It’s hard to believe that the first month of the season is almost behind us. The Nationals have been off to a red-hot start (at least the offense) and sit firmly atop the National League East. Down on the farm, things have been only slightly less cheerful. The Nationals affiliates have gone a combined 41-35, with the Low-A Hagerstown Suns leading the pack at 13-8. Individually, the Nationals have seen several top prospects come out of the gates firing, as well as a few lesser known prospects providing eye-opening performances. Despite the small sample size, the organization has been encouraged, and I would like to acknowledge these performances with my Organizational All-Stars for the month of April.
Raudy Read - Harrisburg Senators, Catcher Age: 23 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’0/170
Not only does Raudy Read have one of the best names in the organization, he’s also one of the hottest hitters in the organization, collecting hits in 8 of his last 10 games. Read is considered a glove-first catcher, though much of that stems from Read’s plus arm rather than his skills behind the dish. At the plate, the Dominican-born catcher doesn’t take many walks, but makes enough contact and has enough pop to support his glove. So far in 2017, Read has proven his contact skills, batting a smooth .345/.377.569 with a couple of long balls. Coming off of his best offensive season to date in Potomac, Read is trending upwards and hopes to build upon his hot start.
Neftali Soto - Harrisburg Senators, First Base Age: 28 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1/210
Joining the organization in 2016 as a minor league free agent, Neftali Soto has had an up and down career with the Nationals. Soto was drafted all the way back in 2007 by Cincinnati and even received two cups of coffee with them in 2013 and 2014. The 28-year-old from Puerto Rico has rebounded from a quiet spring (his first with the organization) by putting up a .826 OPS to begin the year. The first baseman has only managed one home run in the young season, but has 120 minor league home runs to his name, and can be expected to hit for power going forward. Soto may be overqualified for AA, but he has shown that he is more than ready for a trip to Syracuse, and is hoping to get that much closer to a return to the Major Leagues.
Austin Davidson - Potomac Nationals, Second Base Age: 24 B/T: L/R Height/Weight: 6’0/180
Austin Davidson is in his second go around for Potomac and has done his best to make it his last with a tremendous start to 2017. Following a very disappointing start to his professional career, Davidson broke out in 2016 with Hagerstown and earned a promotion to Potomac where he met middling results. Davidson has replicated his success from a year ago, hitting .306/.386/.484, and adding a pair of home runs. Despite being drafted late in 2014, Davidson has an advanced eye at the plate and at least average defense, which has made him a borderline prospect. If the Pepperdine University product continues his stretch of excellent results at the plate we will be seeing him in Harrisburg sooner rather than later.
Edwin Lora - Potomac Nationals, Shortstop Age: 21 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1/150
Joining Davidson on the prospect rankings is his partner up the middle. Edwin Lora is a 21-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic. The undersized Lora has had trouble hitting consistently since coming stateside, but he has put that behind him so far in 2017. Lora carries an absurd BABIP inflated .364 batting average with 2 dingers for Potomac through 18 games. He combined this with his normally excellent defense. Lora didn’t make any prospect lists coming into 2017 due to his streakiness at the plate and small frame (150 lbs!), but he has turned heads in the scouting community with his torrid April.
Kelvin Gutierrez - Potomac Nationals, Third Base Age: 22 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3/185
I think I’m starting to see a trend here. Unlike his teammates on the Potomac infield, Kelvin Gutierrez has found himself among the top Nationals prospects two seasons in a row. Signing out of the DR in 2013, the young third baseman has done nothing but hit since coming stateside. That trend seems to have continued in 2017, with Gutierrez hitting at a .303/.379/.395 clip, while walking at a higher rate than ever. Gutierrez is no slouch in the field either thanks to above average range and a plus arm. Standing at 6’3, the Dominican-born Gutierrez still has room to grow into power, which would make him a top of the line prospect. Gutierrez is a guy to keep an eye on for sure.
Blake Perkins - Hagerstown Suns, Outfield Age: 20 B/T: S/R Height/Weight: 6’1/165
Blake Perkins wasn’t drafted for his hitting ability, but rather for his plus speed and elite defense in center field. Perkins struggled at the plate early in his Major League career. But in his first full season as a pro, Perkins has impressed scouts with his eye at the plate and solid contact. The Verrado High School grad isn’t a power hitter but has an advanced feel for hitting, which should only improve as he physically matures. The young switch hitter is riding .385 BABIP, but has improved both his LD% and FB% as he continues to make harder contact. Not only has he impressed at the dish, but Perkins has a collected an organization leading 7 stolen bases this year. Perkins has the tools to succeed as a major leaguer, and this April has been a major step in the right direction.
Juan Soto - Hagerstown Suns, Outfielder/DH Age: 18 B/T: L/L Height/Weight: 6’1/185
Juan Soto only has 264 at bats as a professional baseball player. In that time, he has made it all the way to Low-A, putting up a modest .359/.432/.526 line. Did I mention he’s only 18? Soto is good, like, really good, and has proved that with the Suns this season. The young outfielder has collected hits in all but 7 of his 21 games thus far, including 10 (10!) multi-hit games. The sample is small but shows us a glimpse of just how talented Soto is as a hitter. Soto is not your average 18 year old, possessing a natural feel for hitting and well above average power. Both combine to make Soto a potentially elite prospect, and definitely one that every Nat’s fan should know going forward.
