September 3, 2014

Washington Nationals Draft Review: Risks Taken on Fedde, Suarez and Reetz Will Pay Off

At it again. Through day-two, the Washington Nationals front office has managed to come away with one of the best draft classes in terms of pick value and overall talent.

After selecting one of the NCAA’s elite pitching talents in UNLV’s Erick Fedde, they grabbed University of Miami southpaw Andrew Suarez  and star Nebraska high school catcher Jakson Reetz.

As they’ve done multiple times in recent years, the Nationals managed to get top talent at bargain prices by gambling on injury and signability. Fedde, their top overall pick and No. 18 overall, was one of the most dominant college pitchers in the Nation this season at UNLV. He posted a 1.76 ERA and struck out 82 batters in 76 innings while allowing only one home run and  21 free passes.

Fedde’s ERA and strikeouts ranked within the top 40 in the nation. And that performance follows two outstanding seasons with the Rebels, a Cape Cod League stint where he went 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 30.1 innings and two effective appearances for the 2013 Collegiate National Team over the summer.

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2014 MLB Draft Preview: Top 50 Prospects

The 2014 MLB Draft is coming up. The Astros are set to make the draft’s first pick in Sebaucus New Jersey this Thursday, at 7pm est.

After that the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and the Twins will make the next four picks (2-5) and teams will continue selecting players until the night ends with the final pick (number 74 overall) of Competitive Balance Round B. The remainder of the draft will be held over the following two days.

The 2013 draft saw two gifted college right-handed pitchers–Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray–go in the top three picks. Kohl Stewart, an immensely talented righty out of high school, followed the duo only minutes later when he was selected at the number-four slot. The year before that, it seemed like there were enough stud shortstops (Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, Gavin Cecchini, Corey Seager) and centerfielders (Byron Buxton, Albert Almora, David Dahl, Courtney Hawkins) for every team that had a pick in the top 20.

This time around the draft class seems to be remarkably strong in left-handed pitching, from both the college and high school ranks. In fact, this class seems to deeper in high-upside pitching in general, compared to the past couple of years, and much lighter at premium defensive positions like catcher, shortstop and centerfield (at least in players that project to man those positions in the pro’s). There aren’t any Strasburgs or Harpers, but N.C. State southpaw Carlos Rodon has generated buzz on par with the amount that Mark Appel created during his own college career. The big flamethrower even hears comps to future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. So it’s a testament to this groups pitching depth that fellow blue-chip southpaw stars Kyle Freeland, Brady Aiken and Brandon Finnegan have the makings of even better professional pitchers. That’s if they pan out of course.

Despite the many flashy left-handed pitchers, the top draft selection might end up being a righthander out of high school. The Astros hold the first overall choice, and gunslinger Tyler Kolek matches up with their taste and needs perfectly. He’s arguably the top pitching talent, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his eighteen-year-old arm, he’s a native Texan that was born and raised on a ranch. He also might have the best fastball in the history of high school baseball. Needless to say, his profile and his Texas pedigree have earned him numerous comparisons to Hall of Fame pitcher and former Houston Astros ace Nolan Ryan. What makes the match even more perfect? Kolek’s favorite player is Nolan Ryan, who is now employed as a special advisor to ownership.

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‘Damaging’ Media and MLB Free Agents: Is Scott Boras Right?

“I am angered that numerous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress the market values.”
Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLB Players’ Association

I’ve read a couple of interesting articles lately about player compensation in the MLB. A debate on the topic started this winter when draft-pick compensation rules were limiting free-agency spending, and the discussion has become much more aggressive this last week.

A slew of articles, particularly this one by Jon Heyman, caught my attention. They cover the feud between Scott Boras, the MLBPA, and big media and the MLB. An interesting twist, Heyman’s includes a direct response to Buster Olney’s controversial April 9th piece on the MLB market’s puzzling lack of employment for household-known, free-agent players.

This discussion is a complicated one. The battle they’re discussing maybe new, but the labor war in Major League baseball is not. It had just temporarily fallen off the front page, but it seems like it’s ready to return.

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Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prosects: No. 1 Lucas Giolito

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters
No. 5 Steven Souza
No. 4 Drew Ward
No. 3 A.J. Cole
No. 2 Brian Goodwin

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 1, pitcher Lucas Giolito.

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 6″, Weight: 230 lb.
Born: July 14, 1994 (19)
Draft: 1st Round 2012 (16th overall)

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Curveball Change Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
70/80 50/55 50/60 60/70 40/50 40/50 Very Good Franchise Player

Selected with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Giolito was seemingly the class’s top pitcher but fell due to concerns over his arm health. Incredibly, he slid down the board to the Nationals. His bonus demands were an added obstacle, exacerbated by his commitment to pitch for UCLA and the MLB’s newly unveiled slotting system. So it’s a testament to his talent that the Nats not only didn’t let him slip past them, but they structured the rest of their draft spending around signing him.

