November 21, 2017

Washington Nationals Minor League Team-by-Team Awards

As the regular season comes to a close for minor league, District Sports Page now takes a look around the Washington Nationals’ organization and reflects a year that was in minor league baseball. (NOTE: These are not “official” awards. They have been selected by the writer.) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Top 25 Prospects: No. 16-20

Over the next two weeks, 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.

With no further ado, here are prospects Nos. 16-20:

 

16. Tony Renda, 2B
Bats: Right, Throws: Right Height: 5′ 10″, Weight: 170 lb.
Born: January  24, 1991 in Santa Rosa, California, US (Age 23)
Draft: 2nd Round, 2012

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Future Potential
50/65 30/40 30/35 55/60 55/55 50/60 45/55 45/55 40/40 50/55 Fringe Starter

A short, stocky overachiever with a vicious swing and a knack for line-drive contact, Renda naturally hears a lot of Dustin Pedroia comparisons. That may be going a little bit far, but Renda has the ingredients of a solid big league starter nonetheless. He has some of best hitter’s hands and bat control in the system, and enjoys superb plate coverage. During his three-year Cal Golden Bears career, Renda totaled a .347 average, with 11 homers and 68 extra-base hits in 169 games. A headache to retire when he’s in the box, Renda drew 29 walks and struck out just 18 times in his final college season. In 2013 with the Hagerstown Suns, his first full-season in pro ball, he hit an impressive .294/.380/.405 and walked more times (68) than he struck out (65) en route to his well-above-average on-base percentage.

Like Pedroia, Renda works the count, gets on base and doesn’t strike out. Power isn’t as much a part of his game, and he doesn’t generate home-run loft in his flat, handsy swing. But he puts the ball in play, advances runners and uses the whole field. Plus, he has more than enough strength and feel for the barrel to hit a few balls out of the park each season, while racking up doubles and triples at an above-average clip. Defensively, he’s outperformed expectations and has better range and body control than he showed in college. The arm is short, and he’s not a smooth athlete, but he has good balance, a low center of gravity and he makes accurate throws and turns the double-play nicely. The overall package makes him a solid bet to be a utilityman like Ryan Theriot or Mark Loretta but not a whole lot more.

 

17. Felipe Rivero, LHP
Bats: Left, Throws: Left Height: 6′ 0″, Weight: 150 lb.
Born: July  5, 1991 in San Felipe, Yaracuy, VE (Age 22)
Undrafted

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

The Nationals snagged Rivero via the Nate Karns/Jose Lobaton trade. GM Mike Rizzo raved that Rivero has “huge upside” after completing the deal. The clubs believes he’s a viable replacement for departed southpaw prospect Robbie Ray, who was sent to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal. In reality, Rivero has solid potential but he isn’t the pitcher that Robbie Ray is–not yet anyway.

Rivero has a nice fastball for a lefty, hurling a four-seamer that sits around 91 mph and climbs to 94 mph in his best starts. He throws a lot of two-seamers in the 89-91 mph range right now, and he gets solid tail and sink out of his low three-quarters delivery. He’ll raise him arm slot at times to max-out his velocity. The natural run on his fastball makes it difficult for opposing batters to loft his pitches and drive the ball. As a result, he allowed only 5 home runs in 113.1 innings spent in the hitter-friendly Midwest League in 2012, and then only 7 homers in the 127 innings in the Florida State League last season.

Rivero has so-so command for his age. He throws strikes with his fastball consistently, but he doesn’t show the feel and accuracy to move it around and throw quality strikes confidently. His off-speed command comes and goes, and is generally below average. He can get his secondary pitches over the plate for strikes, but has to sacrifice movement and quality. The biggest issues holding him back lay in his technique. He throws across his body and needs work mechanically, not only for the sake of his command but because his arm action has some red flags in it. On the bright side, his delivery makes him difficult for left-handed hitters to pick up, and righties don’t seem comfortable against him either despite getting a longer look. If he irons out his mechanics, and strengthens his base, he could develop average overall command.

In terms of secondary stuff, Rivero is a work in progress but he offers some promising tools for coaches to work with. Though it flashes solid-average potential, his slider is short and is prone to flattening out. He gets plus spin when he throws it with confidence.   His change is developing into his better off-speed pitch, and he can get it over the plate more consistently. He throws the pitch off the inside of the ball (nice pronation), allowing him to throw it with fastball arm speed.

Overall, Rivero’s profile probably falls short of a starter in a first-tier rotation. He has the stuff from the left side, but the consistency and feel aren’t there. He could exceed that forecast if he makes significant strides with his command, and his velocity develops like it has the potential to. The more likely scenario is him ending up in the bullpen, where his stuff would make him a potentially dominant late-inning southpaw.

