On Episode #10 of THE NatsGM Show, I had the esteemed privilege of interviewing Baseball Prospectus’s and Orioles-Nation’s TuckerBlair. Tucker is a fellow craft beer connoisseur and the only person I know who watches more local minor league games than I do.
Since it is Prospect Week at NatsGM, on this edition Tucker and I analyze and discuss the top prospects for both Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Any fan of the Orioles, Nationals , or prospects in general will enjoy this must-listen episode!
Certainly I am aware that the name of this site is NatsGM.com, but due to my appreciation for the Orioles and my proximity to their minor league affiliates, I watch a tremendous amount of Baltimore minor league baseball each summer.
The Orioles’ system will be ranked in the bottom third in baseball this upcoming winter, as the graduations of Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, the trade of Eduardo Rodriguez, and the lack of a 1st and 2nd round pick this summer has depleted the overall depth in the organization. However, Baltimore would fare significantly better on an Under 25-years-old list, which would include Gausman, Schoop, and franchise cornerstone Manny Machado.
My criterion for this list prioritizes, in order, the prospect’s possible ceiling, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, their positional value, and finally, how far they are from reaching the major leagues. In order to be on this list, the arbitrary cutoffs I used were 50+ major league innings for pitchers and more than 125 big league at-bats. With this in mind, here are my current Top-12 Baltimore Orioles’ Prospects.
Others Receiving Consideration:
Dariel Alvarez, Parker Bridwell, Patrick Connaughton, Brian Gonzalez, Jonah Heim, Branden Kline, Trey Mancini, Michael Ohlman, Ofelky Peralta, Stephen Tarpley, Henry Urrutia, Tyler Wilson, Jimmy Yacabonis,
#12 Adrian Marin SS
Like the coffee at McDonald’s, I like Adrian Marin far more than I should. For too long I stayed hung up on what Marin likely is not – a future MLB shortstop or speedy prototypical leadoff hitter. Conversely, I have started to focus on what the 20-year-old Marin is, a young middle infielder with average tools and strong baseball acumen that allows him to play above his skills.
Marin will never hit for power, and is likely a second baseman or utility player in the majors, but his bat-to-ball skills, defensive talent, and Baseball IQ should allow him to carve out a major league career. The profile is not particularly spicy, but Marin is a future big leaguer.
#11 Drew Dosch 3B
Drafted in the 7th round last summer by the Orioles, Dosch has a quality left-handed swing with apparent bat speed and quality plate discipline. With fringe-average speed and athleticism, along with an average arm, scouts question if he is a long-term third baseman, or if a shift to first base or the outfield is in his future. Regardless, Dosch can flat hit and that singular tool should allow him to reach the big leagues in the future.
#10 Jon Keller RHP
The Orioles 22nd round pick last summer, Keller possesses a prototypical pitcher’s frame, standing every bit of his listed 6-5 215lbs. Keller features a 3-pitch repertoire consisting of a 93-96mph fastball with late life, a promising, hard 85mph slider, and a firm mid-80s changeup. The 22-year-old needs to refine and polish his delivery, as there is some excess movement in his motion, which causes him to struggle to maintain his release point. Like most pitchers in A-ball, Keller also needs to improve his off-speed offerings, but both his changeup and slider showed promise. Keller is still raw, but has major league potential, and the Orioles got a steal with him last summer.
#9 Zach Davies RHP
A smallish but athletic right-handed pitcher, Davies continues to post impressive minor league numbers and out-pitching his 26th round selection in the 2011 draft. His repertoire consists of a 4-pitch mix with a 88-90mph fastball, an above-average changeup, and a fringy curveball and slider.
His detractors consistently questioned how he would perform when he reached Double-A, but Davies has continued to post solid numbers with a 3.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 83 strikeouts in 89.2 innings this season. The profile is not Val Kilmer in Top Gun sexy, but Davies has a chance to become a back-end major league starter.