The Nationals inked Giolito to a lucrative deal and had him test his arm out at the end of the summer before sending him under the knife to repair his torn elbow ligament. He recovered swiftly, even on a very measured timetable, and was able to pitch in the instructional league at the end of 2014 just after his 19th birthday. And already, as we prepare for the 2014 season, the front office’s decision to draft him appears to be a very wise one. Giolito has the kind of ability to make it one of history’s most glaring draft steals.

Standing at 6’6″ with a stone-solid 230-pound physique, Giolito’s long levers and balanced, well-developed musculature are the ideal build for a power pitcher. He’s an athlete. His balance and body control are outstanding, particularly for his size, and he’s able to generate mid 90′s velocity consistently without maxing his effort out. His long levers, and great arm extension on his release help him add nasty spin out of his 3/4 arm slot — resulting in tremendous movement on his pitches. He’s adept at cutting his fastball in on the hands of right-handers, pounding them inside, and he gets nasty movement in the low 90′s. His powerful mid 80′s curve has hard two-plane break, and it comes out of his fastball tunnel before darting down and away. It’s a potential plus-plus killer in the MLB, though he largely holstered the pitch in his GCL starts last summer.

Instead of his curve last summer, the Nationals had  Giolito pitching almost solely with his fastball and mixing in some changeups when he went off-speed.  His mid 80′s change was an after-thought in high school, but is looking pretty darn good lately. It has nice velocity separation and deceptive fade, dying to his arm side. It’s quickly become his go-to off-speed pitch after returning from surgery, though he needs to do a much better job 0f selling it with a complete follow-through.

Giolito has superb command compared to any young pitcher, much less one with his kind of stuff. Despite only short stints on the professional mound over the last two years, he already brings MLB-average control with him into games, flashing plus command of both his fastball and off-speed pitches at his peak.

Mechanically, he displays great balance in his delivery, and draws power from his core. He pitches downhill, and does a great job of staying on top of the ball. His stride has great extension but isn’t too long, and his landing spot is consistent. The only knock is minor, and it’s on his arm action. His timing is generally good, though he does show a few bad habits in the back-end of his delivery. He wraps the ball, adding extra length to his shoulder rotation, and his front elbow can get a little bit high. Overall though, his mechanics are very solid.

Giolito looked strong in his return form elbow surgery last summer, sitting in the 92-94 mph range with his fastball and showcasing nice command. He hit 100 mph in high school when trying to impress scouts, and has lived above 90 since he was barely old enough to drive. Judging by his size, and the radar readings he can register when he’s loose and maxing out, it’s safe to bet that he’ll be clocking consistently in the mid-to-high 90′s consistently in a few years. He’s the perfect combination of swing-and-miss stuff, mound intelligence and plus command. He’ll be a high FIP pitcher, and his incredible movement and ability to make pitches will continue to keep balls in play on the ground. The overall profile matches any pitching prospect in baseball and should make him a top-quality MLB starter, possibly a dominant John Smoltz-type if he can stay healthy.

Giolito has the opportunity to make a leap forward with a full-season debut in 2014, though the Nationals front office will make sure to keep the reigns on him for the next couple of seasons. If he can stay healthy and grow at even a modest pace, he’ll be a special pitcher in just a few years.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 2 Brian Goodwin

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters
No. 5 Steven Souza
No. 4 Drew Ward
No. 3 A.J. Cole

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 2, outfielder Brian Goodwin.

2. Brian Goodwin
Bats: Left, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 0″, Weight: 200 lb.
Born: November 2, 1990 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, US (Age 23)
Draft: First Round (34th overall), 2011

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Base Running Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
45/60 45/50 40/45 55/60 70/70 40/50 45/55 55/60 60/60 40/50 All-Star

Goodwin is fresh off of his second outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League in two years. After wrapping 11 extra-base hits in his first stint there following the 2012 season (ranking him fifth best on the circuit) and making the AFL all-star team, Goodwin hit an impressive .296/.333/.444 in his second go round this winter. He also made another appearance in the Rising Stars game, though he didn’t take home the game’s MVP honors like he did in 2012.

By now, Goodwin is pretty well established atop the Nationals organization’s prospect ranks. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in the spotlight and has performed well against advanced competition. His lukewarm performance during the regular season has largely kept him from earning wider acclaim though, and he doesn’t often get included in blue-chip prospect conversation alongside outfielders like George Springer and Billy Hamilton despite showing comparable talent. His resume and his potential insist he deserves more enthusiasm about his future. He has the tools and the baseball acumen to be an All-Star, and a closer look at his play suggests he’s well on the path to realize that potential.

