April 17, 2014

‘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.

The words between Olney and Boras are nothing new, and this latest feud follows the same controversy we saw erupt from the Prince Fielder anonymous comments Olney released to the world.

For the most part, coverage on MLB labor relations has been lighter over the past few years. There hasn’t been much fruitful to talk about aside from drug testing, as the sport has enjoyed such wild growth. There’s not much to argue about when both sides are fat and happy.

But, as we’ve seen in the past, media coverage will spike on this silent battle during certain periods. Sometimes it’s topics like drug testing, player safety or expansion that attracts the spike in media coverage. But more often in this sport, it’s antitrust and anti-competitive practices that are the spark.

Scott Boras’ clients Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew are unemployed. And many of his other clients (Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse) have reeled in much less wealth than they expected based on spoils comparable players took home in past years. Because they’re well-known players, that are worth millions of dollars on the open market, there’s already something fishy in the air. No doubt, the draft-pick ties to players that turn-down qualifying offers has a significant effect. But is this keeping Morales and Drew unemployed? How? Even Nelson Cruz, whose image was crippled by PED use and his price tag plummeted due to draft-pick compensation inked a one-year $8 million contract.

There’s already some tinder here for a smoldering fire. Buster Olney’s article though, provided enough gasoline to illicit a loud response from an already-fired-up Scott Boras and representatives of the MLBPA. Now, there’s more serious courtroom talk than usual. 

The Background

Let’s go in order.

Scott Boras strongly dislikes Buster Olney, and believes he has been burned a lot lately by the negative publicity Olney points at his clients.

 Numerous articles have been published this winter and spring about the obvious effect draft-pick compensation has had on free-agent player salaries. The league is going younger, as players effective ages are increased with every new injury, physical talent is at its peak during the early/mid 20′s, and poorer young players have much more incentive to play harder than older free agents that have already accumulated a $100 million worth of comfort.

Last week, Olney proposed the already well-known theory that the MLB’s labor rules are favoring owners/investors/derivative holders relative to players/agents (also other investors and other derivative holders).

Olney observed that brand-name free agents like Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew weren’t signed this offseason, despite displaying the characteristics that would earn them hefty amounts of open-market money in past winters. For instance, they both have above-average wOBA figures for their positions.

To answer the question why? And, to see if the answer supported the theory on the table, Olney interviewed a number of powerful executives and team officials with insider information.

What Olney failed to adequately illustrate to his sea of readers, is that he offered only a one-sided  account of a two-sided war. And because that one-side he offered had insider information, and because one of this conflicts WMD’s is media airwaves, he got shelled.

Boras and the MLBPA fired back at Olney, ESPN, and big media’s marriage with big leagues.

Did Olney’s Article Undervalue Morales and Drew?

He also happens to be the agent of Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew, two players that Olney specifically involved in his article appraising their value, that only included interviews from an opposite side of a business deal.

Last year, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales were both approximately three-win players in terms of Baseball Reference’s rWAR methodology. However, there was a range in their values based on other calculations. They were within 1.6 of that mark according to the algorithms by Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball Prospectus (WARP).

Cleveland Indians intern Lewie Pollis calculates that the open market pays about $7 million for each win (adding 1.0 rWAR). We’re talking about $/WAR, which is an effective representation of the value of a player’s marginal product of labor/performance. And what Pollis found is that team’s pay about $7 million dollars for each win they buy on the open free agent market, in the current baseball economy.

Tom Tango’s projection algorithm doesn’t estimate what free-agent players will get like Pollis’ does, it instead estimates what they should get based on their adjusted predicted performance. Essentially, Tango finds that players who sign free-agent contracts, consistently perform below standards. It’s worth noting that this behavior is consistent with economist Edward P. Lazear’s theories on long-term-contracted workers shirking/slacking once they have guaranteed money, and are being paid closer/above the value of their marginal product of labor. In fact, the MLB labor economy so closely fits his model that steeper earnings paths are generated by service-time-based, and players peak in performance in years 2-4 in service as predicted.

