Organizational Talent Rankings via Baseball America
2014 (24) | 2013 (13) | 2012 (1) | 2011 (14) | 2010 (24)
2014 Affiliate Records
MLB: [96-66] NL East
AAA: [81-62] International League – Syracuse
AA: [53-89] Eastern League – Harrisburg
A+: [78-58] Carolina League – Potomac
A: [87-53] South Atlantic League – Hagerstown
A(ss): [34-41] New York-Penn League – Auburn
The Nationals won 96 regular season games in 2014 but were eliminated in the NLDS by the Giants. Along the way, Anthony Rendon emerged as one of the best young players in the National League and Bryce Harper returned from injury to have a solid second half. Harper just turned 22 in October. Tanner Roark took the fifth starter gig and ran with it, rounding out a nasty starting rotation. Unlike some other contenders, the Nationals’ farm is in good shape. In addition to the talented major league rotation, the Nats have some of the best pitching prospects in the minors. They are also loaded with toolsy outfielders that could contribute to the major league roster soon or be used as trade bait to fill other needs. In the 2014 draft Washington used its first round pick to land even more pitching – drafting right-hander Erick Fedde 18th overall.
Top Ten Fantasy Prospects
1. Lucas Giolito, RHP | Age: 20 | ETA: 2016
Elite starters, or “aces”, are rare birds. There are only a handful in the majors and projecting pitching prospects to be #1 starters, let alone aces, is risky business. Even the best pitching specs we get excited about may settle in as #2s or even #3s. That’s still really good, but it’s worth pointing out how our expectations sometimes go beyond the realities. Giolito is a special pitching prospect with an 80 fastball, plus plus curve, and an average changeup that has improved this year according to scouting reports. Tommy John surgery set him back but didn’t slow him down. He’s expected to join the rotation sometime in 2016 and is arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball right now. If you are going to bet on a pitching prospect reaching that #1 potential, Giolito is your horse.
2. Michael Taylor, OF | Age: 23 | ETA: 2015
Taylor had a big breakout in 2014 and possesses all of the tools to be a fantasy stud. His strikeout rate climbed to a new high but it came with a big jump in power. Josh Norris of Baseball America ranked Taylor the #1 prospect in the Eastern League this season, ahead of some other top prospects like Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor. In a corresponding chat, he mentioned evaluators comping Taylor to Adam Jones – one of the top fantasy outfielders in the game right now. At 23, Taylor logged 12 games in Triple-A and 17 games in the majors. Unless a trade happens, he’s likely to begin 2015 in Triple-A since there is no place in Washington’s outfield right now. His proximity to the big leagues and potential to stuff a roto stat sheet make him the top bat in this system and likely a top 50 prospect overall heading into this season.
3. A.J. Cole, RHP | Age: 22 | ETA: 2015
Cole is a talented pitcher in his own right and closer to the majors than Giolito at this point. His fastball is graded plus plus and he also throws a slider and change-up that are both at least average offerings. The 22-year-old has shown excellent control in the minors and should be a reliable mid-rotation starter in the major leagues. How he’ll be worked into an already stacked major league rotation for the Nats is still to be determined, but Cole fared well in his first taste of Triple-A in 2014. He posted a 3.43 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched for Syracuse and he’ll likely start the season there this spring with a mid to late season call-up in the cards.
4. Steven Souza, OF | Age: 25 | ETA: 2015
Along with Taylor and Goodwin, Souza is part of a trio of toolsy outfielders in the Nationals’ farm system. Souza could actually start the year as a fourth outfielder on the Washington roster. He can play all three outfield positions and has average (15-20 HR) power in addition to his speed, which was enough to swipe 20+ bags in three of the last four seasons. You might remember him making the catch that preserved the no-hitter for Jordan Zimmermann at the end of the 2014 season. 25 is older in the prospect world, but Souza has put up good numbers at every stop in his minor league career – all eight seasons of it. In fantasy we don’t really care when you get here as long as you produce when you arrive, and Souza has the chance to do that as an MLB regular. UPDATE: Traded to Tampa Bay
5. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP | Age: 20 | ETA: 2018
There’s lots of upside here but Lopez is still far away, making it tough for him to leapfrog any of the other names in this top five. In fact, Lopez didn’t pitch much at all in the minors before 2014. Basically splitting his time between short-season Auburn and Single-A Hagerstown, the 20-year-old used a plus plus fastball and plus curveball to put up nice numbers late in the season. He gave up all of one earned run in August (a homer) in six starts, striking out 25 while walking just six. If the Nationals need another young arm to dream on, Lopez is also developing a change-up that could end up being a third plus pitch. This was a big year for the right-hander and his stock is rising after missing most of 2013.
