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.
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/