Anyway, I used both of these methodologies to calculate what we should expect Morales and Drew to be paid on the free agent market. And then, I compared my findings with the salary estimates stated by the eight baseball officials in Olney’s April 9th interview.

My findings are in the following three tables. The first two tables provide estimations for what we can expect Morales and Drew to earn based on Tom Tango and Lewie Pollis’ methods. The third compares the mean salary estimations for each player with the average figure that the interviewed executives provided in his article.


 Methodology 1 (Approximate Based on Observed $/Win)

 Player  fWAR  Estimated Total $alary  WARP  E$  rWAR  E$
 K. Morales  1.2  $8.4 (millions)  2.0  $14.0  2.8  $19.6
 S. Drew  3.4  23.8  2.9  20.3  3.1  21.7


Methodology 2 (Based on Predicted Player Performance)

 Player  fWAR  Estimated Total $alary
 WARP  E$  rWAR  E$
 K. Morales  1.2  $4.9 (millions)  2.0  $8.2  2.8  $11.5
 S. Drew  3.4  14.0  2.9  12.0  3.1  12.7


Sketchy Business? Estimated $alary Market vs. Olney Article

 Player  Mean Estimated $alary  Olney Mean $alary  Difference
 K. Morales  $11.1 (millions)  $6.9 (millions)  $4.2
 S. Drew  17.4   7.9  9.5


On the surface, Boras’ accusations/assertions are justified. And when we did deeper, they’re still justified, just less so.

We now see that the interviews were vastly more favorable for the team’s side of the deal than the free-agent player side. Not only were the commenters anonymous, their views were unchallenged by equally bullish estimates, and this elementary analysis shows that they followed their predicated behavior (bearish wage estimates).

In the ESPN article, Morales was appraised at $4.2 million below what he was worth in predicted salary, and Drew was appraised at a whopping $9.5 million below. Now, because there are only 8 observations, each person interviewed was anonymous, we can’t be too confident and weighting effectively is impossible. But these numbers do paint a picture. They clearly indicate that the article strongly devalued the two players. In Morales’ case, the highest estimate was $9 million, and the median was $7.25 million, which are both still significantly below his $11.1 million estimated salary.

In Drew’s case, he was even more drastically undervalued–over $9.5 million below what he’s projected to produce in 2014. His median was $7.5 million and most team officials suggested $7-7.5 million.

Of course, draft-pick compensation plays a huge part in player compensation as well. Here, both players turned down qualifying offers, tying them to first-round picks for 2/3 of the team that would bid for their services. So, signing them is essentially trading a draft pick as well, and picks in this range are generally worth between 0.5 to 1.8 fWAR over a six-year span.

Accounting for these issues helps explain Morales’ unemployment, and makes Boras’ argument less visible in this case. However, Drew’s nearly $10 million difference is hard to buy on those factors alone. And, as both players are still unemployed, there’s even a strong possibility that both players are seeing a much stronger effect from the negative media coverage.

Numbers aside though, the article even reads negatively regarding both players. For instance, Buster’s second interview question: 

Would the fact that they haven’t had a spring training and would need time to get game-ready factor into your offer? 

It’s just one sentence but if you read the entire article, you’ll see that there’s few positives that support the case to sign Drew or Morales.

To me, either free agent has plenty of enticing qualities if I’m trying to put together a winning team. Neither is my cup of tea, but I see enough skills and low enough cost to take a chance if I’m in GM shoes. Again, that’s what’s so puzzling now that they’re salary demands are so reduced.

Morales, though not a premium hitter, boats plenty of valuable skills in todays game. Having to spend his home games in the league’s two toughest parks on hitters during his MLB career hasn’t stopped him from posting a .207 ISO at home. And last year, while playing for a terrible lineup without protection, the switch hitter put together a .277/.336/.449 line. That kind of pop would translate nicely to Camden Yards or US Cellular for instance. And while his injury history is troubling, I wouldn’t be all too worried on a short-term deal. He played 134 games in 2012 and 156 last year.