#8 Josh Hart CF
The 37th selection in the 2013 Draft, Hart is an elite athlete with plus speed and a fringe-average arm, allowing him to profile as a future plus defensive centerfielder. Scouts have long questioned his potential as a hitter, and he has done little to quell those concerns at Low-A Salisbury this summer. In addition, the 19-year-old does not project to hit for much power in the future. But Hart is still young enough to develop and mature into a dynamic leadoff hitter in a few years. I like Hart’s potential and think he has breakout potential at Frederick in 2015.
#7 Mike Wright RHP
After a breakthrough season in 2013 at Double-A Bowie, Wright has more than stubbed his toe this season at Triple-A, posting a 5.73 ERA and 1.59 WHIP in 113 innings pitched. Possessing a massive, near ideal pitcher’s frame at 6-6 215lbs, Wright has a solid 4-pitch repertoire consisting of a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s cutter/hard slider, a changeup, and curveball. Results aside, I still believe in Wright and his pro potential, though his future may ultimately reside in the bullpen.
#6 Mike Yastrzemski OF
A personal favorite prospect of mine since I watched him play for Cotuit in the Cape Cod League, yes Mike is indeed the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. However, Mike is beginning to more than make a name for himself on the baseball field, as his fringe-average across the board tools “play up” due to his insatiable want and baseball IQ. His ceiling is a league-average outfielder with a more likely career as a 4th outfielder, but Yastrzemski is a prototypical overachiever who will get everything out of his talent. Do not bet against him carving out a lengthy major league career.
#5 Tim Berry LHP
An extremely polished left-hander with a solid three pitch mix, Berry commands his 90-93mph fastball throughout the strike zone, along with an average mid-70s sharp curveball, and a fringy changeup. Berry has a quiet, compact pitching delivery, which allows him to pound the bottom of the strike zone, and limits his walks allowed. Berry profiles as a #5 starting pitcher or invaluable late-inning left-handed reliever, as soon as next season.
#4 Christian Walker 1B
One of the true legends in college baseball, Walker was one of the most distinguished collegiate hitters in recent memory while at South Carolina. Armed with a linear right-handed swing, Walker has solid contact skills but does not produce much loft, which limits his home run power. A reasonable athlete with some agility, Walker projects as an average or better defender at first base, but he is limited to the position. A pure first base profile typically demands premium power potential, so Walker will need to continue to hit to silence his critics.
#3 Chance Sisco Catcher
Currently one of my favorite prospects in the low minors, Sisco was the Orioles 2nd round pick in 2013 as a high school shortstop transitioning behind the dish. Sisco has a strong arm and above-average athleticism as a former middle infielder, but he is extremely raw with his footwork and scouts strongly question if he will remain a catcher in the future. Personally, I believe in his work ethic and athleticism, and still think he could develop into a fringe-average defender.
Offensively, Sisco has a short, quick swing with some raw power, though he tends to prefer to use the entire field and often slaps the ball rather than attempting to hit for power. That said Sisco has outstanding hand-eye coordination and can flat hit, which is the most important tool for an offensive player. Sisco will hit his way to the major leagues, but his future position may not necessarily be as a catcher.
#2 Hunter Harvey RHP
The son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey, Hunter was the Orioles 1st round choice, 22nd overall last summer. After some minor adjustments to his motion last summer, Harvey blossomed and now features a 91-95mph fastball with movement, a true hammer curveball with plus potential and the makings of an average changeup. Harvey was recently shut down due to inflammation in his arm, a wise move by the Orioles. Nevertheless Harvey should return to the mound next season and with additional polish and improved command as he matures as a pitcher, Harvey has top-of-the-rotation potential in a few years.
#1 Dylan Bundy RHP
The Orioles 1st Round pick in 2011, 4th overall and immediately rose to prominence throughout minor league baseball en route to becoming the near-consensus top pitching prospect in the minor leagues in 2012. Bundy lost most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June and has not recovered as quickly as some might prefer.
