In addition to it being the first start in 2014 for Lucas Giolito, Saturday’s contest between the Rome Braves and Hagerstown Suns featured many other talented prospects. Certainly none of these players have the potential (or notoriety) of Mr. Giolito, but I wanted to highlight several other exciting prospects in the Nationals and Braves organizations.
Drew Ward 3B Hagerstown Suns
The Nationals 3rd round selection last summer, Ward skipped his senior year in high school to be draft eligible in 2013, and has surprisingly earned a starting spot in Hagerstown to begin this season. Ward possesses a mouth-watering physique and as I like to say, he certainly “looks the part” of a future major league player.
Offensively, Ward has a pretty, but long left-handed swing, which when combined with his large size, should give him well above-average future home run power. He will need to cut down on his swing as he matures in order to hit more consistent velocity, but I was impressed that Ward seemed to have a plan at the plate and a mature approach as a hitter. Considering his age and lack of experience, Ward was a more polished batter than I expected at this point in his career.
At third base Ward looks like a raw teenager playing in the Sally League, as he was somewhat clumsy defensively and made a poor decision to force a throw rather than simply eating the baseball. That said, he has a strong arm and looks agile (and athletic) enough to play the position, so it could be a matter of refining his footwork if he wishes to stay at the hot corner. But make no mistake, Ward is a bat-first prospect and his professional future depends on his ability to make enough contact to allow his prodigious power to show up in games. The Nationals drafted a quality prospect in Ward, and I would be surprised if he was not a consensus top-10 prospect in Washington’s organization at the end of this season.
Other Suns Notes:
Isaac Ballou, a natural center fielder who plays left field in deference to talented defender Rafael Bautista, has a good arm, excellent athleticism, and noteworthy pure speed. In addition Ballou flashed some serious bat speed and pop Saturday night hitting a no-doubt grand slam to right field. Stolen in the 15th round last summer as a senior from Marshall University, the Nationals have found an interesting late round gem in Ballou.
Saturday was my first time watching Wilmer Difo, a 22-year-old second baseman the Nationals signed years ago out of the Dominican Republic. A switch-hitting middle infielder with obvious speed, Difo is a prospect to watch in the Nationals organization.
Victor Caratini C Rome Braves
The top prospect on Rome’s roster this season is likely Victor Caratini, Atlanta’s 2nd round pick last summer and a former third baseman converting to catcher in 2014. And right on cue, Caratini immediately made his presence felt, hitting a monster 2-run homer in the first inning, turning around a 94mph fastball from Lucas Giolito over the right-center field wall. A switch-hitter, the 20-year-old Caratini impressed me with his approach at the plate and balance through his left-handed swing.
Defensively Caratini understandably lags behind his offensive skills, as he has little experience as a catcher. Caratini is agile behind the plate, with a solid arm and a quick release. Not surprisingly, he remains raw as a receiver and needs refinement blocking pitches, but I was notably impressed with how soft his hands were catching the baseball. The package is raw, but the tools are there for an average, or perhaps slightly better, defensive catcher with plenty of repetition. I am interested to watch him play next year and see his overall progress as a two-way player.
Carlos Salazar RHP Rome Braves
Saturday’s starter Carlos Salazar impressed me with his three-pitch mix consisting of a 90-93mph fastball, 79-80mph curveball, and a devilish 79-81mph changeup with impressive depth and sink. Salazar struggled mightily with his command, walking 7 hitters in his 2 innings pitched, but showed glimpses of why the Braves selected him in the 3rd round last summer.
A thickly built 19-year-old, Salazar does not have much physical projection remaining in his listed 6-0 200lbs. frame. In addition, there is plenty of moving parts and effort involved in his pitching delivery, making him a probable fit as a reliever in the future. Those negatives aside, Salazar has an impressive present fastball/changeup combination and could blossom under the Braves’ tutelage as so many other young pitchers have in recent years. Salazar is a good name to remember and could rise up prospect lists in the future.