Andrew Stevenson - Harrisburg Senators Age: 21 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’1/150
Perhaps fittingly, Andrew Stevenson carries a combination of the tools that make his fellow All-Star outfielders so successful. Like Perkins, Stevenson is fast and is a plus defender in the outfield, but also has the natural ability to make contact of Soto, without the power. Stevenson has hit an excellent .361./.439/.458 for the Senators and has garnered attention from scouts. Despite his inflated BABIP, Stevenson’s batted ball percentages remain in line with his career totals. But his hitting ability was never the question. Stevenson’s arm and lack of power may limit him to a bench role in the big leagues, but at just 22, the LSU grad is a young talent who could contribute to the big club as soon as this season.
Austin Adams - Syracuse Chiefs, Pitcher Age: 26 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’2/225
I’ve already written at length about Austin Adams and his abnormal H/9, and if you follow me on twitter, you’d know that he’s been dominant in Syracuse. (Oh, and we’re also best friends now). After six games without allowing a run, Adams has finally given up an earned run, bringing his ERA up to an appalling 0.82 on the season. Despite the high ERA, Adams has struck out 17 batters over 11 innings of work, while allowing only 3 hits, and walking 8. The Florida native has proven himself to be a two true outcome pitcher and has more games with 3 strikeouts or more (5) than hits allowed.
John Simms - Harrisburg Senators, Pitcher Age: 25 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’3/205
In his fourth go around with Double-A Harrisburg, John Simms has finally found consistent success as a starter. The 25-year-old right-hander out of Rice was promoted to Harrisburg in his first full season as a pro. Since then, he has bounced between Potomac and the bullpen but seems to have settled in as a member of the Harrisburg rotation, pitching a 2.87 ERA over his first three starts. Simms has never had dominant stuff but has made a living by throwing strikes and keeping his home runs to a minimum with an average fastball and potentially above average changeup. Simms ceiling is low, but a switch to the bullpen could allow his stuff to play up and give him a potential path to the majors.
Erick Fedde - Harrisburg Senators, Pitcher Age: 24 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’4/180
There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about Erick Fedde. The UNLV product has been dominant in his second taste of AA, as he continues his rise up prospect charts. Fedde was a premier draft talent before undergoing Tommy John, and has since shown fans why he was once so highly regarded. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and plus slider, Fedde has proven too much for AA hitters to handle, allowing just a .178 average to opposing hitters thus far. Fedde’s 1.80 ERA is good for 8th in the Eastern League and is tied for third in strikeouts at 22. With Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez shipped off during the winter, Fedde has become the Nationals next great pitching hope and may find himself in Syracuse come Summer.
Jaron Long - Harrisburg Senators Age: 25 B/T: R/R Height/Weight: 6’0/190
Since coming over to the Nationals from the Yankees farm system in 2016, Jaron Long has bounced between Harrisburg and Syracuse, dominating in AA, but failing to stick at the highest level of the minors. Long has put up his typically excellent AA numbers so far for the Sens, compiling 22 strikeouts over 4 starts while allowing only 4 walks en route to a dazzling 1.57 ERA. Similar to his rotation mate Simms, Long isn’t a fireballer. Instead, filling out his repertoire by limiting his walks and throwing strikes. Given that the big club called up two starters from Syracuse already this season, Long may earn another chance to prove himself at the last stop in the minors later this season.
Matthew Crownover - Harrisburg Senators, Pitcher Age: 24 B/T: R/L Height/Weight: 5’11/205
Drafted out of Clemson in the 6th round of the 2015 draft, Matthew Crownover finished 2016 as a member of the Potomac rotation but has since found more success as a reliever. In 2017, the stocky left-hander has transitioned to a long relief/spot starter role, which has so far paid dividends. The Ringgold, GA native has allowed just one earned run over 13.1 innings pitched, while notching 13 K’s, giving him an ERA of just 0.68. The lefty’s fastball sits low 90’s with sink, but he also possesses two above average secondaries: a curveball and a slider that can be maximized out of the ‘pen. Should the Nationals switch him to the ‘pen full time, Crownover could find himself fast-tracked to Double-A Harrisburg.
McKenzie Mills - Hagerstown Suns, Pitcher Age: 21 B/T: L/L Height/Weight: 6’4/205
McKenzie Mills is one of the most intriguing arms in the low minors with a lanky frame and fascinating three pitch mix. Despite being in his fourth season as a pro, Mills is only 21 years of age and has improved his peripherals every year in the minors. Through 4 starts this season, the tall left hander has a 2.18 ERA with 28 strikeouts, good for a 12.19 K/9. Mills struggled badly his first two seasons with the Nationals, but looked much sharper in 2016 and appears to have carried that form over into 2017. With renewed confidence and a more physically mature frame, Mills is on track to make his first full season in professional baseball a success.
Tags: Andrew Stevenson, Austin Adams, Austin Davidson, Blake Perkins, Edwin Lora, Erick Fedde, Jaron Long, John Simms, Juan Soto, Kelvin Gutierrez, Matthew Crownover, Mckenzie Mills, Nationals, Nats, Neftali Soto, Raudy Read, Washington Nationals