 

18. Christian Garcia, RHP
Bats: Right, Throws: Right Height: 6′ 5″, Weight: 230 lb.
Born: August  24, 1985 in Miami, Florida, US (Age 28)
Draft: 3rd Round, 2004, New York Yankees

Fastball Velocity FB Movement FB Command Slider Change Off Speed Command Delivery Future Potential
70/70 50/50 55/55 55/55 70/70 50/50 40/40 MLB Bullpen

The 28-year-old Garcia is old for a prospect and is hoping to finally make it over the hump and into the Nats’ bullpen full time. For him, talent and performance aren’t the problem. It’s health. He has survived multiple Tommy John surgeries and a slew of other arm ailments. He looked like one of the best bullpen prospects in the game during his brief 12-inning MLB debut in 2012, lighting up 96’s and 97’s on the radar gun and allowing only 10 of the 48 batters he faced to reach base, while setting down 15 on strikes. He earned the favor of Davey Johnson with his dominant performance, but was unfortunately pushed into an ill-advised competition for the back-end of the rotation during the following spring. Not surprisingly, injuries derailed him last spring yet again, and he ended up missing most of the season with wrist and hamstring issues.

Before his most recent DL stint, Garcia pitched with mid-90’s heat, a nasty split changeup and a solid curveball. His delivery and arm action were still ugly, but his command was there. There’s no telling if his stuff will come back yet again, but he’ll get every opportunity to prove himself once more this spring.

 

19. Sandy Leon, C
Bats: Both, Throws: Right Height: 5′ 11″, Weight: 215 lb.
Born: March  13, 1989 in Maracaibo, Zuila, VE (Age 24)
Undrafted

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Baserunning Fielding Framing Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Future Potential
35/45 40/40 35/35 55/55 25/25 35/35 50/55 60/70 65/65 60/65 Fringe Starter

A premium defensive catcher, Leon turned a major corner in 2011 when he started to hit the ball with enough authority to legitimize his prospect status. By no means a slugger, he posted a solid .674 OPS while his glove took the spotlight. Leon gunned down an incredible 53% (60/113) of attempted base stealers in 2011, putting him atop the Carolina League while other premium defensive catchers like Christian Bethancourt and Brian Ward were starting there as well.

Leon put together a breakout season in 2012, when a high BABIP led him to setting career bests in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. A slew of injuries in front of him on the organization’s depth chart pushed him into making an early MLB debut that May, but he promptly went down with a sprained ankle in his first game on the job. The hitting magic seemed to disappear a bit in 2013 and he slumped through most of the season. He did seem to regain some steam during his Dominican Winter League stint this offseason, though. Regardless, his defense has been consistently impressive and that’s what will get him back to the MLB.

A Venezuelan native like Wilson Ramos, Leon calls a good game and is an excellent receiver. His blocking may lag behind the rest of his glove work, but he’s still developing into a solid-average back-stop in that regard, earning the confidence of his pitchers by using his quick reflexes to smother pitches in the dirt. He allowed a solid 9 passed balls in 96 starts behind the plate last season and he looked at least average during his brief MLB stint. He’s used to catching premium velocity in the Nationals system, getting paired with flamethrowers like Blake Treinen, Ryan Perry, AJ Cole, Nate Karns and Taylor Jordan.

Leon is one of the best pitch-framing catcher in the minors. According to Retrosheet, he saved an unbelievable 24 runs with his wizardry behind the dish in 2013, outperforming more widely acclaimed prospects like JR Murphy and Jacob Realmuto. Topping it all off, his arm strength is outstanding. It’s so good that he is capable of eliminating the opposing team’s running game–even when he’s paired with mules (pitchers that are slow to the plate) and soft-tossers.

Like Jose Lobaton, defense is Leon’s ticket. If he can block the dirt better and continue to develop his overall toolset he’ll be a first-rate back-up catcher or a glove-first starter.

 

20. Drew Vettleson, OF
Bats: Left, Throws: Right Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 185 lb.
Born: July  19, 1991 in Bremerton, Washington, US (Age 22)
Draft: 1st Round, 2010, Tampa Bay

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

The Nationals plucked Vettleson from the Rays in the Karns/Lobaton trade. A flashy hitter and switch pitcher in high school, Vettleson was a highly regarded supplemental first-round pick by the Rays in 2010. He’s performed solidly in the low minors during his first few seasons, but hasn’t shown the ability that got him drafted so high.

Pre-draft, he was touted as a borderline five-tool player with the swing and hitting prowess to bat .300 and hit 30 homers one day. He continues to show one of the better hit tools at his position and level, as well as a cannon arm, but his power has regressed with wooden bats and his swing’s unorthodox moving parts don’t generate back spin. He still has the upside to be a Mark Kotsay-type right fielder, but the projected plus hit and plus power scouting reports that were common a few years ago should be much more tempered now. Vettleson will look to take a step forward this season in Harrisburg, and get himself on the organization’s map.

Washington Nationals Top 25 Prospects Overview

For the Washington Nationals, the flip-side of  a decade-long losing streak is their extraordinarily talented, affordable roster. Their poor records came at the perfect time, just as baseball scouting was expanding and implementing new analytics methods to assess performance, and the big league draft was still unfettered by a hard-slotting system. As a result, their savvy front office accumulated a bevy of high draft picks and used them to rake in a gluttonous share of the baseball’s best athletes.

