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.



About Zach Spedden

Writer for Federal Reserve section of The Nats Blog and co-founder of Hagerstown Suns Fan Blog