After a long winter this year, I was excited to make the drive up I-70 Saturday night to scout Nationals uber-prospect Lucas Giolito, in his first start of 2014, as he and the rest of the Hagerstown Suns took on the Rome Braves. Mother Nature did not give us the best baseball weather, as it was sub-50 degrees with a strong wind toward right field, but the opportunity to scout the supremely talented Giolito could not deter me from Hagerstown on Saturday.
Lucas Giolito RHP Hagerstown Suns
7-Word Scouting Report: Prototypical Physique, Impressive 3-Pitch Arsenal, Needs Polish
The Nationals 1st round selection in 2012, the 19-year-old Giolito struggled with his fastball command and an inconsistent strike zone to pitch only 3 innings on Saturday, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks against 3 strikeouts. My first impression of Giolito is what a monstrous and intimidating presence he is on the mound, as he is listed at 6-6 225lbs., and looks larger. However, he is athletic for his size and fields his position fairly well.
In his first start of 2014, Giolito featured a 91-94mph 4-seam fastball that topped out at 97mph with excellent late life; he struggled to command his fastball which caused his pitch count to rise and an early exit. In addition Giolito featured a 78-79mph curveball with massive tilt and sharp late breaking action, a true above-average pitch. Finally, Giolito’s best pitch on this evening was his 79-82mph changeup he threw to left-handed hitters, with exceptional depth and splitter-like downward action.
His delivery is relatively quiet and clean, especially for someone still growing into his body. Giolito did struggle to repeat his motion Saturday, as he had a tendency to over-rotate through his deliver, causing him to open up early and throw his fastball low and away in the dirt to righties. For the most part these struggles can be attributed to the cold, windy conditions and this being Giolito’s first start of the season.
While the statistical line was not good, I am not particularly alarmed about his poor fastball command, as that should improve as the weather warms up and he throws more innings. My main concern was that opposing batters were quickly picking up the ball from Giolito and squaring up his fastball pretty consistently for loud contact. His type of raw stuff should overwhelm a Low-A lineup, so I am curious to see if this pattern will continue with more talented professional hitters, or if this was a one game aberration.
In spite of these concerns, Giolito’s raw skills and massive talent are readily apparent, as has three overwhelming pitches, a solid delivery, and a prototypical pitcher’s frame. But this start reminds us that as talented as he is, Giolito still only has 41 professional innings under his belt and needs experience on the mound. Perhaps this start has tempered my expectation of a rapid rise through the minor leagues and an early 2015 arrival in Washington, but it did nothing to damper my overall opinion of Lucas Giolito – The sky is the limit on his ability and the Nationals are very fortunate to have him in their farm system.