7-Word Scouting Report: Raw Pitcher, Elite Fastball and Arm Speed
Signed as an international free agent in June 2012, Reynaldo Lopez quickly became the toast of the scouting community last summer, after a mechanical adjustment spiked his fastball velocity into the high-90s. This modification allowed Lopez to dominate the lower minors in 2014, posting a 1.08 ERA, 0.816 WHIP, and 70 strikeouts in 83.1 innings pitched at both Auburn and Low-A Hagerstown.
The 21-year-old Lopez possesses an impressive 3-pitch repertoire including one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues. Lopez’s fastball sits 94-97mph, occasionally touching 100mph, with late life. In addition Lopez shows an inconsistent but impressive high-70s curveball with plus potential and a mid-80s changeup with diving action. His delivery is relatively quiet, with noticeable fluidity, and Lopez has lightning-fast arm speed.
Despite his smallish 6-0 185lbs. frame, he stands tall during his motion and projects to add strength as he matures physically. There is risk involving his prospect profile as he has only 99.1 career professional innings and saw a tremendous spike in velocity in 2014, but Lopez possesses #2 starter upside in the major leagues if he can continue to polish his pitching delivery and refine his off-speed offerings.
In order to provide a deeper perspective, I contacted friend of the site and expert talent evaluator, Tucker Blair from BaseballProspectus, to share his thoughts on Reynaldo Lopez.
“Reynaldo was the biggest surprise of the 2014 season. There was a slight buzz surfacing in the industry regarding his sudden rise, but it had not reached the public eye yet. Based on these hints, I shuttled up to Hagerstown for a look. Reynaldo blew me away. Not only was the velocity in the upper 90’s, but he was holding 94+ mph and spotting it in the lower quadrants. The elite arm speed and the relatively clean delivery were very encouraging, and I think the Nationals did a tremendous job molding him into the pitcher he is now. The curveball and changeup have some room for improvement, but they both flash average or better and he really does have a chance to mover farther up the prospect lists next season. I watched over 100 minor league games in 2014, and this was the most exciting arm I saw outside of his teammate Lucas Giolito. This is a very talented arm, and the Nationals found a steal at $17,000 on the international market.” – Tucker Blair, Baseball Prospectus
THE breakout prospect in the Nationals’ system in 2014, the below-average height, massive arm speed and blazing fastball naturally leads scouts to link Lopez with Kansas City starting pitcher Yordano Ventura. That lofty comparison is unfair to both players but gives some indication to the raw talent Lopez possesses and the respect scouts have for him as a prospect. Lopez should begin 2015 in the Potomac Nationals starting rotation and assuming he remains healthy, he could arrive in the majors leagues sometime in 2017.
7-Word Scouting Report:Prototypical Physique, Monster 3-Pitch Repertoire, Needs Development
Considered to be the top pitching prospect in his draft class, Giolito spent the majority of his senior season in high school rehabilitating an arm injury, allowing rumors to swirl about the necessity for a future Tommy John surgery and a subsequent slide on draft day. Washington took advantage of these injury concerns and pounced on the opportunity to select him with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.
Soon after signing his professional contract, in the fall of 2012 Giolito underwent Tommy John surgery, effectively shutting him down for the 2013 season. Once fully recovered to begin 2014, Washington was cautious with Giolito this season, allowing him to pitch 98 innings in his 20 starts for Low-A Hagerstown. Despite the innings limit, Giolito overwhelmed the South Atlantic League batters, posting a 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 110 strikeouts against only 28 walks last season.
Giolito features a massive 3-pitch arsenal consisting of a blazing 93-98mph fastball with movement, a legitimate plus (or better) 79-83mph curveball that buckles hitters’ knees, in addition to a low-80s changeup with splitter-type downward movement. Listed at 6-6 255lbs., Giolito is a good athlete still growing into his massive frame. His delivery is relatively quiet and clean, especially for someone so inexperienced on the mound. However, Giolito does struggle to repeat his motion, as he has a tendency to over-rotate through his delivery, causing him to “fly open” and struggle to maintain his release point. Further experience in the minors should help improve this mechanical flaw and streamline his delivery.
