We’re more than halfway through the minor league previews, and this Nationals list was the first one I really had a hard time whittling down to fifteen names. It’s not that it’s packed with studs, it’s more that there’s lots of interesting upside. You’ve got your no brainers like Lucas Giolito and Trea Turner of course, but we also saw a big breakout with Victor Robles. There seems to be a focus on speed, toolsy outfielders with good defensive skills, and up-the-middle talent. It’s all good stuff for fantasy players, and since even your great-grandmother has heard of Giolito, I find the lower levels of this system to be a lot more interesting to talk about. Don’t believe me? She has a cross-stitching of his curveball grip. Stepping away from the farm, 2016 will be the sophomore campaign of Michael Taylor, whose power and speed will probably come cheap in drafts this year. He doesn’t have to rack up that many more hits to make his average palatable as a 4th or 5th outfielder. Hey, I managed to write the whole intro without mentioning Bryce Harper! D’oh!
Tier 1: Specs On The Beach
Potential stars. Consensus T100 prospects with premium fantasy ceilings.
Lucas Giolito, RHP | Age: 21 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: A+/AA
2015 Stats: 117 IP, 3.15 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
Naming my favorite flavors of gelato might be more interesting than telling you what you’ve already heard a thousand times about Giolito. Raspberry. Coffee. A fastball/curve combo that grades as double-plus and could lead to elite strikeout numbers in fantasy. Caramel. Hazelnut. OFPs of 80, 80, 80, 80, 80 in the last five reports I’ve seen…(that’s good). Pistachio. Tiramisu. One of a very small handful of arms in the minor leagues that I would actually be comfortable using the word “ace” to describe. Sea salt caramel. Coconut. He’s also close to the majors and should be on your draft radars in 2016. Banana!
Trea Turner, SS | Age: 22 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: AA/AAA/MLB
2015 Stats: 500 PA, .322/.370/.458, 8 HR, 29 SB, 8% BB, 19% K
Turner can hit and he can run. Obviously. He looks like the prototypical leadoff hitter who sticks in the middle infield (likely short with the Nats) and provides runs, steals, and AVG/OBP. Without much polishing needed in the minor leagues, it shouldn’t be long before he’s getting at bats again in the bigs. I couldn’t find a shortstop who stole more than 25 bags last year. I think Turner could challenge that number in 500+ plate appearances without leaving you blanked in the home run column. In fact, good years might even see him hit 8-10 dingers.
Victor Robles, OF | Age: 18 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: Rk/A(ss)
2015 Stats: 261 PA, .352/.445/.507, 4 HR, 24 SB, 7% BB, 13% K
I’m not sure there is another player in the minors right now with more buzz than Robles. Scouts were fawning over him in glowing reports – saying he shows an approach and confidence beyond his years, speed, athleticism, and even the potential for more power down the road. He checks all the boxes and the end result could be a 15/30/.290 type that also works in OBP formats and hits at the top of the lineup. Maybe something like a 2015 Lorenzo Cain with less pop and more wheels. The only glitch in the superstar dream program is that he’s 18 and hasn’t played above short-season ball yet. So yes, by all means, let’s get excited, but rarely is the path of a prospect a straight line to stardom. Will he be in my Top 50? Most likely. I’m a sucker.
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP | Age: 22 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 99 IP, 4.09 ERA, 2.5 BB/9, 8.5 K/9
Lopez does not have the ceiling of Giolito. He’s also not as close. But, there is still #2 starter potential and that’s still very, very good. He gets overshadowed by a blue chipper like Gio, but Lopez is going to contribute in strikeouts as well, and while his ERA regressed in 2015, his walk rate held steady and his strikeout rate rose. Double-A will be a test, but I’m a Lopez believer. You’ll see some bullpen risk mentioned in his write ups, and that’s fair. The fastball is double-plus and would work in either role. If he doesn’t make it as a starter, he’d probably end up in enough high-leverage spots in the pen to remain fantasy relevant.
Tier 2: Floorboreds
Lacking the “star” upside. They might have some warts, but their ETAs are on the horizon.
Wilmer Difo, MI | Age: 23 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: A+/AA
2015 Stats: 464 PA, .286/.325/.412, 5 HR, 30 SB, 4% BB, 20% K
Difo broke out in 2014, and it looked like he might be on the fast track to a middle infield gig in Washington. But it’s not that easy when you get above Single-A, and Difo came back to the pack last year. His biggest fantasy draw will be his wheels and there’s 30-steal potential. It’s hard to see him playing shortstop in the big leagues with Turner now knocking on the door, but Difo could easily shift to the keystone and his fantasy value certainly wouldn’t tank with that move.
Rafael Bautista, OF | Age: 22 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 276 PA, .275/.315/.341, 1 HR, 26 SB, 4% BB, 11% K
By the time you read to the end of this list, you’ll notice a pattern in the Nats’ system – they seem to like the toolsy/speedy types up the middle. Bautista fits that mold again. He has double-plus speed and could kiss 30+ steals in the majors. That speed also aids him on defense, where he gets another plus grade in center. The question mark is the bat, and he’s yet to see Double-A. There’s probably at least some SAGNOF here, but you could say that about a lot of the bats in this system.
