The Situation: When Jayson Werth went on the disabled list this week, the Nationals made an unconventional choice to replace the slugging outfielder: They brought up an infielder with 56 plate appearances higher than High-A. Difo, though, offers flexibility that will help a Nationals lineup still missing third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Background: Difo, signed as an international free agent in 2010, broke out in the second half last year. He has never made a BP Top 100 but cracked the Nationals' Top 10 this winter. He burst into real prospect conversations this year, hitting .315/.367/.520 in 139 plate appearances split between High-A and Double-A.
Scouting Report: The skill set Difo brings to the table is a unique one, and one I have admired this year. First and foremost, he brings plus instincts and reactions to the shortstop position, along with a quick first step, allowing his range to play plus. He has smooth but not elite hands and fielding ability, and his glove will ultimately play average at shortstop and possibly plus at second base. Difo shows off premium velocity and carry when throwing the ball from all spots on the left side, and his arm will play plus at any position. His ability and success at the plate propelled his prospect stock this year and is what will continue to carry him. He shows an advanced approach and a plan at the plate, with quick hands, a short stroke and above-average bat speed. He has the ability to let the ball travel deep into the hitting zone and the ability to extend on balls on the outer half. His swing allows him to get out of the box clean and he will have run times in the 70-grade range. He reaches top speed early in his stride and the second gear is extreme. Showing off average raw power in batting practice, Difo’s power translates to 40 game power and an overall hit tool that will play solid-average. The overall profile features various above-average tools and he can be a true role-60, first-division starter at his peak.—CJ Wittmann
Most recent eyewitness report: April 22, 2015.
Fantasy Impact: Well, this one certainly takes the cake for most surprising call up of the 2015 season so far. Even with the issues the Nationals have had on the infield thus far, it's always shocking to see a player with as little experience above Low-A as Difo has get this sort of promotion–even if he is already 23 years old. That said, the fantasy community shouldn't get too excited about Difo for this year for a couple of reasons.
The biggest impediment to fantasy value for Difo in 2015 isn't his readiness, but the lack of room at the positions he's comfortable playing–after all, he did get called up in the wake of Jayson Werth's disabled list stint, and Werth is not an infielder. This leaves Difo behind Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar, and if you read that sentence two months ago, you'd think the Nationals were insane, but these have been the third and fourth best hitters in that starting lineup this year. With even a struggling Ian Desmond not going anywhere (at least not unless there's a trade), Difo is blocked out of his natural positions–and while he could likely be serviceable in an outfield spot with enough lead time, he hasn't played the position once as a pro.
So it's more important to focus here on the type of player that Difo could be in the long run (possibly starting in 2016 when Desmond inevitably moves on as a free agent). The high-rising middle infielder should be able to hit for a strong batting average, given his propensity for contact and has 30-plus steal ability. Combine that with the potential for 10 homers annually and you're looking at a top-10 shortstop (or second baseman) somewhat in the mold of Jean Segura. As for this year, I'd still be pretty surprised to see him get more than about 50-75 plate appearances, barring a major injury (or a major setback with Anthony Rendon). It's possible he'll accumulate 4-5 steals and a few counting stats in that time frame.
In redraft leagues, he's best left for NL-only formats at this point, and even there, the bidding should be modest. Given the strong possibility he's a spare infielder for a week or two before being sent back down, a bid of $5-7 seems reasonable. In dynasty formats, he should generally be owned in leagues that roster 50 or more prospects, and anything larger than 12 teams. The time will come for Difo in a Nationals uniform, but for fantasy purposes, it looks like we'll all have to wait a bit longer for the payoff. —Bret Sayre
- 90th percentile: .281/.322/.389, 3.1 WARP
- 50th percentile: .232/.268/.320, 0.6 WARP
- 10th percentile: .183/.213/.252, -1.3 WARP
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