April 24, 2014

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′ 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.

 

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 10 Eury Perez

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.

Without further ado, here is prospect No. 10. outfielder Eury Perez.

10. Eury Perez
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 0″, Weight: 180 lb.
Born: May 30, 1990 in San Luis, Distrito Nacional, DO (Age 23)
Undrafted

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
60/65 30/35 35/40 40/45 80/80 60/65 55/65 65/70 55/60 55/60 MLB Starter

Perez has been in the Nationals system since the team signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, when he was just 17 years old. Since then, he’s done nothing but hit and steal bases at every level. While he lacks the well-rounded profile the talent-stacked Nats are looking for in a starting player, he’s an excellent baseball player and is ready to be a valuable option off the bench in 2014.

Perez’s resume contains just about every accolade possible from a top prospect. He opened his career in the states by winning the Gulf Coast League batting title in 2009, and earning player of the year honors from Topps. The following year he swiped 64 bags while playing in Hagerstown, which topped the organization and was the second-highest total in the minors.  His made an appearance in the Futures Game in 2010, and even took home Dominican Winter League Rookie of the Year honors after batting .345 on the circuit.

The Nationals added Perez to their 40-man roster in 2011 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and he ended up making his big league debut in September 2012. Now at 23 years old, Perez has accomplished everything he needs to in the minors. He hit .310/.347/.413 with 43 stolen bases in 46 tries in 136 games in Triple-A, flashing plus glove work in the outfield as well.

Perez is a burner, blessed with top-of-the-scale speed, quick-twitch athleticism and tremendous base-running ability. He absolutely flies out of the box, and can get from home plate to first base in under four seconds from the right side. He clocks sixty-yard dash times as low as 6.3 seconds, which is absolutely astounding speed. His wheels work come game time as well, as evidenced by his insane stolen base totals. He displays sharp base-stealing instincts, makes nice reads on pick-off moves and gets great jumps. He has great body control and dives into a head-first slide in one clean, quick motion.

Perez’s speed makes him an asset in center field, and he has developed a strong, accurate arm with quick release and gets nice carry on his throws. He’s a complete defensive outfielder and is already above-average at all three positions. He sees the ball well off of the bat and has the acrobatic agility to run full speed while tracking the ball.  With more experience playing in MLB outfields, he could be one of the elite fielders at his position.

At the plate, Perez is fairly one dimensional. He has a nice, short stroke and displays the plate vision and pitch recognition to make hard, line-drive contact all over the zone. He boasts uncanny plate coverage, and sprays line drives all over the field. He should continue to hit for average in the MLB, though his lack of plate discipline — which has been fueled by his ability to hit anything near the plate in the minors — will probably keep him from batting .300 in the near-term. If he can learn to work the count and pick the pitches he puts in play though, he definitely could reach that mark.

Perez has little to no power. His frame is slight, with little room to add strength. His swing and approach are built for contact and it’s  highly unlikely he’ll ever hit more than a handful of home runs a season in the MLB. He has the strength and barrel control to spray his fair share of gappers, which will allow him to leg out extra-bases however.

Perez’s lack of power and plate discipline limit his profile to a superb part-time player. His defense, baserunning and contact skills will be invaluable off the bench, but unless he can learn to work the count and get on base at a better than average clip, his right-handed bat won’t see the lineup every day. For now, the Nationals should be able to give him a look as a second bench outfielder, and he’ll have his opportunity to earn plenty of at bats with the big club this year.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: Nos. 11-15

In this series, District Sports Page will provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here.

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

Without further ado, here are prospects Nos. 11-16.

 

11. Matt Skole, 1B
Bats: Left, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 4″, Weight: 220 lb.
Born: July 30, 1989 in Woodstock, Georgia, US (Age 24)
Draft: 5th Round, 2011

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

Skole’s plus raw power and hulking build got him drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, and he immediately made the Nationals look wise for signing him by mashing throughout his superb full-season debut in 2012. He hit a monster .286/.438/.574 for the Hagerstown Suns, and raked 27 homers and 44 extra-base hits in just 101 games there. His performance earned him South Atlantic MVP honors and he was named the Nationals Minor League Player of the Year. His left-handed power and plate discipline looked like it was going to put him on the fast track, especially because the Nationals were looking for contributors in both of those areas. There wasn’t an encore in 2013 however, as Skole injured his non-throwing elbow while fielding last spring. He was forced to get reconstructive elbow surgery, wiping out his season.