As for Drew, I would pretty much discount the player he was up until 2011 when he fractured his ankle and tore multiple ligaments in a nasty injury. And judging by his short stays in Oakland and Boston, and the way he left Arizona, it doesn’t seem to be a sure thing that he’s good in the clubhouse. However, on paper, the player he is now is very useful. He plays positions up the middle with shallow talent pools, and he offers solid average or better defense all over the infield. He gets on base at a solid clip (.333 in 2013, .326 with the A’s in 2012) and he’s one of the relatively few available middle infielders that can give you a .150-.200 ISO while playing reliable defense.


Why? It’s Business.

Olney’s article was one-sided. After all, he did solely interview executives and team officials despite the topic being the market value of players. Obviously, as Econ 101 teaches, price is largely determined by supply and demand.

The interviewed executives had a clear, obvious incentive to provide low-ball salary predictions and estimates. It’s part of their job. They represent the teams that bid on these free-agent players, and are those directly involved in the deal. If they sign a player for less, they are rewarded for a job well done by their own employers:

Congrats Brian, my wonderful GM! You saved me a ton of money by signing Edwin Encarnacion well below the value of his performance. 


You signed Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano and Rafael Soriano for how much!? You’re fired!


John, you signed Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar before arbitration eligibility. By taking some extra risk, we we will be vastly rewarded! 

You get the point. The guys Olney interviewed have strong incentive to undervalue both Drew and Morales. Major League Baseball is a show, and a public relations powerhouse.

Image matters for everyone, but especially ball players. It’s hard to hand someone a big contract ignorant of what the future brings.  So teams analyze players harder than anyone–as if they have tens of millions on the line. So, rumors aren’t harmless, and negative media certainly isn’t. Because public image is such a large part of the equation and there’s so much money on the table, articles like Olney’s on ESPN make the salary depression effect even more powerful.

Is it intentional? Most likely. It’s a poker game. There’s plenty of elbow-elbow, wink-wink, colluding going on. And there’s plenty of outright effort to beat the system. What would you do to make millions of dollars? Tens? Hundreds?

By gaining together, and using ESPN’s massive sounding boards to undervalue Drew and Morales as a group, downward pressure is placed on these player’s expected compensation–for the benefit of teams individually and also the owners as a whole.

If the contract values of players fall, the overall market price for their skills falls. This same effect is what makes the Yankees so dangerous in free agency, to not only small market teams but to themselves and the entire MLB. Because their pool of wealth is so much larger, if they bid $40 million higher than the next guy to get C.C. Sabathia, that pushes considerable upward forced on free agent prices for them and everyone else moving forward.

Obviously, to make it a more objective depiction, a neutral writer would provide a two-sided piece–or would at least explicitly acknowledge the bias.


And that’s what Boras, and the MLB Players Union has a problem with.

Is Buster Olney out to get Scott Boras and MLB players? Of course not. However, it is worth noting that the richer, more powerful side of the owners and players battle is the former. And if I’m a media organization that is vying for an even larger cut of my already dominant market share, who is it in my best interest to side with?

More than anything, it’s the system.

Commenters on free agency are protected by anonymity, which does have its pitfalls. It keeps reduces accountability, and while this is an essential part of free speech and press, it’s also very exploitable. The imperfect information in the deal between free-agent player and employer team is unbelievably expensive and risky–lots of guaranteed money. Allowing either side a forum to influence the deal’s outcome and providing anonymity is a recipe for dirty pool.


What They’re Saying

As players are regulated to adhere to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules on drug testing, and draft-pick-tying, Boras believes franchise owners should be equally accountable for breaking league rules by suggesting lower player values and depressing markets/wages for players with damaging publicity.

