On Tuesday, the Arizona Fall League (AFL) announced its rosters for the coming season, with the Mesa Solar Sox featuring seven prospects from the Washington Nationals: catchers Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino, second baseman Tony Renda, starting pitcher Felipe Rivero, and relievers Matt Grace, Neil Holland and Derek Self.
While more players could be added in the coming weeks, the Nationals are taking an interesting approach to their selections for this year. Rather than representing the best group of farmhands, these seven players can be categorized as either trying to gain prospect status, making up for lost time or solidifying their roles as prospects.
Most observers would probably agree that High-A Potomac teammates Renda and Severino are the top prospects among the group. A second-round selection in 2012, Renda is having another steady season, batting .301/.372/.374 in 101 games. Though he lacks a standout skill, he has a career .368 OBP and is a solid defender.
Severino, meanwhile, was widely lauded for his defense coming into the season, but a disastrous first half left questions about his ability to develop as a hitter. He has erased some of those doubts with a stellar second half, and has showcased his arm strength by throwing out 37% of would-be base stealers. If Severino could improve his patience, his developing power and advanced aptitude behind the plate could make the 20-year-old one of Washington’s best prospects.
Grace and Holland were both members of the 2010 draft class and are serving bullpen roles at Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A Harrisburg respectively. Self, who was selected in 2012, has recovered from an inconsistent 2013 to post a 2.80 ERA and an 8.1 K/9 in 64 and 1/3 innings between Potomac and Harrisburg.
Self, a hard-throwing right-hander, is an interesting contrast to Grace and Holland. Grace could reach the majors as a left-handed relief option if he improves his command, while Holland’s success has come through deception as a submariner rather than first-rate stuff. All three relievers will try to emulate the example set by Aaron Barrett, who in 2012 burst onto the prospect radar after a solid AFL stint.
As for Rivero and Kieboom, both have dealt with injuries in the recent past. In his first full season since Tommy John surgery, Kieboom has been good offensively and defensively at Low-A Hagerstown. A productive AFL stint could go a long way towards boosting Kieboom’s stock, as at 23 he should play against older competition.
Rivero was one of the two prospects acquired along with Jose Lobaton in the Nationals’ February trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. After struggling in the early goings with Harrisburg, the left-hander hit the DL with an arm injury that sidelined him until late July. Already on the 40-man roster, Rivero has shown the potential to be a mid-rotation starter at various points, but needs to remain healthy and regain the command he showed earlier in his career.
Along with prospects from the Nationals, the Solar Sox will include players from the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland A’s, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Their season begins on Oct. 7, when they take on the Glendale Desert Dogs.
- The seven players discussed in this post will not be the only Nationals’ representatives in the AFL this year. Hagerstown manager Patrick Anderson will serve as a coach for the Solar Sox, who are also receiving Potomac trainer T.D. Swinford.
- The International League announced on Tuesday that Steven Souza Jr. was named the circuit’s MVP and Rookie of the Year. In 91 games for the Syracuse Chiefs, Souza posted a league-leading .354/.435/.601 triple-slash line while belting 18 home runs.