The Top Ten
- RHP Lucas Giolito
- RHP A.J. Cole
- CF Michael Taylor
- RHP Reynaldo Lopez
- RHP Erick Fedde
- OF Steven Souza
- C Jakson Reetz
- RHP Jake Johansen
- CF Rafael Bautista
- SS/2B Wilmer Difo
1. Lucas Giolito
Height/Weight: 6’6” 255 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Harvard-Westlake HS (Los Angeles, CA)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #13 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 2.20 ERA (98 IP, 70 H, 110 K, 28 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown
The Tools: 8 potential FB; 8 potential CB; 6+ potential CH
What Happened in 2014: The young right-hander made his much anticipated full-season debut, where he took the South Atlantic league by storm, fanning a whopping 110 batters in 98 innings while only allowing 70 hits.
Strengths: Outstanding size; excellent present strength; proportionately filled out throughout frame; uses body well to create steep plane; stays tall above the ball; good balance; elite arm strength; fastball easily works 93-97; can reach back for more; big arm-side run in lower band (93-95); explosive offering; can already throw to all four quadrants; curve shows deep two-plane break; power pitch; adept at replicating arm slot and disguise to fastball; high confidence in offering; will use at any point in the count; commands to both sides of the plate; already plus to better; elite potential; flashes feel for change; turns over with a loose wrist; displays fade with late drop; early makings of strong pitchability; competes.
Weaknesses: Lot of body to control; can drift during landing and open early; diminishes fastball command at times; still in the early stages of building stamina; some effort in delivery wears him down; stuff can get loose and sloppy deeper into outings; velocity trails off third time through; will wrap wrist when delivering curve from time to time; change has gap to close to reach on-paper potential; loses action when throws too hard; doesn’t presently command pitch well; leaves up in zone due to early release.
Overall Future Potential: 8; elite starting pitcher
Realistic Role: 7; no. 1/2 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to reach upper levels; Tommy John on resume; progression of changeup.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While it’s true that no other arm rivals Giolito’s pure fantasy upside, there are risk factors holding him back from being an elite fantasy prospect, other than just “he’s a pitcher.” The biggest is that with one Tommy John already behind him, but not wholly in the rearview mirror, his downside is increased. That sentence would read “increased compared to similar players” for almost anyone, but his lack of a peer group renders that meaningless. Beyond the nitpicking, this is a pitcher who could be the top fantasy arm in baseball one day, offering potentially elite contributions in all four categories.
The Year Ahead: Giolito is one of the premier pitchers rising up through the ranks, with a ceiling that highlights his potential to round into one of the best arms in the game for many seasons to come. The combination of size and elite raw stuff seems unfair at times. This is the total package: a power arm with explosive stuff who has shown early on that he has a feel for his craft and a mentality to use his arsenal to make hitters look feeble. The reports from this past season all spoke glowingly of the 20-year-old, with a unified front that things can be very big. The next step for Giolito will be an assignment in High-A, where, with another year removed from surgery, the workload is likely to increase and the train can steamroll even further down the tracks. It’s not out of the question that the right-hander reaches Double-A at some point in the summer should the Carolina League prove no match. The main developmental markers ahead are improvements with his stamina and progression with the change. The former should come naturally given more strength is likely to come into his early twenties and with the increased repetition he will see. The latter comes down to execution and focus. Sit back and enjoy the ride with this one.
Major league ETA: 2016
2. A.J. Cole
Height/Weight: 6’5” 200 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2010 draft, Oviedo HS (Oviedo, FL)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #53 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 3.43 ERA (63 IP, 69 H, 50 K, 17 BB) at Triple-A Syracuse, 2.92 ERA (71 IP, 79 H, 61 K, 15 BB) at Double-A Harrisburg
The Tools: 7 FB; 6 CH; 5 SL
What Happened in 2014: Cole split his time across both levels of the upper minors, where the right-hander logged another strong workload and flashed his strike throwing ability.
