Nats Top 60 Prospect Countdown: 10-1

The final list is here! If you like lists, prospects and lists of prospects, this series is for you. See the links below to catch up on anything you've missed.

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).
Here is the link to numbers 20-11 (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
#19 – OF Rafael Bautista
#18 – 2B Chris Bostick
#17 – RHP Nick Pivetta
#16 – 1B Matt Skole
#15 – LHP Felipe Rivero
#14 – RHP Austin Voth
#13 – RHP Jefry Rodriguez
#12 – C Jakson Reetz
#11 – 3B Drew Ward

#10 – C Pedro Severino
R/R, 21 years old on Opening Day
Reached A+ in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 12/13/10 ($55,000 signing bonus)

Stop me if you've heard this before - the Nats have an excellent defensive catcher who is steadily improving with the bat. On one hand, there was nowhere to go but up with the bat; Severino put up a .547 OPS in the GCL in 2011, .567 in the GCL in 2012, .608 in A ball in 2013, and .705 in A+ ball in 2014. On the other hand, he was two years younger than the competition at every level, and had no more than 326 PA in any of those seasons.

I do like how Severino's power progressed in 2014, knocking 9 HR and 25 extra base hits in 326 PA after putting up just 3 HR and 33 extra base hits in his previous three seasons, spanning across 556 PA. Behind the plate, he's quite good at everything, with an accurate and powerful arm and excellent framing and blocking abilities. He is also fully fluent in both English and Spanish, which will prove to be helpful as he manages pitching staffs over the years. I'm not yet ready to bet on Severino's bat being good enough for him to be a first division starter, but even if it doesn't, he looks to be a Lobaton-type who is an excellent backup and an okay starter.

#9 – OF Brian Goodwin
L/R, 24 years old on Opening Day
Reached AAA in 2014
Drafted in 2011, supplemental 1st round, 34th overall by Washington (Miami-Dade College, Miami FL, $3,000,000 signing bonus)

Goodwin is probably the most polarizing prospect in the organization, as he was one of the 2011 bonus babies who has seen his stock rise meteorically and then tank in 2014. Last year was mostly a lost year, as he tore his non-throwing labrum; he hit just .219/.342/.328 in 329 PA before his season ended on July 1st. When things were going well, Goodwin possessed a 4.5-tool approach, with above-average contact, speed, defense, and arm strength, plus 15 HR power. He's still a good defensive outfielder that can run, and even if his bat doesn't come back, could still be a worthwhile 4th OF at the ML level.

I understand why people are starting to give up on Goodwin, but he's shown an ability to hit in the past and still possesses upside in all 5 tools. If he can adjust his approach to be more aggressive with making contact instead of waiting forever for pitches he can crush (which he still swings and misses on too many times), I think he could have a nice bounceback year.

#8 – 2B/SS Wilmer Difo
S/R, 23 years old on Opening Day
Reached A+ in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 6/3/10 (signing bonus unknown)

Ian Desmond's early struggles through the opening series with the Mets have sent many a MASN Commenter scurrying through the Nats prospect lists to see who they can call up to put Desmond on the bench. Since Trea Turner isn't in the organization for two more months, Difo is the name they will land on. And, as many other MASN Commenter subjects go, everyone needs to pump their brakes. Difo had a wonderful 2014 season, triple slashing .315/.360/.470 in his first full minor league season, earning a spot on the 40 man roster and skyrocketing up prospect lists. But he did so as a slightly old-for-his-level (6 months older than the average player in the Sally League), and does not have the track record to fully back up his excellent year.

That's not to say Difo is not a great prospect. He's a switch-hitting middle infielder with no clear weaknesses in his game and an intense work ethic to correct any potential weakness that could come in the future. He can get on base, hit for a little power, run laps around everyone and make diving stops all over the infield. I just want to point out that he's still a fairly risky prospect, who is not ready for the big leagues and is unlikely to be able to handle SS defensively enough to be the SS of the present or future. That guy is closer to #1 on this list.

#7 – RHP Erick Fedde
R/R, 22 years old on Opening Day
Did not play in 2014
Drafted in 2014, 1st round, 18th overall by Washington (University of Nevada - Las Vegas, Las Vegas NV, $2,511,100 signing bonus)

It just made too much sense for the Nats to grab the guy recovering from Tommy John with their first round pick last year. Before his surgery, Fedde touched 98 mph with his fastball and supported it with a very good slider and developing changeup. The hope, of course, is that his arsenal comes back just how it was pre-surgery, but while the Nats have seen great success with Tommy John surgeries over the year, they're still not a slam dunk.

