Wieters To Victory – Washington Signs Catcher Matt Wieters

Rumors began swirling early Tuesday morning and became official Friday as the Washington Nationals and free agent catcher Matt Wieters agreed to terms on a 2-year deal worth $21 million.  Wieters will earn $10.5 million each year and the pact includes an opt-out for Wieters after this season.  In addition, reportedly Washington can defer $5 million until 2021.  In a related move to create room on the 40-man roster, Washington placed minor league 1B Jose Marmolejos-Diaz on the 60-Day disabled list with a forearm strain.

The almost 31-year-old Wieters made his 4th all-star appearance last season for Baltimore, hitting .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs and 66 runs batted in over 124 games played.  For his 8-year major league career, Wieters has hit .256/.318/.421 with 117 home runs.  A switch-hitter Wieters has been better during his career against lefties with a .801 OPS verses a .716 against righties.  He has never been able to live up to his early hype as the #5 overall pick and someone compared to “Joe Mauer with power”.  Nonetheless, this collective disappointment aside, Wieters is an above-average hitting catcher with legitimate 15-20 home run power.

Defensively Wieters earns mixed reviews, as he possesses a plus arm and has earned the reputation of “slowing down the running game”, throwing out 33% of career base stealers.  He also gets solid grades for his ability to block pitches in the dirt and pitchers have long commented on his skill at calling games.  Negatively, Wieters has poor marks as a pitch framer and his 6-5 height often works against him getting strikes called low in the zone.  Depending on how strongly you believe in the value of pitch framing and the metrics attempting to value this skill, Wieters is somewhere between a below-average and a solid-average defensive catcher.

This signing is extremely difficult to evaluate in a vacuum, as there is a near certainty Wieters arrival will force the departure of either Derek Norris or Jose Lobaton later this spring.  Lobaton is superior defensively, has experience with the pitching staff and makes less money ($1.575mm), making him the probable option to stay.  However, Norris’s pitch framing skills, ability to punish left-handed pitching and age make him an intriguing bounce-back candidate and platoon-mate for Wieters.  Norris does have minor league options, but it is highly unlikely Washington would option someone earning $4.2 million for any length of time, besides John Lannan.

Nonetheless what is clear is that Wieters is a significantly better player than Lobaton, and is a safer option than Norris.  If Washington goes with the combination of Wieters and Norris, the upgrade from Lobaton cost them approximately $8 million and makes them perhaps 1 win better this season.  This has been the going rate for wins in free agency, but falls well short of what might be considered a bargain.  With Wieters and Lobaton, Washington is spending about $6 million more this season to upgrade less than a win, but gives the Nationals some security if Norris’s bat fails to rebound from 2016.  This is the essential thesis of this deal – Washington increased their payroll $6-$8 million in 2017 to marginally upgrade their catching position with a more consistent and reliable player.

Overall I am not surprised Wieters eventually signed with Washington, as his agent Scott Boras’ relationship with ownership, plus the departure of Wilson Ramos, made this a natural fit.  However, this still strikes me as odd, as Washington has bigger needs on the roster, namely bullpen and backup outfield, yet has acted stingy with adding payroll all winter.  On the surface, signing a league-average catcher for two years and $21 million like Wieters feels like a reasonable signing, as he should play about 110 games each season and post a 1.5-2.0 WAR.  There is a low chance he significantly outperforms his paycheck, but there is also a slim chance he grossly underperforms the terms as well.  This late in the offseason, or technically now during spring training, one expects free agent contracts to be bargains for the team, and this is definitely not a bargain.

And this is my major dilemma with this signing – Washington adds insurance to their lineup and the benefits of helping Boras while sticking it to Baltimore, but the team did not drastically improve compared to the cost.  $10.5 million, minus Norris or Lobaton’s salary, could add another reliever or two, plus a veteran outfielder, improving three positions rather than one.  While the team improves by signing Wieters, I believe it is a poor allocation of resources by the front office.  If Washington decides to go with Wieters & Norris rather than Wieters & Lobaton, I like it much more, but in general, I would have passed on this signing.

NatsGM Overall Grade ->             D

Washington Nationals Top Prospects 30-21

Apparently Washington has a lot of hitting prospect depth… Here is THE 2017 Washington Nationals Top Prospect List, #30 – #21.