Strengths: Clean arm action; size to withstand rigors of position; uses body to advantage; fastball routinely works 92-96; adept at pounding zone with offering; capable of spotting to both sides of the plate; lively in lower tier of zone; seamless arm speed with changeup; plays well off of heater; arm-side fade with ability to command; spots slider well in sequences; has been tightening last few years; good command profile.
Weaknesses: Lacks clear bat-missing secondary offering; change is more of a contact-inducing offering; plays down on occasion; shape of breaking ball can be inconsistent; will get on the slurvy side; lacks bite off the table; hasn’t been able to find definitive identity with offering; may end up too fastball dependent at highest level; pitch is often around plate.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; 11 games at Triple-A; utility of secondary arsenal.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The strikeouts are likely not going to get Cole to the point where he’s much more than an SP3 at his peak, but with strong ratios (particularly WHIP, given his fastball control), he’s worth rostering in even the shallowest of dynasty formats. Unfortunately, as of right now, there’s no spot for him in Washington—though that can change on a dime.
The Year Ahead: Cole continued to march along in 2014, and now sits on the cusp of getting his chance in The Show. There’s a lot to like with this arm as both the size and power stuff is there to churn through opposing lineups on a consistent basis. The overall profile gets a boost from the right-hander’s ability to effortlessly pound the zone with his fastball and fill up the ledger with a lot of strikes. Everything flows off of the heater for the 22-year-old. The plus command profile is a big reason why there’s a good chance the potential can become a reality, but the secondary stuff does leave some questions as to what the overall body of work will look like in the long run. The changeup is right there in terms of playing at a plus level, but is more of a contact inducing pitch. If the breaking ball continues to have inconsistencies and can’t find an identity, there’s a lot of pressure on the fastball. High-caliber hitters may end up taking advantage of the fact that Cole’s fastball is around the plate so often. This season will likely be the first look at how his stuff is going to play against big-league hitters, and a little more tightening of the slider would go a long way towards achieving true mid-rotation status.
Major league ETA: 2015
3. Michael Taylor
Height/Weight: 6’3” 210 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 6th round, 2009 draft, Westminster Academy (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org)
2014 Stats: .205/.279/.359 at major-league level (17 games), .227/.333/.409 at Triple-A Syracuse (12 games), .313/.396/.539 at Double-A Harrisburg (98 games)
The Tools: 6 run; 6 arm; 6+ glove; 6+ power potential
What Happened in 2014: After some more middling seasons in the low minors, Taylor exploded this past year in Double-A, where he posted a .935 OPS and dropped 22 bombs before a brief call up to the majors.
Strengths: Plus athlete; great frame; has been adding size and strength; tools are loud; big raw power; leverage in swing to create lift and carry; drives balls with loft; shows power to all fields; punishes offerings out and over the plate; 25-plus home run potential; plus runner; covers ground into both gaps; plus range; shows good closing speed; reads ball well off the bat; defense is an asset up the middle; can impact the game on the bases.
Weaknesses: Overly aggressive at the plate; has a wide strike zone; likes to swing early; gears up for fastball—leaves him prone to secondary stuff; gets off balance chasing; leads to swing and miss or weak contact; brings hands forward early during stride; extends early with swing; has trouble barreling good fastballs inside; power may play down due to hit tool; could end up all-or-nothing, mistake hitter.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division player/occasional all-star
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; achieved major leagues; questions on hit-tool utility.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Drool, drool, drool. That’s what the Double-A numbers Taylor put up makes fantasy owners do. Unfortunately, the contact issues are going to limit some of that usefulness and—like Cole above him—there’s a full outfield in Washington that it will take an injury or trade for him to crack. There’s certainly 20/20 possibility here, but it could be paired with a .240 average.
