In his first start of the season on April 5, Lucas Giolito lasted just three innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Since then, the 19 year old has been stellar for the Low-A Hagerstown Suns.
On April 10, Giolito earned his first win of the season by throwing five shutout innings against the Lakewood BlueClaws (Phillies), allowing one hit while striking out six. His next start came last night against the Delmarva Shorebirds (Orioles). Facing fellow top pick Hunter Harvey, he put up another start with five scoreless innings and allowed just two hits. During the game, CJ Wittmann of Baseball Prospectus tweeted that Giolito’s fastball was touching 96 mph with “extreme plane and life.”
With six strikeouts from that outing, Giolito now has a 15:5 K:BB ratio in 13 innings pitched with a 2.08 ERA. He is emerging not only as the best starter for the first-place Suns, but is solidifying his status as the Nationals’ top prospect. Among all Nationals’ minor leaguers, he currently ranks second in strikeouts to Brian Dupra of High-A Potomac, and he has pitched his way into the top five in opponent’s batting average with a .196 mark.
As Giolito breezes through his South Atlantic League competition, A.J. Cole has been a bright spot for the 3-9 Harrisburg Senators. The right-hander has won both of his starts, while posting a 1.80 ERA and a 3.10 FIP. After failing to record a strikeout in his first start against the New Britain Rock Cats (Twins), he fanned five batters in as many innings against the Reading Fightin Phils on Sunday, giving him a 5:1 K:BB in 10 innings.
Following a major league Spring Training stint in which he did not allow a run in six and two-thirds innings pitched, reports had indicated that Cole would begin the season with Triple-A Syracuse. Though that obviously did not materialize, his success at the Double-A level, which includes seven starts last year, could put Cole in Triple-A before too long.
While Cole and Giolito have both garnered attention as prospects, Taylor Hill is off to a good start with the Syracuse Chiefs. The right-hander, who has never been ranked as a Top-30 Prospect by Baseball America, has a 0.69 ERA, 2.97 FIP, with an 11:2 K:BB ratio in 13 innings and 2 wins.
To this point in his career, the 25-year-old has relied on his command to compensate for low strikeout totals. Since being drafted in the sixth round out of Vanderbilt University in 2011, Hill has a 5.5 K/9 rate in 348.1 innings pitched while posting a stingy 1.8 BB/9 during that stretch.
Two areas to watch for him going forward are whether he can maintain his solid strikeout totals thus far. If not, the question becomes how he will fare against more experienced hitters while relying on his defense. If he continues to have success, he will become a sleeper prospect that emerges with a big season to put him on the Nationals’ radar.
– After allowing a run in two innings of relief for the Chiefs on Wednesday, Christian Garcia’s totals now include a 1.29 ERA with 7 strikeouts in as many innings. The right-hander showed his potential during a breakout 2012 season, but he will have to prove that he can stay healthy to crack the Nationals’ bullpen.
– Centerfielder Michael Taylor is batting .289/.377/.400 through 53 plate appearances with the Senators. One area of concern for the high-upside prospect is his strikeout totals, as he has fanned in 34% of his plate appearances thus far.