Nats Top 60 Prospect Countdown

If you like lists, prospects, and lists of prospects, this seven part series is for you. Each Friday over the next seven weeks, I will be going through my list of the Nationals' top 60 prospects, counting down from 60 to (spoiler alert) Giolito.

Spring Training used to be a stressful time for Nationals prospect writers. Each year, we’d have to prognosticate who would win battles between AAAA players and “prospects” (using the term lightly, because for a while, the Nats didn’t have any real ones). The Nationals of course are championship contenders with a 25 man roster of legitimate big league players, so there’s not much to write about from the “which prospect will make the team?” perspective.

Fear not, though. I heard that people dig lists as much as they dig the long ball. In hopes of stretching these posts out over six weeks delivering a one-stop shop of information about legitimate Nationals prospects, I have my list of top 60 Nationals prospects to share. Every prospect writer has their own methodology and ranking style, and I’ll be upfront about mine: I prefer higher ceilings to higher floor (in most circumstances) and tend to bump hitters a tad higher than many because pitching prospects are much more volatile. I try not to rank players that I haven’t seen scouting video on, but there are a few exceptions (mainly Dominican players who have not played state-side yet).

A few names that you forget are still rookie-eligible will appear (Sandy Leon and Jeff Kobernus), and a few players who you might expect to see are not on the lists because they have exhausted their rookie eligibility (Taylor Jordan, Blake Treinen, and Aaron Barrett).

So without further ado, let’s start counting down from #60!

#60 – OF Randy Encarnacion

R/R, 20 years old on Opening Day
Reached R (GCL) in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 1/24/11 ($150,000 signing bonus)

Writing my profile of Randy Encarnacion first was an awful idea for a multitude of reasons. Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League stats are essentially worthless, but become even more useless when segmented into four seasons of 81 to 246 plate appearances, just 585 total. For a semi-highly touted guy, Encarnacion has not played very much, but it’s next to impossible to gather injury information for DSL/GCL players. I assume he got hurt at some point in 2014 simply because he only played in 23 games, but have nothing to back up that assumption with.

Encarnacion was a popular sleeper pick last offseason after a “breakout” 2013 season where he hit .349/.437/.523 in 126 PA in the GCL; he followed it up a year later with an “awful” .216/.272/.311 triple slash in 81 PA at the same level. Originally a five tool prospect known as Randy Novas, Encarnacion has a career .265/.339/.402 triple slash in 585 PA across the DSL and GCL in four seasons (not the most scientific way to get a sample size, but the best we have to work with). His power (10 HR, 48 total XBH) and speed (34 SB in 49 attempts) are both mildly intriguing, but his lack of plate discipline leaves much to be desired. While I wanted to leave him off the list due to the lack of information I had about his lack of playing time, Encarnacion has enough talent that he deserves a spot here. Hopefully he comes in healthy and gets a chance to show off his talent in Auburn this season.

#59 – LHP Matthew Spann

L/L, 24 years old on Opening Day

Reached A+ in 2014

Drafted in 2010, 25th round, 761st overall by Tampa Bay (Central HS, Columbia TN, signing bonus unknown)

Traded to Washington by Tampa Bay as PTBNL to complete deal for OF David DeJesus, 9/19/13 (initial trade 8/23/13)

@matthewspann18

Mike Rizzo, get Omaha Steaks on the line immediately. You have a left-handed pitcher who is 6’7” and only 220 lbs. and his game could improve vastly by adding a little more velocity. Spann occasionally hits the good side of 90 with his fastball, and mixes in a decent curve. He’s not particularly great at avoiding bats (career 9.0 H/9, 6.2 K/9), nor is he a fantastic control pitcher (career 3.0 BB/9), but a few extra MPH could give those K numbers a sizable bump, especially if he is moved to the bullpen full-time.

There’s a chance Spann ends up on the mound at Nationals Park, but a greater chance that he’s the answer to the trivia question “Who did the Nationals receive by flipping David DeJesus four days after they acquired him in 2013?” Still, Mike Rizzo did well to turn a rumored insignificant amount of cash considerations into a young lefty with upside just four days later in 2013. A full-time switch to the bullpen could turn him into a prospect, or just be more of the same, but there’s only one way to find out.

