The Washington Nationals may be soon faced with quite a difficult choice. No, not Trea Turner versus Danny Espinosa — I think Espinosa’s seven-RBI performance against the Reds put that to bed for a little bit. The Nats have too many options and too few roster spots. With Stephen Strasburg’s imminent return to the roster and the solid debut from the number one prospect in all of baseball in the form of Lucas Giolito, the Nats now have six potential options for their starting rotation and only five roster spots. Compounding the problem for the Nationals, after a hot start, Gio Gonzalez has not performed well and his struggles and stuff are in stark contrast with Giolito, which makes him and easy target for demotion discussions. Decision time for the front office: Do they keep Giolito up at the major-league level and adjust the rotation or send Giolito back down to Triple-A Syracuse for more seasoning?
Next week, the All-Star games will take place at the Low and High-A levels of the minor leagues. The Washington Nationals will be well represented at these games, as the Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals are sending intriguing groups of prospects to their respective contests.
The three-day Major League Baseball draft concluded on Saturday, and the Washington Nationals came out of the proceedings with an intriguing crop of prospects. Overall, this class should give the Nationals some depth, particularly when it comes to the infield and pitching.
Early rounds saw the Nationals put a heavy emphasis on position players, headlined by top pick Carter Kieboom. Kieboom, the brother Nationals’ catching prospect Spencer Kieboom, came into his senior year as one of the more intriguing high school hitters in the class, and produced a strong year at Walton High School.
Currently a shortstop, Kieboom seems likely to add size to his 6’2,” 195 lb. frame, leading some to question whether he could move to third base down the road. However, scouting director Kris Kline has said that the Nationals drafted Kieboom with the belief that he could stay at the position long term.
Though the tops this year’s crop of position players, Kieboom is not the lone highlight. Sheldon Neuse, a third-rounder out of Oklahoma, possesses the basic skillset of a major league third baseman and should hit for above average power. Nick Banks and Daniel Johnson made for a pair of college outfielders to be selected in the top-10 rounds, while the Nationals also nabbed two college catchers in Tres Barrera and Joey Harris.
Right now, the Nationals have a fairly deep crop of players at catcher, but the justification and draft and perhaps signing both Barrera and Harris is evident. Firstly, the Nationals’ catchers at the full-season minor league levels — from Pedro Severino at Triple-A Syracuse to Low-A Hagerstown’s Jakson Reetz — come with their own question marks, and with the Nationals likely to add pieces to the major league team at the deadline, catcher could become a position from which they are able to leverage a deal. It remains to be seen if Barrera or Harris will develop enough offensively to emerge as bona fide prospects, but both should add depth to an already strong position.
Other position player prospects to watch include infielders Jacob Noll and Paul Panaccione, along with high school outfielder Jordan McFarland. Already listed at 6’4,” 225 lbs., McFarland’s size has raised some doubt about his long-term viability, but reports say that he could turn out to be an above average left fielder with a solid arm and good power. The Nationals will look to lure McFarland away from his commitment to Arkansas.
On the pitching front, the Nationals’ first choice was Florida right-hander Dane Dunning. A college junior, Dunning has intrigued observes with his fastball, which reports cite for its excellent movement in the 92-93 mph range, though it has hit 95 mph. His changeup has also received high marks, though some feel that his ceiling as a starter will be limited if he does not develop a quality breaking ball. If he does sign, which he said he intends to, Dunning could move quickly.
The pick that might have garnered the most buzz was Jesus Luzardo. The left-hander had Tommy John surgery this March, but has flashed a fastball that can touch the mid-90’s. The Stoneman Douglas High School product has a commitment to Miami, and it seems likely that the team will go over the $635,800 slot value for the pick.
In the 38th round, the Nationals tabbed Noah Murdock, a 6’7” high school right-hander who is committed to Virginia. As they will with McFarland, the Nationals will have to persuade Murdock to enter pro ball rather than try to boost his stock in the college ranks. Among the other pitch prospects to watch include Morgan Cooper, a 34th-round pick out of Texas who just finished his first season since having Tommy John surgery. Cooper should highly pursued by the Nationals, though as my colleague Andrew Flax has already noted, the team will have be resourceful to sign the right-hander.
Texas A&M right-hander Kyle Simonds generated headlines with a no-hitter against Vanderbilt in May, and may wind up providing good value for a 14th-round pick. NC State’s Ryan Williamson — the 15th round selection — may also emerge as a solid selection beyond the 10th round, though he is also set to undergo Tommy John surgery.