#30  Edwin Lora SS/2B

Signed from the Dominican Republic, Edwin Lora scuffled but held his own last season at Low-A, batting .231/.297/.370 with 41 extra base hits and 23 stolen bases in 118 games.  A wiry 6-1 150lbs., Lora is a right-handed hitter with a knack for drawing walks and some doubles power in the gaps, but struggles with strikeouts presently.  His swing is not particularly long and does not have any obvious flaws, but he will need to gain strength in order for pitchers to respect him offensively.  Defensively the 21-year-old Lora has a good arm, quick release and plus speed, allowing him to profile at either middle infield position.  He should start 2017 as the starting shortstop at High-A, and could shoot up these rankings with a solid showing this season.

#29  Osvaldo Abreu SS/2B

Another under-the-radar signing from the Dominican Republic, the 22-year-old Abreu is an impressive defensive middle infielder, possessing a solid-average to above-average arm, good speed and solid athleticism.  He profiles as an average or better defender at either shortstop or second base.  Offensively Abreu struggled at High-A last season, posting a .247/.328/.346 batting line, after hitting .274/.357/.412 the previous year in Low-A.  He has some obvious contact skills and some thump in his bat, but there are concerns he will not hit in the upper minors.  If he can rebound, one can faintly see a future “50” hit / “35” power hitter in the future.  Abreu will likely begin 2017 in Double-A and profiles as a future utility infielder.

#28  Brian Goodwin OF

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 26-year-old has a career .253/.344/.400 minor league batting line, but was significantly better at Triple-A in 2016, batting .280/.349/.438 with 14 home runs in 119 games.  This success earned him a promotion to Washington, where he played 22 games late in the season.

Goodwin is an outstanding athlete who has flashed five average or better tools in the past.  In addition, he was extremely raw when he was drafted and was expected to need significantly time in the minor leagues.  In the field he is considered a strong defensive outfielder, as his speed and solid-average arm allow him to play all three positions adequately well.  At the plate, the left-handed hitter will show impressive raw pull power and can punch line drives all over the field, though he tends to whiff more than a top-of-the-order hitter ideally should.  This time last year his career looked to be in doubt, but now, it looks like Goodwin should remain in the majors for a few seasons as a backup outfielder.

#27  Rhett Wiseman OF

Washington’s 3rd round pick in 2015 from Vanderbilt, Wiseman had a solid season in 2016 in Low-A, batting .255/.325/.410 with 13 home runs and 43 extra base hits in 134 games played.  The left-handed hitting Wiseman has legitimate bat speed and shows the ability to draw a walk, but struggles with strikeouts, as evidenced by his 104 strikeouts last year.  If he can trim the whiffs, he profiles as a potential “50” hit / “45/50” power type hitter.  Defensively Wiseman uses his solid-average speed, strong instincts, and average arm to play all three outfield positions, though he fits best as a corner outfielder.  Wiseman has a high floor as a prospect with a good chance to reach the majors – his ability to make contact will decide if his role is as a backup or a league-average starter.

#26  Blake Perkins CF

One of Washington’s two 2nd round picks, 69th overall, in 2015, Perkins was selected from an Arizona high school with the reputation as an excellent athlete with terrific speed, but raw baseball skills. His speed, coupled with surprisingly good instincts and strong arm, make him a prototypical centerfielder. The present risk lies with his bat, as the 20-year-old has resumed switch-hitting after abandoning it in high school. The early returns, granted only 112 professional games, have been mixed, as reports from the organization have been positive, yet the on-field results have been lackluster.

Perkins is an interesting prospect due to his terrific athleticism, speed and surefire ability to stay in center field long-term.  The Nationals are hoping his refinement and experience Perkins can develop into a “50/45” hit, “35” power hitter while playing outstanding defense.  The risk is significant but the reward will be outstanding if the production ever matches his tools.

#25  Raudy Read Catcher

Signed by the Nationals as an international free agent in 2011, the 23-year-old Read has earned the reputation as a strong catch-and-throw defender with soft hands and a plus arm. 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 average to above-average defender in time.

The major development with Read in 2016 was offensively, where he served as the cleanup hitter for Potomac, hitting .262/.324/.415 with 40 extra base hits in 101 games played.  He has a strong approach at the plate, works counts well and hunts fastballs.  He will work a walk and has some raw pull power due to his muscular physique.  Read should begin 2017 as the starting catcher at Double-A, and profiles as a quality platoon or backup catcher.