Before surgery, Bundy possessed a 94-97mph fastball, a monster plus-plus cutter, an above-average curveball and above-average changeup, along with excellent command of the strike zone. Assuming he returns to full health after an offseason to rest and recover, Bundy still has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Building off yesterday’s article in which I announced my selections for the Washington Nationals #20-#11 prospects, today I introduce my choices for the team’s Top-10 Prospects.
**** #10 Jakson Reetz
The Nationals 3rd round pick in June, Reetz had supporters among scouts who felt he was the best high school catching prospect in this year’s draft class. An intriguing two-way prospect, Reetz is a quality athlete with a strong arm who profiles as a future above-average defensive catcher. Reetz also has offensive skills, as he has shown the ability to consistently barrel the baseball and should continue to develop power as he matures. One of my favorite prospects in the 2014 draft, Reetz was an absolute steal for Washington.
#9 Blake Treinen
The supposed third player in the Mike Morse trade last year, Treinen has exploded since being acquired from Oakland, showing a heavy high-90s sinker, a hard mid-80s slider, along with a curveball and changeup. But Treinen’s “bread and butter” is his sinker, which is one of the most impressive pitches I have seen in 2014. Treinen is 26-years-old and his other three pitches significantly lag behind his sinker, but Treinen could be a monster late-inning reliever or reasonable #5 starter for the Nationals next season.
#8 Pedro Severino
Signed as an international free agent in 2010, Severino has quickly earned the reputation as one of the elite young defensive catchers in the minor leagues. Armed with a plus arm, above-average or better blocking skills, and noticeable receiving skills, Severino is truly enjoyable to watch behind the plate. Recently able to buy beer legally as a 21-year-old, Severino struggles offensively with a relatively empty batting average and little home run power, although his swing is compact and does not have any real obvious flaws. Severino projects as an outstanding backup catcher, with the potential to be a starting caliber player if his offense shows improvements.
#7 Austin Voth
Selected in the 5th round in 2013, Voth has done nothing but dominate the competition since signing his professional contract, already reaching Double-A this summer. Voth has a strong 3-pitch repertoire consisting of a lively low-90s fastball that he commands well within the strike zone, a mid-80s slider with sharp breaking movement, and an average changeup. Pegged by scouts as a future reliever while in college, Voth’s improved changeup now gives him a strong chance to be a #4 starter in the majors.
#6 Steven Souza Jr
As rare as tuna tartar when drafted in the 3rd round in 2007, Souza took many seasons to turn his outstanding athleticism and tools into production on the field, finally breaking out in 2013 at Harrisburg. With above-average speed and a plus arm, Souza can play all three outfield positions well and profiles as a long-term asset in right field. Offensively Souza has excellent bat speed, massive raw power to all fields, and shows a knack for getting into hitter’s counts. Although he is now 25-years-old, Souza should have a solid career as a starting caliber corner outfielder beginning in 2015.
#5 Brian Goodwin
The Nationals third pick in the 2011 draft, 34th overall, Goodwin has taken an apparent step backwards in 2014, struggling mightily at Triple-A. A still raw 23-year-old centerfielder, Goodwin is a quality athlete who flashes 5 average or better tools, yet struggles to make his skills translate into on-field production. A personal favorite prospect of mine, I still believe in Goodwin’s potential and I am willing to gamble that the “light turns on” in 2015. Perhaps over-ranked here at #5, I still envision Goodwin blossoming into a rare above-average offensive and defensive center fielder in the future.
#4 Erick Fedde RHP
The Nationals top pick this summer, Fedde was rumored to be a top-5 selection before undergoing Tommy John surgery just days before the June draft. A UNLV alum, Fedde has a prototypical pitcher’s frame with plenty of physical projection remaining, along with a solid 3-pitch mix including a mid-90s fastball, a plus slider, and a developing changeup. Fedde will not return to the mound likely until next summer, but the Nationals have had strong results rehabilitating injured pitchers. Assuming a return to health, Fedde should move relatively quickly through the minor leagues and has the potential to be a #2 or #3 starter.