In Jon Heyman’s article, Boras said that he plans on pursuing a grievance against the league, evening discussing the use of subpoena power to unearth the identities of the anonymous sources that provide these comments.

“It’s a clear violation of the CBA. As many as five executives continue to use ESPN as a conduit to violate the collective bargaining agreement…The bell is rung…Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew were damaged by these comments. The integrity of the game is challenged when players of this stature have yet to have a negotiation due to the system.”


Tony Clark and the MLBPA addressed the Commissioner’s Office as well, asking them to launch an investigation regarding the comments made in Olney’s article. Clark released this statement in a press release:

“I am angered that numerous, anonymous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about the free-agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free-agent rights of the players and depress their market value. Today, I have called upon the Commissioner’s Office to investigate immediately and thoroughly the sources of these statements and to take appropriate action to enforce our agreement.”


Boras supported Clark’s earlier statements by stating his belief that there needs to be a “remedy” for the two free agents, and changes to the system overall.

As mentioned before, Boras has been vocal on this topic for a long time, and he’s already had his share of words with Olney. In his July interview with Tom Haudricourt, he discussed the similarly negative and anonymous comments clouding Prince Fielder’s image Olney posted on his blog. Boras pointed out, that both sides of the story weren’t adequately portrayed, and he painted Fielder as a victim:


“This stuff about a ‘bad body’ is bull…[Fielder] may be a thick guy but he’s an athlete. He certainly is not the worst first baseman in the league like they say. It’s all hearsay. I’m tired of unnamed sources…Nobody mentioned that he just tied the club record for consecutive games played…They didn’t talk about that…People who know Prince know about his work ethic, what he’s like in the clubhouse and the attitude he takes out there every day, wanting to win. It has nothing to do with his body type. All of those things boost his value.”

Boras is no stranger to airing his gripes, even when they seem to be a stretch, or overly dramatic. In this case, he has a firm leg to stand on, but it’s a difficult matter that doesn’t have a clean solution on the table.


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 60/75 35/50 45/60 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 50/50 40/50 55/60 70/70 45/55 45/55 55/60 60/60 50/55 All-Star

Goodwin is fresh off another outstanding stint in the Arizona Fall League. After wrapping 11 extra-base hits in his first stint after the 2012 season (fifth best on the circuit), Goodwin hit an impressive .296/.333/.444 this past winter. He’s now solidly established himself as one of the Nationals organization’s elite prospects, though his luke-warm performance during the regular season has prevented him from earning similar consideration when measured against the top players from other organizations. Goodwin though, deserves more acclaim for his talent. He has the tools and the baseball acumen to be an All-Star, and a closer look suggests he’s right 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 highest 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, he’s since stalled a bit. He hit a much more modest .223/.306/.373 there 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 just yet, consider this: Goodwin only turned 23 in November, and 2013 was only his first full, healthy season in pro baseball. He plays in the large-park, power-sapping Eastern League where the average player is two years his elder, and still managed to post an above-average 115 wRC+. There’s plenty to like about Goodwin’s potential, and there’s plenty of reason to believe he’s on his way to stardom.

Goodwin hasn’t been overmatched. He did belt 11 triples and 40 total extra-base hits in 122 games and post an impressive .355 on-base percentage last year against some of the best pitching in the minors. His .355 OBP and .155 ISO are actually in the top 10 percent for his age in AA, and should become even more impressive considering the difficulty Harrisburg‘s ballpark — along with the rest of the Eastern League’s parks — pose to young hitters.

The majority of Goodwin’s trouble lays in his work against left-handers. Goodwin posted a .624 OPS vs southpaws in 2013, and has a .686 mark in his career while mashing to a tune of .822 against righties (.850 career). Those numbers shouldn’t be too startling, as many young left-handed hitters struggle with large platoon splits, and lefties in general tend to have larger splits. 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 everyday player.