#24  Kelvin Gutierrez 3B

Yet another international signing from the Dominican Republic, Gutierrez signed with Washington in April of 2013.  The 22-year-old Gutierrez moved slowly prior to 2016, before watching him punish Low-A pitching, hitting .300/.349/.406 over 96 games before forcing a promotion to High-A.  A right-handed hitter, Gutierrez has plus raw power along with barrel skills, allowing him to pound the baseball.  He is still growing into his 6-3 185lbs body, but he projects to hit for more power in the future.

Defensively he has a powerful throwing arm, which allows him to make up for his mediocre speed and athleticism to play a solid third base.  Gutierrez needs more refinement, both offensively and defensively, than the average 22-year-old in High-A, but if things click, he could develop into a league average starter at the hot corner.  This is an intriguing sleeper bat in the Nats’ system.

#23  Jose Marmolejos-Diaz 1B

The reigning 2-time Nationals Organizational Player of the Year, Marmolejos-Diaz was signed as an international free agent in 2011.  Ever since, he has destroyed minor league pitching with a career .288/.359/.447 batting line and last season across two levels, he hit .289/.370/.475 with 13 home runs and 63 extra base hits.

A left-handed hitter, Marmolejos-Diaz shows excellent barrel skills and a keen eye at the plate, allowing him to punish the baseball.  He hits line drives all over the field and will occasionally pull the ball for a home run.  Standing a physically mature 6-1 185lbs., scouts do not project him to hit for additional future power, but his knack for hitting cannot be ignored.  Defensively he has some reasonable agility, decent speed and a decent arm, which allows him to profile well at first base.  An aside, I do wonder if he could play some left field in the future, as he has the tools to play the position passably.  The production needed from first base and his lack of raw tools hurts his prospect profile, but there is a chance he hits his way to the majors as a backup.

#22 Telmito Agustin OF

A true sleeper in the organization, Agustin is yet another intriguing international free agent signed by Washington in the past several years.  The 20-year-old outfielder has plus speed and a solid throwing arm, allowing him to profile at all three outfield positions.  He has deferred to top prospect Victor Robles the past couple seasons and played left field, but Agustin likely profiles best in center field.

At the plate the left-handed hitting Agustin held his own last season at 19 in Hagerstown, hitting .265/.309/.387 with 5 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 72 games.  He has a compact swing at the plate, with loose wrists and noticeable bat speed.  He does not project to hit for much power in the future, maybe 3-7 per season, but his barrel skills and speed should allow him to collect plenty of doubles and triples.  While he will more likely develop into a reserve, one can certainly envision Agustin as a future league-average starter type in center field.  This is a name to remember in the organization.

#21  Drew Ward 3B/1B

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 large man, looking significantly bigger than his listed 6-3 215lbs.  In addition, Ward has two outstanding plus or better tools, his strong arm and raw home run power.  Unfortunately the other three tools (hitting, speed and defense), he struggles with and are below-average.  His lack of agility and athleticism leads scouts to think he is a future first baseman, which puts significant pressure on his offensive output.  Additionally his contact issues hinder his ability to flash his raw power in game action.

Only 22-years-old Ward should return to Double-A to begin the season and this will be a pivotal year in his development toward the major leagues.  If he can make generate more contact and show some improvement defensively, one can still envision a league-average starting third baseman.  However, the most likely outcome sees him as a platoon bat or reserve hitter off the bench.

Washington Nationals Top Prospects #20 – #11

Building off yesterday’s article where I ranked the Nationals’ top prospects #1 – #10, today I rank #11 – #20 in Washington’s farm system.

#20  Joan Baez RHP

Another signing from the Dominican Republic in April 2014, Baez has steadily been gaining helium as a prospect due to his lightning-fast arm and potential as a late-inning reliever.  The 22-year-old righty has a mid-to-upper-90s fastball with natural cutting action, along with a upper-70s breaking ball and firm mid-80s changeup.  Baez struggles repeating his delivery and maintaining his arm slot, which when combined with a lack of a true changeup portends a future as a reliever.  However, Baez could have a legit “65” fastball and potential “50/55” breaking ball, giving him a chance to develop into an asset working in the 7th or 8th inning.

