THE 2018 NatsGM Washington Nationals Top Prospect List, #10-#1

After many years of consistently having one of the stronger farm systems in baseball, Washington entered this offseason missing the prospect depth it has enviably procured earlier this decade.  Much of this is attributable to the graduation of prospects like Wilmer Difo and trades of several players in the Adam Eaton trade last winter plus midseason swaps last summer.

Washington has done a nice job drafting pitchers the past two years and successfully signing several international free agents, so the system has some intriguing outfield and pitching depth.  However, the system is the weakest it has been in the six years I have scouted it and probably middle-of-the-pack compared to the other organizations.

This week I will be ranking the Top-30 prospects presently in the Washington Nationals’ organization, beginning with players #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, these are the Top-10 Washington Nationals’ prospects, counting down from #10.

#10        Raudy Read       Catcher

Signed by Washington as an 2011 international free agent, Read spent most of 2017 at Double-A, hitting .265/.312/.445 with 17 home runs and 67 runs driven in, before earning a promotion to the majors.  Defensively Read has a strong arm and does well controlling opposing base stealers, but struggles blocking and framing errant pitches.  The right-handed hitting Read struggles making consistent contact, yet flashes plus raw power and punishes fastballs in the inner-third.  The 24-year-old is an intriguing catching prospect and projects as an offensive-first backup or weak-side of a catching platoon.

In-Person Scouting Report ->

#9           Wil Crowe RHP

Washington’s 2nd round pick last June, Wil Crowe is a well-built 6-2 245lbs right-handed pitcher blessed with a 4-pitch repertoire.  He features a 92-94mph fastball with sink and arm-side movement, a low-80s slider and a high-70s curveball, along with a quality 82-85mph changeup with arm-side fading movement.  He was a bit old for the draft class at 22.5 years old and has a past Tommy John surgery on his resume, causing him to slip into the 2nd round.  Acknowledging the increased potential for injury, Crowe profiles as a workhorse #4 starter and could move quickly through the minor leagues in 2018.

#8           Luis Garcia SS

The Nationals signed Garcia for $1.3 million as an international free agent in July 2016 and he performed well in his first experience in pro ball, hitting .302/.330/.387 as a 17-year-old in the GCL.  Garcia is a wiry 6-0 190lbs with good athleticism, above-average or better speed and a strong arm, allowing him to profile well at shortstop.  He has a simple left-handed swing and shows a knack for hitting line drives all over the field.  Garcia possesses four average or better tools and the potential for some fringy power as he matures physically.

#7           Yasel Antuna SS

Washington signed Antuna for $3.9 million as an international free agent in July 2016 and he showed last summer the promise the Nationals’ scouts envisioned, hitting .301/.382/.399 at 17-years-old in the GCL.  A switch-hitter, Antuna is a 6-0 170lbs middle infielder with above-average speed, a solid arm and advanced bat-to-ball skills.  Scouts also believe there is some future power in his bat and he has the potential to develop into a quality hitter.  There is plenty of risk, but he profiles a potential above-average future 2-way player at shortstop or second base.

#6           Daniel Johnson OF

Washington’s 2016 5th Round selection, Johnson is a well-built 5-10 185lbs left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder that broke out in 2017, hitting .298/.356/.505 primarily at Low-A.  Johnson has outstanding raw tools, consisting of easy plus speed, a cannon-like arm and emerging raw power.  The 22-year-old must limit his strikeouts going forward to fully reach his offensive potential, but he could develop into a .250 type hitter with 15-22 home run power.  Johnson has a ceiling of an impact two-way center fielder, with the floor of a backup outfielder that provides defense and left-handed power.

In-Person Scouting Report ->

#5           Seth Romero LHP

The Nationals top pick, 25th overall last June, Romero was viewed as a top-10 talent but slid due to a series of off-field incidents in college.  When on the mound, Romero throws from a low 3/4s arm slot and features an impressive 3-pitch arsenal including a mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider with excellent break and a quality changeup.  He is listed at 6-3 240lbs, so there are concerns about his conditioning, but he has good athleticism and repeats his mechanics rather well.  In addition to the normal injury concerns with any pitcher, there are makeup issues with him as well, but if everything comes together, Romero profiles as a long-term #3 or #4 starter.

#4           Carter Kieboom SS

Kieboom was the Nationals 1st round pick in 2016 from a Georgia high school.  He is listed at 6-2 190lbs with a very projectable body, above-average speed and arm strength, plus the ability to stay in the infield defensively.  A right-handed hitter, Kieboom has good bat speed and a knack for making contact, which combined with the expected development of strength as he matures, allows him to profile as a “55 hit/50 Power” hitter in the future.  Defensively he presently plays shortstop, but his mediocre hands and reasonable agility makes him a better long-term fit at second or third base.  He should begin 2018 at High-A Potomac and profiles as a future Role 55 player.

In-Person Scouting Report ->

Interview on THE NatsGM Show ->

#3           Erick Fedde RHP

Erick Fedde was Washington’s 1st round pick in 2014 but slid to the 18th selection due to undergoing Tommy John surgery weeks prior to draft day.  Now healthy, the almost 25-year-old Fedde is a polished pitcher that features a strong 4-pitch repertoire – he features a 92-95mph fastball with excellent command, a nasty 81-85mph slider with nasty break, along with a curveball and changeup.  The fastball and slider are easy above-average or plus offerings, but the curveball and changeup lag behind, leaving him susceptible to left-handed hitters.  This weakness, plus the Tommy John surgery, has questions surrounding his ultimate role.  If one of the tertiary pitches improves, he has a ceiling as a mid-rotation starter, with the floor being an impact 2-pitch reliever.

In-Person Scouting Report ->

#2           Juan Soto OF

Signed by Washington for a $1.5 million bonus in July 2015, Soto is a 19-year-old left-handed hitting and throwing corner outfielder.  Listed at 6-1 185lbs, Soto possesses average speed and a fringe-average arm, allowing him to play right field now but could necessitate a shift to left field if he adds mass.  However, defense is not where he makes his name, as Soto profiles as a potentially elite hitter.  The ball sounds different off his bat and his preternatural ability to make hard contact is exceptional.  He profiles as a “65 Hit / 60 Power” hitter and is one of the most impressive teenager hitters I have ever seen.  Soto projects as an impact major league hitter, with the ceiling of a .285-.300 hitter with 25+ home run power.

In-Person Scouting Report ->

#1           Victor Robles CF

Perhaps the top prospect in baseball, Robles has elite tools and profiles as a future impact center fielder.  Only 20-years-old, Robles has easy plus speed and a plus arm, which allows him to play gold glove caliber defense in center field.  Offensively, the right-handed hitter has lightning fast wrists, outstanding bat speed and a solid awareness of the strike zone.  He has a good feel for the barrel and the bat speed allows the ball to jump off his bat.  He still needs polish to his overall game, but Robles has true 5-tool talent and is one of the best prospects I have evaluated in the minor leagues.  He should be a fixture in Washington’s outfield for the next several years.

In-Person Scouting Report ->

THE 2018 Washington Nationals Prospect Sleepers

Next week kicks off Prospect Week at NatsGM, my annual ranking of the Top-30 Prospects currently in the Washington Nationals organization.  While preparing for these articles, it caught my attention that although Washington has traded numerous prospects in the past twelve months, there is still depth in their system.  In particular, Washington has drafted several interesting college pitchers in the past two years and developed some intriguing depth at catcher.

Last year I correctly identified Daniel Johnson and Jose Sanchez as sleepers poised for a breakout 2017, so no pressure.  While “sleeper” is a rather nebulous term, for the purposes of this article it includes prospects presently ranked outside my top-30 that deserve more hype.

Tres Barrera

Drafted in the 6th round in 2016 from the University of Texas, Barrera is a quality athlete listed at 6-0 215lbs that plays solid defense behind the plate.  He has a strong, accurate arm and shows a strong aptitude at blocking pitches in the dirt.  Barrera has soft hands and quietly attempts to frame pitches.  He needs experience behind the dish, but he profiles as an above-average to slightly better defensive catcher.

Offensively the 23-year-old Barrera is a right-handed hitter with legitimate raw pull power and a knack for getting on-base.  However, there is plenty of swing-and-miss in his approach, which limits his hit tool and overall offensive potential.  The whiffs limit his ceiling to a bench player, but a strong defender with power that draws the occasional walk sounds like a nice backup.  Barrera should begin 2018 at High-A Potomac and is a prospect not receiving enough attention.

Brigham Hill

Hill was Washington’s 5th round selection last summer after a strong career at Texas A&M.  Hill is somewhat undersized at 6-0 185lbs (likely closer to 5-10 175lbs) but succeeded as a college starter due to his command of a sinking 89-92mph fastball and plus low-80s changeup.  Also, he utilizes a curveball primarily as a weapon against righties, but the pitch rates as fringy and needs significant work to reach average.

Hill had a quick 30 inning cameo at Low-A last summer after a lengthy college season, and hitters punished his diminished repertoire.  After an offseason to rest and recover, the experienced 22-year-old righty should rebound in Hagerstown to start 2018 and advance quickly through A-ball this season.  Hill will work as a starter and has a ceiling as a 5th starter, with the potentially intriguing outcome he becomes a fastball-changeup relief specialist.