#58 – LHP Nick Lee

L/L, 24 years old on Opening Day

Reached A+ in 2014

Drafted in 2011, 18th round, 547th overall by Washington (Weatherford College, Weatherford TX, signing bonus unknown)

@nick_lee13

Nick Lee’s 2014 was a disaster. After three straight solid seasons from 2011-13 where he put up a respectable 3.90 ERA, 4.3 BB/9 and 9.7 K/9, Lee gave up 31 runs in 30 and 2/3 innings and saw his walk rate skyrocket to 6.2 BB/9 in 2014. Lee was removed from his fourth start (fifth appearance) in Potomac in April while warming up for his fifth inning in his best game of the season (4 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K) and did not return to game action until appearing in the GCL on July 21. Fifteen appearances split between 30 and 2/3 total innings and an entire season aren’t an appropriate sample size.

Lee is on the list because he’s got filthy, hide it under your bed so your mom doesn’t find it stuff. The Nats could probably turn him into a lights-out LOOGY right away, but it’s just too tempting to leave a three pitch lefty in the rotation. Lee’s fastball sits at 91-93, touching 96, and mixes it in with a good curveball and changeup mix. He throws a meh slider as well, but it will be the first pitch to go as he refines his arsenal. He has both command and control issues, but this kind of swing-and-miss stuff is something you can’t teach.

#57 – 1B Jose Marmolejos-Diaz

L/L, 22 years old on Opening Day

Reached A- in 2014

Signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington, 6/9/11 (signing bonus unknown)

I’m not sure whether to count Marmolejos-Diaz as an undrafted free agent or an international amateur free agent; he was born in New Jersey but lived in the Dominican Republic for most of his childhood, then moved to Florida for high school and returned to the Dominican Republic shortly thereafter to try out for big league teams. Marmolejos-Diaz once played alongside Nick Castellanos and Manny Machado in an all-star tournament in Florida, facing off against some other familiar faces like Nats hurler A.J. Cole and other prospects like Mason Williams and Justin Nicolino.

In Marmolejos-Diaz’s first season of affiliated ball, he held his own, hitting .265/.341/.385 in 257 PA for Auburn, where he was later named team MVP. His lack of HR power and drop in batting average were disappointing, but his plate discipline improved and he has found a niche as a doubles hitter. Marmolejos-Diaz is currently a first baseman, but has the athletic ability and arm to play the outfield if needed. 2015 will be a big year for him, as he’ll get another shot of proving he’s more than just an organizational type of player.

#56 – SS Edwin Lora

R/R, 19 years old on Opening Day

Reached R (GCL) in 2014

Signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington, 8/28/12 (signing bonus unknown)

Cautious optimism is the best way to approach Lora. While his minor league batting profile has not been super impressive (.249/.309/.309 in 406 total PA), they were in his age 17 and 18 seasons. He improved on his 2013 numbers (.205/.286/.281) by a large bit in 2014 (.293/.333/.337), but the strides must be taken with a grain of salt as they took place in just 198 PA, not enough to be used as a meaningful sample size.

Lora has blinding speed, although he hasn’t been able to use it well so far (19/29 in his SB attempts). The 6’1” 150 lb. shortstop has basically no power (2 HR and 16 doubles in 107 games), but if he adds some meat to his frame, he could develop sneaky power like Wilmer Difo. Like Difo, there is question as to whether or not he’ll be able to stick at SS, but until he’s moved off the position, I’ll consider him as one.

#55 – LHP Hector Silvestre

L/L, 22 years old on Opening Day

Reached A+ in 2014

Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 1/5/11 (signing bonus unknown)

In his second season of state-side ball, Silvestre found adversity for the first time, with 24 starts and 119 and 1/3 innings of 4.22 ERA ball between Hagerstown and Potomac. The lefty has the makings of a solid pitcher, potentially even a starter, with an aggressive, strike-zone pounding mentality paired with solid command. Silvestre’s fastball is above average and can dial up to 94 MPH (more commonly sitting in the 90-91 range), and he has a decent changeup to pair with it. He lacks a solid breaking ball, however, and needs to figure that out if he wants to stick as a starter.

If Silvestre can’t find the touch for a breaking ball, there’s plenty of development room for lefties who can locate 94 mph fastballs (and at 6’3” and 180 lbs., there’s still room for a little extra velocity). He’s not as sexy of a name as Felipe Rivero or Matt Grace due to his lower level, but he could be a guy we see on South Capitol St. in a few years.

