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Federal Reserve: AFL Roster Announcements

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.

Minors Notes:

  • 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.
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Federal Reserve: Prospect Report for Reynaldo Lopez

This season, the Low-A Hagerstown Suns have had more hard-throwing young pitchers than what minor league teams feature in the span of a few years. Headlined by Lucas Giolito, their Opening Day rotation included 2013 top pick Jake Johansen and Austin Voth, that draft class’s fifth rounder, along with Nick Pivetta and Hector Silvestre.

With Pivetta and Giolito the lone original hurlers remaining in the rotation (Johansen has since moved to the bullpen), it would seem reasonable to expect a drop in high-upside arms. However, their rotation now includes one of the best breakout stories in the Washington Nationals’ farm system, righthander Reynaldo Lopez.

In a start on Tuesday, Lopez defeated Greensboro (Marlins) with 6-shutout innings on 2 hits, a walk, and 4 strikeouts. That outing extended his current scoreless-innings streak to 37 and 1/3, a stretch that dates back to mid-July, when he was in the Short Season-Auburn Doubledays’ rotation. When counting just earned runs, that span extends to 48 and 1/3 innings, with his last coming in the second inning of a start against Mahoning Valley (Indians) on July 3.

More noteworthy than his current streak, however, is that Lopez has been fairly anonymous despite featuring a fastball that consistently hits 94-98 mph and can touch 100. There are a few factors that explain why he was so unknown until now: He received very little coverage during the International Free Agent signing period of 2012, when the Nationals added him for a reported price tag of $17, 000. After pitching part of that season in the Dominican Summer League, he made a spot start with Hagerstown in 2013 before joining Auburn, where he made just one start before suffering a season-ending arm injury.

Despite recovering from the injury, his path was supposed to be identical to last year. Lopez was summonsed to Hagerstown in late May to aid the Suns when they were a few arms short, but was destined for Auburn. In 36 innings over 7 starts with the Doubledays, he posted a league-leading 0.75 ERA with a 7.8 K/9. Last week on my other site, Jeremy Houghtaling, who covers the Doubledays for the Auburn Citizen, attributed Lopez’s improvement to better speed variance between his fastball and his off-speed repertoire, which includes a changeup and a curveball. Including that earlier spot start, Lopez is 3-1 in 7 starts with a 1.47 ERA, 2.63 FIP, and a 30:8 K:BB ratio in 36 and 2/3 frames with the Suns.

Unlike a lot of pitchers of his age and experience level, Lopez consistently keeps his fastball down in the zone, allowing him to generate groundouts on the nights when his off-speed pitches fail to produce strikeouts. When his curveball is on, however, he uses it as an effective outpitch to generate swings and misses, leading to strikeouts in relatively short at-bats.

All of these factors make Lopez an exciting prospect. Going forward, he will need to hone his curveball and make major strides with his changeup. It is also imperative to see how he performs over a longer stretch, as he has thrown just 88 and 2/3 innings in his career, 72 and 2/3 of which are from this season.

Lopez has been crucial to the Suns in their current playoff chase, while improving his stock as a prospect. He will be just 21-years-old at the beginning of the 2015 season, which could very well mark his first stint at High-A Potomac.

Minors Note:

  • Back by an 11-run offensive attack, A.J. Cole improved to 6-0 at the Triple-A level in the Syracuse Chiefs’ victory over Scranton/Wilkes Barre (Yankees) on Wednesday. In 6 innings, the righthander allowed 2 runs on 4 hits with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. Since his promotion from Double-A Harrisburg, Cole has a 3.26 ERA with a 42:14 K:BB ratio in 58 innings.

 

 

 

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Taylor Eclipses Goodwin On Nationals’ Depth Chart

On July 20, 2012, a transaction that redefined the Washington Nationals’ prospect hierarchy took place. Having overmatched his Low-A competition with the Hagerstown Suns, centerfielder Brian Goodwin skipped High-A Potomac and made the leap to Double-A Harrisburg. Suddenly trailing Goodwin on the depth chart was Potomac’s talented, yet raw and enigmatic centerfielder, Michael Taylor.

