Nats Top 60 Prospect Countdown

If you like lists, prospects and lists of prospects, this series is for you. Before Opening Day, I will be going through my list of the Nationals' top 60 prospects, counting down from 60 to (spoiler alert) Giolito.

Here is the link to numbers 60-51 (premium).
Here is the link to numbers 50-41 (premium).
Here is the link to numbers 40-31 (premium).
Here is the link to numbers 30-21 (free).

#60 – OF Randy Encarnacion
#59 – LHP Matthew Spann
#58 – LHP Nick Lee
#57 – 1B Jose Marmolejos-Diaz
#56 – SS Edwin Lora
#55 – LHP Hector Silvestre
#54 – RHP Ian Dickson
#53 – 1B Jimmy Yezzo
#52 – RHP Steven Fuentes
#51 – LHP Jake Walsh
#50 - OF Israel Mota
#49 - OF Telmito Agustin
#48 - C Davinson Pimentel
#47 - RHP Neil Holland
#46 - RHP Derek Self
#45 - RHP Robert Benincasa
#44 - IF Austin Davidson
#43 - 1B Shawn Pleffner
#42 - CI/OF John Wooten
#41 - RHP Drew Van Orden
#40 – RHP Wander Suero
#39 – SS Stephen Perez
#38 – 3B Cody Gunter
#37 – C Spencer Kieboom
#36 – RHP Gilberto Mendez
#35 – UTIL Jeff Kobernus (oops)
#34 – OF Victor Robles
#33 – RHP John Simms
#32 – OF Isaac Ballou
#31 – 2B Cutter Dykstra
#30 – 3B Anderson Franco
#29 – RHP Jake Johansen
#28 – LHP Matt Grace
#27 – C Raudy Read
#26 – 2B Tony Renda
#25 – C Sandy Leon (lol)
#24 – LHP Sammy Solis
#23 – RHP Robbie Dickey
#22 – OF Drew Vettleson
#21 – RHP Taylor Hill

#20 – RHP Abel De Los Santos
R/R, 22 years old on Opening Day
Reached A+ in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Texas, 5/26/10 (signing bonus unknown)
Traded to Washington by Texas with 2B Chris Bostick for LHP Ross Detwiler, 12/12/2014

To the naked eye, Abel De Los Santos turned a corner in 2014, putting up an excellent 1.93 ERA and notching 8 saves in 56 innings in A/A+ ball for the Rangers' organization. For the second straight season, he put up a BB/9 under 3 and a K/9 above 10, a solid accomplishment for a power pitcher. That all being said, De Los Santos is still a project, as his 91-94 mph fastball (peaking at 96) and decent slider play well against A-ball hitters but may not against AA and better competition. Despite solid control, his command isn't perfect, and he plays with fire up in the zone pretty often. If you're Tyler Clippard, you can get away with that, but De Los Santos isn't Tyler Clippard, and will need to adjust.

I like De Los Santos' chances of becoming a big league middle reliever, and improved command could even boost his ceiling to a high-leverage guy. His velocity is unlikely to increase much, as he's already throwing at max effort and there's not much projectability left in his frame, so it will mostly have to be mechanical and mental adjustments, not pure ability, that move him more up the ladder. De Los Santos is eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft next offseason, so the Nats will only have one season to decide if he's in their plans or not.

#19 – OF Rafael Bautista
R/R, 22 years old on Opening Day
Reached A in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 1/3/12 (signing bonus unknown)

By the time you've read this sentence, Rafael Bautista has stolen second, third, and home. The Dominican speedster nabbed 69 bags in 134 games for Hagerstown in 2014 and has 142 steals in 253 career minor league games (and has only been caught 29 times, an astonishing 83% success rate). It's rare to see a player with his elite speed actually know how to use it this well at a young age. Predictably, Bautista has excellent range in centerfield, and profiles to be an above average defender with an average arm.

Offensively, Bautista is still pretty raw, but there are some signs of progression in the right direction. He's hit for a high average to date in his professional career (.306/.374/.387 career triple slash in 1032 PA) and has solid control of the plate, with a career 7.6 BB% and 14.1 K%. Most scouting reports note his lack of power (and power projection), but I actually think he might grow into some more power if he adds bulk to his lanky frame (think about when Roger Bernadina went from skinny to manbeast). In the past, a player like Bautista could have been a top 10 prospect in the Nats' org, which speaks to the Nationals' depth of solid prospects.