The Year Ahead: Taylor’s tools are extremely loud, and when these type of skills start to show production, especially in the upper levels, we can get at times overly eager about what exactly it indicates. There is no doubt the 23-year-old outfielder took a step forward this past season, where he worked himself into more favorable hitting conditions and punished offerings in his wheelhouse from Double-A arms. Not to splash cold water on a solid prospect entrenched in a good system, but it is important to illustrate there’s still a wide range of potential outcomes, which the overall grades strive to reflect, despite the proximity to The Show. The defensive ability and value on the bases give Taylor a leg up at providing good value at an up-the-middle position even if the body of work falls short of the potential run producer the tool ceilings suggest. The scouting still indicates that the strike zone management skills and swing composition may limit the ultimate outcome. If the club is going to commit to him as regular early in his career, adjustments are needed to close a decent-sized gap against unforgiving arms. This season should provide more of a look at how the traits in question are trending at the highest level and whether the gap in outcomes is quickly closing.
Major league ETA: Achieved major leagues in 2014
4. Reynaldo Lopez
Height/Weight: 6’0” 185 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2012, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: 1.33 ERA (47.1 IP, 27 H, 39 K, 11 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown, 0.75 ERA (36 IP, 15 H, 31 K, 15 BB) at short-season Auburn
The Tools: 7+ potential FB; 6 potential CB; 5+ potential CH
What Happened in 2014: The previously unheralded Dominican busted onto the scene in 2014 where the right-hander fired 83 1/3 innings across two levels, limiting opposing hitters to 42 hits and fanning nearly eight batters per nine innings.
Strengths: Athletic; projectable body; easy delivery; fast arm; good present arm strength; fastball comfortably operates in mid-90s; capable of dialing up higher frequently; heavy downward action and late life; explosive offering; difficult to barrel in lower tier; early makings of ability to command; feel for spinning curve; shows best at 76-78; teeth and depth at ideal velocity; plus potential; future bat-missing look; change flashes quality action; arm-side fade; throws with loose wrist; overall command growth projection.
Weaknesses: Arm can get into slot late; some length in delivery; lands stiff on front leg at times; command has good gap to close; release with curve can be inconsistent; will roll at times; shape can be loose; needs improvement throwing for strikes; change presently lags behind; on the firm side (84-86); more like a fastball pitcher is taking something off of; arm speed and body will slow down; release will waver; in the early stages of building stamina; stuff drops off deeper into outings; some questions as to how it will sustain over long season.
Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2/3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; limited full-season experience; progression of secondary stuff.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Lopez is going to be a hot name in dynasty drafts this year, because unless your league allows in-season minor league pickups, he’s extremely unlikely to be owned. That said, he’s a borderline first-rounder, as his risk and ETA are still limiting factors. It’s easy to have your mind drift to Yordano Ventura’s fantasy successes in 2014, but Lopez has a long way to go.
The Year Ahead: Lopez is the definition of a “pop-up prospect” as it would be revisionist history to suggest he was on the radar entering this past season. Fueled by both internal and external reports, the overall raw stuff and potential here is very legit. The right-hander’s fastball is clearly his best present offering, with velocity that can approach elite and downward movement through the strike zone that makes it difficult to square up. While the secondary stuff lags a bit behind for the soon-to-be 21-year-old, the feel and potential growth exists for both the curveball and changeup to play at better-than-average levels when all is said and done. Like most young arms, Lopez has a gap between the present command and where it needs to be to effectively churn through lineups as a starter at the highest level, but his overall looseness and athleticism suggests growth can happen with continued repetition. His overall inexperience and limited workload across a full season also leaves some questions as to how the stuff will hold over the grind of the season. A good showing in full-season ball, coupled with proof that the arsenal can sustain its high-octane look from start to finish, could potentially push this prospect’s stock into upper-echelon territory.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
5. Erick Fedde
Height/Weight: 6’3” 170 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, University of Nevada-Las Vegas (Las Vegas, NV)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: Did Not Play (Tommy John Surgery)
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 6 potential SL; 5+ potential CH
What Happened in 2014: The right-hander had his junior season cut short due to Tommy John, but Washington still saw enough during the year to tab Fedde with the 18th overall pick and take on the rehab process.