#2A A.J. Cole RHP
A long-time personal favorite of mine, A.J. Cole possesses a strong 4-pitch mix, featuring a powerful mid-90s fastball, an above-average or better changeup with sinking movement, a promising but inconsistent slider, and a below-average “show-me” curveball. Still just 22-years-old Cole has polished his delivery this season and has shown some development with his slider, the two main hurdles to him reaching his ceiling. Cole has the potential to be a strong #3 starting pitcher, with the floor of an impact late-inning reliever, and he should arrive in the majors early in 2015.
#2 Michael Taylor CF
A true toolshed type athlete, Taylor has plus speed, an above-average throwing arm, and projects as a plus defensive outfielder in center field. In addition, Taylor has outstanding bat speed, and is one of the few hitters who when he makes contact, the ball “truly sounds different off his bat”, resembling a shotgun blast. Taylor still struggles with offspeed offerings and has plenty of whiff potential, but Taylor has the potential to be an asset defensively and could hit 60+ extra base hits a season at his peak. Taylor recently was called up to the majors, and should permanently remain in the majors beginning next year.
#1 Lucas Giolito RHP
Perhaps the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues, Giolito was the Nationals 1st round pick, 16th overall in 2012 and underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the team. Now recovered from his surgery, Giolito has been carving up Low-A lineups this summer with a 93-98mph fastball, a true plus mid-80s curveball, and a rapidly developing, future plus changeup. The Nationals have handled Giolito like UPS men are supposed to treat boxes marked “fragile”, but the team should unleash him in 2015, and he could reach the majors as soon as 2016.
Now that the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline is in our rearview mirror and the minor league season rapidly heading toward its conclusion on Labor Day, this felt like an opportune time to update my Washington Nationals Top-20 Prospect List. As Mrs. NatsGM can attest to, I have spent significant time in minor league parks this season scouting National’s prospects, so I feel very confident in the quality of this list.
Overall the National’s farm system is steadily improving, as this list feels significantly stronger than a year ago, after the graduations of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon had depleted what was once considered the top system in baseball a few short years ago. While the middle of this list feels slightly underwhelming, the Nationals can boast perhaps the top pitching prospect in baseball, Lucas Giolito, plus several players nearly ready to contribute at the major league level. The pundits, and myself, generally rated the National’s system toward the bottom third in baseball this past offseason, but with a solid 2014 draft and the development of several other players, this system should rank closer to middle-of-the-pack this winter.
My criterion for this list prioritizes, in order, the prospect’s possible ceiling, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, their positional value, and finally, how far they are from reaching the major leagues. In order to be on this list, the arbitrary cutoffs I used were 50+ major league innings for pitchers and more than 125 big league at-bats. With this in mind, here are my current #20-#11 National’s prospects.
Others Receiving Consideration: Robert Benincasa, Anderson Franco, Taylor Hill, Destin Hood, Reynaldo Lopez, Jeff Kobernus, Eury Perez, Matt Purke, Tony Renda, Felipe Rivero, Hector Silvestre, and Drew Vettleson.
#20 Sammy Solis LHP
An extremely talented left-handed pitcher, Solis made noise during spring training with some quality performances that had him being mentioned for a possible bullpen role. Unfortunately Solis injured himself (again) in May, a recurring theme in his career. Now 26-years-old, this former 2nd round pick has been shut down much of the season with elbow discomfort, not a positive for someone with past Tommy John surgery on his resume. Solis is a major league quality pitcher, but until he can stay on the mound for a few months consecutively, I cannot rank him any higher on this list.
#19 Stephen Perez SS
No one prospect in my recent memory has improved more in one season than Stephen Perez, whom I had labeled as a glove-first prospect lacking enough power or bat speed to reach the majors last year. Last winter the 23-year-old Perez gained 10-15 pounds of pure muscle without losing any athleticism, adding some power to his offensive game and transforming his overall profile. While Perez’s reputation is still as a dynamic defensive shortstop with a strong arm, his improved physicality could allow him to develop into below-average starter or valuable utility infielder at the major league level.