Drew Ward, 3B | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017 | 2015 Level: A+
2015 Stats: 442 PA, .246/.327/.359, 7 HR, 2 SB, 10% BB, 27% K
Almost a palindrome point! Almost. First off, I think Anderson Franco might be the better play, but is much further away with mostly projectable power. Ward has above-average power but he strikes out a bunch and could slide over to first base anyway, where there will be even more expectations on his bat to be worth our time in fantasy. I don’t know, I’m not real excited. But I guess that’s par for the course in this tier.
A.J. Cole, RHP | Age: 24 | ETA: 2016 | 2015 Level: AAA
2015 Stats: 105.2 IP, 3.15 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 6.5 K/9
Cole celebrated a birthday yesterday! I only know that because I was on his B-Ref page looking at his numbers. I love the walk rates, but he hasn’t struck out more than a batter per inning since his first taste of Double-A in 2013. It’s probably just fatigue on my part, since it feels like Cole has been knocking on the door for two years. He could start 2016 back with Triple-A Syracuse, but even so he’s an arm to watch late in redrafts or early on the wire since I’m not sure they can polish him up any further. Austin Voth is another arm that’s close but offers a little less upside.
Tier 3: Long Shot Lolitas
Sexy ceilings, but these youngsters also come with risks and distant ETAs.
Anderson Franco, 3B | Age: 18 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: Rk/A(ss)
2015 Stats: 217 PA, .269/.346/.389, 4 HR, 2 SB, 10% BB, 13% K
The Franco at third base who I’m not currently stalking, Anderson shall forever be know as “the other Franco”. Scouts seem to like the bat, noting that there’s power potential just waiting to be unlocked. While he didn’t hit any homers once he was promoted to the NYPL, he did walk in 15% of his 47 plate appearances there as a 17 year old. It’s a little early to get hyperactive excited, but this is one to at least place on the radar.
Osvaldo Abreu, MI | Age: 21 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A
2015 Stats: 513 PA, .274/.357/.412, 6 HR, 30 SB, 10% BB, 17% K
Abreu showed good plate discipline and plus speed at a middle infield slot in 2015. That gets my attention, especially when it looks like there’s enough bat to make it work. He doesn’t have much power but might see 8-10 homers, which paired with some solid steals numbers would be enough to get fantasy relevant at shortstop. I fell like I’ve written this blurb twice already with Difo and Turner. Realistically, he’s probably a utility infielder, and remember that this is a player that hasn’t seen the more advanced arms in Double-A yet.
Andrew Stevenson, OF | Age: 21 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A(ss)/A
2015 Stats: 239 PA, .308/.363/.379, 1 HR, 23 SB, 7% BB, 13% K
A college bat with plus speed and great defense, Stevenson was the Nationals’ second round pick in the 2015 draft. He’s probably not going to be a fantasy stud since there’s no power, but everything else is there to impact runs and steals with an everyday gig in center and maybe even a leadoff spot if the hit tool clicks. He should move quickly and is relatively safe, but the tradeoff is that he’s less projectable than a raw youngster like Perkins (below).
Erick Fedde, RHP | Age: 22 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A(ss)/A
2015 Stats: 64 IP, 3.38 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
Fedde had Tommy John surgery before the 2014 draft, so he still wasn’t ready for a full workload in 2015. This year he should be all systems go, and with a good season his stock could really soar. It’s hard for owners to stay patient with pitching prospects who go under the knife, especially when the stuff doesn’t come back right away. There may still be a buy-low opportunity here with some decent upside (think #2/3 starter).
Blake Perkins, OF | Age: 19 | ETA: 2019 | 2015 Level: Rk
2015 Stats: 185 PA, .211/.265/.283, 1 HR, 4 SB, 7% BB, 19% K
Perkins really has one plus tool and that’s his speed, but he’s pretty young and the rest of the package could come into focus later. There’s a good chance he’s never anything more than a fourth outfielder, but there’s upside for a good bit more than that. It’s a low risk pick in later rounds of deep dynasty drafts and therefore a guy you can easily toss aside if things don’t click.
Juan Soto, OF | Age: 17 | ETA: 2020 | 2015 Level: DNP
2015 Stats: N/A
Soto is just a pup and mostly projection at this point. Both his hit tool and power look like they’ll develop to be average or better down the road. It’s important to get in on the ground floor with guys like this when you’re in one of those super deep leagues that some of us are
deranged blessed enough to be a part of, but in most formats you don’t have to put him on your radar yet.
Jakson Reetz, C | Age: 20 | ETA: 2018 | 2015 Level: A(ss)
2015 Stats: 132 PA, .212/.326/.248, 0 HR, 3 SB, 10% BB, 28% K
It’s hard to buy catching prospects. They take a while to develop, and you have to find the ones with the offensive tools we really need in a fantasy lineup. Reetz is interesting because even though the stats don’t necessarily show it yet, a lot of scouts believe in his bat and more specifically some power developing down the road. I’m not sure he’s the best use of a minor league slot in one-catcher formats though.