With a .324/.438/.542 triple-slash line, a 16.2 BB% compared to a 14.7 K%, and 9 home runs at Hagerstown, Goodwin combined a strong plate approach with solid defense in centerfield. As Taylor posted with a .648 OPS at Potomac and Eury Perez, who moved up to Triple-A Syracuse that same day, struggled to get on-base enough to put his speed to use, Goodwin gained a significant advantage in the race to become the Nationals’ long-term centerfield option. Even the move to acquire Denard Span in the offseason did not seem to change the future plan: One of those three prospects, most likely Goodwin or Taylor, would one day patrol centerfield in Washington.

Goodwin and Taylor started 2013 back at Harrisburg and Potomac respectively. Goodwin had an up and down year; he was named an All-Star but posted a 26.9 K%.  Taylor, meanwhile, suddenly developed the power that many observers were waiting for. Despite that, he still had a raw plate approach and faced playing at a lower level in 2014. Combine that with Goodwin’s solid stint in the Arizona Fall League, and it seemed that while the competition had become more interesting, it had not turned on its heels.

This season, however, Taylor has stormed ahead. As he broke out at Harrisburg, Goodwin struggled with Syracuse before hitting the DL. Prior to being placed on the DL on July 3 (the injury remains undisclosed), Goodwin batted .219/.342/.328 with just 4 homers and a 28.9 K% in 81 games. That was despite the fact that he had a .320 batting average on balls in play, in line with his career figure of .323.

Looking purely at these facts, it is easy to give up on Goodwin. Taylor has broken out, Steven Souza Jr. has emerged as another outfield option, and all major league outfielders look to be in place for 2015. However, the Nationals should not act in haste.

Goodwin, who will turn 24 in November, is still relatively young for the Triple-A level, where he will likely return for next year. A closer look at his numbers also shows that his patience is still there, as he had a 15.2 BB% before the injury. In addition, he still has a solid .253/.362/.409 career line with 28 and 43 steals, evidence of the power and speed combination that made him a supplemental first round pick in 2011.

The Nationals will have to make a decision soon. Goodwin will be eligible for this December’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning that another organization may draft him if he is not placed on the 40-man roster. To give away an athletic player to whom you paid a $3 million bonus just three years ago is not a good idea, regardless of how poorly he performed the year before.

It is clear that Goodwin and the Nationals are at a crossroads. Maybe he does not fit into their plans, but it does not mean that he should be easily discarded.

Minors Notes:

  • The Auburn Doubledays announced on Monday that first baseman Jose Marmolejos-Diaz and reliever Mario Sanchez were selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star Game. The Short Season-A circuit’s contest will take place on August 19 at MCU Park in Brooklyn.
  • Austin Voth was placed on Harrisburg’s DL on Tuesday. In 3 starts at Harrisburg, the righthander had a 3.53 ERA and a 18:5 K:BB ratio. There is no official word on why he was placed on the DL, though it is possible that he is merely being shutdown after 122 innings at three levels this season.
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Souza and Giolito Are Our Minor League Players of the Month

The month of July was filled with highlights in the Washington Nationals’ farm system. Before Zach Walters was dealt to Cleveland, Austin Voth made the leap to Double-A, and Michael Taylor and Lucas Giolito appeared in the MLB All-Star Futures Game.

In this post, the Federal Reserve recaps July with the Hitter and Pitcher of the Month Awards. The hitter of July compiled yet another dominant month en route to the big leagues, while one talented hurler had one of the best stretches of his career.

Hitter of the Month: Steven Souza Jr., Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs

The winner of June’s prize, Souza was just as, if not more, impressive in July. Logging 111 plate appearances over 26 games, the outfielder batted .362/.423/.670 with 6 home runs, 23 RBIs, and 8 stolen bases in 10 attempts. He also made a highlight catch in the Triple-A All-Star Game at Durham, NC on the 16th:

The Nationals recalled Souza on Sunday to replace the injured Nate McClouth. He departed the International League as its triple-slash line leader at .354/.435/.601, which was complimented by 18 home runs, 70 RBIs, a 183 wRC+, and 24 steals in 31 attempts.

While Souza received minimal playing time in his first two stints in the majors this season, the Nationals should give him more opportunities now. His combination of power and speed makes a worthy substitute for any of the Nationals outfielders in the event of a day off, and he has proven he can master Triple-A.

With Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and possibly Denard Span all in place for 2015, Souza will have to fight for at-bats. If Washington cannot offer any opportunities, another organization may come calling for his services.

Honorable Mentions: Anderson Franco (DSL), Spencer Kieboom (Low-A Hagerstown), Raudy Read (Short Season-A Auburn), Jakson Reetz (GCL), Zach Walters (Syracuse).

