Continuing with Mother Nature’s rollercoaster ride, better known as the 2014 weather in the DMV area, this week began with flooded basements and ended with picturesque weekend weather. After enduring two rainouts early this week, I was overjoyed to secure a date with the Hagerstown Suns and top prospect Lucas Giolito, as they hosted the Lexington Legends, Kansas City’s Low-A affiliate on Sunday evening. These are some of my scouting notes from the contest, in which Hagerstown won a somewhat sloppy game 10-8.
Lucas Giolito RHP Hagerstown Suns
Sunday night was my second in-person observation of Giolito this season, and again I saw his less dominant version, pitching 5 innings and allowing 3 runs on 6 hits with 5 strikeouts and 1 walk . Giolito’s fastball sat 92-95mph from the windup, touching 97, and 91-94 from the stretch. His curveball was 80-83mph was sharp, darting downward action that he could bury in the strike zone or throw for strikes. In addition, Giolito showed an excellent 79-82mph changeup with excellent depth and sinking action, probably his most impressive offering of the evening.
Giolito has a solid delivery that he seems to repeat well, though there is little deception involved. His biggest present weakness involves his fastball command, which lags significantly behind his other tools. He located his fastball well to the outside corner to both lefties and righties, but rarely pitched inside and struggled to keep the heater low in the strike zone. In addition, his fastball is relatively straight, and strangely did not overwhelm the opposing hitters, inducing only one swing-and-miss in this appearance. A 94mph fastball thrown to Low-A hitters should cause more whiffs.
Giolito is a supreme prospect but watching him in person reminds me that although his repertoire is outstanding, he is still a raw pitcher on the mound. He needs refinement to improve his fastball, but the overall skills are jaw-dropping and his potential is off-the-charts. Like a fine wine, give him time to fully mature, but the skills are there for Giolito to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in a few years.
Wilson Ramos Catcher Hagerstown Suns
The Nationals starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, was making his first rehabilitation start Sunday at Hagerstown, serving as the Suns designated hitter. Before he entered the box, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of Ramos, who is a massive man but somehow still looks lean.
In his first at-bat, Ramos impressively lined a 92mph fastball to right field for a single, going with the outside pitch and hitting behind the stealing runner from first base. Next time up, Ramos took the first pitch he saw, a 93mph fastball, and drilled a slightly wind-aided opposite field home run that sounded like a cannon off the bat. His final two at-bats were relatively nondescript with a walk and an out, but it appears as though Ramos is close to returning to Washington.
Other Brief Notes:
I continue to be impressed with Nationals 2013 3rd round pick and Suns 3B Drew Ward, a 19-year-old holding his own in full season baseball. He did not have a particularly impressive evening with the bat (1-5, 1 RBI) but he made hard contact at the plate and the old baseball cliché holds true for Ward: the ball makes a different sound when it comes off his bat. He is raw and will need plenty of development time in the minor leagues, but I believe the Nationals got a steal in Ward.
Wilmer Difo is an electric athlete and a name to remember in the Nationals farm system. A 22-year-old switch hitter, he showed good bat speed from the right side and uses his excellent speed to effect games on the bases. He started at shortstop and did not look particularly comfortable at the position, making a routine error early in the game. While it was only one observation, I think he is a second baseman or perhaps a future center fielder. Nevertheless, Difo has impressive tools and should be in line for a promotion to High-A Potomac in the coming weeks.
Finally, Lexington’s starting pitcher was Cody Reed, a long, lean left-handed pitcher who was Kansas City’s 2nd round pick last summer. Reed featured a 90-92mph fastball, topping out at 93, with an inconsistent but intriguing 82-84mph changeup, and the occasional 79-81mph slider. Reed is raw, but any 21-year-old lefty with mid-90s heat is worth remembering.