THE 2016 Washington Nationals Top Prospect List #30 – #21

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Although 2015 was a disappointing season for the Washington Nationals at the major league level, the organization had yet another successful year at the minor league level. Washington saw the continued development of Lucas Giolito and Wilmer Difo, the arrival of Trea Turner and the prospect breakouts of Victor Robles and Anderson Franco. Additionally the team appears to have done well in the past June draft, selecting outfielders Andrew Stevenson, Blake Perkins, and Rhett Wiseman and finding possible sleepers Koda Glover, Tyler Watson and Max Schrock.

Now only 10 days from the arrival of pitchers and catchers in Viera, this is an appropriate time to analyze the Nationals’ farm system and rank their Top-30 prospects. Today, I unleash my picks for prospects #30-#21 currently in the Washington Nationals’ farm system.

Honorable Mention: Joan Baez RHP, Dale Carey OF, Abel De Los Santos RHP, Robbie Dickey RHP, Matt Grace LHP, Jake Johansen RHP, Nick Lee LHP, Mariano Rivera Jr. RHP, Matt Skole 1B

#30 – Tyler Mapes    Right-Handed Pitcher

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Selected in the 30th round in 2014, this 24-year-old is a stocky right-handed pitcher blessed with a solid 3-pitch repertoire featuring a 88-93mph fastball, 75-79mph sweeping slider/slurve and a promising 82-84mph changeup. Mapes has the physical attributes of a starting pitcher, along with the potential for 3 average offerings, giving him a profile as a #5 starter or major league swingman.

To read more about Mapes, please click here -> http://natsgm.com/2015/09/07/scouting-washington-nationals-prospect-tyler-mapes/

#29 – Tyler Watson    Left-Handed Pitcher

Signed for $400,000 as an overslot 34th round pick last summer, Watson spurred a college commitment to Loyola Marymount to sign professionally with Washington. He received a brief cameo with the GCL Nationals late last summer, pitching 13.1 innings and posting a 0.00 ERA and 16 strikeouts against only 4 walks. The 18-year-old lefty features a low-90s fastball, along with a lanky, projectable 6-5 200lbs frame. He should start this year at Short-Season Auburn and could skyrocket up these rankings in 2017.

#28 – Max Schrock    Second Base / Outfielder

Another 2015 overslot selection by Washington, Schrock signed for $500,000 as a 13th round selection out of the University of South Carolina. Schrock, a left-handed hitter, punished the SEC conference for three college seasons, posting an impressive .302/.392/.460 slash line for the Gamecocks. He has a short, compact swing and some raw pull power, along with a keen batting eye.

Schrock will need to hit his way up the organizational ladder, as defensively his fringe-average speed and below-average arm make him a difficult natural profile. That said Schrock is a born hitter and profiles as an offensive-first utility player unless he improves in the field.

#27 – Jefry Rodriguez   Right-Handed Pitcher

Rodriguez suffered through a difficult, injury-plagued 2015, causing him to fall significantly on the list this year. When healthy the converted shortstop will flash an explosive mid-90s fastball and a hard mid-80s curveball. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2012, the 22-year-old struggled in 2015, posting a 5.42 ERA in 111.1 innings at Short-Season Auburn and Low-A Hagerstown, allowing 117 hits and 58 walks against 94 strikeouts. Still extremely raw with only 235 career innings pitched, Rodriguez has the potential upside of a #4/#5 starting pitcher or late-inning reliever if things click for him.

#26 – Brian Goodwin   Outfielder

Goodwin was given a $3 million signing bonus as Washington’s third 1st round pick, 34th overall, in the 2011 draft and has struggled to turn his impressive physical tools into on-field production. The 25-year-old centerfielder has posted a career .246/.343/.390 slash line over 1,542 at-bats, causing concern among scouts this left-handed hitter will not hit major league pitching.