Pitcher of the Month: Lucas Giolito, Low-A Hagerstown Suns

Giolito’s high upside has been apparent all season, but the young righthander took his performance to another level in July. Making 5 starts, he went 4-0 with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings pitched with a 33:5 K:BB ratio while allowing just 18 hits. In a start against Kannapolis (White Sox) on the 25th, he allowed one hit (an infield single in the first) while striking out 7 with no walks.

That month, combined with a solid effort against West Virginia (Pirates) on Tuesday, brings Giolito’s overall record to 8-2 in 18 starts. In addition, he has a 2.35 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and a 99:26 K:BB in 88 innings. While a temporary shutdown in mid-May has pushed him under the South Atlantic League’s threshold for the ERA title, Giolito still leads the Suns in strikeouts and has posted a solid 6.2 H/9 rate.

As I wrote recently on the Hagerstown Suns Fan Club Blog, his dominance is in part because of improved command of his curveball. He is prone to home runs when he leaves the pitch up in the zone, so he will need to refine it he as works through the higher levels. However, it is clear that Giolito has never been better, and is pitching as good as advertised right now.

Honorable Mentions: A.J. Cole (Syracuse), Reynaldo Lopez (Auburn and Hagerstown), Austin Voth (Potomac and Harrisburg), Hector Silvestre (Hagerstown and Potomac).

Minors Notes:

  • Michael Taylor is 3-for-5 (.600) in his first two games at Syracuse, including a game-winning double against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees) on Monday. The centerfielder was promoted from Harrisburg to take Souza’s place.
  • The Potomac Nationals will host the Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox) and Carlos Rodon, the third-overall selection in this year’s draft, today at 12:05. It will be Rodon’s first start at the High-A level.
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Asdrubal Cabrera, Zach Walters, and the Minor League Impact

In need of an infielder, the Washington Nationals agreed to a deadline trade that sent Triple-A Syracuse utility player Zach Walters to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera and cash considerations.

Cabrera is essentially a rental player; his contract expires after this year and his acquisition was necessitated by Ryan Zimmerman’s injury and Danny Espinosa’s lack of production. While he is having a mediocre season, Cabrera is still an upgrade over Espinosa, or as our own Joe Drugan noted, a solid platoon option.

With those factors in mind, it would have been hard for the Nationals to justify moving a vital part of their future. While Walters has been solid as a minor leaguer, it has become increasingly clear over the last two years that he was not a part of the Nationals’ long-term plans. In 261 plate appearances with the Chiefs this season, the 24-year-old batted .300/.358/.608 with 15 home runs, while spending time in leftfield and at every infield position except first base.

While his numbers in 2014 were the best of his career, Walters’ track record does not suggest that they are sustainable. His career-long lack of patience (.327 career OBP) is exemplified with his 7.7% walk rate, which is accompanied by a 23.8% strikeout rate. During his two brief call ups over the past two seasons with the Nationals, Walters batted a combined .234/.308/.489 in 52 plate appearances.

In Walters, the Indians are acquiring a super-utility-type prospect that will provide power from both sides of the plate. It is possible that his power could make him an everyday player, but he must get on-base more and settle into a regular position. Considering that Indians’ farmhand Francisco Lindor is one of the game’s top shortstop prospects, while Lonnie Chisenhall’s breakout season entrenches him as the team’s third baseman, Walters’ best chance to be an everyday player in Cleveland is probably as a corner outfielder.

By giving up Walters, the Nationals did two crucial things for their future. The first was clearing a log jam of solid, but not standout infield prospects. Along with Jeff Kobernus, the Nationals still have players such as Tony Renda and Wilmer Difo in the lower levels of the minors. The deal also frees the Nationals up to make other moves during the waiver deadline. Should another need arise, several blocked prospects, including Syracuse outfielder Steven Souza Jr. are still available.

All things considered, the Nationals traded a blocked prospect to fill a glaring hole at the major league level. While Cabrera probably will not produce enough to make this a steal, it is doubtful that general manager Mike Rizzo and the Nationals will seriously regret it in the future.