Strengths: Athletic; good frame; room to pack on more size; uses body to create leverage and throw downhill; fastball works 90-94; can touch into mid-90s frequently; displays strong sink and some run; slices downward through zone; difficult to square up in lower tier; capable of working both sides of plate; throws strikes; snaps slider with loose wrist; late breaker; throws from same angle as heater; gets bats started; presently solid average; can turn over change; flashes arm-side fade; room for command growth.
Weaknesses: On the lean side; needs more strength to handle grind of long professional season; fastball velocity can fluctuate; flattens out above middle of thighs; has to selectively elevate to change eye level; more control than command presently; changeup still a work in progress; needs continued honing to get to playable level; inconsistent action; can wrap with slider; will occasionally get loose and sweep; uncertainty as to whether stuff returns to prior form.
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-inning reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; Tommy John on resume (2014); lost early-career development time; changeup progression.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There is something to be said about the trust factor in Washington drafting Fedde and guiding him through the recovery process when it comes to fantasy. Organizations have swings on value, and it’s not just team or ballpark based, it can start in the developmental phase. Fedde likely falls outside the top 10 picks in dynasty drafts this year, and he’s a strong value play in the second round, who can contribute in all four categories.
The Year Ahead: Fedde was enjoying a strong junior season, with buzz building as a potential top-10 pick, prior to an elbow injury putting a halt to his campaign. It speaks to the belief in the talent and potential to see him only slip to 18th overall. The 21-year-old’s bread and butter is a low-90s sinking fastball that generates plenty of groundballs and should continue to do so in the professional ranks. It’s the type of heater that can both set the tone for sequences and also get him out of trouble when needed. The right-hander adds a late-breaking slider and improving changeup to the mix that both show better-than-average potential. The slider is presently the better of the two, with the change getting to a playable level being the big key in projecting him as a starter. Given Fedde went down in May of this past year, much of the near term will be focused on rehabbing and making a return to the mound. It likely won’t be until the following season that things start to come back into focus, with at the very least the floor pointing to a late-inning arm and prior upside indicating a mid-rotational starter.
Major league ETA: 2018
6. Steven Souza
Height/Weight: 6’4” 225 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2007 draft, Cascade HS (Everett, WA)
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .130/.231/.391 at major-league level (21 games), .350/.432/590 at Triple-A Syracuse (96 games)
The Tools: 5 potential hit; 6 potential power; 5+ run; 6+ arm
What Happened in 2014: The outfielder continued to show that his career is back on track this past season, where he unleashed an onslaught of power and speed on the International League and got his first taste of The Show.
Strengths: Strong body; well filled-out frame; athletic for size; above-average foot speed; quiet swing set-up; keeps balance; taps into core and lower body well; above-average bat speed; can drive ball with carry and loft to all fields; plus-to-better raw power; willing to use the whole field; punishes mistakes out and over the plate; easy plus arm; can challenge runners; has overcome early-career issues.
Weaknesses: Highly leveraged swing; shows in-zone miss; hands lose timing and come under the ball; can be beat by good stuff middle-in; questions on hit translation against elite competition; contact may ultimately end up playing down and limit power output; defense on the limited side; reads off pitchers need improvement to utilize speed on bases.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: High 4; fourth outfielder/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; achieved major leagues; hit tool translation
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: In another organization, Souza would be more interesting from a fantasy perspective, but playing time is going to be an issue in the near term and he’s going to turn 26 in April. If given the playing time, Souza could hit .260 with 20 homers and 15 steals—though guessing when that may happen is a dangerous game.
The Year Ahead: After a variety of issues during the early part of his career that seemingly had him down and out, Souza has been able to put things together on and off the field the last few seasons to get back on track, which culminated with an opportunity in the majors this past year. The highlight of the outfielder’s game is power. He unleashes a stroke that is designed to do damage, and when an opposing arm makes a mistake they typically pay. The 25-year-old has the type of power to translate into around 20-25 home runs provided a full complement of plate appearances over the course of a season. And, that’s the big key. Souza’s swing has some timing where his hands can get a little late, which leads to swing and miss or getting himself tied up. How well he can adjust and keep his stroke fluid against elite arms will be the driving force to maintaining enough contact to profile as a regular over the long run. To reach the potential role, Souza will have to continue his recent adjustments sharpening his approach and keeping the swing together. If the contact does indeed play down, the profile points more to a bench player over the entire body of work. Souza will likely get an extended chance in 2015 to show what he can do and try to prove he’s up to the task against quality stuff consistently.
