It may be a sign that I have too much time on my hands, but I decided to make a top 50 prospects list for the Washington Nationals, and post it with a brief scouting report on each player. I also thought it would be a good idea to break it up into groups of 10, so you aren't faced with a wall of prospects. I would also like to thank Luke Erickson at nationalsprospects.com, Nathaniel Stoltz(@stoltz_baseball), and everyone one who wrote the online scouting reports I read for making this possible! Without further adieu, here is the list.
1. Lucas Giolito- Giolito takes the number one spot on my list due to his tremendous upside. Coming out of High School, Giolito had reports of a fastball that could reach 100, and a curveball that was already grading out as a plus pitch. He also showed a changeup that he didn't need much in high school, but it still could become a plus pitch with some development. Giolito only made one appearance in 2012 before needing Tommy John, but in 2013 he showed no ill effects from the surgery. In 11 starts between the GCL and Auburn, he put up a 1.96ERA with a 9.6 SO/9. He showed some issues with control in his return, but it got better with every start he made. Pair the great results up with scouting reports all saying that he has almost back to his pre injury form, if not all the way back and Giolito seems to be back on the fast track to the majors. I expect him to start next season with the Hagerstown Suns.
2. Brian Goodwin- Goodwin comes it at number 2 on my list, do to his exciting upside. Looking at pure upside Goodwin is a true "5 tool player" the only issue is none of the 5 tools are fully developed yet. Goodwin burst on to the scene in 2012 with Hagerstown, putting up a triple slash of .324/.438/.532 with the Suns before his call-up to AA Harrisburg, where we started to see why everyone was saying he was so raw on draft day where his triple slash dropped to .232/.306/.373 while striking out 50 times in 166 ABs. Last year he improved on those numbers hitting .252 with 10HR and 11 3B. He still struck out 121 times in 457ABs but walked 66 to give him a triple slash of .252/.355/.407. If he can continue to take another step forward in 2014 he could push for a September call-up
3. A.J. Cole- In the 3 spot is A.J. Cole another high upside arm to go along with Giolito. In fact you could almost look at Cole as a mini Giolito, as like Giolito, Cole features a fastball toping out in the upper 90's with an already plus curveball, that could turn into a double plus offering. Also like Giolito, Cole has a changeup that was rarely used before he entered professional baseball, and with some more coaching could become plus. After being traded to Oakland, Cole struggled at his first taste of A+ ball, and Oakland had to send him back down to A, where he dominated. Then he was traded back to Washington, and was much improved with A+ Potomac, although he was still somewhat hit or miss. He earned to call to AA Harrisburg and was lights out in the 7 starts he made, putting up a 2.13ERA. Cole showed great control with a 2.1 BB/9 on the year, and swing and miss ability with a 9.5 SO/9, and if you put the two together you get a very impressive 4.58 SO/BB ratio. If Cole continues on his great start to AA, expect to see him end the year with AAA Syracuse, if not getting a taste of the majors at some point.
4. Matt Skole- I have Skole in the 4 spot, as I feel that he is the only guy currently in the system with the ability to hit enough to be an above average first baseman in the majors. unfortunately for Skole, 2013 was a lost year as just 2 games into the season, he broke his wrist, and would need Tommy John as a result of a collision at first base. This would take him out for the minor league season, and he wouldn't return until the AFL where you could see the rust. But if you go back to 2012 between Hagerstown and Potomac Skole showed his power potential, blasting 27HR on the year. While Skole does strike out a lot 133 times in 413 ABs he draws almost as many walks to help make up for it(he had 99 in 2012). He also hit for a solid average, but due to the strikeouts I'm not sure how that will translate to the upper levels. He finished 2012 with a .291/.426/.559 line. I expect Skole to start next year in AA, which should be the true test for what we can really expect from Skole in the future
5. Nathan Karns- Slotting in at number 5 on my list is Nathan Karns. Karns, who didn't exactly set the world on fire in his major league debut last year, rebounded well upon his return to AA. In fact he ended up the year with a 3.26ERA and 155SO in 133.2 innings with AA Harrisburg. Karns features a plus fastball that usually sits in 92-93 range but can reach as high as 95. In addition to the velocity he features his fastball has a very heavy sink to it. His curveball might be his best pitch, and although he has difficulties locating the curve at time, it still works as a great chase pitch. He also features a changeup, but it still needs a lot of work to be considered an above average pitch at the major league level. Overall I think Karns has a chance to be a very solid number 3 in the rotation, especially if he can refine the changeup, and get it to a point where it can play in the majors. At worst I see Karns as a good late innings reliever, as the fastball/curve combination should play well out of the pen. I expect Karns to fight for the number 5 spot in spring training, but ultimately end up starting the year in the rotation for AAA Syracuse.