#19  Anderson Franco 3B

Acquired from the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $900,000, the 19-year-old Franco possesses excellent bat speed from the right-side, which along with his muscular 6-3 190lbs. frame, allows him to project for future above-average or more raw power.  His swing is extremely long like many teenage hitters, which he will need to shorten to improve his contact rate in the future.  Franco has only played 138 games since signing due to injuries, so he has lost plenty of development time, but there is the potential he can become a “45/40” hitter with “50+” raw power.  Defensively Franco has a cannon-like arm and soft hands, along with some reasonable athleticism, allowing him to profile at third base.

There is plenty of risk involved with Franco due to questions if he will hit, but the potential is there for a starting third basemen in the future if everything comes together for him.  He should see time at Low-A Hagerstown this summer and is a possible breakout candidate in 2017.

#18  Nick Banks OF

After a magnificent sophomore season at Texas A&M, Banks struggled through a bad case of Draft-itis last year which caused his draft stock to plummet to Washington in Round 4.  Defensively Banks profiles well in right field, as he possesses average or better speed, a powerful arm and good instincts.  At the plate Banks’s swing can get long, which causes him to get pull-happy and whiff-prone.  When at his best, Banks sprays line drives all over the outfield, and will occasionally punish the baseball to the pull side.  There is plenty of risk involved with Banks, but his subpar junior season could have allowed the Nationals to find a bargain in a potential everyday corner outfielder.

#17  Rafael Bautista OF

Bautista was signed from the Dominican Republic as a free agent in 2012, and has steadily risen through the farm system, reaching Double-A in 2016 as a 23-year-old.  In the box Bautista shows good bat-to-ball skills from the right-side, along with plenty of bat speed and a solid approach at the plate.  He understands his role as a leadoff hitter, to make contact, get on-base and use his speed to disrupt the opposition on the base paths.  His offensive ceiling is limited due to his lack of power, as he projects to hit fewer than 5 home runs per season.  He profiles as a possible “50+” hit, “20/30” power batter in the majors.

Defensively Bautista is outstanding in center field due to his plus or plus-plus speed, excellent instincts and solid-average arm. He needs additional game experience but Bautista projects as a “60” defender in center, who is also capable of playing both corner positions.  Bautista is an interesting prospect due to his potential for four average to above-average tools, but his lack of power makes him profile as a reserve outfielder.  He should begin 2017 at Triple-A Syracuse and it would not be surprising to see him earn a September promotion to Washington.

#16  Jakson Reetz Catcher

One of my favorite prospects in the 2014 draft crop, Washington selected Jakson Reetz in the 3rd round from a Nebraska high school.  Reetz is a muscular 6-1 195lbs with the body to withstand the rigors of catching every day.  He is a quality athlete with a solid-average arm and promising receiving skills, giving him the potential to develop into an above-average defender with experience.

Offensively Reetz scuffled a bit last season at Low-A, hitting .230/.346/.357 with 4 home runs in 88 games played.  Reetz has a mature approach at the plate and a keen eye, which allows him to draw a large number of walks.  He shows some natural barrel skills and scouts expect Reetz to develop additional power in the future.  Only 21-years-old, there is plenty of risk involved with Reetz, but he has the tools and potential to develop into a starting-caliber catcher in a few years.

#15  Pedro Severino Catcher

An international free agent signed from the Dominican Republic for $55,000, the 23-year-old Severino has developed the reputation as one of the top defensive catchers in the minors.  He has a plus arm along with a strong release, allowing him to routinely post sub 1.95 second pop times.  Severino is a good athlete for a catcher, shows a knack for blocking balls and makes an effort to frame pitches.  He can get a bit “loud” behind the plate at times, but he certainly projects as a Role “6” defender.

Severino’s offense significantly lags behind his defense, as he is still quite raw at the plate.  He possesses a compact, right-handed swing, decent bat speed and will show pull power during batting practice.  His swing does not show any obvious flaws, yet he has always struggled to perform during game action.  Severino did show better contact skills last season at Triple-A, but he projects as a “40/35” hitter with “30” power in the majors.  His offensive limitations make him profile as a strong backup catcher or the weak-side of a catching platoon, but his defense should keep him in the majors for many years.

#14  A.J. Cole RHP

Drafted by Washington in the 4th round in 2010, Cole was shipped to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal, and was then returned a year later as part of the Mike Morse swap.  The 25-year-old Cole is a gangly 6-5 195lbs with long limbs and the potential to add weight in the future.  Cole owns a 4-pitch arsenal, featuring a low-90s fastball that seems to rise, an above-average changeup with excellent fading movement, along with a fringy slider and curveball.

Cole’s lack of a quality breaking pitch hinders his ability to get strikeouts and finish hitters, keeping his ceiling relatively low.  However, his floor is also high due to his quality fastball and changeup, along with his knack for locating his heater.  He is a major league quality arm, with the big question being if he pitches as a back-end starter or in middle relief.

#13  Sheldon Neuse 3B

The Nationals selected Neuse in the  2nd round last June, 58th overall, after an uneven career at Oklahoma State.  Neuse has above-average bat speed and a short, compact right-handed swing, which allows him to hit for average and barrel line drives.  Often however, Neuse’s swing will get long as he tries to sacrifice for power, which causes him to struggle with whiffs.  Scouts believe if he can find a balance and improve his approach, he could develop into a “55/50” hitter with “45ish” power.

Defensively Neuse has a cannon for an arm and reasonable speed, allowing him to play a quality shortstop in college but will likely move him to third base in the future.  His tools should allow him to play above-average to plus defense at the hot corner.  If everything comes together for Neuse, he projects as an above-average defensive third baseman, who hits for average and the occasional home run.

#12  Jesus Luzardo LHP

Luzardo was considered a potential 1st round pick this time last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring.  This injury allowed him to fall to Washington in Round 3.  Prior to the injury, Luzardo owned a mature 4-pitch repertoire, consisting of a low-90s fastball, an above-average changeup, a slider and a curveball.  The Nationals will certainly be patient with his rehabilitation, but expect him to return to the mound sometime this summer.  One of my favorite pitchers in this past draft, I believe Washington got a steal in Luzardo.

#11  Tyler Watson LHP

Signed for an above-slot $400,000 bonus in the 34th round in 2015, Tyler Watson spurned a commitment to Loyola Marymount to sign with the Nationals.  Watson is a lean, projectable 6-5 200lbs and the Nationals have been slow to develop this 19-year-old, having him throw only 71.1 professional innings the past two years.  Currently Watson possesses a solid 3-pitch arsenal, featuring a low-90s fastball with excellent life and projects to add velocity, along with a promising curveball and a developing changeup.  He should begin 2017 in Low-A and could soar up prospect rankings this season.

Washington Nationals Top Prospects 10-1

The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with one of the better farm systems in baseball, particularly considering many with the superior systems were in the middle of rebuilding at the major league level.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), Mike Rizzo and Washington’s front office used their prospect depth this offseason to acquire starting center fielder Adam Eaton and projected starting catcher Derek Norris.  This leaves the organization without four prospects in their top-20 and likely 3 of the top-6 prospects overall, depleting the much of the top-end strength farm system.

However, Washington has done a solid job in recent years drafting in the top-10 rounds, and made an noteworthy investment in international prospects last summer.  This does not fill the void of losing a Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez or a 2016 1st round pick, but gives the farm system an impressive amount of depth throughout their top-30 prospects.  Particularly, Washington has a talented crop of prospects at catcher, shortstop and center field.

This week I will be ranking the top-30 prospects presently in Washington’s organization, beginning today with players’ ranked #10-#1.  My list prioritizes the prospect’s ceiling, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, their positional value and finally, how far they are from the major leagues.  Without further delay, here is my choices for the top-10 Washington Nationals’ prospects, counting down from #10.

#10  Tye Dillinger Austin Voth RHP

A sleeper selection in the 5th round back in 2013, Voth has steadily climbed the organizational ladder by out-pitching his stuff and posting excellent results.  Voth sits 88-92mph with his fastball, which he locates well throughout the strike zone.  In addition, he has a solid curveball with true 12-6 movement that induces whiffs, along with a reasonable changeup.  His pitches tend to “play up” due to Voth’s plus command and control of the strike zone.  In addition, rumors have had Voth working with noted pitching guru Kyle Boddy this winter, giving me some hope his fastball with find additional velocity this season.

Voth is a sturdy 6-2 215lbs who throws strikes and repeats his delivery, giving him the profile of a workhorse, back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.  He should begin 2017 again at Triple-A and will be one of the first calls if injuries occur in Washington.

#9  Andrew Stevenson CF

Washington’s top pick, 58th overall, in 2015, the 22-year-old Stevenson was quite impressive in 2016, slashing .304/.359/.418 at High-A Potomac before forcing a mid-season promotion to Double-A.  He struggled a bit at Double-A hitting only .246/.302/.328, but impressed in the Arizona Fall League, leading the league in hits and 2nd in batting average.

Stevenson possesses a short left-handed swing, excellent hand-eye coordination and plus speed, allowing him to profile as an above-average to plus hitter.  He does not have much power, but peppers the gaps and uses his speed to collect extra base hits.  Defensively he has a solid-average, accurate throwing arm and good instincts, allowing him to profile as an asset in center field.  Stevenson has a high floor as a prospect due to his speed, instincts and barrel skills, but his ceiling is limited due to his lack of power.  He should begin 2017 back at Double-A and profiles as below-average starter in center field or a dynamic 4th outfielder.  Stevenson could see major league action late in 2017 and should remain in the big leagues beginning in 2018.

#8  Koda Glover RHP

Stolen in the 8th round in 2015, Glover soared through the Nationals’ system last year, starting 2016 in High-A and reaching the majors for 19.2 innings in Washington.  Glover is a powerfully built 6-5 225lbs. right-handed reliever who possesses a mid-90s fastball with downward movement, along with a powerful mid-80s slider.  Glover has two plus or better pitches, and stands a chance to be a high-leverage reliever as soon as this season.

#7  Yasel Antuna SS

Antuna ranked as the #14 international prospect last summer, yet somehow signed for a $3.9 million bonus last July, three times more than fellow Nationals’ signee Luis Garcia.  Antuna stands 6-0 170lbs with above-average speed and a solid arm, allowing him to profile as a future middle infielder down the road.  A switch-hitter, Antuna shows impressive present power from both sides of the plate, along with some barrel skills as well.  He does not presently show much of an approach, but scouts believe he could develop into a quality hitter down the road.  Antuna has plenty of risk in his profile, but there is a chance he develops into an above-average 2-way shortstop down the road.

#6  Luis Garcia SS

Ranked as the #3 international prospect this past summer, the Nationals signed Garcia for a $1.3 million bonus last July.  Blessed with a simple left-handed swing, Garcia shows an aptitude for making contact and hitting line drives all over the field.  Garcia stands a wiry 5-11 170lbs., making scouts believe he will develop power as he matures physically.  He has good athleticism, above-average speed and a strong arm, which should allow him to stay at shortstop in the future.  Garcia has four above-average tools and the potential for fringe-average power from a shortstop – he should start 2017 in the Dominican Summer League and explode up prospect rankings this year.

#5  Wilmer Difo SS/2B

Difo was signed as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2011 and blossomed as a 22-year-old at Low-A in 2014, winning the South Atlantic MVP award.  He continued his meteoric rise in 2015, reaching the majors for a 15 game cameo when injuries struck the Nationals’ roster.  Last season was more a struggle for Difo, who scuffled for the 1st half of the year, then turned it around midseason and earned a spot on Washington’s postseason roster.

The 24-year-old Difo is a physical specimen who is listed at 5-11 200lbs. and more resembles a strong safety in football rather than a middle infielder.  A switch-hitter, Difo has a compact swing from both sides of the plate and solid bat speed.  Unfortunately these tools give him the confidence he can hit nearly everything pitched, hindering his ability to generate walks and get on base.  He has an above-average hit tool, which would improve with a more selective approach.  He does not profile to hit many home runs, but his speed and knack for peppering the gaps should allow him to rack up extra base hits.

Defensively Difo is a quality athlete with plus speed and a solid-average arm, making him project as an average defender at shortstop and above-average at second and third base.  His defensive profile and potential for four average or better tools gives him a high floor as a starting second baseman or vital utility player, but his lack of power keeps his ceiling in check.  He could start the season at Triple-A to gain additional experience while playing every day, but I would expect Difo to see time in Washington if an injury occurs to an infielder.

#4   Carter Kieboom  SS/3B

The younger brother of fellow Nationals’ prospect Spencer Kieboom, Carter Kieboom was Washington’s top overall selection, 28th overall, in last June’s draft after a noteworthy high school career.  Drafted as a shortstop, Kieboom presently stands at 6-2 190lbs., which has most scouts expecting him to shift to the hot corner down the road.  He has good athleticism, solid-average speed and a strong arm, allowing him to profile as an above-average future defender at third base.

The strength of Kieboom’s game is his present skills at the plate, as he shows a mature approach and impressive bat-to-ball skills.  There are questions about how much power he will develop down the road and how that affects his prospect profile, especially if he is forced to shift to third base.  If he can stay at shortstop or if he can develop additional power, Kieboom could be a starting-caliber player on the left side of the infield.  However, if one of these two things does not occur, he projects as a valuable 5th infielder.  The Nationals are banking on his ability to hit, which is not a bad gamble to make.

For more on Kieboom -> http://natsgm.com/2016/06/15/quoting-the-experts-washington-nationals-1st-round-pick-carter-kieboom/

#3   Erick Fedde  RHP

Washington’s top pitching prospect, Fedde was selected 18th overall in 2014 after having Tommy John surgery mere weeks before the draft.  He spent the majority of 2015 recovering from surgery before breaking out last season, striking out 123 with a 3.12 ERA in 121 innings pitched across High-A and Double-A.  Fedde features an impressive 3-pitch arsenal, highlighted by a 92-94mph fastball with excellent life and a devastating mid-80s slider with true swing-and-miss potential.  In addition Fedde shows an inconsistent, low-80s changeup with some tumbling action at its best.  Fedde is listed at 6-4 180lbs. with the potential to add mass as he matures.

There is risk involved with Fedde due to his past Tommy John, but assuming health, Fedde profiles as a strong mid-rotation starter with a floor as an impact reliever.  He should begin 2017 again at Double-A Harrisburg, and could see action in the major leagues late in the season, or more likely, 2018.

To read my in-person scouting report on Fedde -> http://natsgm.com/2016/04/18/scouting-erick-fedde/

#2   Juan Soto  OF

Signed in July 2015, Soto signed a $1.5 million bonus with the Nationals, the largest bonus in franchise history at the time with a Latin prospect.  At that time, Soto was ranked at the #13 international prospect by Baseball America and #22 by MLB.com.  Last year I aggressively ranked Soto #21 on this list, based on his reputation as a pure left-handed hitter.  Apparently I under-hyped him, as Soto destroyed Gulf Coast League pitching as a 17-year-old, hitting .361/.410/.550 with 5 home runs and 19 extra base hits over 169 at-bats.

Soto has a strong feel for the strike zone and a quality approach at the plate, seeking to punish pitches inside the strike zone.  He has plus or better bat speed and developing raw power, giving him a chance to profile as a “60+” hit / “55/60” raw power hitter at the plate.  Defensively he has a strong arm plus reasonable speed and athleticism, allowing him to profile well in right fielder.  That said, it will be his bat that carries him to the majors.  Soto will begin this year at Low-A and should explode up prospect rankings this year.  For me, he is nearly untouchable in trade discussions.

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

#1   Victor Robles  OF

Another outstanding acquisition from the Dominican Republic by the Nationals, Robles received a $225,000 bonus upon signing in July 2013 and has exploded as a prospect ever since.  A lithe 6-0 185lbs athlete, the 19-year-old Robles has legitimate “5-tool” and superstar potential.  Defensively Robles utilizes his plus to plus-plus speed and above-average arm to profile as a potential gold glove centerfielder.

Offensively, the right-handed hitting Robles has outstanding bat speed and a natural ability to punish the baseball.  While it’s cliché, the ball truly sounds different coming off his bat, similar to the sound a shotgun makes when fired.  Robles has quick wrists and strong barrel skills, allowing him to profile as an above-average to plus hitter with average or slightly better power.

While he still needs refinement to his game and to tighten his approach at the plate, Robles has the potential to be an impact centerfielder both offensively and defensively.  He reminds me of a young Eric Davis, minus some raw power.  Robles should begin the year at Double-A and could reach the majors sometime in 2018.  He is easily one of the top 10 prospects in baseball.

To read my in-person scouting report on Robles -> http://natsgm.com/2016/04/11/scouting-victor-robles/