Goodwin is essentially a six-tool player, with everything plus solid plate discipline. His clean, fluid left-handed swing looks graceful in the box, and he generates plus bat-speed seemingly effortlessly. He’s lightning quick with the bat, able to read and barrel premium stuff inside. When he’s seeing the ball, he can wait and still hit the ball the other way with authority, though he’s very prone to pulling-off same-side breaking stuff.

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 off-speed and willingness to work deep counts will always result in high strikeout totals, but he’s a tough out and shows the big league plate discipline to set the table. He also has solid home-run power, showing it off to his pull-side and sending premium heat out of big ballparks. His swing generates plenty of backspin and loft, and he hits far more line drives and hard fly balls than most players with his speed. His homerun power will always come to his pull-side, but he laces line-drives to all field and can punish pitches on the outside.

Goodwin has clocked sub 6.5-second sixty-yard dash times, which equates to elite-level speed. He’s not an effective base stealer yet, but his wheels, along with a solid arm and great body control, make him a quality center fielder. His defensive chops are lesser than fellow Nats 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 wheels have 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 adept at stretching his own hits in the gap for the 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.

Goodwin’s five-tool package still gives him sky-high potential. But potential is potential. He’ll have to figure out left-handed pitching and commit himself to his pitch selection as well as his baserunning and fielding reads to reach his star-level ceiling. That’s not to say he’s not an already solid, polished player though. For a long time, the general feeling is that he can do more if he can put in the extra hours.

Goodwin is a possible all-star and Washington’s 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, 15-20 homers and plenty of extra-base hits annually, to package with 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′ 4″, 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 Overall Future Potential
45/50 65/65 55/65 55/55 55/55 50/55 40/45 55/55 65/65 45/50 MLB Starter

About to turn 25, Souza is putting it together later than most. 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 showed vicious batspeed, a cannon arm, some footspeed for a big kid and his powerful, athletic frame always looked the part in tryouts. But the former two-way high school star struggled to put it together on the field. He hit just .191 with a .630 OPS in the Rookie League and A-Ball, and made 36 errors through 90 games at third base during his first two seasons.

In 2010, Souza started showing more promise to open the season, but just when he started to draw some positive attention 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 to start to his career, the adversity looked like it might knock Souza’s baseball career out for the count. But he responded well, putting the grit and work in to show up in spring 2011 ready to start putting his gifts to their best use.

Souza’s strong arm and plus athleticism for his size got him a long look on the dirt, but in the end the organization was more interested in his potentially special bat developing than his glove. They moved him to the outfield to open 2011, and since then, 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 homeruns and 23 doubles in just 273 at bats en route to a hulking .256 iso power. He rounded out his thunderous power numbers with a .300 average and .396 on-base percentage, while sprinkling in 20 stolen bases and nice 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 to his swing.

Over time Souza has developed into a hitter that’s comfortable using the center of the field and the gaps rather than his pull-side. That’s an asset when it comes to competing against craftier veteran pitchers that will stay away from power hitters with their off-speed pitches. He launches rockets to the opposite field on soft-stuff away, and when he’s picking up the opposing pitcher, there’s no fastball he can’t get inside and send out of the park with big pull power. The down side of his pop is that his healthy cut and hand-drop will lead to plenty of strikeouts. But like Cuddyer, he has the tools to grow into well-rounded numbers in the big leagues, demonstrating enough hitting chops to bat .270+ with nice on-base skills, 20-30 homers and tons of extra-base hits.

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.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 8 Sammy Solis

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

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 8, left-handed pitcher Sammy Solis.

8. Sammy Solis
Bats: Right, Throws: Left
Height: 6′ 5″, Weight: 230 lb.
Born: August 10, 1988 in Litchfield Park, Arizona, US (Age 25)
Draft: Second Round, 2010

Fastball Velocity Fb Movement Fb Command Knuckle Curve Change Off Spd Cmd Delivery Overall Future Potential
55/55 60/60 55/60 45/50 55/60 50/55 Average MLB Starter

Solis hasn’t pitched above high-A ball, but he’s ready for a Major League job. In terms of ability, he’s been ready for years, but injuries have seriously stalled his career and have lowered the organizations expectations for him somewhat.