Major league ETA: Reached majors in 2014
7. Jakson Reetz
Height/Weight: 6’1” 195 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2014 draft, Norris HS (Firth, NE)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .274/.429/.368 at complex level GCL (43 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 6 potential power; 5+ potential glove; 6+ potential arm
What Happened in 2014: The Nationals signed the potential power-hitting backstop to an above-slot bonus after tabbing him in the third round of this year’s draft, and then sent him to the Gulf Coast League to begin his professional journey.
Strengths: Strong body; good present strength; athletic; loose hands; creates solid extension through point of contact; squares up ball with backspin; ability to hit gap-to-gap; plus-to-better raw power; 20-plus home run potential down the line; quick feet; moved well laterally behind the dish; body to smother offerings; plus-to-better arm strength; throws show good carry; intelligent player; high baseball IQ.
Weaknesses: Overall receiving skills on the raw side; glove hand will drift; catch-and-throw mechanics need work; release can get long and tangled; footwork can be choppy; stroke presently line-drive orientated; must learn how to create more loft to reach full power potential; in the infancy stages of developing approach; susceptible to offerings with spin; long-lead developmental path.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: High 4; backup catcher/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Extreme risk; 18 years old; limited pro experience; dual-threat development.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: While the ETA makes a big dent in his fantasy value, Reetz is a very strong endgame option in dynasty drafts. Catchers are generally only worth gambling on if their fantasy upside gives them enough distance above replacement level, and Reetz has Brian McCann-type fantasy potential, portending a .270 average and 20-plus homers. So, yes.
The Year Ahead: Reetz is definitely one of those long-lead players that requires a lot of projection to see the overall vision and patience while the raw tools start to marinate into more polished skills, but the ingredients are here to round into a first-division type down the line. The 18-year-old catcher brings a balanced skill set to the diamond, with the potential for impact on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the stroke is fluid and he possesses loose hands, allowing him to control the head of the bat within the strike zone. Reetz’s swing is presently more geared to line-drive contact, but there’s plenty of raw power to tap into to hit home runs if the prospect can learn to get more loft out of the stroke as he matures as a hitter. Defensively, the backstop moves well behind the dish and shows plus-to-better arm strength. Early on, the main areas of focus developmentally reside with cleaning up his footwork to enhance the throwing game and getting stronger with offerings in the dirt. Expect things for Reetz to be slow and steady early in his career, with signs of progress to be more subtle, but this is a player that should start to move forward in 2015 and show flashes of what the talent can do when it all comes together.
Major league ETA: 2019
8. Jake Johansen
Height/Weight: 6’6” 235 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2013 draft, Baptist University (Dallas, TX)
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org)
2014 Stats: 5.19 ERA (100.2 IP, 120 H, 89 K, 55 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 6 potential SL; 5 potential CH
What Happened in 2014: The big right-hander’s overall line wasn’t pleasing to the eye as he struggled throwing strikes and gave up a lot of contact at a level where the expectation would be otherwise.
Strengths: Excellent size; well filled-out into frame; elite arm strength; physical presence on the mound; uses body to throw downhill; fastball operates 91-95 as starter; capable of reaching back for more; flashes cut in lower velocity band; shows feel for snapping and twisting breaking ball; acts as slider in upper present-velocity band (low 80s); can spot glove side; potential to further evolve into late breaker; change can show late drop; stuff can play up in shorter stints.
Weaknesses: Presently struggles with command; lot of body to control; not the best repeater of delivery; fastball works elevated often where it is on the flat side; needs work spotting east/west; breaking ball lacks identity; more curve look with loose break in lower band (77-79); presently fringe average; can be deliberate with change; average utility may ultimately be a stretch.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; yet to reach upper levels; command profile questions.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Valuing Johansen as a starter for fantasy purposes is not a great value proposition as there are many short-season arms with better chances of sticking. It will be tough for him to get the secondaries to the point where there’s strikeout impact even if he does end up in a rotation.