Obviously a healthy Fedde has the ability to skyrocket up the list next year already, but his surgery likely allowed him to concentrate his strength and conditioning regimen on his lower half, hopefully adding some bulk to his lanky 6'4" frame (and with that, potentially more velocity and stamina). I'm not concerned about Fedde's fastball or slider coming back, but his changeup was not perfect pre-surgery, and working out the command of the pitch could be an issue moving forward. Fortunately, he still would have the 1-2 punch to be an elite closer, and could very easily be the #2 prospect behind Giolito on next year's list if he comes back hot.

#6 – RHP Joe Ross
R/R, 21 years old on Opening Day
Reached AA in 2014
Drafted in 2011, 1st round, 25th overall by San Diego (Bishop O'Dowd HS, Oakland CA, $2,750,000 signing bonus)
Traded to Washington by San Diego with SS Trea Turner in three team deal that sent OF Steven Souza and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa Bay, 12/18/2014

Much has been made about the Trea Turner portion of the Steven Souza trade made by Mike Rizzo in December, but Joe Ross very well could be the better player of the two. The big righty has three pitches that are plus when he commands them well, led by a 92-96 mph fastball that kills more worms with ground balls than Donovan McNabb. Ross' slider and changeup can excellent at times and mediocre at others, as he struggles with command on occasion; he's known as a hard-working, intelligent player, so it would not be a great surprise if he straightens out his command with additional minor league time.

Ross has a pretty high floor due to his combination of youth (still just 21), athleticism (6'4" and a sturdy 205 lbs.) and solid stuff. His ceiling is fairly high as well, as he has the frame to add more muscle (and with that could come more velocity/stamina). His mechanics are cleaner and smoother than most other pitchers his age, and some anonymous scouts point to the mental part of pitching (confidence and focus) as the part of his game that needs the most work. A strong season by Ross would give the Nationals a potential candidate to replace Doug Fister and/or Jordan Zimmermann if they were to leave, but could also give a nice trade chip to Mike Rizzo if he has to go looking for a piece at the trade deadline or a new shortstop after the season if Desmond leaves.

#5 – RHP Reynaldo Lopez
R/R, 21 years old on Opening Day
Reached A in 2014
Signed as an international free agent by Washington, 6/12/12 ($17,000 signing bonus)

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and while we should praise the Nats for finding an unknown Dominican kid who turns out to have a 100 mph fastball, his meager $17,000 signing bonus suggests even they didn't really know that they had their hands on at his signing time. Outside of Giolito, Lopez has the highest upside in the system, with a fastball that can hit 100 with relative ease and a pair of potentially above average secondary pitches in his changeup and curveball to compliment it. What impresses me the most about Lopez besides his 100 mph fastball is his advanced understanding to pitch. It's incredible to see a guy add velocity the way he did and have a solid idea of where the ball is going, and on top of that he throws his changeup and curveball with the same arm speed and motion as his fastball (which is a lot easier said than done).

While Lopez has all of the talent and upside in the world, he does carry a significant amount of risk, however, as his relatively slight frame (6’0” 185 lbs.) is at least a little bit worrisome from a long-term durability standpoint. He only threw 83 and 1/3 innings in 2014 (and that was by far the most he's thrown in a minor league season), and didn't annihilate A-ball batters in the way you would expect a fireballer to do so (2.8 BB/9, 7.6 K/9 in 2014). If his secondary stuff doesn't develop as planned, he might end up in the bullpen, and it's not totally crazy to think the Nats should have moved him while his value was at an all-time high this offseason. That being said, Lopez has elite stuff that you just can’t teach, and the Nats made a bold move by holding onto him so that if he develops as plans, he'll be dominating the league with a Curly W on his chest.

#4 – RHP A.J. Cole
R/R, 23 years old on Opening Day
Reached AAA in 2014
Drafted in 2010, 4th round, 116th overall by Washington (Oviedo HS, Oviedo FL, $2,000,000 signing bonus)
Traded to Washington by Oakland with RHP Blake Treinen and LHP Ian Krol in three team deal that sent OF Michael Morse to Seattle, 1/16/2013

When you have a solid minor league system like the Nats, it's easy to get bored with guys who have been around for a while. Cole has been around long enough that he's in his second stint with the organization at just 23 years old. Don't get prospect fatigue with him, though, because he's still the real deal. At 6'5" and 200 lbs, Cole might look like a fireballer, but he's settled in nicely as a fastball/changeup pitcher who thrives off of commanding his fastball in the lower part of the strike zone. He can hit 96 mph with his heater, but needs a more consistent breaking ball (his slider is currently better than his curve, but both are average right now) to be able to strike out big league hitters.