#18 Matt Skole 3B/1B
A powerfully built man, Skole has impressive left-handed home run power and a keen batting eye; unfortunately after a breakout season in A-ball in 2012, he missed all of last season with an injury and has struggled in his return in 2014, hitting only .242/.353/.382 with 9 home runs in 393 at-bats. Skole, now 25-years-old, projects as a reserve corner infielder in the major leagues.
#17 Jake Johansen RHP
The Nationals top pick in the 2013 draft, 68th overall, Johansen is armed with one of the best fastballs in the organization, along with an at times above-average slider – unfortunately thus far in his career he has not been able to turn his raw tools into production. Only 23, there is still time for things to click for Johansen, who has late-inning reliever upside if everything comes together for him.
#16 Rafael Bautista CF
A terrific pure athlete with plus speed, Bautista has been one of the best players for Hagerstown this summer, batting .286 with 60 stolen bases for the Suns. Only 21-year-old, Bautista profiles as an above-average or better defensive centerfielder due to his solid instincts, excellent speed, and fringe-average arm. His defensive skills and game-changing speed should allow him to reach the majors as a backup outfielder, and if he develops physically as he matures, he could profile as a second-division starter.
#15 Drew Ward 3B
Washington’s 3rd round pick last summer, Ward is a well-built 6-4 210lbs athlete with a strong arm and legitimate home run power in his left-handed swing. Only 19-years-old, Ward has done an impressive job more than holding his own at Low-A Hagerstown this season, posting a .272/.345/.426 batting line with 9 home runs in 94 games. Scouts are not sold on his defense at third base, expecting an eventual transition to first base, and are skeptical of his strikeout totals (98 in 357 at-bats this season), but concede his ceiling could be a future starting third baseman. A personal favorite of mine, I am expecting a breakout season from Ward in 2015.
#14 Nick Pivetta RHP
A 2013 4th round pick from a New Mexico junior college by way of the Canadian Junior National team, Pivetta was viewed as a raw pitcher who could flash three average or better pitches with plenty of projection remaining. A massive man at 6-5 220lbs, the 21-year-old Pivetta has held his own in 2014 at Hagerstown, posting a 4.15 ERA, a 1.37 WHIP, 6.91 K/9 ratio, and a 2.93 BB/9 ratio over 110.2 innings pitched. Pivetta has plenty of “boom or bust” as a prospect, but his skills and potential could allow him to develop into a solid #4 or #5 starter in a few years.
#13 Aaron Barrett RHP
Nearly ineligible for this list, Barrett has blossomed from a 9th round pick in 2010 into one of Matt Williams most trusted relief pitchers in 2014. Armed with an above-average fastball and a downright filthy slider, Barrett should be a fixture at the back of the Nationals bullpen for much of the rest of this decade.
#12 Jefry Rodriguez RHP
A converted infielder, Rodriguez has only pitched for two seasons, but has already shown plenty of promise with a mid-90s fastball and an impressive mid-80s curveball with above-average future potential. Rodriguez struggled with his promotion to Low-A Hagerstown earlier this summer, allowing 27 hits in only 17 innings pitched, but the newly 21-year-old has regained his form at short-season Auburn. Jefry has the upside of a potential #4 starter in a few years, and should be a popular name in trade discussions this winter.
#11 Wilmer Difo 2B/SS
Along with Rafael Bautista, Difo has been a dynamic force at the top-of-the-lineup for Hagerstown, hitting .303/.346/.453 with 11 home runs and 41 stolen bases this season while splitting time at both shortstop and second base. The 22-years-old Difo is an excellent athlete with above-average speed and a solid-average arm, making him a better fit at second base or center field long-term. Difo possesses noteworthy bat speed and the knack for barreling the baseball, meaning he has a chance to continue to hit atop the lineup in the future. One of the true breakout prospects in the Nationals system this year, Difo stands an excellent chance to develop into a starting quality player in the future.
* Please return tomorrow, Tuesday 8/12, as I unveil my Nationals #10-#1 Prospects.*