Last week while analyzing the Washington Nationals’ farm system, it particularly caught my attention the depth the organization has outside their top-10 prospects. This is quite a feat, considering they traded away four top prospects this winter and have qualified for smaller draft bonus pools the past few years due to their success at the big league level. Washington’s front office should be commended for their collection of prospects outside the top-15, especially up-the-middle hitters.
While the term “sleeper” is rather nebulous, for the purposes of this article it will describe someone ranked outside my top-30 prospects that deserve more hype. These are my three current favorite sleepers in Washington’s farm system.
Daniel Johnson OF
Johnson was Washington’s 5th round pick last summer, agreeing to an above-slot $325,000 bonus after hitting .382 with 12 home runs and 29 stolen bases for New Mexico State. Johnson owns an intriguing collection of tools, possessing plus-plus speed and a strong throwing arm, allowing him to project well in center field.
Despite his impressive offensive output in college, his offensive skills lag significantly behind his defensive prowess. Johnson is raw offensively and has not played against high-level competition, leading scouts to question if he will hit professional pitching. He has shown some barrel skills and raw pull power from his left-handed swing, but the 21-year-old will need significant time in the minor leagues in order to refine his swing mechanics. He should begin 2017 at Low-A Hagerstown and his package of tools could have scouts buzzing later this year.
Andrew Lee RHP
Chosen in the 11th round in 2015 from the University of Tennessee, Lee was a solid two-way player for the Volunteers before exclusively dedicating himself to pitching as a professional. Lee is a large man, standing 6-5 225lbs, along with owning an exciting 3-pitch arsenal featuring a low-90s fastball, an above-average curveball with swing-and-miss potential and a reasonable changeup. There is effort in his delivery, but he does repeat his mechanics fairly well and has command of the strike zone.
Unfortunately the biggest present knock on Lee is his health, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in the past and missed the second half of 2016 with an injury. The 23-year-old only threw 84.2 innings in college and another 89.2 professional innings the past two seasons, leading to obvious durability questions going forward. If he can successfully return to the mound, he could generate buzz as a back-end workhorse type starting pitcher.
Jose Sanchez SS
Signed last summer by the Nationals for a $950,000, Sanchez has been overshadowed by fellow international acquisitions Yasel Antuna and Luis Garcia. But as his signing bonus indicates, Sanchez is a fascinating middle infield prospect in his own right, possessing an above-average arm, average to solid-average speed and outstanding instincts. Scouts consistently mention his baseball instincts and IQ, as the 16-year-old shows an uncanny ability to maximize his skills on the field.
Offensively his underwhelming size (6-0 165lbs.) has him lacking the present strength to hit for power, but he has loose wrists and shows a compact swing with impressive barrel skills. He has a good eye and approach at the plate, which helps him pepper line drives across the outfield. Scouts expect him to hit for average in the future, but the natural question of how much strength he develops holds the key to his power output and thus, overall offensive profile. He should spend 2017 in the Dominican Summer League and could gain prospect helium if he hits well this season.