Scouting Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito

After a long winter this year, I was excited to make the drive up I-70 Saturday night to scout Nationals uber-prospect Lucas Giolito, in his first start of 2014, as he and the rest of the Hagerstown Suns took on the Rome Braves.  Mother Nature did not give us the best baseball weather, as it was sub-50 degrees with a strong wind toward right field, but the opportunity to scout the supremely talented Giolito could not deter me from Hagerstown on Saturday. 

Lucas Giolito                                     RHP        Hagerstown Suns

7-Word Scouting Report:             Prototypical Physique, Impressive 3-Pitch Arsenal, Needs Polish

The Nationals 1st round selection in 2012, the 19-year-old Giolito struggled with his fastball command and an inconsistent strike zone to pitch only 3 innings on Saturday, allowing 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits and 2 walks against 3 strikeouts.  My first impression of Giolito is what a monstrous and intimidating presence he is on the mound, as he is listed at 6-6 225lbs., and looks larger.  However, he is athletic for his size and fields his position fairly well.

THE Lucas Giolito

In his first start of 2014, Giolito featured a 91-94mph 4-seam fastball that topped out at 97mph with excellent late life; he struggled to command his fastball which caused his pitch count to rise and an early exit.  In addition Giolito featured a 78-79mph curveball with massive tilt and sharp late breaking action, a true above-average pitch.  Finally, Giolito’s best pitch on this evening was his 79-82mph changeup he threw to left-handed hitters, with exceptional depth and splitter-like downward action. 

His delivery is relatively quiet and clean, especially for someone still growing into his body.  Giolito did struggle to repeat his motion Saturday, as he had a tendency to over-rotate through his deliver, causing him to open up early and throw his fastball low and away in the dirt to righties.  For the most part these struggles can be attributed to the cold, windy conditions and this being Giolito’s first start of the season.   

Giolito

While the statistical line was not good, I am not particularly alarmed about his poor fastball command, as that should improve as the weather warms up and he throws more innings.  My main concern was that opposing batters were quickly picking up the ball from Giolito and squaring up his fastball pretty consistently for loud contact.  His type of raw stuff should overwhelm a Low-A lineup, so I am curious to see if this pattern will continue with more talented professional hitters, or if this was a one game aberration. 

In spite of these concerns, Giolito’s raw skills and massive talent are readily apparent, as has three overwhelming pitches, a solid delivery, and a prototypical pitcher’s frame.  But this start reminds us that as talented as he is, Giolito still only has 41 professional innings under his belt and needs experience on the mound.  Perhaps this start has tempered my expectation of a rapid rise through the minor leagues and an early 2015 arrival in Washington, but it did nothing to damper my overall opinion of Lucas Giolito – The sky is the limit on his ability and the Nationals are very fortunate to have him in their farm system.

Armchair Evaluation- Washington Nationals Aaron Barrett’s MLB Debut

Nationals Park

One of the many keys to the Washington Nationals opening day victory over the Mets was the excellent pitching of the bullpen, specifically from Aaron Barrett, who made his major league debut on Monday.  Barrett entered spring training an underdog in the competition to secure a spot on the Nationals roster, but after allowing 0 runs and 0 walks against 8 strikeouts in 10.2 innings, he forced himself into the Nationals bullpen to begin the season.

Aaron Barrett, 26-years-old, was the Nationals 9th round selection in the 2010 MLB draft as a senior out of the University of Mississippi.  Barrett famously overcame a battle with the “yips” early in his minor league career to reinvent himself as a late-inning reliever in 2012 and 2013.  A thickly built 6-3 225lbs with plenty of effort involved in his pitching delivery, Barrett was probably a better fit long-term as a reliever anyways.  Blessed with an excellent fastball and a dominant slider, Barrett has also refined his command of the strike zone, allowing only 2.7 BB/9 last year against a noteworthy 12.3 K/9 ratio. 

Barrett entered the game against the Mets on Monday in the 9th inning and needed only 11 pitches to quickly complete the inning.  Barrett threw 7 strikes against 4 balls, striking out 2 hitters and inducing a deep fly out; he threw 4 fastballs averaging 94.82mph, 4 sinkers averaging 94.75mph, and 3 sliders averaging 86.13mph.  (Thanks BrooksBaseball.net)

Both of his fastballs had excellent velocity, obviously, in addition to impressive movement, which made it difficult for the batter to square up and hit.  But the difference-maker for Barrett is his overpowering slider, a true expletive-creating pitch that particularly baffles right-handed hitters.  Armed with an above-average sinker and a true plus slider, Barrett showed on Monday the potential to be a high-leverage major league relief pitcher.