On the other hand, Goodwin is a tremendous athlete who has shown five average or better tools in the past. Also, he was considered extremely raw at draft time and would need more development time than the average prospect to allow his talent to blossom. Finally, Goodwin had a productive winter in Venezuela this offseason, hitting .302 with a .394 on-base percentage in 23 games, giving hope he is having a breakthrough in his development. An extremely risky prospect, Goodwin still has a chance to carve out a lengthy major league career, though likely in a reserve capacity.

#25 – Koda Glover   Right-Handed Pitcher

An 8th round selection last June from Oklahoma State, Glover is a powerfully built 6-5 225lbs right-handed relief pitcher. He possesses a 94-97mph fastball with life and downward plane, along with a solid-average 85-87mph slider. Glover is a pure relief prospect due to his two-pitch arsenal, but there is a chance he develops into a solid 7th or 8th inning reliever. This was a nice find by the Nationals on Day 2 of the draft.

#24 – Raudy Read   Catcher

Signed by the Nationals as an international free agent in 2011, the 22-year-old Read has earned the reputation as a strong catch-and-throw defender with soft hands. Like most young catchers he still needs to refine his footwork, receiving skills and the finer nuisances of the position, but Read shows the potential to be an above-average defender in time. If he continues to develop offensively, Read could develop into a solid backup catcher and/or the weak-side of a platoon in the future.

#23 – John Simms    Right-Handed Pitcher

The 24-year-old Simms has steadily developed from an 11th round pick in 2013 into a potential major league contributor. Simms owns a quality 3-pitch repertoire, featuring an 88-92mph fastball, a high-70s curveball with bite and a promising mid-80s changeup. None of these pitches are above-average but Simms excellent command and control allow them to “play up”. He should begin 2016 at Double-A Harrisburg and projects as a #5 starter or long-reliever in the major leagues.

#22 – Drew Ward    Third Base

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The Washington Nationals 3rd Round pick, 105th overall, in the 2013 MLB Draft, Drew Ward was given a well over-slot signing bonus of $850,000 out of a small Oklahoma high school after entering the draft a year early. Ward is a monster figure, looking larger than his listed 6-3 215lbs. In addition he possesses a powerful throwing arm and above-average to plus home run power.

Unfortunately Ward has mediocre speed and quickness, giving scouts concern he may have to move from third base in the future. Additionally his contact issues hinder his ability to flash his impressive raw power in game action. Still only 21-years-old, Ward still has time to refine his current weaknesses and develop into a major league contributor, but there is significant risk in his profile. 2016 is a pivotal year in his development, as he will likely be challenged with a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg.

To read more about Drew Ward, please look here – http://natsgm.com/2015/09/11/scouting-washington-nationals-3b-prospect-drew-ward/

#21 – Juan Soto    Outfielder

In July the Nationals signed this 17-year-old Dominican outfielder to the largest bonus in franchise history with a Latin player, agreeing to terms for $1.5 million. Soto was ranked as the #22 overall international prospect by MLB.com and #13 by Baseball America last summer. A left-handed hitter with obvious bat speed, Soto was clearly one of the top hitting prospects available in the international market in 2015. He is extremely raw but has the potential to develop into a starting corner outfielder in several years.

To read more about Juan Soto, please click here – http://natsgm.com/2015/07/03/scouting-washington-nationals-newest-prospect-of-juan-soto/

Thanks for reading – I will return tomorrow (2/10) with #20-#11 and Thursday (2/11) with #10-#1.

THE 2016 Washington Nationals Breakout Prospects

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Now that Super Bowl 50 is over (Congratulations to the Advertisers), it is time to shake off our collective hangovers and focus our attention toward the rapidly approaching 2016 baseball season. In order to prepare for pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, only 12 days from today, this week I will evaluate the Washington Nationals’ farm system, counting down the Top-30 prospects currently in their organization.

In the process of ranking their prospects, I realized the Nationals’ minor league affiliates are filled with players who could develop into future major league contributors. Therefore, before unveiling my official list, I wanted to spotlight five players currently outside of my Top-30 that deserve attention within the impressively deep Nationals’ system.