The Nationals snagged Goodwin in the supplemental first-round of the 2012 draft, and handed him a whopping $3 million bonus, one of the largest figures in the franchise’s rich history of wallet-busting drafts. After hitting a robust .324/.438/.542 and pushing his way up double-A Harrisburg in his first summer, and at the ripe old age of 21, Goodwin managed to look like a steal. Unfortunately, he’s since stalled a bit. He hit a much more modest .223/.306/.373 at Harrisburg to end 2012, before improving to a productive (though uninspiring) .252/.355/.407 last year.

While his numbers aren’t what you’d expect from a premium prospect, consider this: Goodwin only turned 23 in November, and 2013 was just his first full, healthy season in pro baseball. He also plays in the large-park-laden/power-sapping Eastern League, where the average player is two years his elder. In spite of all that, he still managed to post an above-average 115 wRC+ while getting good reviews for his defense at all three outfield positions.

Goodwin hasn’t been overmatched by the older, more seasoned pitching he’s faced in double-A and in the AFL.He did belt 11 triples and 40 total extra-base hits in 122 games and posted an impressive .355 on-base percentage last year against some of the best arms in the minors. His .355 OBP and .155 ISO are actually in the top 10 percent for his age group in AA, and his offense should become even more impressive considering the difficulty Harrisburg‘s ballpark poses to young hitters.

The majority of Goodwin’s trouble lays in his work against left-handed pitchers. Goodwin posted a .624 OPS vs southpaws in 2013, and has a .686 mark in his career. Against righties on the other hand, he’s raked like an All-STar, posting an .822 OPS last year and an .850 career mark. His platoon split isn’t too startling, though, as many young left-handed hitters struggle with large platoon splits as they face such a high concentration of quality southpaws in the pro’s (after seeing so few with quality stuff in amateur ball). And generally, left-handed hitters tend to have larger splits anyway. Goodwin has barely faced two full seasons of pro left-handed pitching, so there’s plenty of reason to believe that he’ll tighten it up with more experience. And even if he doesn’t, he still has the hitting prowess and on-base skills to be a quality semi-regular player.

Goodwin is essentially a six-tool player–with a nice hit tool, power, speed, defense, arm strength and solid plate discipline. His clean, fluid left-handed swing looks graceful in the box, and he generates above-average bat speed seemingly effortlessly. He’s lightning quick with the bat, able to keep his hands in and barrel premium stuff inside. When he’s seeing the ball well, he’ll wait on off-speed stuff and use his quick swipe to slash the ball the other way with authority. Against lefties, he has trouble in this area as he’s very prone to pulling off same-side breaking pitches.

Goodwin gets on-base with the best of them, and has the hit tool to continue to post high on-base percentages in the Big Leagues. His weakness against offspeed combined with his willingness to work deep counts will always lead to high strikeout totals, but he’s a tough out and shows the plus plate discipline to set the table at the top of a lineup. He also has solid home-run power, showing it off to his pull side and taking premium heat out of big ballparks. His swing generates backspin and loft, and he hits far more line drives and hard fly balls than most players with his speed. His homerun power will probably always come to his pull-side, but he laces line-drives to all fields and can punish pitches on the outside.

Goodwin has clocked 6.5-second sixty-yard dash times, which equates to elite-level speed. He’s not an effective base stealer yet, but his wheels–combined with his solid arm and great body control–make him a quality center fielder. His defensive chops are lesser than fellow Nationals outfield prospect Michael Taylor’s, but he’s a more polished all-around player and is the likelier pick as the Nationals center fielder of the future. On the basepaths, his foot speed gives him an extra gear and he’s very smooth rounding the bases. He’s adept at going first-to-third and first-to-home, and he’s able to stretching his own hits in the gap for an extra base. Similar to Denard Span and Bernie Williams, he should be a very valuable baserunner and fielder despite not having the stolen base totals that other guys with top-of-the-scale speed have. His defensive value is shaping up along the same lines. He’s not quite instinctual enough in either department to dominate, but he should almost certainly provide above-average value in both categories.

The general feeling among scouts when it comes to Goodwin is that he can do a whole lot more than he’s shown thus far, he just needs to put in the extra hours. Goodwin’s five-tool package still gives him sky-high potential. Few prospects are blessed with his outstanding baseball athleticism–the kind of skill-set that works perfectly on the diamond. But potential is potential.  He’s displaying some unsettling red flags in the box and in the field, dimming his star power. His 2014 season will be an important year for him, and he’ll need to take a step forward to show he’s the real deal, and not just a tease. First and foremost, Goodwin needs to figure out more advanced left-handed pitching to continue to profile as a plus hitter, and that means he needs to commit himself to improving his pitch selection. Too round his game as a future top-of-the-order catalyst and an asset in the outfield, he also needs polish his base running and fielding reads.