#54 – RHP Ian Dickson

R/R, 24 years old on Opening Day

Reached A+ in 2014

Drafted in 2011, 35th round, 1059th overall by Chicago Cubs (Lafayette College, Easton PA, $100,000 signing bonus)

Traded to Washington by Chicago for RHP Henry Rodriguez, 6/11/13

@dicksoni

Good news, everyone! You have a new favorite prospect. When the Nationals mercifully jettisoned Henry “SMH-Rod” Rodriguez in 2013, they actually got a player in return for him, Ian Dickson. The 6’5” Long Island native has always been seen as a project, as he struggled to a 7.00 career ERA in college and missed his junior season with a torn ACL and meniscus. He signed for a well-above slot $100,000 signing bonus after being selected in the 35th round, hinting that the Cubs saw something they could work with.

Dickson’s 2014 season was up-and-down, as his ERA and WHIP improved (ERA fell from 5.26 to 4.37 and WHIP fell from 1.337 to 1.318) but he walked more batters and struck out fewer than he did in 2013 (BB/9 rose from 2.9 to 3.4, K/9 fell from 9.2 to 7.3). A full-time move to the bullpen could turn him into a more interesting pitcher, as he’s a guy with a frame similar to some other successful converts (Wade Davis and Addison Reed have similarly tall and buff body types) who could conceivably hit 95 mph or so if he could go max effort each pitch. Like many potential bullpen converts, his secondary stuff is just okay, but his slider is somewhat interesting; he should probably nix the changeup in most situations, though. Like any player outside the top 20 of an organization’s prospects, he’s a lottery ticket, just one that I feel there’s still some untapped potential with.

#53 – 1B Jimmy Yezzo

L/R, 23 years old on Opening Day

Reached A in 2014

Drafted in 2013, 7th round, 226th overall by Washington (University of Delaware, Newark DE, $160,100 signing bonus)

@jimmyyezzo

You don’t see a lot of 6’0” first basemen, so Jimmy Yezzo is already going against the grain from that standpoint. Unlike some other guys you’ll see in this range, he’s not a huge upside guy, and likely projects to be an ML platoon or bench bat at his peak. The reason I include him is that I think he could be a pretty good one of those; Yezzo was known in college for his quick hands and sneaky power.

After a disastrous professional debut where he hit .258/.275/.329 and only walked 6 times in 263 PA, Yezzo rebounded to hit a more respectable .270/.306/.406 in 2014. While it may not sound that much better, Yezzo’s isolated power went up .064, walk rate went up 1.8% (with a negligible hike in K rate) and average went up .012 (with a negligible BABIP difference). He’s not going to be a flashy stud 1B at the major league level, but I like the direction Yezzo is going in his development for now and think he can be a lefty contact and doubles hitting bench bat at the ML level, which as we’ve seen with recent Nationals benches, isn’t easy to find.

#52 – RHP Steven Fuentes

R/R, 17 years old on Opening Day

Reached R (DSL) in 2014

Signed as an international free agent by Washington, sometime in 2014 (signing bonus unknown)

Fuentes is a pure, shameless scouting the stat line guy. The 17 year old Panamanian righty threw 54 and 2/3 innings for the DSL Nats in 2014, with excellent rate stats (2.8 BB/9, 10.2 K/9, 1.23 WHIP). It’s hard to find pitchers with solid K and BB rates at such a young age, and his 6’2”, 175 lb. frame projects well for a starter. There’s a solid chance that he is completely off the radar next year due to the fickle nature of 17 year old pitchers, but there’s also some chance that he skyrockets up the list if he has another solid year. The Nats are hoping they found a gem in the Panamanian Devil.

#51 – LHP Jake Walsh

L/L, 24 years old on Opening Day

Reached A+ in 2014

Drafted in 2013, 34th round, 1036th overall by Washington (University of Missouri, Columbia MO, signing bonus unknown)

@jakewalsh35

The Nationals have done well to find some interesting relief types in the late rounds of recent drafts between Richie Mirowski, Travis Ott and Walsh. The latter has done nothing but mow down opposing batters in his 72 and 1/3 innings of professional ball, with a 1.49 ERA, 0.816 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9. Between Hagerstown and Potomac in 2014, Walsh held both lefties (.408) and righties (.478) to sub-.500 OPS against, which is pretty impressive for a 34th round college senior pick.

Walsh has the stuff to remain interesting even if doesn’t keep up his insane pace, with a fastball that ranges from 90-92 mph and a curveball that falls off the radar faster than one of Britney Spears’ ex-fiancés. At 24 years old, Walsh can be pushed along to face more age-appropriate bats this year, and I think he’ll keep succeeding against them.


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