Armed with three plus to plus-plus pitches, an ideal pitcher’s body, and the makings of a solid delivery, it is obvious why he is the top prospect in the organization. Certainly he needs additional time in the minors to build his stamina, develop the consistency of his pitching motion, and gain additional experience on the mound, but the biggest question mark with Giolito is if he can stay healthy. Giolito is one of the rare pitching prospects with the legitimate potential to develop into a #1 starter and is in the discussion as the top pitching prospect in minor league baseball.
The Nationals have handled Giolito like delivery men are supposed to treat boxes marked “fragile” since his selection, but the team should look to unleash him on the Carolina League in 2015. Giolito is expected to headline a prospect-laden starting rotation for High-A Potomac, with the possibility of a late season promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. Assuming Giolito remains healthy, he could arrive in the major leagues late in 2016 or early 2017.
Episode #27 finds me joined by local radio celebrity and new Washington Nationals’ beat writer for MASNSports.com, Chris Johnson. C.J. and I discuss his early career in radio working with John Thompson, the transition to MASN and covering the Nationals, and he names his favorite member of the Sports Junkies.
One of the many positives of doing this list each offseason is that it provides excellent insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the Washington Nationals farm system. In addition to having the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues, Lucas Giolito, along with two strong prospects near major league ready in A.J. Cole and Michael Taylor, perhaps the biggest overall asset is the impressive depth throughout the system. In fact, I had originally planned to list only 25 players, but the number of potential major league contributors at the back end extended it to 30 names.
Yesterday I listed the top-10 prospects currently in Washington’s farm system – today in Part-2 I discuss the remaining players that round out this impressive top-30 list.
Also Considered:Abel de los Santos, Nick Lee, Gilberto Mendez, Matt Purke, Hector Silvestre, John Simms, Wander Suero, and Drew Vettleson
#30 Stephen Perez SS
Perez has long held the reputation as a dynamic, glove-first shortstop who did not have enough strength to do damage offensively. Then last winter Perez gained 10-15 pounds of pure muscle without losing his athleticism, adding some power to his offensive game and transforming his overall profile. Perez’s game is still built on his excellent defense but his improved physicality could allow him to develop into a valuable utility infielder at the major league level.
#29 Robbie Dickey RHP
Washington’s 4th round selection in 2014, this raw 20-year-old owns a strong 3-pitch arsenal highlighted by a mid-90s fastball. Dickey should begin 2015 in Hagerstown’s starting rotation, though most believe his future resides as a maximum effort 2-pitch reliever.
#28 Matt Skole 1B/3B
A powerfully built man, Skole has impressive left-handed home run power and a keen batting eye but struggles with whiffs and does not profile as adequate defensively at the hot corner. Skole, now 25-years-old, projects as a reserve corner infielder in the major leagues.
#27 Sammy Solis LHP
An extremely talented left-handed pitcher, Solis’s picture is in the dictionary under “injury-prone”, as he has struggled with arm issues most of his collegiate and professional career. Now 26-years-old, this former 2nd round pick has major league quality stuff when he pitches, but until he can stay on the mound for more than a few months, I cannot rank him any higher on this list.
#26 Matt Grace LHP
Grace spent his first three minor league seasons as a starter, but a shift to the bullpen in 2013 has allowed his excellent fastball command and sharp curveball to blossom in relief. Grace posted a 1.17 ERA, 1.104 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts over 77 innings pitched last season between Double-A and Triple-A – this success forced his placement on the 40-man roster this winter. Expect Grace to work as a lefty specialist similar to Jerry Blevins and he should reach the majors sometime in 2015.
#25 Felipe Rivero LHP
A smallish lefty with three quality pitches, Rivero battled injuries for much of last season. If he can remain healthy, the 23-year-old still looks to have a major league future, either as a #5 starter or left-handed reliever.
#24 Tony Renda 2B
This diminutive former 2nd round pick, Renda’s only above-average tool is outstanding bat-to-ball hit ability, but his propensity toward making contact gives him a chance to hit his way to the major leagues.
#23 Taylor Hill RHP
A 6th round pick from Vanderbilt back in 2011, Hill had his second consecutive quality season in the upper minors last season, posting a 2.81 ERA and 86 strikeouts against only 25 walks over 144 innings pitched. His minimal strikeout numbers keep his prospect profile low, but perhaps a shift to the bullpen could help bolster his whiffs while capitalizing on his excellent command.
#22 Raudy Read Catcher
A 2011 international free agent, Read has the reputation as a terrific catch-and-throw defensive catcher with potential offensively as well. Read should begin this season at Hagerstown, and is definitely a major sleeper in the organization.