Goodwin is a possible all-star and the Nationals believe he’s their center fielder of the future. He’s right at the doorstep of the big leagues, and if he can take that final step forward at the plate, he’ll be a supremely valuable Ray Lankford-type center fielder with .350+ OBP’s to go with 15+ home run pop, plenty of extra-base hits and reliable defense.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 3 A.J. Cole

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters
No. 5 Steven Souza
No. 4 Drew Ward

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 3, RHP A.J. Cole.

3. A.J. Cole
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 5″, Weight: 200 lb.
Born: January 5, 1992 in Winter Springs, Florida, US (Age 22)
Draft: Fourth Round, 2010

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Power Curve Change Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
60/70 60/70 50/60 40/50 45/55 45/55 Very Good All-Star

After selecting Bryce Harper with the top overall pick of the 2010 Draft, the Nationals selected Cole in the fourth round (116th overall). Widely considered among the draft’s elite high school arms, Cole’s strong commitment to the University of Miami pushed him down draft boards some, but the Nationals still had to fork over a well over slot $2 million signing bonus to reel him in. His star was so bright though, that Washington was more than happy with their side of the bargain.

Though he was thin and wiry, Cole had dominated his opponents while pitching for Oviedo High, to the tune of a 0.93 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 60 innings during his senior summer. His fastball was already in the low 90′s, and his off-speed stuff and mechanics were advanced for his age. Needless to say, he had little trouble in the low minors, and was able to put together a superb season in the South Atlantic League in 2011. He got past a rocky start to the season to one-hit the Delmarva Shorebirds on April 13th. And from there he caught fire, combining for a 2.81 ERA during the remainder of his starts. He totaled a 4.04 ERA and a sparking 4.5 K/BB ratio on the season overall.

The following summer, the Nationals’ found themselves in the position to compete for  the playoffs for the first time since coming to Washington. Their surplus of young arms was a major asset on the trade market, and they ended up sending Cole to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade. After just one tough year with the Athletics, getting lit up in the home-run-launching California League, the Nationals got Cole back in the Michael Morse trade.

Cole got right back on track last season while pitching in much more forgiving Carolina League and Eastern League digs. He got his confidence back, and the (then) 21-year-old was able to dominate much older competition during the second half of 2013 while pitching with the Harrisburg Senators. Cole posted a quality start in each of his seven appearances in Harrisburg, striking out nearly five times more batters than he walked en route to a 2.18 ERA and 2.56 FIP.

Cole has outstanding pure stuff. His fastball velocity is exactly the kind of fire scouts want to see from a young arm, and he’s consistently out-gunned other top pitchers at his age and level. He sits in the 93-95 mph range throughout his starts, working batters in and out with solid command of the strike zone, and he can reach back for 97 mph. He uses his excellent athleticism and body control to generate velocity cleanly, consistently and smoothly. He pitches very well out of the stretch, and he’s very quiet in his release and follow-through, leading evaluators to believe he’ll carry plus command with him to the mound one day. On the downside, his thin, wiry frame isn’t the type that will hold muscle mass well. Like a young Phil Hughes, he’s somewhat slender and could risk tightening up if he focuses on bulk and power. Still, no pitcher needs more than the combination of plus velocity and plus fastball command.

Cole couples his razor-edged four-seamer with a heavy tailing two-seamer that has developed into a killer pitch. He gets huge sink and tail on it in the low to mid 90′s, so much so that it often resembles a splitter. The evolution of the pitch has seemingly helped him to miss more bats and create more soft contact recently, after having so many of his heaters get launched into the stratosphere in 2012.

Cole’s off-speed stuff and movement are both solid. He relies on his fastball as heavily as any 97-mph-hurler should, alternating between tailing two-seamers to his arm-side and cutting four-seamers that he likes to attack lefties with. But he’s definitely not a one-trick pony.

His mid 80′s changeup looks like his most reliable offspeed pitch right now, as he’s able to throw it for strikes consistently and take 7-10 mph off while throwing with his fastball effort. His release tends to over-pronate, possibly tipping the pitch to smarter batters and creating some unpredictable tumbling movement. Overall though, the pitch has a lot of promise, and his ability to throw it in any count is extremely valuable. It’s already fringe-average and should eventually be solid to plus as he builds up feel for it from continued use.

Cole also throws a potentially solid power curve. The pitch flashes late downward movement when he fires it as his chase, swing-over pitch. It has a ways to go though. He softens up on it more than many scouts would like, and his overall feel for it looks iffy. It tends to roll off to his arm-side with big, loose break.

Cole’s mechanics aren’t perfect. He throws across his body, wraps his arm and shows exaggerated up-hill shoulder tilt as he loads. He hides the ball well against right-handed hitters, but lefties see the ball much better, often handling his mid 90′s heat inside. On the bright side, the extra shoulder rotation in the backside of his delivery, when he shows the ball to the first baseman, doesn’t lead to any major timing flaws.

