December 22, 2014

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.

About Ryan Kelley

Ryan Kelley is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He’s an economist by day and an aspiring journalist living in the D.C. area. Native to Connecticut, he has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has covered Minor League Baseball and Team USA. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @BBNewsHound.

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