Joan Baez    Right-Handed Pitcher

Signed from the Dominican Republic in April 2014, Joan Baez has been steadily gaining helium as a prospect within the Nationals farm system. The 21-year-old Baez split time between three levels last season, reaching Hagerstown late in the year. Baez struggled with results in 2015 but showed excellent promise as a pitcher. Baez is a well-built and wiry 6-3 190lbs with a 3-pitch repertoire featuring a 92-96mph fastball, a promising upper-70s curveball and a hard mid-80s changeup.

Baez currently struggles repeating his mechanics while maintaining his arm slot, causing him to struggle walking hitters and throwing quality strikes. However, Baez shows current plus fastball velocity and the potential for a future average or better curveball with further refinement, making him profile for a 7th or 8th inning reliever in the future. This is yet another quality, under the radar Latin American signing by the Washington scouting staff.

Dale Carey    Outfielder

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Carey was Washington’s 2014 7th round pick as a below-slot senior sign from the University of Miami. Carey is an impressive athlete with above-average to plus speed and a quality arm, allowing him to profile well at all three outfield positions. Offensively Carey struggles with strikeouts, limiting his ability to get on-base and utilize his speed. However he does have fringe average raw power and peppers the gaps when he makes contact. Carey does not have a huge ceiling due to these contact issues, but I expect his defensive versatility, outstanding speed and occasional power will allow him to climb the organizational ladder. Now 24, this is a vital year in Carey’s development and he should begin the season at High-A Potomac.

Alec Keller    Outfielder

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A 17th round pick in 2014 from Princeton, the 23-year-old Keller is a lithe, projectable athlete with obvious athleticism and above-average speed. This left-handed hitting outfielder shows noticeable bat speed and quick, loose wrists. His swing does show some excess length, but his aptitude for barreling the baseball allows him to compensate for this weakness. Despite his 6-2 200lbs frame, Keller has yet to hit a professional home run, putting extreme pressure on his hit tool and ability to get on-base. He shows some occasional pull power during batting practice, but it is difficult to foresee better than a “40/45 Hit – 25 Power” hitter at the big league level.

In the field Keller is a quality defender capable of playing all three outfield positions. He uses his above-average speed and solid instincts to have solid range in the corners, though his lack of elite speed gives him a fringe-average profile in center field. Keller has a solid-average, accurate arm with a quick release, allowing him to profile well in left and center field and fringy in right. Overall Keller projects as above-average in left, fringe-average in right and stretched as below-average in center field.

Odds are Keller’s career stagnates in the upper minors due to his lack of power or elite carrying tool. However, in many ways Keller has already outplayed his draft pedigree as a 17th round senior sign from the Ivy League. Furthermore, Keller is a projectable raw athlete with some 5th outfielder potential if he can gain strength and make some refinements to his swing. While this might sound slightly underwhelming in prospect “circles”, Keller is a nice sleeper prospect for the Nationals and has a chance to reach the majors in a reserve capacity.

Nick Lee    Left-Handed Pitcher

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Drafted by Washington in the 18th round of the 2011 draft from Weatherford College in Texas, the Nationals added the 25-year-old to their 40-man roster a few months ago to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. A pure left-handed reliever, Lee possesses a powerful 93-96mph fastball with some movement, along with a hard 79-82mph slider with sharp downward tilt.

Lee spent 2015 pitching for both High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, posting a combined 3.12 ERA and 1.404 WHIP over 52 innings pitched, with 57 strikeouts against 33 walks. Lee has excellent pure stuff as evidenced by his career 8.6 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9 ratios, but his difficulty avoiding walks (career 4.8 BB/9 ratio) hinders his overall effectiveness. He will attend spring training with Washington, and I am curious if new pitching coach Mike Maddux can work to improve his mechanics to curb his walks allowed. Lefties with mid-90s velocity are always worth remembering and Lee could see time in Washington’s bullpen sometime in 2016.

