The Washington Nationals had two pitchers on MLB.com's list of the Top 100 Prospects for 2016 when it was unveiled last night. Lucas Giolito, as expected, was the highest-ranked Nats' prospect and the highest-ranked pitching prospect on the list. The other Nationals' pitcher to crack the Top 100? Erick Fedde, the Nats' 2014 1st Round pick who returned from Tommy John surgery last season to make 14 starts for Washington's NY-Penn and South Atlantic League affiliates.
In eight starts for the Auburn Doubledays, Fedde was (4-1) with a 2.57 ERA, 2.60 FIP, eight walks (2.06 BB/9) and 36 Ks (9.26 K/9) in 35 innings pitched. He then moved up to make six starts for the Hagerstown Suns, going (1-2) with a 4.34 ERA, 3.48 FIP, eight walks (2.48 BB/9) and 23 Ks (7.14 K/9) in 29 innings.
As MLB.com's scouts noted in their write-up on the now-22-year-old righty, who landed at no.78 on their list, Fedde was a potential top ten pick before he suffered a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during his junior year at UNLV.
Nationals' Assistant GM and VP of Scouting, Kris Kline, told reporters after the 2014 Draft that he held a similar opinion of Fedde's talent-level after watching the right-hander pitch early in his draft year.
"I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV, and it was really, really good," Kline said.
"I walked out of there thinking that we've got no shot at getting this player because he's a Top 5-type guy. Through the sixth inning he was still 95-98 [mph]. He doesn't throw anything straight. A lot of life, very heavy. Above-average slider, up to 88 and the makings and flashes of an above-average changeup. A lot of strikes. Very competitive guy. Looks a lot like, if you guys remember Jack McDowell, body-type, delivery, that type of thing with a little more fastball."
"When I left [UNLV] he was a definite candidate to be a front-line starter in the big leagues. So I still feel that's what he is."
At the time he suffered the elbow injury, Fedde was (8-2) with a 1.76 ERA, 21 walks (2.46 BB/9) and 82 Ks (9.27 K/9) in 11 starts and 76 2/3 IP.
"He's a plus stuff guy," Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said that June. "We've scouted him intensely over the last three years. He's got two plus plus pitches and his third pitch, the changeup is on the come.
"We think that's going to be an above-average pitch. Big physical guy, and we had him towards the top of our draft board and we thought the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick."
"We just felt, again, the upside of this," Rizzo explained, "[is] a guy that we feel is going to be a front of the rotation-type of right-handed starter if the rehab goes well and if he returns to form, we felt that the risk at 18 in the Draft was worth the possible reward."
Fedde told reporters he was happy to get picked as high as he did even after undergoing surgery.
"After Tommy John I was just hoping going into the Draft that I would get selected, hopefully, in the first round still," he told reporters shortly after the draft. "That was my expectation and hope and I was lucky enough for that to happen."
"I realized I was probably going to take a hit in how high I was going to go, but I'm just ecstatic that the Nationals took me 18th and just excited to be a part of the organization."
MLB.com's scouting report after his first season back from surgery sounds similar to what the Nationals said back in 2014:
"Fedde operates at 91-94 mph with his fastball but can top out a few ticks higher, and the pitch tends to jump on opposing hitters due to its late life. His slider is inconsistent but projects as a plus offering, registering in the low 80s with enough depth and tilt to miss bats, and he completes his arsenal with an average changeup that plays nicely off his heater."
Before injuring his elbow, Fedde explained after the Draft, he felt like he was getting a feel for his changeup.
"The changeup was a difference-maker this year and probably the big number difference from my freshman and sophomore year," he said.
"It was a big focus going into the fall and into the spring, and was able to get a lot of work in on it and I felt, before the injury, felt very comfortable with it and I think it can be a weapon in the near future."
MLB.com's scouts said that what was "particularly impressive" about his 2015 campaign was Fedde's "strike-throwing ability and command," in his first pro starts, especially considering that, "... pitchers who had TJ surgery typically don't regain those qualities until they've nearly fully recovered."
Baseball America put Fedde 4th overall on this year's list of the Washington Nationals' Top 10 prospects when their rankings were released this past November.
BA's John Manuel talked to MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr this week about what he expected from Fedde in 2016.
"To me, Erick Fedde is another kind of breakout potential guy for 2016," Manuel said. "He's another guy who I don't expect him in the big leagues in 2016, but it wouldn't shock me if he got up in some bullpen role towards the end of the year if he were healthy."
After taking a chance on Fedde in 2014, Kris Kline talked about weighing risk vs reward in drafting players with injury issues as the Nationals did with Giolito in 2012 as well.
"We're never going to take a hurt guy," Kline said, "whether it's a guy like Fedde, or somebody that's going to require surgery unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick."
How quickly? MLB.com's scouting report has an ETA of 2017 for the right-hander, so 2016 will be a key season in Fedde's development.