The Year Ahead: Johansen is an enigmatic arm, where the size and potential of the stuff point to one set of results, but the execution and relative crudeness overall for the age hold it back. In all likelihood, the 23-year-old right-hander is probably best suited for the bullpen, where he can let loose with his fastball in short bursts and work to snap off the breaking ball with more true-slider tilt. A continued tour as a starter in the near term can squeeze more out developmentally in terms of sharpening the overall stuff. It’s possible, though the far lean-forward, perfect-world scenario, that things can further click to achieve the overall potential. The overall belief is that Johansen can track quickly if fully converted to a relief role and round into one capable of bridging key outs in the late innings. It will be interesting to see what path 2015 brings for the prospect, and whether the pen option becomes the near-term reality to accelerate the soon-to-be 24-year-old’s developmental cycle.
Major league ETA: 2016
9. Rafael Bautista
Height/Weight: 6’2” 165 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2012, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2014 Stats: .290/.341/.382 at Low-A Hagerstown (134 games)
The Tools: 7 run; 6+ potential glove; 5+ potential hit; 5 arm
What Happened in 2014: The Dominican outfielder transitioned well to full-season ball, where he flashed the ability to get the bat on the ball and continued to show better-than-average defense in center.
Strengths: Still room on frame to add size; good present strength; athletic; well above-average runner; natural in center; displays strong instincts; takes sound routes to the ball; plus range; excellent closing speed; defense is an asset; life in hands and wrists; line-drive stroke built to use the whole field; good bat speed; high-contact potential; improving patience; can impact on bases.
Weaknesses: Power not likely to be a factor in game; below-average power ceiling; swing more geared to heavy contact; hands-orientated over tapping into entire body; selectivity still has a ways to go; struggles with good breaking stuff; hit can play too light without enough hard contact; likely the type who will have to hit way on base consistently; still learning how to read pitchers on bases to get good jumps.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: High 4; bench outfielder/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to reach upper levels; development of bat.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s really hard to ignore 69 steals as a fantasy owner, even if it does come in Low-A. The profile may be a tough everyday sell, but a potential .270 hitter with 40-plus steals is a very valuable fantasy player—and Bautista’s defense gives him a shot to let it play.
The Year Ahead: The carrying tool for Bautista is the defense as it gives him a fairly good shot at being able to ride it up the ranks. The outfielder is very natural in center, with excellent instincts and the speed to cover ground swiftly into both gaps. The reports also indicate that he’s solid with his judgment and route taking, which points to the fact he’s not just living on raw speed at the position. The risk lies with the bat, and whether there’s enough in the hit tool for it to play up and maintain status as a regular. The 21-year-old is strong, but the line-drive nature of his stroke likely means home-run power won’t be a factor in the game and doubles into the gaps will be needed to keep opposing arms honest. This is a potential lead-off profile, with strong defense at a premium position. There may be some regression this season in the tough Carolina League, but if the scouting points to positive trends with the secondary skills, consider it a very good sign the bat is continuing to inch its way forward.
Major league ETA: 2017
10. Wilmer Difo
Height/Weight: 6’0” 175 lbs
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2010, Dominican Republic
Previous Ranking: NR
2014 Stats: .315/.360/.470 at Low-A Hagerstown (136 games)
The Tools: 7 run; 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential glove; 6 arm
What Happened in 2014: The 22-year-old Dominican infielder exploded offensively in A-Ball, where he ripped 52 extra-base hits and swiped 49 bags in his first foray of extended action since signing back in 2010. In the process, Difo quickly raised his status from relative unknown to on-the-radar.
Strengths: Excellent athlete; fluid baseball actions; has filled into body the last few years; improving strength; compact stroke from both sides of the plate; capable of pulling hands inside of the ball; good bat speed; gap-to-gap approach; some pop in stick; arm for left side of infield; improving fundamentals in field; potential position versatility; has matured emotionally over the past year.