Cole's proximity to the big leagues and probability for success in some kind of MLB role (either as a mid-rotation starter or late inning reliever) is still quite valuable, which is why he's #4 on my list rather than 5-7, where he stood on many prospect writers' top Nats prospect lists. Spending a few more months in AAA will help him work out the kinks in his breaking balls, but he's pretty much ML ready at this point. Don't be surprised to see Cole in the bullpen in October if he gets his slider going.

#3 – SS Trea Turner
R/R, 21 years old on Opening Day
Reached A in 2014
Drafted in 2014, 1st round, 13th overall by San Diego (North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC, $2,900,000 signing bonus)
Traded to Washington by San Diego with RHP Joe Ross in three team deal that sent OF Steven Souza and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa Bay, 12/18/2014

Turner opening the season as the Padres' starting AA shortstop was a pleasant surprise, as many thought he would be stashed in extended Spring Training until he could officially be dealt to Washington in June. This is good news for his development, as he is certainly ready for a challenge beyond A-ball pitching. In his first taste of pro ball in 2014, Turner hit .323/.406/.448 in 321 PA, knocking 23 extra base hits and stealing 23 bases in 27 chances. His 10.9% BB% was solid, but less impressive when paired with his 20.9% K%.  Many scouts are not believers in Turner's bat, but Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs noted that he had an bad draft year, and scouts who saw him in his Freshman and Sophomore seasons were bigger fans of his swing.The good news is that he's making mechanical improvements on his swing (which you should read all about over at NatsGM), which should allow him to make more consistent solid contact.

Obviously his 70-80 grade speed is the biggest draw for Turner, but he's no slouch defensively, with decent range, an above average arm, and solid hands and fundamentals. He's no Andrelton Simmons, but I have no concerns about his future at SS. A smoother swing that reduces strikeouts could turn him into an All-Star leadoff man who can spray line drives across the park. If the swing doesn't develop as planned, Turner can find a role as a utility infielder who can pinch run in key situations. He passed his first test in professional ball in 2014, though, so he's off to a good start towards reaching his immense upside.

#2 – OF Michael Taylor
R/R, 24 years old on Opening Day
Reached MLB in 2014
Drafted in 2009, 6th round, 172nd overall by Washington (Westminster Academy, Fort Lauderdale FL, $125,000 signing bonus)

Nobody bounced up and down top prospect lists like Michael Taylor has over the last four seasons. "The Toolshed," as Ryan Sullivan calls him, is a 4 tool player, with plus raw power, speed, range, and arm strength. The missing tool is his ability to make contact; while Taylor's batting averages over the last two years are nice and shiny at .285 and .304, he struck out 23.0% of the time in 2013 and 29.2% in the minors in 2014 (not counting his 39.5% K% in MLB in 2014). That's a huge red flag, because he can't hit homers or steal bases if he can't hit the ball consistently

Fortunately for Taylor, the other four tools in his game play well enough that he can be an intriguing 4th OF if his swing doesn't work out (think Drew Stubbs or Justin Maxwell). But if he can even somewhat figure out that swing, I'm going to keep hoping for a Mike Cameron career - Cameron hit .249/.338/.444 hitter with 278 HR and 297 SB over his career, good for a lifetime 50.7 WAR, which is pretty damn good.

#1 –  RHP Lucas Giolito
R/R, 21 years old on Opening Day
Reached A- in 2014
Drafted in 2012, 1st round, 16th overall by Washington (Harvard-Westlake HS, Studio City CA, $2,925,000 signing bonus)

Memo to NL East batters: facing the Nats rotation isn't going to get magically easier in the future, even if Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister both pack their bags after this year. Giodzilla is approaching the big leagues quickly. The mountain of a 21 year old man (6'6", 255 lbs) features a potentially 80 grade fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90s and can touch 100 with relative ease. Behind that sits his potentially grade 70 power curve, which makes batters weak in the knees like they're swooning teennage girls and he's all four of the Beatles wrapped into one (for the younger crowd, the Beatles were just like One Direction, just without being horrifically bad at making music). If neither of those pitches strike your fancy, he's also got a potentially 60 grade changeup that is 10-15 mph slower than his fastball. It's one thing to have to prepare to hit a 98 mph fastball with movement, but it's just not fair to also have to watch out for a biting 85 mph curve as well as an 83 mph changeup that makes batters think they're playing in slow motion.

After being held back in 2012 and 13 due to Tommy John surgery, look for the Nationals to break the restraints and unleash the beast on AA hitters by the end of the season; once he succeeds there, he could be up in the big leagues in no time. In the meantime, Giolito will likely work on his stamina and mechanics; if he learns to fully command all three pitches, the future 1-2-3 of Scherzer, Strasburg, and Giolito might be 1-2-3 in the league in strikeouts.

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