Skole is now healthy and showing off his plus left-handed power and plate discipline in front of the big club’s coaching staff in spring training. Matt Williams likes what he sees, and even compared him to Jim Thome.

Skole’s bat is almost ready to do damage in the Majors, and his home-run power will translate. He has a massive build, with a thick base, a powerful core and tons of strength. He carries a big stick to the plate, showing outstanding bat speed and strength in his cut. He takes a long, graceful swing that generates backspin and consistent loft. He’s also a very disciplined hitter, showing superb pitch selection and feel for the strike zone. The combination of his power and batting eye might even be enough to make him an average or better hitter, as he works the count and puts only hard-hit balls in play. That may be a stretch to project though, as his large strike zone and long, pull-oriented swing makes him susceptible to good off-speed stuff. On the bright side, he hasn’t had any trouble handling left-handed pitching in the minors.

Skole’s bat is legitimate thunder, but his lack of other tools and poor fielding will be a tough sell for a starting job, at least until there’s an opening at first base. He has some arm strength, but doesn’t have the athleticism or balance to man any other position in the MLB effectively. The overall package is still very promising, though, and he has a high floor. Skole is a solid bet to carve out a nice career for himself as a Raul Ibanez type player or a left-handed Mike Morse.

 

12. Matt Purke, LHP
Bats: Left, Throws: Left
Height: 6′ 4″, Weight: 205 lb.
Born: July 17, 1990 in Nacogdoches, Texas, US (Age 23)
Draft: 3rd Round, 2011

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Cutter Slider Change Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
50/60 60/65 45/55 50/55 50/60 40/50 40/50 Poor Timing MLB Starter

Purke was a big name coming out of Klein High School in Texas. He posted a 12-1 record and a 0.37 ERA as a senior, he dominated on the showcase circuit and with Team USA, and he boasted a 94-mph heater (though he clocked 95 mph at the 2008 Aflac All-American Game). He also thew a vicious slider and curveball from the left side, making him virtually unhittable to high school competition. Of course, that profile made him one of the most prized amateur prospects in the game, irregardless of his strong college commitment. The Rangers drafted him 14th overall in 2009 and offered him a whopping $6 million to sign. Because the franchise was in dire financial straights at the time and temporarily in control by the MLB, the commissioner vetoed the deal. Purke ended up turning down a hefty $4 million offer and heading to college.

Purke fulfilled his commitment to Texas Christian University, and ended up dominating his competition to the tune of a 21-1 record, a 2.61 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 169 college innings between 2010 and 2011. His fastball clocked in the mid 90′s in many of his appearances, even hitting 97 mph. Once again, Purke was one of the most coveted arms. Unfortunately, he got shutdown with shoulder problems in April 2011, and his velocity subsequently dropped into the high 80′s. Yet another tough break, the injury killed his draft stock and he slid to the 96th overall slot. The Nationals signed him to a $4 million MLB deal, believing he could get the electricity back, though injury problems have continued to hamper his production in the pro’s.

Purke is a smart pitcher and has a plan on the mound. When he’s at his best, he has solid fastball command to go with a deceptive delivery, a nice feel for pitching and plus stuff. His fastball velocity, which was consistently plus before his shoulder problems, was back up to the low 90′s in the Arizona Fall League this winter, and some of the bite on his slider returned. He doesn’t have the 95 mph heat that he used to, sitting more int he 89-93 mph range at his best, and his off-speed stuff isn’t quite as sharp, but his flashes of brilliance indicate he still has serious upside. The returning arm strength is obviously a good sign. He showed the Nationals what he can do when he’s healthy during his 2013 AFL stint, taking home Player of the Week honors at the end of October.

Purke is tough to project. When he was healthy, his stuff was elite for a left-hander. His fastball sat 91-94 mph with movement, and his slider is one of the best among southpaw prospects. The problem is though, that he’s rarely been healthy these past few years, and his stuff has fluctuated. He looked good in 2013 overall, posting a 3.80 ERA and a 3.28 K/BB between Hagerstown and Potomac, showing he can get batters out with or without his best stuff. In many of his starts, his heater was clocking mostly in the high 80′s, and his slider looked flat. In others, he was back up to 90-93 mph and his slider had late break. He almost always looked like he had a plan on the mound though, and he is adept at changing speeds and keeping opposing hitters off balance.