6. Steven Souza- In the number 6 spot, we have a very interesting prospect in Steven Souza. Souza was drafted in the 3rd back in 2007 as a high upside high school bat. The first 4 years of Souzas pro career could be considered a disaster. On the field he struck out a lot, couldn't post an average higher than .240, and he struggled to get more than 10 HRs in a season. It got worse off the field, as he had to serve a 50 game suspension for testing positive for PED's. At that point everyone assumed he was done, and after the 2011 season there were even rumors floating around about his retirement. 2012 didn't even start out good for Souza, as he was bumped down to Hagerstown after spending 2011 at Potomac, but it was at Hagerstown that his breakout really started. Along with finding a defensive home in the outfield, he hit .297/.366/.572 in 2012, with 23HR split between Hagerstown and Potomac. He continued this positive momentum in to 2013 in Harrisburg ending the year hitting .297/.396/.548 with 15HR and 22SB in 283ABs. Souza's upside is tremendous, he has the ability to hit for power, average, and he has decent on base skills. His ability to hit for average might not translate to the majors, as he still has an issue with strikeouts. He also features good speed, and while he is best in the corners, he has the ability to play center in a pinch. I think his upside is a starting CF, but more realistically I think your looking at someone who will become a great 4th OF.
7. Jake Johansen- At the 7 spot we have 2013 first round pick Jake Johansen. Johansen fits the profile of almost all pitchers drafted by the Nationals, as they seem to like to draft guys with a fastball that is already a plus pitch and than try to develop their off-speed offerings. He has a fastball that can hit 99 and sits in the mid 90s. He also features a decent slider and curveball. He also has a problem with command and control, but some of that may be due to the fact that he is 6'6'' and with good coaching could be easily fixable. This year Johansen dominated as part of Auburns rotation posting a 1.92ERA in 12 starts. Even with the stellar ERA, walks were still a problem, as he had a 4.0BB/9 with the Doubledays. He was good enough is Auburn to get the call to Hagerstown for 2 starts, where he was terrible his first start, but improved in his second. I expect Johansen to start with Hagerstown next year. A lot of the scouting reports I read seemed to hint at a closer upside for Johansen, but I think if the Nats can develop him well he could be a top of the rotation starter. Either way Johansen is definitely a project, and it should be fun to track his as he works his way up the minor league latter.
8. Michael Taylor- Michael Taylor was taken as a developmental project in the 6th round of the 2009 draft. Since then the Nationals have done a great job converting some of his raw talent into real baseball skills. Since he was drafted Taylor has moved from the infield to the outfield with outstanding success, as his defensive skills in CF would already be some of the best in the majors. Also this last year for Potomac, he started to show signs that he is tapping in to his raw power as he only hit 10 homers, but he hit 41 doubles. His hitting line for the year was .263/.340/.426. To go along with his hitting that is getting better every day, Taylor showed top of the line base stealing skills, swiping 51 bags, while only being caught 7 times. The upside on Taylor is tremendous, and I would rate it just as high as Brian Goodwins, but the reason he is so "low" on my list is he has a lot of developing still to do, and the chances of him reaching his full potential are much lower than Goodwin's at this moment. His downside is also Destin Hood is you ask me, someone with all the raw talent, but not enough of it could be converted to baseball skill. I expect him to start next year with AA Harrisburg
9. Matt Purke- Matt Purke may be the most intriguing of anyone on this list. Before he had shoulder problems at TCU there was talk of him being the number one overall pick in the draft. In fact that year before he was drafted by the Nationals he was drafted 14th overall by the Texas Rangers. Because of his shoulder problems he fell to the 3rd round, where the Nationals were happy to snatch him up. 2012 was a lost year for Purke, as his shoulder problems limited him to just 3 lackluster starts for the Hagerstown Suns. In the offseason between the 2012 and 2013 offseason Purke had surgery to fix his shoulder, and lucky for us it wasn't an operation on his labrum or rotator cuff. The surgery seemed to work, as when Purke returned in 2013 he dominated the competition at Hagerstown, posting a 2.48ERA with a very impressive 12.7SO/9. He was then bumped up to Potomac, where he was awful in his first few starts, but he managed to improve as with every start he made. To go along with the positive results, the scouting reports on Purke all mentioned that he was starting to progress back to the form he showed with TCU. When healthy Purke can throw his fastball in the mid 90s, pair the velocity was a good ability to hide the ball, his fastball can be a great pitch. He also has a circle change, and a slurvy curve which if he can get it back to where it was in college is a true plus plus pitch. For Purke his success comes down to how much of his old form he can get back. If he gets all of it back, he is a top of the rotation starter easily, but he could just as easily never make it to the majors. Either way Purkes progress could be something really fun to watch in the upcoming season!
10. Aaron Barrett- Rounding out the top 10 is Aaron Barrett, the reliever recently added to the Nationals 40 man roster. Barrett had a slow start to his professional career, requiring 2 years in the NYPL to work out the kinks. But once he did he dominated everyone he faced. In 2012 mostly at Hagerstown, with a little bit at Potomac towards the end of the year, Barrett posted a 2.09ERA with a 12.7SO/9 and a 2.4BB/9! He continued this success to Harrisburg in 2013 and settled in nicely as the closer, posting a 2.15ERA with a 12.3SO/9 and a 2.3BB/9. He dominated the completion with 2 pitches, a very heavy low 90s fastball, and a slider which all reports from Harrisburg last year had it as one of the nastier pitches in the Eastern League. Barrett appears to be just about major league ready, the only question is when will he get his chance. Expect to see him with Washington at some point in 2014