Minors Notes:

  • Lucas Giolito improved to 7-2 by leading the Hagerstown Suns to a 1-0 victory on Thursday against the hosting Charleston RiverDogs (Yankees). In 6-scoreless innings, the righthander allowed 2 hits with a walk and 6 strikeouts. This outing closed a month in which Giolito posted a 33:5 K:BB in 28.1 innings pitched.
  • Eury Perez fell a triple short of the cycle in a 3-for-4 performance during the Chiefs’ loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Following rehab stints with the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Nationals and High-A Potomac, the outfielder returned to the Chiefs on July 19 from a fractured left toe. Perez is batting .269/.327/.358 in 35 games for Syracuse, including a .359/.381/.538 triple-slash line over his last 10 games.
  • Jakson Reetz went 1-for-2 with 2 walks for the GCL Nationals in their 13-10 victory over the Mets on Thursday. Through his first 23 professional games, the third-round selection is batting .276/.449/.362.
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Nationals’ Minor Leaguers With Rising Stocks

With July well underway, the Minor League Baseball season is down to its stretch run. At this point many of the Washington Nationals’ prospects have defined their seasons.

To provide a snapshot of the surprises in the farm system, the Federal Reserve has listed a trio of players who have boosted their stock the most. Note that I have omitted those who were consensus Top 10 prospects coming into the season, because top producers like Michael Taylor and Steven Souza Jr. had solid pre-season projections.

Austin Voth, High-A Potomac Nationals

In a loss to Winston-Salem (White Sox) on Wednesday, Voth looked human, surrendering 5 runs on 6 hits in 4 and 2/3 innings pitched. Pitchers are subject to a bad start every now and again, especially hurlers as good as Voth has been.

Beginning with Low-A Hagerstown, the righthander is 6-4 with a 2.10 ERA over 19 starts with a 114:29 K:BB ratio in 107.1 innings pitched. After earning All-Star honors for Hagerstown, Voth has made a seamless transition to Potomac. In 6 starts with the Nationals, he has a 40:7 K:BB ratio in 37.2 innings to go along with a 1.43 ERA. That stretch has been highlighted by his current streak of two consecutive back-to-back Carolina League Pitcher of the Week awards.

Advanced numbers coming into Wednesday’s start, including a 2.26 FIP and a .125 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), indicate that Voth may be due for some regression. However, his numbers thus far have done more than enough to raise his profile. With the possible ceiling of a quality mid-rotation starter, Voth could be a steal as a fifth-round selection.

Wilmer Difo, Low-A Hagerstown Suns

Signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Difo had a disastrous 2013, batting an accumulative .217/.296/.348 at four levels. This season, the switch-hitting infielder has been a completely different player.

Through 452 plate appearances, Difo is batting .307/.348/.450 with a league-leading 129 hits. In addition, he has shown a solid combination of power and speed with 8 home runs and 32 steals in 38 attempts.

While he can play both middle infield spots, the 22-year-old needs to work on his instincts and arm accuracy at shortstop in order to play the position at the higher levels. However, his raw athleticism gives him an advantage in his development.

Taylor Hill, Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs

As a back-to-back winner of our Pitcher of the Month award, Hill has received a lot of press on the Federal Reserve this year. While his strikeouts (5.9 K/9) are back in line with his career numbers, the righthander has seemingly come out of nowhere to put up the best season of his career.

Through 18 games (17 starts) with the Chiefs, Hill is 9-4 with a 2.63 ERA, 3.89 FIP, and a stingy 1 BB/9 rate in 106 innings. With his performance, he not only earned a late-June call up to Washington, but an All-Star selection at Syracuse.

Given that the Nationals have a plethora of options with back-of-the-rotation and bullpen arms at Triple-A, Hill’s future with the team is a bit uncertain. But for someone who has not previously ranked in Baseball America’s Top 30 for the Nationals, he is making a name for himself.

Minors Notes:

  • Michael Taylor went 2-for-3 with a home run in Harrisburg’s Wednesday morning loss to Bowie (Orioles). That effort gives the centerfielder a .316/.397/.543 triple-slash line with 21 homers and 30 steals this season.
  • A.J. Cole threw 7-shutout innings in a win for Syracuse over the Pawtucket Red Sox on Wednesday, striking out 6 without surrendering a walk. In 5 starts since his promotion to Triple-A, the righthander has a 24:3 K:BB ratio in 30.2 innings pitched.

 

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How Will The Nationals Handle The Standoff with First Rounder Erick Fedde?