Cole leads with his hip and takes a big stride, lining up his front toe to his target with great hip-shoulder separation. The extra swing and stride allow his pitching arm to sync back up with his lower body, leading to nice timing. In fact, it’s hard to catch his arm out of position when his lead foot plants. He also repeats his mechanics and landing spot surprising well, considering he has such a healthy stride. He has the ingredients to be a 200-inning guy consistently despite a long, narrow-shouldered frame.

Overall, Cole has the tools to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher like Matt Cain, and he’s a relatively low-risk arm. The back side of his delivery could be better, but there aren’t any major red flags and his mechanics are largely a plus. His biggest knocks are his difficulties beating lefties and his tendency to give up hard contact. Flyball tendencies aren’t such a big deal for hard-throwers in the National League, and Cole is making strides against southpaws.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 4 Drew Ward

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters
No. 5 Steven Souza

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 4, third baseman Drew Ward.

4. Drew Ward
Bats: Left, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 4″, Weight: 210 lb.
Born: November 25, 1994 in Leedey, Oklahoma, US (Age 19)
Draft: Third Round, 2013

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Base Running Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
40/60 50/60 35/50 60/65 35/35 35/45 40/55 40/50 60/65 50/60 All-Star

Drew Ward, the Nationals third-round selection last June and the first position player they draft, has the most upside the system has seen since Bryce Harper.

Despite his immense potential, Ward has largely flown under the radar and a lot of teams were relatively cool on him. That’s probably because he hails from a tiny town in rural Oklahoma, with a smaller total population than some high school attendance sheets. Outside of the showcase circuit and pre-draft tryouts, many teams didn’t have the comfort-level with him to risk big slot money.

Ward though, is a star-level prospect. He didn’t face much quality pitching while playing for his class-B Leedey high school Bison, but his numbers are hard to downplay. He hit a Herculean .556/.765/.1.190 with nine home runs and only eight strikeouts to 56 walks. He played baseball year-round and is much more polished both in the field and in the box than post-draft media reports have given him credit for. He came into his own in the national spotlight, stealing the show in the 2011 and 2012 Perfect Game National Showcases. He laced a double off of fireballer Clint Hollon‘s fastball and clocked one of the strongest arms at the 2011 event. The next year he put on a show in batting practice, lacing balls to the fence like a machine.

The Nationals have a strong scouting foothold out west, with Kris Kline, Jim Gonzalez and Ed Longosz bird-dogging some of their best talent out there. As a result, they were chasing Ward early and already had detailed reports on him when he became draft eligible. Many other teams were sleeping on him.

After taking him with the 105th overall pick and inking him to a $850k bonus, the Nationals sent Ward down to Viera, Florida to play with their Gulf Coast League affiliate. The second-youngest position player on their roster, Ward hit a strong .292/.402/.387 and looked sharp at third base, making only four errors in 80 chances in his first extended time at the position after playing shortstop in high school.

Tall and well-built, Ward resembles a young Eric Chavez when he was coming out of his Mt. Carmel high school almost twenty years ago. He’s not quite the same athlete, but he’s a more patient hitter than Chavez ever was and has similarly impressive arm strength and left-handed power potential. In the box, Ward’s great hands and fluidity stick out. He has an outstanding feel for hitting, using the opposite field on soft stuff and when he’s at a disadvantage, and shows plus pull power when he gets his pitch. Ward uses his strong core and shoulders to whip the bat head, keeping his hands in and leading the barrel to the baseball. He lines the ball like a machine already, and has the body to grow into 20+ home run loft power with more coaching.

Facing lower-quality arms throughout his baseball career, Ward has been under-challenged for years and has developed multiple mechanisms to slow down his swing as a result. Now that the pitching quality he’s facing has jumped up, he’ll have to scrap those bad habits to reach his potential as a complete hitter, with plus power and plate discipline. He has the undeniable hitting skills and batting eye to get there though. His left-handed power could make him an Eric Chavez-like run producer.

In the field, Ward’s size and thick lower half slow him down, drawing doubts from some scouts that he’ll stick at third base. But many of the same scouts also doubted Nolan Arenado — the 2013 NL Gold Glove winner at third base as a rookie. And Ward has better defensive tools than Arenado ever did. He has a premium arm, and makes very accurate throws with good carry across the diamond. He displays nice balance, moving low and playing the ball with huge, soft hands. His ability to keep a low center of gravity and light feed as he fills out will determine whether or not he’ll be an above-average third baseman.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 5 Steven Souza

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 5, outfielder Steven Souza.

