by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Last year’s trades helped to drain the system, especially of top end pitching, but it certainly didn’t deplete it. The Nationals have a few of the potentially elite prospects in the game, one of which is primed to take over a full-time role in 2018 (and potentially as soon as Opening Day). Sure there’s a significant falloff after those two names, but they are more than enough to buoy a system into respectability. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the system and try to find value on the horizon:
1) Victor Robles – Outfielder
Grade – A
ETA – Already Arrived
Seeing Robles arrive in the Majors straight from Double-A late in ’17 was a bit of a surprise, but it paves the way for him to open the season with a starting role on Opening Day ’18. That’s hardly a guarantee, with 139 AB at Double-A (and he saw only 24 AB in Majors), so we aren’t going to read into the numbers he produced there. He thrived in his first taste of Double-A, though:
- Line Drive Rate – 28.6%
- SwStr% – 9.0% (leading to a 13.9% strikeout rate)
We need to be cautious, as the SwStr% overall in the minors this season was 12.3% (and ballooned to 13.7% in the Majors). It’s a small red flag, and he needs to prove that he can maintain the improved mark against upper level pitching. The power is still developing, as he hit 10 HR but complimented it with 38 doubles and 10 triples including his time in the Majors (454 AB), but it’s going to be there. He also has ample speed, and no one is going to question the upside potential.
There easily could be some growing pains, most notably in the batting average, but there’s little question that he’s among the elite prospects in the game.
2) Juan Soto – Outfielder
Grade – A-
ETA – 2020
There was a lot of hype surrounding Soto entering 2017, but he missed significant time due to an ankle injury (he played just 23-games at Single-A). It’s a speed bump in his development, though he didn’t turn 19 until after the season ended and has plenty of time to continue to grow and mature. The fact that he posted an impressive 7.4% SwStr%, at 18-years old, speaks volume to his approach and ability to handle the bat. Just to hammer that point home, he actually walked (10) more than he struck out (8).
The other skills haven’t shown up yet (3 HR, 1 SB), though they are coming and could begin to present themselves as soon as ’18. There are obviously questions, but the development could come quickly.
3) Seth Romero – Left-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – 2019
Selected 25th overall in the 2017 draft, Romero obviously got limited opportunity in his professional debut (22.0 total innings, 20.0 IP at Low-A). That said when he was on the mound he was highly impressive, with 35 K vs. 8 BB and getting a massive 24.0% SwStr%. We obviously don’t want to read too much into those numbers, but they are eye-popping and he has the size we look for at 6’3” and 240 lbs. (meaning there should be little issue holding up to a starters workload).
The question with Romero isn’t his stuff, it’s his maturity as he was ultimately kicked off his college team (after first being suspended). At 21-years old you have to hope that the Nationals can help him learn from his past issues and get his focus on the field, because if that was the case he would’ve been a candidate to be selected much earlier. Those questions have to knock him down a half grade (he would’ve been a B+) for now, but until he proves he’s past the character issues we need to have some caution.
4) Carter Kieboom – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2019
A 2016 first round draft pick, Kieboom hit .297 with 9 HR (as well as 16 doubles) over 219 AB. That type of power potential is promising, especially as he develops and matures. He needs to improve upon his 1.60 GO/AO if he’s going to add significant power, but we need to have some patience. He played the year as a 19-year old and is listed at 6’2” and 190 lbs., so there’s room for him to fill out and add more strength. Kieboom also showed a solid approach, with a 9.2% SwStr% helping him to an impressive 12.5% walk rate.
Without much speed the key to his potential value is going to come from his ability to add power. If he doesn’t develop in that regard, the overall appeal is going to be minimal at best.
5) Erik Fedde – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B
ETA – Already Arrived
Had Fedde not bombed in the Majors he may have gotten a “B+” grade, though a 9.39 ERA over 15.1 IP, and more importantly having been tested as a reliever in the minors, is going to bring fair questions to his potential. He’s consistently shown the ability to generate strikeouts, control and groundballs, though his minor league 9.1% SwStr% last season does give a little shadow of doubt in that regard (though maybe his transition to the bullpen played a role). We still believe, but at this point the questions outweigh the reward.
The Next Five:
6) Daniel Johnson – Outfielder (Grade – B-)
Johnson gets a “B-” grade, but has significantly more upside than that. As it is he hit 22 HR with 22 SB over 497 AB, with the potential to go 30/30 as he refines his skills.
7) Yasel Antuna – Middle Infielder (Grade – B-)
8) Wil Crowe – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – B-)
9) Luis Garcia – Middle Infielder (Grade – C+)
10) Blake Perkins – Outfielder (Grade – C+)
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists:
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