In his first full season in the Washington Nationals' system, 20-year-old, 2012 1st Round pick Lucas Giolito was named the Class-A South Atlantic League's Most Outstanding Pitcher and Most Outstanding Prospect after going (10-2) in 20 starts for the Hagerstown Suns with a 2.20 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 28 walks (2.57 BB/9) and 110 Ks (10.10 K/9) in 98 IP.
Giolito, who was taken 16th overall out of Harvard Westlake High School in Los Angeles in spite of the fact that he injured his right elbow in his final prep school season, underwent Tommy John surgery after just one start in the Nationals' organization, but returned to pitch for the Gulf Coast Nationals and Auburn Doubledays in 2013, then went through a full season for the first time this summer.
As Nationals' Assistant GM and VP of Player Development Doug Harris explained in an August interview with MLB Network Radio "Minors and Majors" host Grant Paulsen, the goal this year was to get Giolito through a full campaign and help him understand what it's like to prepare and take the mound every five days.
Though Giolito's workload was managed, he made it through a season's worth of starts.
"Really pleased with what he's been able to accomplish," Harris said. "We shut him down for a short period of time -- one of our goals this year was to get him through a full season, so we had to really manage the innings, we skipped him a few times, really at the midway point -- but he understands the everyday-ness of a full season at this point, what he has to do to take the ball every fifth day and he's really done a nice job for us. Really pleased."
"I learned, first and foremost, to be part of a professional team during an entire season," Giolito told reporters when he was in the nation's capital last week to accept the Nats' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.
"It’s like nothing you’ve ever done before in baseball. It’s a long grind, but it’s really fun. You develop relationships with your teammates, you win games, you have fun. It’s definitely a fun ride."
Winning the Nationals Minor League POY award, which was given to pitchers like Tom Milone (2010), Brad Peacock (2011), Nathan Karns (2012) and Taylor Jordan (2013), was, "an absolute honor," Giolito said.
"I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was going into this year looking to build some innings up and work on my game and give my team a chance to win and just have fun, but to be able to come out with the award, it’s really fun, really awesome."
While experiencing the everyday-ness of professional baseball, Giolito continued to develop on the mound.
The right-hander with the high-90s heater who touched 100 mph in high school can still dial it up, but as he told reporters, he learned this year where he can pitch comfortably.
"I kind of learned that you don’t have to go out there and try to blow it out as hard as you can every single time," Giolito said.
"That’s the difference. In a full season you find a comfort zone where you like to pitch at and then you’re able to raise your velo up a little bit when you need it and then also work in your offspeed pitches."
The offspeed pitches, which include what former Nationals' Assistant GM Roy Clark described as, "a plus breaking ball and real good change," on the night of the 2012 Draft, are coming along as well.
"It’s definitely gotten a lot better," he said. "Command of the curveball has increased significantly and just the overall feel and command of my changeup has gotten a lot better.
"I feel I can throw the changeup and curveball in most any count comfortably at this point, which is something I couldn’t say when I was 16 or 17."
The development of his changeup, in particular, is big.
"Yeah, the changeup is definitely huge," Giolito said. "Going into my last few starts of the year, I was working a lot with the changeup. It’s definitely a really crucial pitch because it comes out of your hand and it looks like a fastball, has the same spin, and guys swing through it all the time because you’re just taking that velocity off. It’s definitely good, especially if you fall behind in the count."
Asked if he'll be restricted in any way next season, another year removed from Tommy John, Giolito said he didn't know and wasn't concerned since those decisions were made by other people.
"Part of the program is to just keep working," he said. "Keep playing my game and keep developing as a pitcher. All the limits and that stuff is in the hands of everybody else."
Giolito said he wasn't thinking about where he'll start the 2015 campaign either.
"As far as goals of where I want to reach, what level I want to be at," he said, "that’s not something that’s crossing my mind too much. It’s more about just developing as a pitcher.
"I want to continue to increase my command of the fastball and be able to stay strong and throw even more innings."