#18 – 2B Chris Bostick
R/R, 22 years old on Opening Day
Reached A+ in 2014
Drafted in 2011, 44th round, 1336th overall by Oakland (Aquinas Institute, Rochester NY, $125,000 signing bonus)
Traded to Washington by Texas with RHP Abel De Los Santos for LHP Ross Detwiler, 12/12/2014

There's a lot to like about the other half of the Ross Detwiler bounty. Bostick was an excellent find by the A's in the 44th round of the 2011 draft, signing him to an over-slot deal out of high school in upstate NY. The 5'11" middle infielder does everything pretty well, and other than a meh strikeout rate (just over 20% K%), he doesn't have a whole lot of weaknesses in his game. His lack of a true standout tool doesn't make him a sexy prospect, and leads prospect writers (including myself) to potentially underrate him because he doesn't have superstar potential (as his physique is pretty much already maxed out). What he does have, however, is the potential to hit 15 HR and steal 20 bases while playing above average defense at second base. That's pretty valuable, and even if he progresses to 80% of that, he can be at least a Major League utility guy.

#17 – RHP Nick Pivetta
R/R, 22 years old on Opening Day
Reached A in 2014
Drafted in 2013, 4th round, 136th overall by Washington (New Mexico JC, Hobbs NM, $364,300 signing bonus)

The Nats have not had much luck with Canadian players over the years (if that's the extent of karma's revenge for the team moving from Montreal, I'm okay with it). Shawn Hill was promising when healthy, tallying 2.8 WAR over three injury plagued seasons in DC while Pete Orr was not promising, at -0.4 WAR over two years. Pivetta, who took a stop in New Mexico on his way to professional baseball, hopes to buck that trend, and he has the talent to do so.

Pivetta's four seam fastball can touch 96 mph and generally sits between 92-94 and he has both a slurve and changeup that show some potential. If those two pitches develop, bam, you've got a solid #4 starter. If not, you're still looking at a potentially excellent late-inning reliever, as he wouldn't have to rely on his secondary pitches as much and could throw mainly cheese instead. While Pivetta has a lot of potential, his first two seasons haven't been particularly promising for a power pitching prospect. In 166 and 1/3 career innings, Pivetta has only struck out 6.7 batters per 9 innings, while walking 2.8 and allowing a WHIP of 1.35. In 2015, I'd like to see him strike out more batters, preferably somewhere in the high 7's to low 8's per 9 innings (well, 10 K/9 would even better, but 7-8 is semi-realistic).

#16 – 1B Matt Skole
L/R, 25 years old on Opening Day
Reached AA in 2014
Drafted in 2011, 5th round, 157th overall by Washington (Georgia Tech, Atlanta GA, $161,100 signing bonus)

Prospect fatigue is setting in for the guy who was once considered a top-5 organizational prospect. After a lost 2013 season where he only played in two games after Tommy John and wrist microfracture surgeries, he had an awful 2014 season, hitting just .241/.352/.399 with 14 HR in a full season at Harrisburg. I'm willing to give the lack of power a pass for one year, as wrist injuries can sap power for a year or two, but 2015 is truly a make-or-break year for the hulking lefty bat.

Skole's calling card has always been his power, rating between a 50 and 60 on the 20-80 scale depending on who you ask. His approach is intriguing to me, as he gets deep into counts, striking out and walking a lot. Because he is mistake hitter (not unlike Tyler Moore), I feel like this approach fits him well, as getting deep into counts means he's seeing more pitches, and more pitches mean more chances for the pitcher to make a mistake. The Nats are hoping that the guy who hit 27 HR in 2012 is still in there somewhere, and a bounceback season could give the Nats an intriguing platoon corner infielder/bench bat for the future.

#15 – LHP Felipe Rivero
L/L, 23 years old on Opening Day
Reached AA in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Tampa Bay, 7/8/08 (signing bonus unknown)
Traded to Washington by Tampa Bay with C Jose Lobaton and OF Drew Vettleson for RHP Nathan Karns, 2/13/2014

The sky is really the limit for the fireball-throwing 6'2" lefty from Venezuela. Rivero can touch 97 mph with his fastball, pairing it with potentially plus secondary options in his curve and changeup. While his control borders on the meh/decent line, Rivero's command needs some work, as he struggles putting the ball where the catcher calls for it much of the time.

While Rivero predictably is better against lefthanded batters, he is still pretty tough on righties, and even if he ends up in the bullpen, his upside is more of a Sean Doolittle set-up or closer-type than a LOOGY. With Jerry Blevins now gone and Matt Thornton a free agent after the 2015 season, the fast path is clear for Rivero to make an impact on the big league roster; it's up to him if he can break the LOOGY typecast by staying in the rotation or challenging others for the high-leverage roles generally afforded to righties.