The clock is ticking for all 30 MLB teams to sign their picks from the 2014 Draft, as the signing deadline is tomorrow, Friday, July 18 at 5 pm. This deadline is especially crucial for the Washington Nationals, as three of their top-10 picks remain in the balance: UNLV righthander Erick Fedde (1st round), Miami lefthander Andrew Suarez (2nd), and Nevada first baseman Austin Byler (9th).

On Tuesday, Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reported that the Nationals and Fedde are at an impasse in their negotiations. With the prospect and his advisor Scott Boras asking for a bonus around $3 million, above the 18th pick’s slot value of $2,145,600, one source told Kilgore “I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t get done.” As noted in the article, the Nationals have spent $1.368 million on seven of their first 10 picks, and have to work within their bonus pool of $5, 275,700. If they exceed that cap, they will have to pay a penalty.

In the days before the draft, Fedde underwent Tommy John surgery, making it likely that he will miss most if not all of 2015. Therefore, he would have little leverage in going back for his senior year, as he would be sidelined while other prospects work their way up in the draft.

If the Nationals were to pass on Fedde, they would receive the 19th pick in next year’s draft as compensation. The possibility of having two first-round draft picks is intriguing for the Nationals, especially considering that at their current pace the compensation pick would be their highest (FanGraphs current projections have the Nationals winning the NL East at 90-72). This extra pick would also give the Nationals flexibility to sign a top-tier free agent and retain a first-round choice.

That being said, Fedde’s ceiling makes that proposition a tricky one. Prior to his injury, the consensus was that he had the talent to go in the top five picks, with Baseball America filing a scouting report that noted his good command of 90-93 mph fastball and low-to-mid 80’s slider to go along with a decent changeup.

Depending upon how his rehab process went, Fedde could become a steal for the Nationals and give their farm system a top-tier prospect that they could really use. Selecting a player of this caliber is unlikely next year, and it is more unlikely that the Nationals would find a high-ceiling player that comes without substantial risk.

History suggests that the Nationals probably will take their chances by signing Fedde. While their track record with drafting injury-prone players is far from spotless (see Matt Purke and Sammy Solis), injuries have never stopped Mike Rizzo, who has signed all of his top picks since becoming the general manager in 2009.

Considering that the Nationals have very few high-upside prospects in their farm system and that their expected success in the future will push them further back in the draft, the chances of landing a talent with the potential of Fedde will reduce by the year. This will probably result in an agreement; the question is how much leverage the Nationals will cede to Fedde in the process.

Minors Notes:

  • Michael Taylor went 1-for-3 with an RBI in Wednesday’s Eastern League All-Star Game. Along with first baseman/outfielder Kevin Keyes and reliever Colin Bates, Taylor was one of three Harrisburg Senators to take part in the Western Division’s 5-2 win over the Eastern Division.
  • Jhonatan Solano went 1-for-2 with a home run for the International League in its 7-3 win over the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Other Syracuse Chiefs who appeared in the game included Steven Souza Jr., who went 1-for-4, and Aaron Laffey, who hurled a scoreless inning of relief.

 

 

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Federal Reserve: Nationals’ Minor League Options Limited For Shortstop Acquisition

On Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Washington Nationals are “actively seeking to add a young shortstop” to replace Ian Desmond if he leaves via free agency after 2015. Rosenthal noted that Washington has a few major-league-ready prospects to offer in a trade, including catcher Sandy Leon, infielder/outfielder Zach Walters, and outfielder Steven Souza Jr.

With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline three weeks away, here is something to consider. As a team that is contending and expected to be successful for the next several years, the Nationals will need a major-league-ready shortstop. Ideally, said shortstop would also be able to play second base, not only allowing an opening for next year, but perhaps a long-term position if Desmond ultimately stays.

Acquiring a potentially elite player requires giving up considerable talent. Lucas Giolito is still the Nationals’ top prospect, with Triple-A Syracuse righthander A.J. Cole and Double-A Harrisburg centerfielder Michael Taylor following him in some order. While there is substantial risk in trading one of those three players (more on that later), the farm system beyond that trio has some question marks.

Souza is the most logical choice for a trade. The 25-year-old is crushing International League pitching at Syracuse with a .366/.446/.599 triple-slash line. Though he is unlikely to find regular playing time with the Nationals, Souza would fit with a team looking for corner outfield help. However, he comes with some risk, having spent parts of the last two seasons on the DL.

