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Every year, I get together with a couple of friends of mine to take in the first night of the MLB Entry Draft. It’s not for a particular reason, we just enjoy getting together, having a couple of adult beverages, and acting like unabashed fans for a night.
During the 2012 draft, my friends and I were watching Lucas Giolito drop, drop, and drop. It wasn’t a free-fall, but he was ranked as the number-2 player by Baseball America in February 2012, and dropped to 16th in the draft. The intervening factor here was that he sprained a ligament in his throwing elbow in March, worrying teams. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals at 16, one spot ahead of where the Toronto Blue Jays (the team my friends and I were watching) were slated to draft. The concerns came to fruition, and at the end of August, Giolito underwent Tommy John surgery following his professional debut.
Since returning from the Tommy John, though, Giolito has shown why he was so highly touted a couple of years ago.
Giolito stands 6-foot-6 and tips the scales at 230 lbs. In other words, he’s a refrigerator with a mid-90s fast ball. He was drafted out of high school in 2012 despite having committed to the UCLA Bruins, and was immediately sent to rookie ball. He lasted a grand total of two innings before going under the knife.
This is why Giolito is a fairly curious case. This is a guy who stated his intention to go to UCLA in 2010, one of the events that really started to put his name on the baseball map. It took three years, though, for any sort of reliable sample of pitching to start to accumulate. Having to wait that long for a pitcher that had been highly touted is painful for baseball fans.
Nonetheless, Giolito recovered well and made his way back to rookie ball in 2013. He did very well in a very limited sample (36.2 IP) by posting a 1.15 WHIP and a K/9 at 9.6, between both rookie ball and Low-A. The walks were a bit concerning, with 14 of them in those few innings, but he pitched fairly well and seemed to be rebounding from the Tommy John.
It’s been nothing but roses for Giolito this year. After finishing the year in Low-A in 2013, he started the year in A-ball in 2014, where he has spent the entire season. He’s improved from his 2013 season, pitching 98 innings over 20 starts. Those 98 innings have produced 110 strikeouts to just 28 walks, which is impressive. Equally impressive is his 70 hits in the 98 innings, which has given him a WHIP of exactly 1.00.
All told, it’s been a very, very good start to his professional career. In 136.2 innings, Giolito has a WHIP of 1.04, a K/BB ratio of 3.57, and he’s managed to cut down on the walks overall, and he’s given up just eight home runs in over that span. He’s still a very young kid, having just turned 20 in July, and he’s dominating A-ball; he’s sixth in the South Atlantic League in strikeouts (110) and has pitched 21 fewer innings than any player ahead of him. He also leads the SAL in ERA at 2.20, though he’s six innings short of officially qualifying for the title.
As I mentioned earlier, Giolito has a fast ball that sits in the mid-90s, but can get to the upper-90s and even triple digits if he wants. There’s a lot of heat in that arm. But it’s arguable that it’s not even his best pitch. This GIF is from Bullpen Banter, and it’s his curveball as a high schooler:
That curveball has the potential to be the nail in the coffin of a lot of at bats for MLB hitters. His curve ball is only going to improve, and it has the potential to be a very good finishing pitch for him. There’s also a changeup that ESPN’s Keith Law said was starting to get good separation from his fast ball, with an arm speed that is starting to match it as well. If he has a mid-to-upper 90s fast ball, a plus-curve ball and even an average changeup, this is a kid with potential ace stuff.
A reminder that he’s just at A-ball right now, it’s his first full season following Tommy John surgery, and he just turned 20-years old. This is also the same Nats organization that shut down Stephen Strasburg before playoffs. There are going to be kid gloves used all over Giolito, and expecting him to do anything in fantasy for the next year is a pipedream.
This is geared more towards those in dynasty leagues. The price on Giolito should be relatively low right now. I say relatively because it’s likely that dynasty owners will have to give up a sizeable MLB piece right now to get him.
Fantasy owners know the guys in their leagues. If the person who has Giolito is looking to get back Cole Hamels or Hisashi Iwakuma, you can politely tell them where to stick it. But if they are looking to make a run and want someone like Doug Fister or Alex Wood along with a middling prospect, I would be very tempted to do so. Giolito has the potential to anchor a fantasy rotation for years, and players like that don’t come by very often.
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