Weaknesses: Can be on choppy side at shortstop; slower with reads; likely best suited for second base; will fish for stuff with spin away; can get out on front foot early and bring hands too far forward; power likely to play below average; has struggled with confidence and dealing with failure in the past.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: High 4; utility player/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; yet to reach upper levels; progression of approach.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A better option for points leagues, Difo has a stat line that fantasy owners love, but beware the trapdoors here. The speed and contact skills are the most likely to follow Difo up the ladder, but there are plenty of developmental hurdles to cross before anointing him the new, old Jose Altuve (pre-breakout).
The Year Ahead: A relative unknown nationally entering the season, Difo rode the wave of early success out of the gate in a regular role and parlayed that into a breakout season. Confidence is always an interesting determining factor. In the past, the 22-year-old struggled to deal with early season failure and it led to his skills playing down during the rest of the year. It was a more mature overall game for the prospect this past season, and the end result was a coming out party for the raw tools. Difo features a compact stroke from both sides of the plate that enables the switch-hitter to get the fat part of the barrel on a lot of offerings. The over-the-fence power is likely to play below average in the long run, but there’s ability to plug gaps and use the double-plus speed to his advantage. While the defensive skills at shortstop aren’t the most natural, the prospect shows promise at second base and likely can add more positions (third and outfield) to the resume should the need for more versatility present itself. A placement at High-A in 2015 will challenge Difo’s secondary skills and ability to stay back on the ball. With a passing of that test, the infielder can continue to track as a utility player at the floor, with upside as a regular.
Major league ETA: 2017
Prospects on the Rise:
1. RHP Jefry Rodriguez: Tendonitis limited the 6-foot-5 right-hander’s workload this past season, but the upside remains for this converted shortstop who signed back in 2012. Rodriguez’s fastball works 92-95 mph with ease, showing downward action and some late explosiveness. He also flashes the ability to spin a tight curveball, with teeth and sharp over-hand break. The long poles still remain the development of a viable third offering (changeup) and building the arm’s stamina up to handle the grind of the season. Neither aspect was helped by the limited innings of this past year. Rodriguez has the potential to take some steps forward this season, with extended action helping to build experience and reaffirm himself as a top-ten prospect within the organization by next offseason.
2. C Pedro Severino: The calling card for the 2010 international signee is defense. Severino possesses an arm that can play at plus-plus and overall skills behind the dish that can round into above average. It’s the type of defensive profile that can carry the 21-year-old to the majors without a whole lot from the bat. That’s where the questions on the future role come in, with the bat presently light and not projecting to provide much overall impact. The jump into Double-A this season is going to be a huge test. If Severino can improve his contact skills by getting more comfortable staying back on stuff with spin, the outlook on the bat can point to a bottom-of-the-order hitter as a regular, and boost his status within the system at this time next season.
3. 3B Drew Ward: The 20-year-old left-handed hitter flashes big raw power and the chance to stick on the left side of the infield. It’s important to remember that Ward was given a fairly aggressive Sally League assignment this past season, where his early development needs stuck out immediately. He’s a hitter with some length and early extension in the swing that needs balancing to make consistent contact against good stuff. The power has a chance to really play up if the third baseman can make some adjustments and cleanup the swing a bit. It remains to be seen as to whether he ends up outgrowing the hot corner, where the range is already on the fringy side. But don’t sleep on Ward showing more—now that his experience is building—resulting in a rise in status.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. OF Brian Goodwin: In what was expected to be a potential tune up for getting time at the big-league level in 2014, the 24-year-old outfielder battled inconsistency and injury in Triple-A, which limited him to just 81 games. The tools and athleticism have always suggested things could reach an above-average role, but the overall execution and consistency have been lacking. If Goodwin can tone things down at the plate and stay within himself as a hitter, the bat can round into form to hit enough over the long run. The profile is looking more like a fourth outfielder for the projected career body of work, with the chance to contribute as a regular in stretches. Look for the prospect to get a shot at helping the club during the summer should he make the necessary offensive adjustments during his second stint in the International League.