#21 Anderson Franco 3B
Signed for $900,000 as an international free agent in 2013, this 17-year-old showed promise last season in the Dominican Summer League, batting .272/.346/.379. Franco is a long way from the majors, but anyone signed for that large a bonus with that type of potential deserves inclusion on this list.
#20 Spencer Kieboom Catcher
Kieboom is an elite defensive catcher with a strong arm, excellent blocking skills and obvious framing ability. The question has always been with his offense, but last season Kieboom hit .309 with 9 home runs at Low-A. Kieboom’s skills behind the plate should allow him to carve out a career as a backup catcher and if he can prove the offensive improvements are legitimate, he could be more than just a backup.
#19 Victor Robles CF
Robles was the top player on the Nationals’ Dominican team last summer and has outstanding physical tools. Washington could challenge Robles and assign him to Low-A Hagerstown to begin 2015. This is a player, perhaps THE player, to watch in 2015 in the system.
#18 Brian Goodwin CF
Washington’s third selection in the 2011 draft, 34th overall, Goodwin has struggled mightily the past two seasons, which has caused him to lose most of his prospect luster. Still only 24-year-old, Goodwin is an excellent athlete who will flash five average or better tools, yet struggles to convert his talent into on-field production. Goodwin has tremendous natural ability and the Nationals have done well in recent years with late blooming outfielders, making him my “pick to click” in 2015.
#17 Drew Ward 3B
Washington’s 3rd round pick in 2013, Ward is a well-built 6-4 210lbs athlete with a strong arm and legitimate home run power in his left-handed swing. The 19-years-old Ward held his own at Hagerstown last summer, though scouts are skeptical of his defense at the hot corner, anticipating an eventual transition to first base. Ward struggles with high strikeout numbers, but the raw tools are there for him to develop into a league-average starting third baseman.
#16 Jefry Rodriguez RHP
Signed by Washington as a non-drafted free agent back in 2012, Rodriguez is a converted shortstop, who while extremely raw on the mound shows promise with an explosive mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s curveball. The Nationals tried to aggressively promote him to Low-A last season, but he struggled, allowing 27 hits in only 17 innings pitched before succumbing to an injury. Only 21-year-old Rodriguez is the biggest sleeper in the organization and has the upside of a #4 starter or late-inning reliever in the majors.
#15 Jake Johansen RHP
The Nationals top pick in the 2013 draft, 68th overall, Johansen is armed with one of the best fastballs in the organization, along with an inconsistent but above-average slider. Unfortunately thus far in his career he has not been able to turn his raw tools into production. Only 23, there is still time for things to click for Johansen, who has late-inning reliever upside if everything comes together for him.
#14 Rafael Bautista CF
An outstanding pure athlete, the 21-year-old, Bautista projects as an above-average to plus defender in center field due to his impressive instincts, plus-plus speed, and fringe-average arm. His defensive skills and game-changing speed should allow him to reach the majors as a backup outfielder, and if his slender 6-2 165lbs. frame matures physically, Bautista could develop enough power offensively to become a second-division starter.
#13 Chris Bostick 2B
Acquired from Texas this winter in the Ross Detwiler trade, the 21-year-old Bostick is a well-built 5-11 185lbs. right-handed hitter with above-average speed and absurd “want”. Bostick struggles with strikeouts but counteracts these whiffs with legitimate power, as evidenced by his 31 doubles and 11 home runs this season. Defensively Bostick profiles at second base due to his lack of elite athleticism or a cannon-like arm. Bostick has the potential to be a league-average second baseman if he can cut down on his strikeouts.
#12 Nick Pivetta RHP
Washington’s 4th round pick in 2013, Pivetta is a massive man listed at 6-5 220lbs., who can flash three average or better pitches, highlighted by a powerful mid-90s fastball. Certainly he has plenty of “boom or bust” potential, but his talent is difficult to ignore and if things come together for Pivetta, he has the potential to be a good #4 or #5 starter in the major leagues.
#11 Austin Voth RHP
Selected in the 5th round in 2013, Voth has a strong 3-pitch repertoire consisting of a lively low-90s fastball that he commands well within the strike zone, a mid-80s slider with sharp breaking movement, and an average changeup. Pegged by scouts as a future reliever while in college, Voth’s improved changeup now gives him a strong chance to be a #4 starter in the majors.