Solis is a smart pitcher and has consistently been more advanced than his peers at every level, dating back to his high school days in Arizona. Solis was an outstanding amateur pitcher, totaling a 25-8 record during his Agua Fria High School career and his 358 strikeouts are second-most in Arizona 4A history. A week prior to participating in the ’06 Area Code Games, Solis was busy leading his team to victory in the Connie Mack World Series. He struck out 12 batters in Game 2, and then tossed a four-hit shutout in the championship.

He passed on the MLB after high school and went on to a dominant career in San Diego. He made the WCC All-Conference team as a freshman before missing a season to undergo back surgery. He rebounded nicely though, and finished off his college career with a superb 2009-2010 season. He went  9-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 92 innings pitched, for a juggernaut Toreros team that went 19-2 in the WCC.

The Nationals drafted Solis in the second round back in 2010handing him an over-slot $1 million bonus. At the time, the organization believed his polished repertoire, intelligence and spotless makeup would get him to the Majors in a couple of seasons. Injuries have slowed down his timetable considerably and Solis is now preparing to celebrate his 26th birthday without throwing a pitch in the high minors.

Solis’ pro career has been impressive. He’s not flashy, but in 160.1 pro innings he has posted a 3.20 ERA, 3.31 K/BB ratio, a nice 2/1 groundball/flyball ratio and only 11 total home runs allowed. He returned from Tommy John surgery last May and ended up putting together a pretty nice 2013 campaign with the Potomac Nationals. He came back throwing harder than he had pre-surgery, and he posted  a solid 2.57 ERA through his first 57 innings before getting blown up for dix runs in his final start.

Solis has had to overcome two serious injuries in four years. He first had to undergo back surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back while at San Diego. Then, after battling discomfort during his AFL stint in the 2011-2012 offseason, he went under the knife for reconstructive elbow surgery. Though his stuff hasn’t suffered too much, his delivery has stiffened significantly, leaving his mechanics and timing much worse off. His injury history and mechanical flaws, combined with the Nationals rotation depth almost certainly ticket him for the bullpen.

Solis’ best assets are his intelligence and feel for pitching. He’s a crafty southpaw that uses his three-quarters delivery and natural two-plane break on his off-speed stuff to work the inside and outside edges of the strikezone. He has great fastball command, and is proficient at running his tailing two-seamer away from righties and forcing week contact. He spots his heater in all four quadrants of the zone, and is very effective working the bottom edges with quality strikes in the 90-93 mph range. He’ll also throw a cutter from time to time on the hands of right-handed batters.

Solis can run his fastball up to 94 mph when he wants to max out, but he’s most effective spotting his heater in the low 90′s, working his two-seamer in and using his changeup to keep opposing hitters off balance. His plus changeup is his best secondary pitch, and it shows nice two-seam fade. He has solid command of the pitch, and is comfortable throwing it in any count, making it extremely difficult for hitters to know what’s coming and put a confident swing on the ball. His changeup arm speed and release is visibly identical to his heater, and he throws between 81-85 mph.

Solis’ curveball has developed into a solid pitch and now rates as MLB-average. It’s still a little bit short, but he throws it with nice, firm two-plane break and it’s deceptive out of his three-quarters arm slot. His lack of an effective breaking ball made him more susceptible to left-handed hitters earlier in his career, but he did a better job closing his platoon split last season.

Solis has the package to be a quality mid-rotation starter, or a strong reliever in the big leagues. His three-pitch arsenal plays up because of his command and pitching IQ, and he’s lauded for his makeup and ability to make his pitches in the clutch. However, Solis’ mechanics have deteriorated from a strong point to a red flag. He’s very good at repeating his delivery, but he has stiffened up — presumably from back and elbow injuries. He has a short stride, forcing him to rely on his upper-body for power, and his timing is visibly out of sync. His arm lags behind his body, putting a lot of extra pressure on his shoulder and elbow.