2. 1B Matt Skole: The former fifth-round pick is a tough profile given the limited nature of the defense and the heavy focus on offensive production it brings. It’s also important to keep in mind that there can be lingering effects from an entire season missed due to injury. Skole has power from the left side of the plate and a grinding approach that makes opposing arms work hard for an out. The hit tool is likely to play no better than average given the length and extension in the swing, but there’s offense that can be squeezed out of this bat. The profile points to a potential bench bat in the long run, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the first baseman show more life at the plate a year further removed from injury and get a chance to contribute in some form this summer.
3. LHP Felipe Rivero: After being acquired from the Rays last offseason, the hard-throwing Venezuelan left-hander struggled with injuries and when he was on the field, showed a lack of consistency. When on, Rivero brings a fastball that can work into the mid-90s, a sharp curveball, and a viable changeup. Command inconsistencies have plagued him in the past, but if the arm can show good health in 2015 and gets on a roll, don’t rule out that he can emerge as an option should the organization need to dip down into its depth, especially for help out of the bullpen.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
- Bryce Harper
- Anthony Rendon
- Lucas Giolito
- A.J. Cole
- Michael Taylor
- Reynaldo Lopez
- Erick Fedde
- Steven Souza
- Jakson Reetz
- Jake Johansen
Stephen Strasburg has been enshrined as the first name on the Nationals' under-25 list for the past two years. He has anchored a Washington rotation that has now strung together three consecutive winnings seasons. However, the time has come for the staff ace to graduate from this list and hand over the reigns to another star. Harper is the new man of the hour, and his coming-out party might have been the 2014 playoffs. While other players his age are still refining their tools in the Carolina and Eastern Leagues, Harper has logged nearly 1,500 major-league innings by his age-22 season. Harper would be one of the youngest players (if not the youngest) on both the Potomac and Harrisburg affiliates. With such a promising talent heading this list, it may seem like a monumental fall to those slotted behind, but that is not entirely the case. Rendon has turned into a prominent second basemen, piecing together a 2014 season that is on par with a first division talent. The Harper and Rendon combination provides a formidable core for the Nationals moving forward, and will be followed with a strong depth of pitching talent.
Giolito, Cole, Lopez and Fedde are the next wave of pitchers looking to join the likes of Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and company. All have differing abilities and arsenals, but each acts as an asset for the club moving forward. Giolito is a pleasure to watch, and baseball will rejoice when he takes the field for his major league debut. Cole is close to the bigs, and we will likely see him in some capacity heading into next season. Lopez and Fedde are still far from the majors, but both have underlying talent that could cement their status on this list for quite a few years moving forward.
Two promising outfielders also find their way on this list, with Taylor and Souza both acting as unique stories from different sides of the spectrum. Taylor is an athletic project that has finally begun to marinate his talent into the status of a major leaguer. Souza was an under-performing minor league player that needed to win back the graces of the organization. Both outfielders have seemingly worked their way into the plans of the major-league team moving forward, although their roles remain to be seen for the 2014 season.
The final two names on the Nationals' list are Reetz and Johansen. The former was a third-round selection in 2014, and drew rave reviews from scouts and industry members who watched his torrid start with the Gulf Coast club. Johansen did not have a season that would be deemed a success by numeric standards, but his arsenal still flashes major-league caliber, with a fastball that can clock mid 90's or higher.
The success of an organization largely falls on their record at the end of the year. The Nationals continue to piece together winning clubs, and continue to infuse their organization with young talent. With a list fronted by Harper, the Nationals seem well-poised to continue their resurgence in the NL East. The young foundation of pitching and outfielders waiting in the wings will only help to continue their success moving forward. –Tucker Blair
A Parting Thought: Giolito is an attractive headliner and boosts the overall status of this system, which features some additional potential impact players on both sides of the ball and intriguing talent in the lower levels that can emerge in the coming seasons.