#14 – RHP Austin Voth
R/R, 22 years old on Opening Day
Reached AA in 2014
Drafted in 2013, 5th round, 166th overall by Washington (University of Washington, Seattle WA, $272,800 signing bonus)

The Nats have found a bunch of guys over the last few years with elite control numbers that have skyrocketed up prospect lists despite having borderline stuff (Tommy Milone, Danny Rosenbaum, and Taylor Hill all come to mind). I'm hoping Voth isn't the same way, and at first glance, that's not really what he looks like. In his first two professional seasons, the 22 year old Washington native (the state, not DC) has put up an excellent 4.27 K/BB ratio, with 9.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. He's mastered all three iterations of A ball, only scuffling when he was moved up to AA for six starts in 2014.

What sets Voth apart from the likes of Milone, Rosenbaum and Hill is his velocity and strikeout stuff. While he's unlikely to keep up the 9+ K/9 rate as he moves up the ladder, he can still hit 95 with his sinking fastball, and he excels at keeping batters off balance with a  decent changeup/curveball mix. I would like to see a little more out of his fastball, whether it be velocity or movement, but excellent control and decent stuff sounds like a recipe for a decent back-of-the-rotation starter, maybe even one like Tanner Roark if the Nats get lucky with Voth.

#13 – RHP Jefry Rodriguez
R/R, 21 years old on Opening Day
Reached A- in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 1/17/12 (signing bonus unknown)

If you went to Hagerstown or Auburn in 2014, there's a good chance you wondered why there was a grown-ass man on the field hanging out with a bunch of kids. That player is Jefry Rodriguez, who despite being just 21 years old looks like a man among boys at 6 foot 5. I pray every night that he gets stung by the health bee, because his raw stuff measures up to pretty much anyone in the system other than Lucas Giolito. The former SS can touch 98 mph with his heater and throws a curveball that dips harder than Freak Nasty. If he can figure out his change-up, he can live up to his #2 prospect potential, but even if he can't, he can be a lights-out set-up man or closer.

It's sadly not all sunshine and sparkles, as Rodriguez was limited in 2014 by injuries, missing all but 7 starts with a fractured wrist. I hope that he spent his injury time strengthening his lower half so he can have the endurance he needs for the future. He's never pitched more than 47 and 2/3 innings in a season, and hasn't put up the rate stats you really want from a power pitcher (career 4.5 BB/9, 7.1 K/9). That being said, you can't teach his stuff, and I certainly wouldn't want to go to bat facing this behemoth.

#12 – C Jakson Reetz
R/R, 19 years old on Opening Day
Reached R (GCL) in 2014
Drafted in 2014, 3rd round, 93rd overall by Washington (Norris HS, Firth NE, $800,000 signing bonus)

Built like a linebacker (his dad played linebacker at Nebraska), Reetz was one of the only high-ceiling picks in the Nationals' 2014 draft class. Reetz is still raw behind the plate, but has a strong and accurate throwing arm and the baseball IQ to improve upon his framing, blocking, and game-calling skills. He's most known for his bat, possessing above-average contact, power and plate discipline. He runs well for a catcher, and plays with the kind of hustle that you generally only see from guys named Steve Lombardozzi or Willie Bloomquist.

Young catchers are notoriously fickle and difficult to develop, and at 19 years old, Reetz is far from a sure thing. As mentioned before, his skills behind the plate are still raw, and there's a greater than zero chance that he ends up as an outfielder. That being said, it's easy to dream on a catcher that has 50+ future value in contact, power, fielding, and his arm. The two things on his 2015 checklist: improve upon his fielding behind the plate, and add a C to the spelling of his first name.

#11 – Drew Ward
L/R, 20 years old on Opening Day
Reached A- in 2014
Drafted in 2013, 3rd round, 105th overall by Washington (Leedey HS, Leedey OK, $850,000 signing bonus)

In Reetz and Ward, the Nats have taken high-upside high school prospects in the third round two years running, both of which fell a little bit due to uncertainty over their quality of HS competition. At this point, both look to be proving the Nats right and their doubters wrong, especially Ward. The 6'4" with a lefty bat hit .269/.341/.413 in low-A Hagerstown in 2014 despite being two and a half years younger than the average player in the league. His power is still developing, but he did pop 10 HR and 39 extra base hits in 478 plate appearances. Don't be surprised if his HR totals double in 2015, as he's got 50-60 grade raw power.

There's some question about Ward's ability to stick at 3B, and like Matt Skole a few years ago, his prospect value would fall significantly if he can't stay there. Ward is a little bit more athletic than Skole (albeit sometimes he looks like Bambi on ice), and I think he has a pretty decent shot at sticking there as long as he works hard on the fundamentals and repeating his motions on grounders.

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