5. Steven Souza
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 3″, Weight: 225 lb.
Born: April 24, 1989 in Everett, Washington, US (Age 24)
Draft: Third Round, 2007

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy O.F.P.
45/50 65/65 55/65 55/55 55/55 50/55 40/45 55/55 65/65 40/45 MLB Starter

About to turn 25, Souza is putting it together later than most top prospects. When the Nationals took him with the 100th overall pick back in 2007, they knew they were investing in a raw, player development project. A third baseman at the time, Souza offered rare potential for a third-round pick. He displayed vicious bat speed in pre-draft tryouts, a cannon arm, plus foot speed for a big kid, and his powerful, athletic frame certainly looked like it fit the bill for a power-hitting big leaguer corner infielder. But the former two-way high school star struggled to put it together on the field during his first few seasons in the pros. He hit just .191 with a .630 OPS in the Rookie Leagues and in A-Ball, and he made 36 errors through 90 games at third base during his first two seasons.

In 2010, Souza started showing more promise. He showed up to spring camp with a much stronger, leaner musculature and he started hitting with power right out of the gate. Just when he started to draw some positive attention though, he went down with a broken thumb. To add insult to injury, he was slapped with a fifty-game PED suspension that summer. Considering how much he’d struggled already in pro ball, the adversity looked like it might knock Souza’s baseball career out for the count. But the Nationals stuck with him and he responded well to the challenge. He put in the grit and work, and showed up in spring 2011 ready to start putting his athletic gifts to their best use.

Souza’s strong arm and plus athleticism got him a long look on the dirt, but after toiling to improve his hands and quickness for three years, the organization’s brass decided to have him move to an outfield corner and focus on developing his potentially special bat. Since he moved to the outfield grass in 2011, he’s been a far better hitter and overall player. At the plate with the Hagerstown Suns in 2011, Souza hit .290/.346/.576 and mashed 17 homers in his first 70 games. He was named SAL Player of the Week for July 2-8, promptly earning a promotion right after that. He finished out the year raking in the Carolina League, and ended up leading the Potomac Nationals in batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging (.560).

Last year, Souza was challenged with a promotion to double-A Harrisburg, a tough environment on right-handed hitters, and he responded better than the organization could have ever hoped. While overcoming nagging oblique strains, he mashed 15 home runs and 23 doubles in just 273 at bats en route to a hulking .256 isolated power. He rounded out his thunderous power numbers with a .300 average and .396 on-base percentage, while sprinkling in 20 stolen bases and solid right field defense to top his performance off.

Souza is strikingly similar to Michael Cuddyer for his size, right-handed power, approach  and a package that sports surplus athleticism but also a glove that has moved him off the dirt for good. Similarities abound. Souza’s powerful frame is laden with muscle, and he generates plus to plus-plus power to all fields. He has a quiet, balanced set-up, working the count and looking-off tough balls low and away. He’s a patient, poised hitter, and he doesn’t back off when he’s behind in the count.

Souza has huge raw power, showing off serious distance in batting practice and in games. When he gets his pitch, he uses his stone-solid trunk and ideal balance to generate scary bat-speed and pound the ball. He’s equally effective at hitting lefties and righties, and though he’ll swing and miss some, he can handle breaking pitches. The only knock on his power is that he’s more of a pure strength slugger right now, and could stand to add some more loft/back-spin to his swing. He also tends to choke up and take the ball to the opposite field instead of using a more leveraged swing.

Over time Souza has developed into a hitter that’s comfortable using the center of the field and the gaps rather than solely going after inside pitches and trying to muscle everything to his pull side. That’s an asset when it comes to competing against craftier veteran pitchers that will stay away from power hitters and nag them with off-speed pitches on the outside edge. He launches rockets to the opposite field on soft stuff low-and-away, and when he’s picking up the opposing pitcher well, there’s few fastballs he can’t get inside and send out of the park with big pull power. On the down side, his hard, aggressive cut and the hand-drop he employs as a timing mechanism will continue to lead to plenty of strikeouts–and may keep him from ever developing plus contact skills. But like Cuddyer, Souza has the tools to grow into well-rounded batting numbers in the big leagues, demonstrating enough hitting chops to bat .270+ with above-average on-base skills, 20-30 home-run power and high of extra-base hit totals.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 6 Zach Walters

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 6, shortstop Zach Walters.

6. Zach Walters
Bats: Both, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 2″, Weight: 210 lb.
Born: September 5, 1989 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, US (Age 24)
Draft: 9th Round, 2010 Arizona

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
40/50 55/60 55/60 35/40 50/50 40/50 45/50 55/50 70/70 45/55 MLB Starter

Walters is finally enjoying wider recognition as a top prospect following his breakout 2013 season with the Syracuse Chiefs. He tore the cover off the ball, racking up 252 total bases and tying Mauro Gomez for the International League home run title.