Leon, meanwhile, has always been excellent defensively, but his inconsistencies at the plate have prevented him from staying in Washington full time. Walters flashes some power potential, but has struggled to get on base and looks more like a super-utility player than an everyday shortstop.

When it comes to pitchers, the Nationals have some pieces to offer. Syracuse features the likes of Blake Treinen, Taylor Hill, and Taylor Jordan. In addition, Potomac’s Austin Voth has excelled at both A-Ball levels this season. The issue is that these players do not have the ceilings of either Giolito or Cole.

As a result, trading Giolito, Cole, and/or Taylor could be necessary, because the Nationals may not be able to put together an adequate deal otherwise. However, Giolito’s limited experience means that he has not even reached his full value; even at that, he is a potential ace that the Nationals should not give up. Cole does not match Giolito’s talent level, but hi is close to the majors and could step up if Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister walk away when their respective contracts expire after next year.

As for Taylor, his high strikeout totals and batting average on balls in play (.440 coming into Wednesday) raise some doubt that he can continue to play at his current pace. However, even when factoring in potential regression, he is still the best internal option to replace Denard Span in centerfield.

While the Nationals could pursue a shortstop, putting together an adequate package will inevitably subtract from another area. That is a considerable risk, one that will have long-term implications either way.

Minors Notes

  • Two players worth noting as trade targets are centerfielder Brian Goodwin and infielder Matt Skole, both of whom have struggled. While Goodwin is in the midst of his worst professional season at Syracuse, Skole has shown signs of a turnaround with Harrisburg. However, he is still blocked at first base by Adam LaRoche and the possible move of Ryan Zimmerman to the position next year.
  • Drew Ward went 2-for-5 in the Suns loss to the Lakewood BlueClaws (Phillies) on Wednesday. The third baseman has a .928 OPS since the All-Star Break, and is batting .289/.334/.463 overall.

 

 

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Federal Reserve: Washington Nationals Hitter and Pitcher of June 2014

June was a big month across Minor League Baseball, as many leagues held their All-Star Games while some of the game’s top prospects made the jump to higher levels. The Washington Nationals were no stranger to this trend, as many of the organization’s best prospects thrived.

As a result, the decision for The Federal Reserve’s monthly awards was not easy. In the end, however, Hitter of the Month goes to a player who in most organizations would be in the majors, while Pitcher of the Month is claimed by a prospect who has moved up the ranks.

Hitter of the Month: Steven Souza Jr., Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs

Even as teammate Zach Walters slugged 9 home runs, Souza made a convincing case of his own. In 27 games, the outfielder batted .353/.429/.608 with 6 home runs and 24 RBIs. Though there are plenty of examples of Souza’s prolific power stroke, the best comes from a game at Durham (Rays) on the 22nd, when he lined a homer off the famed bull:

Souza, who was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday, has been crucial to the first place Chiefs. He currently leads the league with a .358/.443/.595 triple-slash line, while belting 14 home runs, driving in 49, and posting a wRC+ of 188, as of Wednesday. In addition to his power, Souza has flashed impressive speed, stealing 15 bases in 20 attempts.

Considering the Nationals outfield depth, it is hard to see where Souza fits in the immediate future. However, even if he continues to hit at just a fraction of this pace, he will surely grab the attention of the Nationals or another organization.

Honorable Mentions: Issac Ballou (Low-A Hagerstown), Wilmer Difo (Hagerstown), Tony Renda (High-A Potomac), Michael Taylor (Double-A Harrisburg), Drew Ward (Hagerstown).

Pitcher of the Month: Austin Voth, Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals

Voth had an excellent June that propelled him to High-A. Beginning with Hagerstown, the righthander went 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA and a 29:8 K:BB ratio in 32 innings pitched, a span during which he surrendered 16 hits and held opposing hitters to a .438 OPS. Perhaps his best start during that stretch came with the Suns on the 10th, when he threw a one-hitter over 7 innings with 6 strikeouts against Lakewood (Phillies).

Since his promotion to Potomac, Voth has allowed just 1 run in 13 innings (0.69 ERA) while striking out 13. Overall this season, he is 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA, 2.39 FIP (as measured by Minor League Central), and a 87:25 K:BB in 82 and 2/3 innings pitched.

In addition to his strikeouts, Voth has also been successful when it comes to inducing groundballs, as MLBFarm.com’s data shows, 20.25% of the balls hit against him have resulted in ground outs. With a solid three-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball, changeup, and slider, Voth should continue to perform well as he gains experience at the High-A level.