6. Wilmer Difo, MI | Age: 22 | ETA: 2016
Difo finished second to his teammate Rafael Bautista in stolen bases in the South Atlantic League in 2014, swiping 49 bags at an 85% success rate. The 22-year-old can play both shortstop and second base well, and has more power than you’d expect. He won the South Atlantic League MVP award and frankly seemed to come out of nowhere this season. He’s a switch hitter, making good contact from both sides of the plate without striking out much. In fact, he had the fourth lowest strikeout percentage among qualified hitters in the Sally. He’ll get a chance to face tougher competition in the Carolina League this year and could really put himself on the prospect map with another strong season. He presents a good buying opportunity in dynasty leagues. Difo was recently added to the Nats’ 40-man roster.
7. Rafael Bautista, OF | Age: 21 | ETA: 2017
One thing I love about prospects are the video game numbers you see in the minors. Bautista’s 69 stolen bases led Single-A and he was successful 82% of the time. Speed is obviously his best tool and center field is his likely position. Bautista makes good contact and uses his plus speed to get on base. While his first two seasons in rookie ball saw batting averages above .320 (and BABIPs close to .400) Bautista hit .290 in Hagerstown this year with a more sustainable .328 BABIP. There’s not much to see here in the power department, but his wheels and plus fielding in center could land him an everyday role in the outfield and at the top of the lineup. This would make him a good source of runs and stolen bases in the fantasy game, but there is more development left and he’ll face tougher competition as he advances through the minors.
8. Erick Fedde, RHP | Age: 21 | ETA: 2018
The Nationals selected Fedde 18th overall in the 2014 draft, adding to their already potent crop of right-handed pitchers in the minor leagues. It speaks to Fedde’s talent that the Nats selected him despite the fact that he needed Tommy John surgery in May. With a plus fastball and a slider and change-up that already grade as average or better offerings, Fedde has a lot of upside despite the injury and lack of professional experience. The Nationals are no strangers to rehabbing pitchers from Tommy John with both Stephen Strasburg and Lucas Giolito previously requiring the surgery. It’s a risky proposition, but the payoff could be big for Washington and dynasty league owners.
9. Drew Ward, 3B | Age: 20 | ETA: 2017
Ward is a corner infielder with good power who could end up at either first or third base down the road. This was his first full season as a professional and he improved upon a strong rookie ball debut in the GCL with good numbers in the Sally this year. At 19 years old, Ward was the 13th youngest player in the league, yet ranked inside or very close to the top twenty in isolated power, homers, line drive percentage, and OPS among qualified hitters. He was a third round pick out of high school in 2013 and should see his prospect stock continue to rise if he keeps displaying solid in-game power as he advances through the minor leagues. Like most low minors prospects, he’s a lottery ticket in dynasty formats.
10. Brian Goodwin, OF | Age: 24 | ETA: 2015
It was a down season for Goodwin to say the least. Taylor and Souza have both passed him by at this point, but Goodwin still has all the raw tools to become a major league outfielder. Another (full) season in Triple-A might be a better gauge of his abilities. That’s what keeps him barely hanging onto the back of this top ten over up-and-coming catcher Jakson Reetz, who I almost put in this spot. Goodwin is 24 now, so 2015 may be the last time he appears on the list if things don’t improve. Hopefully he can bounce back to the double-digit power/speed threat he was before, but there are some blemishes. What’s most troublesome is the strikeout rate which jumped to almost 29% this season and has increased each of the past two years. I wouldn’t sell low in dynasties, but it’s tough to recommend buying many shares at this point either.