A disclaimer: I am not a scout. None of the opinions expressed below reflect any assessments I have made based on any video or information a scout might utilize. What I am is an aggregator of scouting reports: I read any I can find, and what I have written below is based on my synthesis of the reports of others. Without further ado, I present to you: the Nationals prospects whose stock has risen the most this season, in no order.
No player has shot up rankings quite like Soto this month. After an MVP campaign as a 17-year-old in the GCL last year, only Baseball Prospectus ranked him in their top 100, slotting him at 57th. Both Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him 101st. But a year later, Soto is tearing up Low A, and scouts have taken notice.
As one of the league’s youngest players, Soto is hitting .360/.427/.523 with 10 walks and just eight strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. BP’s Craig Goldstein said in a chat that Soto could move up to around 30th in their rankings, and later said other members of BP’s prospect team said that ranking was conservative. BP’s George Bissell, a fantasy writer, said in another chat that Soto would be a top-10 fantasy prospect by the end of the season, if he wasn’t already. BA’s Ben Badler said in a video that Soto “has a chance to move way, way up our top 100 list.” Even Ken Rosenthal spoke highly of Soto, saying he “could pass (Victor) Robles, if he hasn’t already.” Suffice it to say, he’s the real deal.
Thoughts on a prospect who I think is going to move way up our rankings this year at Baseball America. pic.twitter.com/UhTKtpVN1b
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) April 13, 2017
Fedde is now the Nats’ top pitching prospect after the Adam Eaton trade cleared the decks. He’s off to a fine statistical start at AA Harrisburg even after a clunker in his last start. But what has added to his sheen in the eyes of evaluators is a change in repertoire. Most notably, Fedde’s sinker has gained at least a mile per hour, going from 91-94 last season to 92-95 this year. His slider is another great pitch, but like Joe Ross, the righty needs something to combat lefties with. In the aforementioned chat, Goldstein said (in response to a question by me!) that while the increase in Fedde’s velocity is meaningful, it’s perhaps more important that he has added a curveball to challenge lefties. According to Nats Twitter’s own Ryan Sullivan, both the changeup and curveball are below average and need work to secure Fedde’s big-league future.
Dusty Baker said Fedde was “at the top of the list” for Nats call-ups after a terrific spring outing against a major-league Mets lineup, but it seems the team will wait at least a bit longer to call on him. While it’s common for the Nats to call on top prospects from AA, Fedde has made just 10 starts at AA, as opposed to Lucas Giolito, who had made 22. If Fedde hits the majors this year, it will likely not be until summer.
The Nats’ first-round pick a year ago, Kieboom has caught fire at the plate alongside Soto in Low A Hagerstown. He was hitting .329/.406/.578 before going 2-for-4 with a double Wednesday and hit three home runs the same day as Anthony Rendon did in the majors. It seems the eagerness of the BP chat commenters has outstripped the reports on Kieboom, as Bissell received three Kieboom questions while there has been relative quiet about him. But after his three-homer day, BP’s Mark Anderson wrote that Kieboom is “looking more and more like a player capable of being a key contributor for the Nationals down the line.”
Stevenson is another familiar name: a second-round pick in 2015 who has bashed his way up the ladder and reached AAA remarkably early. He hit an impressive .350/.429/.428 in 20 games at AA this year before being promoted when Eaton’s injury sent Rafael Bautista to the majors and vacated center field in Syracuse. Most notably, he posted two five-hit games… back to back.
Stevenson is a great fielder with a weak arm, blazing speed on the bases, and a swing geared for singles. Scouts have long been skeptical of his hitting ability, but he has converted more and more at every step. BP’s Jeffrey Paternostro wrote up a longer report on Stevenson, speaking positively of his defense and bat and concluding, “I think we may have packed Stevenson into the ‘extra outfielder’ box a bit too soon.”
Johnson was the Nationals’ fifth-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s not exactly a top prospect, ranking 29th in the system according to MLB.com. The book on him coming out of college was that he had plenty of physical tools (70 speed, a 65 arm, and a 60 glove on the 20-80 scale according to MLB) but was very raw and needed time to develop, especially at the plate.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wrote in his assessment of the Nationals’ system that Johnson “has some of the better physical tools in the system. He might require a mechanical overhaul at the plate to hit in pro ball. If he does, he’s a dude.” Well, Johnson was hitting .282/.344/.553 before going 3-for-4 with a double Wednesday. Perhaps he’s ahead of schedule.
The Nats’ other second-rounder in 2015, Perkins has been a project as the team attempts to convert him to switch-hitting. Born righty, Perkins struggled hitting left-handed last season, posting a paltry .561 OPS. But he has seemingly taken a step this year, with an .833 OPS against righties. He still has not quite tapped into his power, slugging just .355 this year. But he is a great defender and his bat is improving quickly, and scouts have noticed.
Luzardo was the Nats’ third round pick in 2016, and he fit a very particular type: He had undergone Tommy John surgery the previous March. Now over a year removed from the procedure, Luzardo made his first start of the season in an extended spring training minor league game that BP’s Javier Barragan wrote up. The details of that are less important than the central fact that he has emerged from his rehab seemingly in once piece. Once he makes his debut, likely in the Gulf Coast League after the draft, he should enter most Nats top 10 lists and cement himself as the organization’s top lefty prospect (sorry, Tyler Watson).
The Dominican middle infielder has been a light hitter over his career, never posting an OPS over .712 at any minor league level so far. But at High A Potomac, he is off to a scorching start, hitting .351/.443/.527. There’s reason to believe this is a mirage: a .462 BABIP fuels the overall line, and Lora is still striking out too much, at 23.6% this year. But his walk rate is far above his career average, and he has two homers in 22 games after hitting just four in 118 games last year and never more than two in any other season. In a chat, Longenhagen wrote that Lora’s small stature (he’s listed at 6’1” and just 150 pounds) make it hard to imagine much power, but that he is “definitely worth following.”Tags: Andrew Stevenson, Blake Perkins, Carter Kieboom, Daniel Johnson, Edwin Lora, Erick Fedde, Jesus Luzardo, Juan Soto, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals