When they take the field this evening, the Washington Nationals will begin Spring Training as a complete team that has very few positions to settle. While that could force some prospects back to the minors, a few of them stand out.
To preview Spring Training, the Federal Reserve presents five prospects to watch. Keep in mind that Spring Training statistics do not have predictive value, but these players should offer plenty of intrigue over the next few weeks.
1.) Michael Taylor—Centerfielder
Ranked third on The Nats Blog’s Top-10 Prospect List, Taylor has a chance to make the Opening Day roster. If leftfielder Jayson Werth’s shoulder surgery causes him to open the year on the disabled list, Taylor will be a young replacement option competing against a plethora of serviceable but not necessarily compelling veterans, including Nate McClouth and Kevin Fransden.
Taylor is the best option defensively, but his strikeout totals in the minors leave him with room to develop offensively. During the spring, he should be given an opportunity to show what adjustments he can make to open the season as at least a right-handed-hitting platoon option. For development purposes, Taylor is better off starting the year at Triple-A Syracuse if he cannot get regular playing time in the majors. However, if he outhits his competition, Taylor could ensure not only a roster spot, but regular at-bats.
2.) A.J. Cole—Right-handed Starting Pitcher
On most teams, Cole would enter camp with a shot at making the rotation, but the Nationals’ depth leaves no room for him on the 25-man roster. That said, he has shown the makings of a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter throughout his minor league career and is still working to develop his secondary offerings, including a slider and a curveball.
Cole, who ranked second on TNB’s Prospect List, will likely begin the upcoming season in Syracuse. Added to the 40-man roster in November, his debut is a question of when rather than if, meaning that a good impression would make Cole one of the Nationals’ first options when they go the minors for help.
3.) Matt Grace—Left-handed Reliever
After two inconsistent seasons as a starter, Grace moved to the bullpen in 2013 and has been dominant ever since. Last season was the best of his career, as he posted 1.17 ERA and a 7.2 K/9 over 77 innings between Double-A Harrisburg and Syracuse. That performance earned Grace a 40-man roster spot.
Considering the number of more experienced bullpen options the Nationals have, Grace is a dark horse candidate for the 25-man roster. He will have a role in the long run though, as his three-pitch repertoire allows him to generate groundballs and be effective against lefties and righties. While he has the durability for a long-relief role, Grace profiles as a mid-to-late inning option and should reach the majors this year.
4.) Pedro Severino—Catcher
As a non-roster invitee, Severino will have a chance to showcase the talent that makes him one of the organization’s best catching prospects. While he still has some way to go offensively, he is advanced for his age on defense and keeps runners in check with an excellent arm. Severino is slated to open the upcoming season at Harrisburg, but his time in major league camp could serve as a preview of what is to come.
5.) Wilmer Difo—Second Base and Shortstop
Difo soared up the prospect ranks last season with a stellar year at Low-A Hagerstown, earning him a 40-man roster spot. He has the athleticism to develop into a solid defender at second base or shortstop, while his speed, on-base, and fringe power skills could enable him to be a table setter in the major leagues. Ranked eighth on our Top-10 Prospect List, Difo will open 2015 at High-A Potomac, but his time in camp could be a showcase for his positive long-term value.
- The Nationals added another option to their outfield mix by signing Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor league deal on Monday. The lefthanded-hitting Gwynn logged 127 plate appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies last season, batting .152/.264/.190 while spending time at all three outfield positions.