Gabe Klobosits

Klobosits slipped in this past draft, sliding to the 36th round after serving as Auburn’s closer in the spring.  Despite being overlooked on draft day, he exploded as a professional, posting a 1.47 ERA and 34 strikeouts against only 8 walks in 30.2 innings last summer.  Klobosits possesses a 93-96mph fastball with quality life, along with an upper-80s slider and split-finger.  A monster of a man at 6-7 270lbs, Klobosits is a pure relief prospect that could skyrocket through the farm system next summer.  There is risk in his profile, but the reward is a potential future 7th/8th inning reliever – Klobosits was a steal for the Nationals last June.

In addition, Gabe was a recent guest on our Podcast, THE NatsGM Show ->

Brandon Kintzler Officially Re-Signs With Washington

Last week during the winter meetings news broke the Washington Nationals and free agent Brandon Kintzler had agreed to terms on a 2-year contract, with both a club and player option for the 2nd season.  The math is rather fuzzy, as Kintzler is guaranteed $10 million overall, with a $5 million salary for 2018 and a $10 million club option for Washington in 2019 or a $5 million player option if the team declines their option.  In total, Kintzler can earn a maximum of $16 million for the next two years.

Washington acquired Kintzler last July for prospect Tyler Watson and international bonus funds in an effort to strengthen their relief corps.  The 33-year-old Kintzler spent the past two seasons working as Minnesota’s closer, posting a 2.98 ERA and 45 saves over 99.2 innings for the Twins, while notching an all-star selection in 2017.  Upon arriving in Washington, Kintzler provided a stabilizing force in the bullpen, giving the Nationals a 3.46 ERA and 1.154 WHIP, with 12 strikeouts against only 5 walks over 26 innings.

While Kintzler lacks swing-and-miss stuff (only 6.1 K/9), he limits his walks (2.2 BB/9), home runs allowed (0.79 HR/9) and induces ground balls at a strong 57.7% for his career.  He features primarily a 94mph sinker, along with a mid-90s 4-seam fastball, 87mph slider and upper-80s changeup.  He should return to his role as one-third of the “The Law Firm” of Kintzler, Madson & Doolittle next season and gives Washington a needed veteran presence in their bullpen.

Similarly to the Matt Adams signing, Washington’s front office should be commended for identifying a weakness on their roster, namely bullpen depth, and moving swiftly to acquire a good fit at a reasonable price.  In a market where inferior relievers like Juan Nicasio (2yrs $17 million) and Anthony Swarzak (2yrs $14 million) signed for larger guaranteed money, Kintzler’s contract feels like a relative bargain.  Washington obviously liked what they saw from him last season, and conversely, Kintzler must have felt comfortable with the organization as well.  Certainly there is risk involved with any free agent reliever and particularly one with Kintzler’s middling velocity, however, Washington did well to secure an above-average 7th/8th inning reliever for “only” $5 million next season.

NatsGM Overall Grade ->             B

A New Adams Comes To Washington

Wednesday the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported the Washington Nationals and free agent Matt Adams had agreed on a 1-year deal worth $4 million, plus $500,000 in possible incentives.  The 29-year-old first baseman spent 2017 with both St. Louis and Atlanta, batting .274/.319/.522 with 20 home runs and 65 runs driven in.  Atlanta decided to non-tender Adams earlier this winter, rather than pay him a projected $4.6 million during arbitration.

Drafted by St. Louis in the 23rd round in 2009 from Slippery Rock University, Adams slugged his way through the Cardinals’ minor league system, reaching the majors in 2012.  During his 6-year major league career, the left-handed hitting Adams is a .271/.315/.469 batter over 586 total games.  Of particular interest to Washington is Adams’ ability to punish right-handed pitching, to the tune of .286/.333/.495 for his career.  Conversely, he struggles mightily against lefties, hitting a dreadful .206/.236/.357.  He projects to fill Adam Lind’s role from 2017 as a backup to Ryan Zimmerman at first base and a fearsome pinch hitter option late in games.

Building off Adam Lind, he and Matt Adams are eerily similar players – both are left-handed hitting first basemen whom have dabbled unsuccessfully playing corner outfield.  Lind is a career .272/.330/.465 hitter and a .288/.348/.504 hitter against righties, verses .271/.315/.469 and .286/.333/.495 for Adams – Washington interestingly passed on Lind’s $5 million contract option last month, only to sign Adam Lind 2.0 (aka Matt Adams) for $1 million less.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has done a nice job this winter targeting proven veterans to fill voids on the roster.  We are still awaiting official confirmation on the Brandon Kintzler contract and Adams must pass his physical, but considering the budget constraints, securing both for meager 2018 salaries is a clear win.  Adams is a flawed player who must be limited to first base defensively and hitting only against righties, but utilized properly, can be a highly productive hitter.  There is some risk involved in this signing due to his limitations, but Washington has found a nice value and quality match  with Matt Adams.

NatsGM Overall Grade ->             Solid B, Borderline B+