Walters was a well-regarded prospect during his college career at San Diego, batting .312/.367/.437 in three seasons. He ended on a somewhat sour note though in 2010, watching his batting average fall to .245 after batting .377 as a sophomore in 2009. As a result, scouts cooled on him and he fell to the ninth round, where the Diamondbacks selected him. He put together a strong start to his pro career, batting .302 with four home runs and 26 extra-base hits in 275 at bats in 2010, and then following with a .302/.377/.485 triple-slash line with the Southbend Silver Hawks to open 2011. His performance was largely overlooked, but he still drew enough attention from Nationals’ scouts to get included in the Jason Marquis trade that summer.

Since arriving in Washington, Walters has become a favorite of the organization for his work ethic, athleticism and coachable personality. He spends his offseasons honing his game in winter ball, playing well in Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente  in 2012 before posting a .240/.321/.440 in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2013. He’s developed and filled out his once long and lithe frame with a lean muscle, and he has hit with much more power over the past couple of seasons.

After the Nationals Major League coaching staff urged him to hit with a more upright stance and tap into his power during spring training 2012, he’s re-discovered himself at the plate. He’s a much more dangerous hitter know, using an aggressive approach and his uncanny hand strength to lace balls with authority pitch after pitch. Naturally right-handed, Walters was a much better right-handed hitter earlier in his career, but now the switch-hitter has become a slugger from the left side of the plate. He carried the power he flashed during his stint with Harrisburg Senators in 2012 much more consistently with the Chiefs in 2013, putting a charge into nearly every ball he put into play. He hit 25 of his 29 homers with his tall, pull-oriented left-handed cut.

Walters is a big kid, with a long but powerful frame. He’s committed himself to grueling strength and endurance building exercise routines. His build is a mixture of power and athleticism, which gives him the opportunity to hit with power and field at a high level at shortstop in spite of his atypical size for the position. His upper-body has a high waist and sloped shoulders, steel pipe forearms and massive hands. His long legs are powerful, giving him a great base and outstanding balance in his swing and in the field. He has room to add more power, though more size will start to shorten his range in the field.

Walters is a good hitter from both sides of the plate. He has developed exceptional power from the left side, to go with an already thunderous right-handed swing. Despite his upright stance, he sees the ball well and is able to make hard contact on the outer half of the plate as well as down by his knees when batting left-handed. He’s not a dead pull hitter either, and is comfortable going straight away and even to left-center with his lefty swing. His power comes to all fields too, showing plus to his pull-side and to center, but also more than enough to loft pitches on the outer half. He’s very quick inside, and it’s difficult for opposing pitchers to exploit the hole under his hands. When he’s batting right-handed, his stance is still slightly different. He uses his leg and hand strength more with a quicker, more violent stroke that uses space to center and right field to rack up extra-base hits

Walters changed his approach to be more aggressive and hit with more power. As a result, his batting average has dropped from the plus range to fringe-average. He’s never been a disciplined, on-base guy either. He doesn’t see a lot of pitches during his at bats, and his willingness to extend and hit with power on the outer half can get him to trouble against crafty pitchers. He has the hitting tools and switch-hitting prowess to eek his average and on-base percentage to the MLB-average level with more development, while also keeping his above-average power. But now that he’s heading into his mid 20′s, it’s a stretch to project him to grow plate discipline that he’s not showing now. His impressive plate vision, which makes him very quick on pitches he likes, should help his pitch selectivity.

In the field, Walters is a mixed bag. He has a cannon arm that allows him to make any throw at shortstop and third base, and he shows nice extension and balance when moving to his glove side. At the same time, his size is becoming a stretch for shortstop, and his long legs and high waist give him a naturally higher center of gravity. His exceptional balance allows him to play low and move smoothly in and on plays to his glove side, but he doesn’t have the lightest feet or the flexibility to consistently make low, glove-side plays. His exceptional arm does make up for his so-so quickness and range, as he’s able to get carry and mustard on the ball while fading away from his target. He also turns the 4-6-3 double-play smoothly, with nice lateral footwork. The total package indicates a solid-average shortstop with more polish. He made too many errors last season, so he’ll have to sure-up his hands and work on his throw accuracy before he can be trusted with extended play at short in the big leagues.

Walters’s power is legitimate, but his approach will determine the kind of hitter he is ultimately. He has the tools to be a solid fielding shortstop with 20+ home run power, plenty of extra-base hits and enough batting average to make the power useful. If his plate discipline comes along, he could post a .260-.270 batting average and an average on-base percentage.  If it doesn’t, he might have to abandon his big cut for a more contact-oriented swing to stay in the lineup everyday. Regardless, he has an exciting profile and he’s a great teammate. The Nationals will give him some reps as one of the club’s utility infielders in 2014,  and he could be a member of the 25-man roster by the summer.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 7 Michael Taylor

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 7, outfielder Michael Taylor.