Honorable Mentions:

A.J. Cole (Harrisburg and Syracuse), Taylor Hill (Syracuse), Lucas Giolito (Hagerstown), Matt Grace (Harrisburg and Syracuse).

Minors Notes

  • Along with Souza, catcher Jhonatan Solano and pitchers Taylor Hill and Aaron Laffey will represent the Chiefs in the Triple-A All-Star Game. The contest will be held in Durham on July 16, with the International League squaring off against the Pacific Coast League.
  • Lucas Giolito earned a win for the Suns on Wednesday, allowing 1 run over 7 innings against Lakewood (Phillies) with 5 strikeouts and no walks. That outing brings Giolito’s K:BB ratio to 66:21 in 61 and 2/3 innings pitched.
  • The Nationals announced the signings of five 16-year-old international free agents on Wednesday: infielders Bryan Bencosme and Adanlis Martinez; plus outfielders Yoel Andujar, Juan Evangelista, and Brailin Mesa.
Lucas_Giolito_3tpgxfjy_j7grv03s

Federal Reserve: Futures Game and Minor League Notes

On Tuesday, MLB announced its rosters for the 2014 All-Star Futures game and the Washington Nationals will be represented by two of their top prospects: Low-A Hagerstown righthander Lucas Giolito and Double-A Harrisburg centerfielder Michael Taylor.

While a brief shutdown in May has resulted in Giolito’s relatively-low innings total of 48 and 2/3, he has still shown flashes of his potential during that stretch. The former top pick is 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA, 4.14 FIP, and 52:20 K:BB ratio over the span of 11 starts. Giolito is currently the Suns active leader in strikeouts (the recently-promoted Austin Voth is the overall leader), thanks in large part to his high-90’s fastball to go along with a solid off-speed repertoire that includes a curveball and a changeup.

With his production for the Senators this season, Taylor arguably holds the claim as the Nationals’ best position player prospect. In 316 plate appearances, he is batting .327/.408/.571 with 17 home runs, 52 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts. Along with his offense, Taylor continues to be cited as one of the best defensive centerfielders in the minors, showing plus speed, improving instincts, and a solid arm.

The game will be a good showcase for the Nationals, as Giolito and Taylor are perhaps the top two players in the system. Giolito entered the season as the consensus top prospect in the system and has done nothing supplant that status, while Taylor is currently in the midst of his best professional season. His increased power (he already surpassed his previous career high in home runs) makes him the only Nationals prospect to showcase true five-tool potential. It could be argued that teammate A.J. Cole belongs ahead of him, but it is hard not to be intrigued by a player that flashes the all-around ability of Taylor.

For both players, the Futures Game selection is one of the higher honors. Unlike individual league All-Star games, which tend to reward the best players in the present, this contest is a showcase for the game’s top prospects across all levels of the minors. Members of the Nationals major league squad that have appeared in past Futures Games include Bryce Harper (2011), Danny Espinosa (2009 and 2010), and Gio Gonzalez (2006).

Both Giolito and Taylor will be members of the U.S. roster in the contest, which will be held at 5 PM on Sunday, July 14 at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. MLB Network will be televising the game.

Minors Notes:

  • In a move that corresponded with the activation of Jeff Kobernus from the 60-day DL, the Nationals announced on Wednesday that reliever Christian Garcia had been released. Garcia’s release was probably the furthest thing from the minds of many observers in 2012, when he posted a 0.86 ERA and an 11.4 K/9 rate between Harrisburg and Syracuse before earning a September call up. Since then, however, the righthander has struggled with injuries and was on Syracuse’s DL at the time of his release.
  • Steven Souza Jr. continues to post big numbers at Triple-A Syracuse, including a .369/.463/.576 triple-slash line. He has been particularly potent this month with a 1.125 OPS in 93 plate appearances.
  • Austin Voth made his debut for the High-A Potomac Nationals on Tuesday, earning a win in a 10-1 defeat of the Salem Red Sox. Between Potomac and Hagerstown, the righthander has a 9.5 K/9 rate in 75.2 innings.
  • A quick reminder that next week the Federal Reserve will unveil the pitcher and hitter of the month honors for June. Back-to-back pitcher of the month Taylor Hill made his major league debut on Wednesday, throwing 3 and 1/3 innings of relief during the Nationals loss at Milwaukee.