Eyewitness Account – Scouting The Washington Nationals vs The Boston Red Sox

This week we have taken NatsGM on the road to West Palm Beach, Florida in order to thoroughly scout the Washington Nationals, their prospects and their brand new spring training complex.  I shall write a full length piece next week discussing the new stadium, which is absolutely outstanding, but the next few days I wish to share some of my scouting notes on what I observe in Florida.

Below are my thoughts on Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Ross, new catcher Derek Norris, and the conundrum the Red Sox face defensively this season at third base.

Working as the starting pitcher for Washington Tuesday was Joe Ross, a pitcher I was particularly interested to watch, as his performance slumped down the stretch last season.  And in this viewing, Ross looked like a pitcher early in spring training, as he struggled to repeat his mechanics from the windup and was often flying open with his front side.

Ross sat (according to the stadium gun that looked 2-3mph off by my eye) 90-93mph with the fastball, touching 94mph, with little command or control of the pitch.  His fastball showed cutting action and some life, but he could not locate it in the strike zone.  His slider was inconsistent at 85-87mph, primarily because he was overthrowing it and putting it in the left handed batters’ box.  On a positive note, he threw two changeups in the 3rd inning, one with notable fading movement away from a left-handed batter.

Unfortunately this viewing left me deeply concerned about his 2017, as the stuff has not returned from last summer and he seems to be fighting his delivery.  In addition, I am a big believer that hitters will tell you how “good” a pitcher’s stuff is – Boston absolutely pounded Ross today worse than they did their batting practice pitcher prior to the game.  I hope these criticisms look silly in a few months, but I am worried about Joe Ross getting major league hitters out a month from now.

* Defensively new Nationals’ catcher Derek Norris specifically caught my eye, as he was extremely quiet behind the dish and, in particular, framed two pitches perfectly for strikes on the outside corner.  Ross was struggling with his location, but Norris made a real effort to help his pitcher.  In addition, Norris threw out the speedy Mookie Betts trying to steal in the 3rd inning, posting a 1.71 second pop time from his knees to gun down the runner.  Certainly it is a first impression after several years of casually watching him, but Norris is a better defender than I originally thought when the trade was conceived.

* After watching three ground balls pass by third baseman Pablo Sandoval today, it has me wondering how his defensive deficiencies will affect and hinder Boston’s pitching staff this season.  This concern is exacerbated considering they have 4 projected left-handed starters in their rotation, meaning right-handed batters will be pulling the ball with force toward the left side of the infield.  Furthermore, Xander Bogaerts does not have great range at shortstop, so their infield defense on the left side could allow more singles and doubles this season than perhaps projections systems will forecast.

THE 2017 Washington Nationals Sleepers

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.

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.