Although this is a small sample of only 11 pitches in his first major league appearance, it is difficult not to be optimistic, even bullish, of what someone with Barrett’s repertoire could do to bolster the Nationals relief corps in 2014.  His mid-90s sinking fastball, devastating slider, and strike out potential should make him an interesting compliment to sinker/slider/double-play machine Craig Stammen in the middle innings for the Nationals.  Barrett will go through the typical ups-and-downs any reliever will, but the Nationals made a wise decision bringing him to Washington, as he will help them this season.

THE 2014 MLB Season Preview and My Bold Predictions

NatsPark Late AM
After enjoying a fairy-tale like season in 2012, much like the band A-Ha, the 2013 Washington Nationals fell victim to their newfound expectations and failed to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Nevertheless, baseball fans in the DMV area are anxious for the beginning of baseball season and the potential to again reach the postseason this fall.

Blessed with a breakout season in 2012 when the team won 98 games en route to their first NL East division championship, fans of NatsTown entered last season overconfident like Mike Tyson against Buster Douglas. Unfortunately the Nationals contracted a tough case of “worst case scenario” disease in 2013 and slumped to a disappointing 86-76 finish, 10 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the division. Manager Davey Johnson retired following the season, and the Nationals quickly snared his replacement, former Arizona third base coach Matt Williams.

The Nationals’ vacancy was particularly appealing because Washington has built their franchise to be competitive for many years. Washington returns their three aces, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann to headline a potentially dominant starting rotation. At times in 2013 the team struggled offensively, however the Nationals are expecting better results in 2014. They anticipate improved seasons from veterans Adam LaRoche and Denard Span, along with the emergence of talented youngsters Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. Coupled with All-Stars Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jayson Werth, this lineup has breakout potential in 2014.

In order to close the gap on their division rivals, this winter the Nationals’ front office had four specific needs to fill: a fourth starter, a versatile reserve outfielder, a left-handed reliever, and a backup catcher. Quickly Mike Rizzo went to work crossing off these needs, trading three players to Detroit to acquire Doug Fister, one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, and stealing outfielder Nate McLouth from Baltimore with a 2-year contract. In addition, the Nationals traded for Oakland lefty Jerry Blevins and obtained Tampa Bay playoff hero, catcher Jose Lobaton.

With these additions, the Nationals roster looks solid on paper, as the team has an excellent starting rotation, a quality, deep bullpen, and a potentially powerful lineup. However, questions still exist with the back of the rotation, as Fister will begin the season on the disabled list, Ross Detwiler will begin the season in the bullpen, and Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark remain unproven. Also, how will Williams, a rookie manager, handle the pressure of leading a team with tremendous expectations? The answers to these questions, the ability for the starting lineup to create runs, and the health of the team will determine how long into September (and October) the 2014 Nationals play baseball.

 
Predicted Record: Washington Nationals 89-73, 1st Place in NL East

MY Bold Nationals Predictions:
1) Doug Fister makes less than 15 starts for the Nationals in 2014.

2) Wilson Ramos represents the Nationals in the All-Star game in Minnesota this summer.

3) Taylor Jordan pitches 170+ innings for the Nationals at the back of their rotation with a sub-4 ERA, giving the team a durable workhorse to go with Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann.

4) Ryan Zimmerman bounces back defensively from his subpar 2013 season to capture the Gold Glove award at third base in the NL.

Predictions Around MLB

AL East: Tampa Bay 91-71
AL Central: Detroit Tigers 90-72
AL West: Oakland Athletics 91-71
AL Wild Cards: Boston Red Sox 89-73, Baltimore Orioles 87-75

NL East: Washington Nationals 89-73
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals 93-69
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers 90-72
NL Wild Cards: San Francisco Giants 88-74, Atlanta Braves 87-75

AL MVP: Mike Trout OF Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
AL ROY: Nick Castellanos 3B/LF Detroit Tigers
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander SP Detroit Tigers

NL MVP: Bryce Harper OF Washington Nationals
NL ROY: Billy Hamilton OF Cincinnati Reds
NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez SP Miami Marlins

 
5 Bold Predictions for the 2014 MLB Season

1) The Baltimore Orioles capitalize on improved starting pitching and a breakout season from Kevin Gausman to make the playoffs with 87 wins.

2) Billy Hamilton will steal 91 bases this season en route to capturing the NL Rookie of the Year Award.

3) Two Tampa Bay starting pitchers make the All-Star game in July, and neither will be David Price, it will be Alex Cobb and Chris Archer representing the Rays.

4) Yordano Ventura takes the American League Central by storm, striking out 175+ batters and leading Kansas City to a near playoff appearance with 86 victories.

5) The New York Yankees suffer from injuries and mediocre starting pitching to finish with an 81-81 record and a 4th place finish in the AL East.