We continue our trek north to the nation’s capital and check out the Washington Nationals’ farm system. This farm system has brought up some familiar names like Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and last season, second baseman Anthony Rendon. Those are some big names, but like we saw with the Atlanta Braves, there comes a time where the need to call up players to the big leagues eventually exhausts the farm system. Teams simply run out of blue chip players to call up to the Majors. This, more or less, means that the team is competing at the major league level, but winning also means picking later in the draft which results in missing out on the top high school and collegiate players.
Despite all of this, the Nationals still have some players worth monitoring in those dynasty and keeper leagues. A lot of their prospects will fly under the radar due to mishaps (i.e. injuries), but there is plenty of value to be had with these players.
Brian Goodwin–OF–2014: Future, top-of-the-order, athletic, speedster; great approach; some power potential; needs to refine tools
After he tore up Low-A ball, Goodwin has underwhelmed at Double-A. He improved a bit in his second stint in Double-A, hitting for double-digit home runs and posting 19 doubles and steals, but it’s nowhere near his explosive 2012 campaign in Low-A. As can be seen, Goodwin needs to continue to refine his tools and the estimated time of arrival (ETA) of 2014 may be too optimistic as even Baseball America believes that he will start the year in Triple-A for 2014 and may finally compete for a job with the Nationals by spring of 2015. On the bright side, at least his defense remained intact as he was named the Eastern League’s Best Defensive Outfielder.
Fantasy Baseball Worldview: Do not give up on Goodwin! His speed alone is good enough to take notice for roto-leaguers, but add his potential to add more power to his bat and a good approach at the plate and you might have an all-around talent. At the very least, he can become a Dexter Fowler-type player, with more upside.
Matt Skole–1B/3B–2015: Raw, above-average power; good plate discipline
At 6-foot-4, 225 lbs., Skole looks every bit the part of a power-hitting corner infielder. Skole was looking forward to another monster year as he was looking to quickly move up the Major League ladder when disaster struck. Playing at first base, with a runner on, an attempt to pick off the runner that Skole was defending resulted in him suffering a torn UCL and a fractured left wrist. He still made it in time to play in the Arizona Fall League last season where he continued to display his plate discipline and even showed some glimpses of power.
Fantasy Baseball Worldview: New Nats’ manager Matt Williams compared Skole to another great power-hitting first baseman, Jim Thome. With the physical makeup along with the plate discipline, Skole has a chance to live up to some of that hype. Because of the injuries suffered last season, many fantasy owners are sleeping on Skole. However, Skole is seen as a player that may be called up as early as late-2014 and, with power becoming a high premium in today’s game, owners in long-term leagues should be pouncing on this prospect.
A.J. Cole–SP–2015: Fastball can consistently hit mid-90s; needs to work on secondary pitches; at worst a mid-rotation starter.
After baffling batters in High-A ball to start his 2013 season, the Nationals decided to move him up to Double-A and he continued his dominance there. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a 6-foot-4 (sometimes listed at 6-foot-5) frame, manager Matt Williams has marveled at Cole’s makeup and potential, describing Cole as having “the ultimate pitcher’s body…the ball explodes out of his hand.” Unfortunately, the problem with Cole is the slow progress being made with his secondary pitches to complement his bombastic fastball.
Fantasy Baseball Worldview: Last year, Cole was seen as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher once his stuff was polished enough to make it to the big leagues. Because of the issues with his secondary pitches, he has been downgraded to a mid-rotation starter but, just like in the case of Goodwin and Skole, that should only give owners an extra incentive to keep an eye on him while his stock is this low.
CATCHING UP WITH…
Matt Purke–SP–2015: Shoulder issues have plagued him; fastball-slider combo, but needs to work on changeup; needs a lot of polish. Entering the 2013 season, Purke was listed as the Nationals’ ninth best prospect, per Baseball America. However, the 6-foot-4 lefty struggled last season in High-A, finishing the campaign with a high WHIP and low Strikeout Per Nine Innings in 12 starts. Purke has had to deal with shoulder issues since college and had surgery on his throwing arm back in 2012. The Nationals worked on changing his mechanics, but he struggled in this past Arizona Fall League with control problems. Baseball America believes that with more work, Purke can still be an effective back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues. Until that happens, Purke is looking more and more like a future relief pitcher.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Nate Karns–SP–2015: Above-average fastball and curveball; groundball pitcher; has shown good control; needs to work on changeup. As seems to be the running theme with the pitchers mentioned so far, Karns’ mid-90s fastball, along with his much-acclaimed curveball, helped the youngster have a successful stint in Double-A last season, but his changeup did not keep up with his bread-and-butter pitches. He was called up to the Majors in May and was exposed in 12 innings of work for the Nats (WHIP: 1.92). Time is running out fast for Karns as he is entering his age 26 year. On the bright side, getting dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays offers up a better opportunity to reach the majors as the Rays’ system is undergoing a small dip in talent.
Be sure to read our overview of the Tampa Bay Rays farm system.
THE NEW NUMBER ONE
Lucas Giolito–SP–2016: Brian Goodwin might have ended the 2013 season as the organization’s number one prospect according to MLB.com, but both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus have the 19-year-old Giolito as the top prospect for the Nats entering the 2014 campaign. Pitching in just over 36 innings in 2013, Giolito spent most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery. He pitched pretty well in limited work as Baseball America named Giolito as having the organization’s Best Fastball and Curveball. When healthy, Giolito’s stuff along with his size (6-foot-6, 225 lbs) and intangibles make him a potential ace in the making.
Steven Souza–OF–2014: Maturity issues along with a string of injuries have slowed down the 24-year-old Souza’s progress, but last season, though in limited time due to injury, he had an outstanding run, posting a 0.953 OPS and stealing 30 stolen bases (including Arizona Fall League play). The combination of speed and power is the stuff of fantasy baseball dreams and should finally be summoned to the show sometime in 2014, probably after the All-Star break.