Solis is traditionally more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties, which doesn’t endorse him for a bullpen role. His injury history and delivery problems also make it more difficult to project him as a starter long-term. However, his stuff is above-average for a left-hander, as is his command and control. He’s definitely a big league pitcher, and he looks ready, but the Nationals will have to figure out what to do with him this spring.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 9 Jake Johansen

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

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 9. pitcher Jake Johansen.

9. Jake Johansen
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 6″, Weight: 235 lb.
Born: January 23, 1991 in Allen, Texas, US (Age 23)
Draft: Second Round, 2013

Fastball Velocity Fb Movement Fb Command Cutter Curve Change Off Spd Cmd Delivery Overall Future Potential
65/70 55/60 40/50 45/55 35/45 35/50 35/45 Inconsistent MLB Starter

Even though they didn’t have a first round draft pick last June, the Nationals continued to draft for huge upside. They nabbed raw Dallas Baptist right-hander Jake Johansen 68th overall with the club’s first pick. Though Johansen was much less accomplished than other college pitchers drafted around him, his powerful 6’6″ frame and mid 90′s fastball made him well worth the risk for the Nationals. One of the oldest players in the draft, it didn’t even take Johansen 24 hours to sign his pro contract.

Johansen didn’t make Dallas Baptist’s rotation until his (redshirt) senior season, and he posted a career 6.04 ERA , walking 99 batters in 147.2 innings. Part of Johansen’s subpar numbers should be attributed to a tough pitching environment and a poor defense behind him, as well as his throwing the kind of power stuff that college bats can launch when they make contact. Johansen in fact improved drastically during his last two college seasons, totaling a 52/48 BB/K ratio in his first two seasons before posting a 75/26 mark as a senior.

Many teams passed Johansen off as a fastball-only pitcher prior the draft, but Nationals the scouting department insisted otherwiseThe club believed with focus on mechanical improvements and pro coaching, Johansen would be a complete starting pitcher in the big leagues one day. So far, their assessment appears to an accurate one. During his pro debut, Johansen displayed a premium fastball, improved pitchability and a couple of promising secondary pitches by the end of his stint in the New York Penn League.

He’s raw for his age, but Johansen has the tools, the frame and the makeup to grow into an A.J. Burnett-type, a fellow late bloomer. His fastball is outstanding, and it’s the pitch that got him drafted. He throws his four-seamer in the 92-94 mph range consistently, and he can scrape triple-digits when he maxes out. His fastball command is better than initially billed, and he was able to work it at different eye levels and move it to both sides of the plate with some consistency last summer.

Johansen is mainly a power guy, and he likes to add movement to his fastball to avoid the barrel. His fastball is heavy, coming out of his high three-quarters arm slot, and his two-seamer has some sink to it. He also throws a cutter in the 87-91 mph range with nice disappearing break. It’s his best secondary pitch at the moment and should grade plus in the future.

Johansen’s off-speed stuff needs time to develop, but he shows feel for both his power curveball in the low 80′s, and his change up. He threw a lot of his curveball in his debut, and it looks like it could be average in the future judging by his arm speed. His changeup may ultimately be the better offering though, and he’s made it one of his primary focuses this offseason.

Johansen is a good athlete for his size and he’s well put together, with a powerful trunk, good balance, and long levers. His mechanics were looking much better during his pro debut and he was repeating his delivery and landing spot nicely. His overall command and breaking stuff have the opportunity to be Major League average, which would make him a dominant starting pitcher in the AJ Burnett mold. Even if they don’t improve to that level though, his fastball velocity, and the movement he generates on his pitches would make him a potential closer and a weapon in the bullpen.


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