Despite his ability to repeat his delivery, and throw with a nice slide step, Purke’s mechanics and arm action have serious red flags. He wraps and contorts his shoulder on the back-end of his delivery, causing his arm to lag well behind his body. While this adds a lot of deception, it also puts a dangerous amount of pressure on his shoulder and elbow. These issues not only make him fragile, but they deplete his stuff quickly as his pitch count climbs. Unless he fixes them, they’ll ultimately put him in the bullpen (or under the knife). As a reliever, Purke’s stuff and feel for pitching would make him a dominant arm in the back-end of the bullpen and a surefire MLB contributor.

 

13. Austin Voth, RHP
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 190 lb.
Born: June 26, 1992 in Redmond, Washington, US (Age 21)
Draft: 5th Round, 2013

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Cutter Slider Change Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
55/60 55/60 45/60 45/55 40/50 40/45 45/55 Average MLB Starter

Undrafted out of high school, Voth improved steadily in each of his three seasons at the University of Washington. He posted a 5.19 ERA as a freshman, and then lowered his era to 4.28  over 69.1 innings in his sophomore season before putting together a sparkling 2.99 mark last spring. The muscular 6’1″ bulldog gained considerable muscle in his core and lower body during his college career, helping his fastball improve to the consistent 90-93 mph range. He ended up striking out 99 batters in 105.1 innings in 2013, second in the Pac-10 to Mark Appel. The Nationals selected him in the 5th round of the draft, and then watched him dominate opposing hitters in three stops between the rookie leagues and low-A ball later last summer.

Voth’s drop-and-drive delivery draws every bit of power from his stocky, bulldog frame–generating plenty of spin and velocity on his pitches. Opposing batters have a hard time picking him up, as his delivery hides the ball and his pitches seem to have extra hop on them. His low 90′s fastball explodes out of his hand as if it were considerably faster, generating tons of whiffs.

Voth’s build, delivery and stuff resemble the Astros’ Anthony Bass, though his overall command has a chance to be superior. When he’s on, he works both sides of the plate like a veteran big leaguer, and he uses the natural lateral movement on his pitches to miss the barrel. He works effectively low in the zone with his tailing 2-seamer and disappearing cutter. His fastball scrapes the mid 90′s when he maxes out, suggesting he might be able to harness that velocity more consistently in shorter stints. He also throws a workable change-up and a slurvey slider that comes out of the same tunnel as his fastball. He varies the velocity and depth on the breaking ball, and it should be MLB-average.

Voth doesn’t have a long and athletic build, he doesn’t light up the radar gun, and his stuff isn’t overly exciting, but he’s a smart, polished pitcher, with a deep arsenal of solid pitches. The overall profile may not be flashy, but it’s the kind that will rack up a lot of quality innings and give the teams he pitches for a chance to compete almost every night.

Moving forward, Voth’s ability to locate his off-speed pitches and develop a true MLB swing-and-miss pitch will largely determine whether or not he will be able to fool more advanced batters. If his stuff continues to come along, he should reach his ceiling as a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter. His stamina and efficient delivery make him a nice fit for the job, although, in such a pitching-wealthy organization he may eventually be ticketed for the bullpen.

 

14. Blake Treinen, RHP
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 4″, Weight: 215 lb.
Born: June 30, 1988 in Ossage City, Kansas, US (Age 26)
Draft: 7th Round, 2011, Oakland A’s

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Slider Change Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
70/70 60/60 55/60 45/50 35/40 40/45 Average MLB Starter

Treinen–who came to the Nationals as a throw-in via the Mike Morse trade–is an oddity. Though he was an honorable-mention All-Area pick as a senior at Ossage City high school, he was actually cut from his JV team at Baker College. Very few pro players were cut from their JV teams, especially as late as college. But after re-tooling his delivery and committing himself to a rigorous strengthening routine and mechanical development under friend/coach Don Czyz, Treinen stepped on the mound for the Arkansas Razorbacks a couple years later with a mid 90′s fastball. Oakland’s scouts got a look at him soon after, and the rest is history.