7. Michael Taylor
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 4″, Weight: 205 lb.
Born: March 26, 1991 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US (Age 22)
Draft: Sixth Round, 2009

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
35/50 50/55 40/50 40/45 65/65 50/60 55/65 65/65 70/70 40/50 MLB Starter

Taylor has been one of the Nationals’ more successful development projects over the past few years. The club drafted him in the sixth round of 2009 Draft, and inked him to a low-profile $125k bonus to pass on his commitment to The University of North Florida, a solid but relatively unheralded baseball program coached by Dusty Rhodes. Taylor hit .447 with seven homers during his senior season playing shortstop in one of the most stacked high school circuits in the nation, competing against top prospects like Deven Marrero (now with the Red Sox) and Dane Williams.

The multi-sport athlete was largely overlooked, but the Nationals believed they had something in him. After he was drafted, Taylor struggled to perform in pro debut.  He made an ice-cold debut in the Gulf Coast League and finished the season floundering at Low-A Hagerstown. At shortstop, he made thirteen errors in 19 games, and didn’t display the aptitude for third or second base. His work at the plate was rough as well. He posted an ugly .199/.276/.298 triple-slash line through 43 games, with more strikeouts (33) than hits (28).

Taylor is an outstanding athlete, but the Nationals saw a player that needed a lot of coaching and polish before he could be all that he could be. They moved him to the outfield, and instructors Tony Tarasco (now the organization’s minor league coordinator) and Marlon Anderson set out to put his game together. With extra work in the offseason, Taylor took to the outfield like a natural, and since that point, he has evolved into one the minors elite defensive players. At the plate, he cleaned up his poor swing that was marked by an abnormally wide set-up and a wild and powerless upper-body cut. He’s still working to find mechanical consistency, but his cut is now much cleaner and it employs his powerful core to generate bat speed. Last season, he started taking his plus speed into games more often, displaying improved base-stealing instincts and smart decisions on the basepaths.

Taylor enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, when he hit .253/.310/.432 with the Hagerstown Suns as a 20-year-old. His numbers stalled a little bit in the Carolina League in 2012, but his defense earned him recognition from Nationals coaches as a player to watch in the organization. Last season his bat’s development got back on track, and is starting to catch up to his glove. He hit .263/.340/.426 with the Potomac Nationals, posting the best walk rate of his career and managing his strikeouts. He swiped 51 bases in 58 tries, tying him for second in the league behind teammate Billy Burns. His 2013 stolen base total was more than he’d totaled in his previous three pro seasons combined.

At the plate, Taylor has a long way to go before he’s an average hitter, but the athleticism and tools are there. He’s lanky with long levers, and he whips the bat with strong hands. Now that he’s shortened his set-up and is doing a better job of managing his stride and keeping his weight on his back foot until he releases his hands, he’s hitting the ball with authority more often. He still could stand to do a better job of using his legs and core muscles in his swing as he tends to cast his hands. His sprays a lot of hard line drives, and doesn’t get consistent back spin or loft yet. Once he does though, he could unlock his home run potential and hit 20+ annually in the big leagues.

Taylor has some hitting skills, primarily his quick hands and his feel for the barrel. His pitch selection and discipline took a step forward last season. which will help him improve his average and power numbers, and he’s walking up to the plate with more of a plan lately. He’s still relatively raw for his age, however. His cut tends to get out of control when he gets his pitch, wasting a lot of energy and causing him to get out in front often. And while he’s fast enough to put the barrel on nearly any fastball, he’s prone to right-handed breaking pitches.

Taylor is a plus runner out of the box and under way, and he showed the quick first step and improved reads to become an asset as a base-stealer in the MLB, maybe a guy that can swipe 30 bags annually in his prime, and leg out plenty of doubles and triples.

Taylor’s defense is his calling card and he’s one of the best defensive center fielders in the minors — and arguably the best at his level. You don’t see his inexperience at all when he plays, and he reads line drives and spin off of the bat, adjusting his routes nicely. His long-limbed stride hives him the classic gliding appearance when he moves to the ball. He covers plus range into either gap and his apparent agility and body awareness should help him play wall in the MLB. He also tracks drives over his shoulder well, and makes wide receiver grabs. To top it all off, he has a strong, accurate arm.

Taylor’s defense and baserunning would already provide excellent value to an MLB ballclub, and his bat has promise despite so-so numbers at the plate over the past couple of years. He has some work to do on his swing and needs to develop a much better feel for hitting before he can be considered an everyday player. But if he develops into the solid all-around hitter he has the ingredients to be — a .270/.340/.420 type guy with 20-30 stolen bases — his other skills would make him All-Star caliber. Of course, the hit tool is the most important tool and the vast majority of young prospects end up falling short because they don’t pan out in this category. If the bat doesn’t get there, Taylor does still have the defensive chops and baserunning value to be a Dewayne Wise-type fourth outfielder.

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