Mariano Rivera Jr.    Right-Handed Pitcher

Son of the legendary Yankees’ reliever, Mariano Rivera Jr. was Washington’s 4th round pick last summer from Iona College. A wiry, lean 5-11 155lbs, Rivera Jr. is more than a nod to nostalgia, possessing a 92-95mph fastball with excellent life and a hard breaking low-80s slider. Due to his slender frame and lightning-fast arm speed, scouts project Rivera Jr. to add velocity as a professional. A pure relief prospect, Rivera Jr. should begin the year in Low-A Hagerstown’s bullpen, with the expectation he moves quickly through the Nationals’ farm system this summer. Rivera Jr. profiles as a solid middle reliever in the majors, with the potential for more if his fastball ticks up as he matures physically.

Poll – Who Is The Baltimore Orioles Top Prospect?

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Baltimore Orioles 2016 Breakout Prospects

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Building off Monday’s column in which I ranked the Top-11 prospects currently in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, today I wanted to spotlight several players worthy of acknowledgement. While the organizations’ farm system is currently in the bottom third compared with the other 29 franchises, Baltimore has some prospect depth often ignored by the general public. These are five names outside of my current Top-11 that project as major leaguers and could breakout in 2016.

Parker Bridwell RHP

A part of Orioles’ prospect lists for several years now, Bridwell appears to be suffering a bit of prospect fatigue this winter. The 24-year-old Bridwell was selected by Baltimore in the 9th round in 2010 and the prototypically built 6-4 190lbs righty possesses a solid 3-pitch arsenal. Bridwell throws a heavy 91-94mph fastball, a 79-82mph slider with some tilt and a 78-82mph changeup with solid vertical movement. Bridwell made quality strides last season at Double-A, striking out 93 hitters over 97 innings. He might eventually move to the bullpen in an effort to help avoid the disabled list and could see Baltimore sometime in 2016.

Gray Fenter RHP

Baltimore’s 7th round selection in the 2015 Draft, Fenter received a $1 million bonus to spurn Mississippi State and turn professional. Listed at 6-0 210lbs Fenter features a 90-94mph fastball, touching 96mph, along with a devastating curveball and a poor changeup. The 20-year-old will be developed as a starting pitcher, but his height and lack of a cambrio could make him a future reliever. Fenter should begin this season at Low-A Delmarva and could explode up prospect rankings this year.

Joe Gunkel RHP

Gunkel was acquired this summer as part of the Alejandro De Aza trade with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore did well to receive this 24-year-old righty. Using a low three-quarters release point, Gunkel features a 89-92mph fastball with excellent armside movement, an 80-82mph slider with average potential and a fringe-average low-80s changeup. He profiles as a groundball-inducing middle reliever who is devilish against righties because of the deception with his delivery.

Josh Hart CF

IMG_1594Baltimore’s 1st round pick, 37th overall in 2013, Hart was selected as a raw high school athlete with outstanding tools and unrefined baseball skills. Nearly three years later, Hart is still struggling to perform offensively, as evidenced by his .255/.282/.311 batting line in 2015 with 30 stolen bases in 45 attempts.

However, the 21-year-old Hart has been extremely young compared to his competition and he still profiles as a major league quality defender due to his pure speed, athleticism and reasonable throwing arm. Questions certainly still surround his ability to hit and he has done little to silence his critics, but considering his obvious skills, he is still young enough to develop into an elite centerfielder who creates chaos on the bases. Baltimore would be wise to let Hart repeat High-A in 2016 and if his offensive skills begin to catch up to his uber-athleticism, he could skyrocket up prospect rankings next winter.

Ryan McKenna OF

The almost 19-year-old Ryan McKenna was Baltimore’s 4th round pick last summer from a high school in New Hampshire, not exactly a hot-bed of high school baseball. A well-built 5-9 175lbs, McKenna is an obvious athlete with plus speed and the instincts to develop into a quality defensive centerfielder. McKenna is a raw right-handed hitter with solid bat speed and projects to hit for some power in the future. He should begin this season in extended spring training and lead the outfield in short season Aberdeen beginning in June.