A couple of years after getting drafted by the A’s in the 7th round, Treinen has developed to the point where he’s looking like a future MLB closer. He’s old for his development level, but Treinen performed nicely as a starter for Harrisburg last year — posting a 3.64 era, a 2.61 K/BB and a well above-average 3.22 G/F over 21 appearances. He simply keeps getting better and better, and has already left a great first impression on new Nationals skipper Matt Williams in spring camp.

Treinen has an electric fastball that he whips at the plate with an over-the-top arm slot. His heater sits firmly in the 93-95 mph range with great downward angle, and he’s able to throw in the high 90′s with command. He maintains his velocity like few pitchers in the game–touching 97 mph into the late innings of his starts. He displays solid-average feel and command of his heater, getting on top of it and attacking the four corners of the strike-zone with an exhausting fearlessness. He likes to use his four-seamer to jam opposing hitters by pitching them aggressively inside, relying heavily on the pitch. But, he also throws a hard sinking 2-seamer with heavy break under the hands of right=handed-hitters.

Left-handers get a better look at Treinen, as he’s a fastball pitcher without the deep repertoire to throw off their timing. His aggressiveness in the strike zone makes him prone to a lot of hard contact, and the confidence he lacks in his secondary pitches leaves him vulnerable to hits–considering his special arm talent. To polish his game some omre, he’s learning to cut his four-seamer on the hands of left-handed hitters, and he’s started throwing his mid-80′s slider with back-door break, off the outside to neutralize them. His breaking ball has come a long way since his early days in the California League, showing hard, downer break. It has solid average potential now that Treinen is using it more often in different counts–not just as a chase pitch. He also throws a below-average changeup that clocks 85-90 mph. He focused on refining it and mixed it into his repertoire consistently throughout 2013. It should be a reliable third pitch if the club continues to develop him as a three-pitch starter.

Treinen’s excellent fastball, his build and his ability to attack the strike zone and keep the ball on the ground make him one of the best kept secrets in the minors.  His age and his short repertoire keep him from profiling as a high-end starter in the big leagues, but his floor is high. If he continues to put the extra work in and develop at such a steady pace, he should be a quality 4-5 starter in a contender’s rotation or a superb bullpen weapon, with the upside of a closer.

 

15. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 5″, Weight: 185 lb.
Born: July 26, 1993 in Haina, DO (Age 20)
Undrafted

Fastball Velocity Fastball Movement Fastball Command Curve Split Off Speed Command Delivery Overall Future Potential
60/70 55/60 40/55 40/60 30/45 30/45 Very Good MLB Starter

Long, lanky and raw, Rodriguez is far from the Big Leagues but has the ingredients to be a top prospect with more seasoning. He put himself on the map last season when he impressed the Nationals as a headlining member of a dominant young GCL staff.  He posted a 2.45 ERA in 47.1 innings (12 starts), and whiffed 43 batters while allowing 20 walks and only one home run. A converted infielder, Rodriguez won’t be 21 until late July and has only 90 innings of professional pitching under his belt to date. In those 90 innings however, he has shown tremendous potential and made considerable strides with his control between 2012 and 2013.

Blessed with a long, lithe frame, he bears a strong physical resemblance to former MLB fireballer Jesus Colome. He whips fastballs like Colome, with a four-seamer that clocks 92-93 consistently and hits 97-mph on the radar gun. His delivery is loose, and so is his arm action — showing easy arm speed that indicates he has room for added velocity. His off-speed stuff needs a lot more refinement, but that’s understandable seeing how new to pitching he is. He already spins a sharp downer curveball in the high 70′s that has nice potential. He also throws a low 80′s splitter that he has trouble releasing consistently and he’ll probably scrap it for a change-up in the future.

Rodriguez is a nice athlete, boasting body control and flexibility, and he has a long 6’4″ frame that offers plenty of room for added strength and velocity. His delivery is fluid already and he has remarkably consistent timing for his age. His arm action looks clean, but his arm slot and release point do waver, and his stuff fluctuates. He has plenty of time to sure-up his technique, of course.

Rodriguez has become a favorite of Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams, along with the rest of the organization, for his stuff and athleticism. He’s an aggressive pitcher with plus velocity and movement on his pitches, and his fastball has sink to it. The package is pretty much everything you need for a bright future on the mound, and though he has a long way to go, Rodriguez looks like the real deal.

 

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