The Nationals were able to heist the franchise talents of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Lucas Giolito, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, along with a bounty of other blue-chip prospects. The injection of young, affordable star-power led them to put together the franchise’s best stretch over the past three years, and they managed to snap a 31-year playoff drought in 2012.

Despite a step back in Major League production in 2013, the Nationals are still looking stronger than ever heading into the 2014 season. Healthy and more polished versions of Strasburg and Harper lead a stacked 25-man roster that is looking almost unbeatable following the addition of Doug Fister and the maturation of Anthony Rendon.

The franchise’s farm system isn’t what it was a couple of years ago. Naturally, promoting so many stud prospects to the Major Leagues and competing with homegrown talent comes with a price. Over the past few seasons, the club’s farm system has graduated starting pitchers Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, gifted relievers like Storen,  Stammen and Ian Krol (now with the Tigers), as well as a long list of position players that includes Harper, Zimmerman, Rendon, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Derek Norris (with the Athletics). Two thirds of their projected opening day roster is comprised of homegrown players, or former prospects that spent their final seasons in the Nationals farm system.

Additionally, the cost of winning has dropped the club’s annual draft slot to the back of the line, and has forced the front office to play for the short term. They’ve traded away blue-chip prospects like Alex Meyer, Derek Norris and Robert Ray for short-run contributions, and have also parted ways with sure-fire contributors like Nate Karns, Tommy Milone, David Freitas and Steve Lombardozzi.

So, the Nationals don’t have the prospect starpower they normally do. A couple of years ago, they had the best system in the minors. Now, though they’re still strong, they’ve faded to the middle of the pack.

The Nationals savvy amateur scouting, particularly out West, has helped Mike Rizzo maintain a competitive farm system in spite of the organizations determination to put a winning roster on the field annually.

The farm system lacks balance. It doesn’t have a stand-out prospect at the upper levels at the moment, and the losses of Nate Karns, Alex Meyer and Robbie Ray have depleted a lot of their pitching depth.  Their lack of left-handedness was also exacerbated by the Doug Fister trade, which sent the extremely underrated Robbie Ray to Detroit along with Ian Krol–who’s poised to be an elite-level left-handed setup man. To get a southpaw in the bullpen finally — a void that killed their bullpen effectiveness last year as opposing managers were able to stack their lineups with lefty sluggers — the front office had to deal Billy Burns to Oakland for Jerry Blevins. While Burns isn’t a star, the little speedster looks like a superb fourth outfielder and pinch runner.

On the bright side, the lower levels of the system do sport many of the game’s most gifted athletes. 2013 first-round pick Lucas Giolito, now recovered from Tommy John surgery, is an elite-level arm when healthy, and has the stuff, intangibles and command to be an ace in a few years. Brian Goodwin, Harrisburg’s center fielder in 2013, has gotten stuck in double-A over the past two years after rising quickly through single-A ball. Though Goodwin’s five-tool profile pretty much makes him a sure bet to be a valuable player in the MLB.

The Nats didn’t have a first-round pick last June, but still made the most of their resources by grabbing a pair of high-ceiling stars from cowboy country. Former Dallas Baptist right-hander Jake Johansen largely flew under the radar in college, but his mid 90’s fastball and NFL tight end frame bless him with intriguing upside. And farmboy Drew Ward, taken in the third round last year, profiles as a left-handed version of Nolan Arenado.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll post detailed scouting reports on the players that made District Sports Page’s list of Top 25 Prospects in the Nationals organization. Below, though, are the names of the Nats’ top prospects to watch this season.

Top 25 Prospects

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP

13. Blake Treinen, RHP

2. Brian Goodwin, OF

14. Austin Voth, RHP

Robert Ray, LHP

15. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP

3. AJ Cole, RHP

16. Tony Renda, 2B

Nate Karns, RHP

17. Felipe Rivero, LHP

4. Drew Ward, 3B

18. Christian Garcia, RHP

5. Steven Souza, OF

19. Sandy Leon, C

6. Zach Walters, SS

20. Drew Vettleson, OF

7. Michael Taylor, OF

Adrian Nieto, C, 

8. Sammy Solis, LHP

21. Cody Gunter, 3B

9. Jake Johansen, RHP

22. Nick Pivetta, RHP

10. Eury Perez, OF

23. Rafael Bautista, OF

11. Matt Skole, 3B

24. Brett Mooneyham, LHP

12. Matt Purke, LHP

25. Pedro Severino, C

Billy Burns, OF 

Honorable Mention: Dixon Anderson, Aaron Barrett, Cutter Dykstra, Randy Encarnacion, David Napoli, Travis Ott, Raudy Read, Danny Rosenbaum, Hector Silvestre, Maximo Valerio

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Ryan Kelley is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He’s a web application developer by day and an aspiring sports journalist living in the D.C. area. He has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has past experience working within Minor League Baseball and for Team USA. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in scouting prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. A life-long ballplayer himself, he enjoys hitting home runs with his writing and scouting reports. You can follow him on Twitter @BBNewsHound and @Ryan_S_Kelley.

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