for the Nationals and their fans, but expectations should remain high. The starting rotation is fronted by two of the best young pitchers in baseball in Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman, and backed by two other high-end arms in Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister. That rotation only has to do so much as the offense can carry the load as well with Harper, Rendon, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Wilson Ramos all having excellent everyday profiles.

The Nationals are an extremely impressive club and while the farm system might not have exciting depth, the high-end potential at the top and the youth at the major-league level more than makes up for that deficiency. –Mark Anderson

A Parting Thought: Not the strongest system in baseball, but full of athletes on the positional side and impact types on the mound—especially Giolito, who could quickly become the top pitching prospect in the game and single-handedly push an average system above its paper grade.


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Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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