MLB Pipeline releases new #Nats prospect rankings!

Victor Robles is (still) the Nats’ top prospect.

New prospect rankings are here! New prospect rankings are here!

MLB Pipeline has come out with its 2018 Prospect Watch for the Washington Nationals. There’s some unsurprising gains from last year’s list, some unsurprising falls, and yes, a few surprises mixed in.

Here’s the top 30 Nats prospects according to MLB Pipeline:

1. Victor Robles (OF, highest level in 2017: MLB) – previous: 1
2. Juan Soto (OF, highest level in 2017: Single-A) – previous: 2
3. Carter Kieboom (SS, highest level in 2017: Single-A) – previous: 3
4. Erick Fedde (RHP, highest level in 2017: MLB) – previous: 4
5. Seth Romero (LHP, highest level in 2017: Short Season-A) – previous: 5
6. Luis Garcia (SS/2B, highest level in 2017: Rookie) – previous: 9
7. Yasel Antuna (SS/3B, highest level in 2017: Rookie) – previous: 8
8. Wil Crowe (RHP, highest level in 2017: Short Season-A) – previous: 6
9. Daniel Johnson (OF, highest level in 2017: High-A) – previous: 10
10. Kelvin Gutierrez (3B, highest level in 2017: High-A) – previous: 12
11. Blake Perkins (OF, highest level in 2017: Single-A) – previous: 11
12. Andrew Stevenson (OF, highest level in 2017: MLB) – previous: 7
13. Raudy Read (C, highest level in 2017: MLB) – previous: 14
14. Luis Reyes (RHP, highest level in 2017: High-A) – previous: NR
15. Jackson Tetreault (RHP, highest level in 2017: Short Season-A) – previous: 17
16. Nick Raquet (LHP, highest level in 2017: Short Season-A) – previous: 16
17. Jefry Rodriguez (RHP, highest level in 2017: High-A) – previous: NR
18. Gabe Klobosits (RHP, highest level in 2017: Single-A) – previous: NR
19. Jakson Reetz (C, highest level in 2017: High-A) – previous: 24
20. Pedro Severino (C, highest level in 2017: MLB) – previous: 15
21. Rafael Bautista (OF, highest level in 2017: MLB) – previous: 13
22. Jose Marmolejos (1B/OF, highest level in 2017: Double-A) – previous: 19
23. Jose Sanchez (SS/2B/3B, highest level in 2017: Rookie) – previous: 27
24. Wander Suero (RHP, highest level in 2017: Triple-A) – previous: NR
25. Brigham Hill (RHP, highest level in 2017: Single-A) – previous: 20
26. Tomas Alastre (RHP, highest level in 2017: Short Season-A) – previous: NR
27. Cole Freeman (2B, highest level in 2017: DNP) – previous: NR
28. Drew Ward (3B, highest level in 2017: Double-A) – previous: 18
29. Telmito Agustin (OF, highest level in 2017: High-A) – previous: 28
30. Anderson Franco (3B/1B, highest level in 2017: Single-A) – previous: 25

Falling out of the top 30 altogether: RHP Austin Voth (previous: 21), RHP Kyle Johnston (previous: 22), C Taylor Gushue (previous: 23), SS/2B Osvaldo Abreu (previous: 26), RHP Joan Baez (previous: 29), OF Armond Upshaw (previous: 30).

Assorted observations

Notable names

As you can see, the top five Nats prospects on MLB Pipeline‘s list are unchanged, and their order of prestige hasn’t changed, either. Despite missing much of their 2017 seasons, A-ball prospects Juan Soto and Carter Kieboom have such loud tools that MLB Pipeline‘s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo continue to project them behind only mega-prospect Victor Robles among Nats position player prospects. Starting pitchers Erick Fedde and Seth Romero continue to round out the top five despite uneven 2017 seasons. Much will be expected of them in terms of progression in 2018.

The sixth through twelfth spots are also unchanged, just rearranged a little bit. Teenage infield prospect Luis Garcia and 2016 fifth-round draft pick Daniel Johnson, an outfielder out of New Mexico State, continue inching up the prospect rankings. Toolsy outfielder Andrew Stevenson slid a bit, as he didn’t show much in his Triple-A debut and scuffled badly in his first taste of the majors.

But Stevenson didn’t slide as badly after first contact with The Show as fellow glove-first outfielder Rafael Bautista. Called up briefly to replace center fielder Adam Eaton on the roster after Eaton’s season-ending knee injury, Bautista was totally overmatched by major league pitching and soon ended up on the disabled list himself. His Triple-A numbers were wholly underwhelming, too. He’s dropped considerably in the latest rankings.

Also dropping a few slots is former top catching prospect Pedro Severino. Once billed as the catcher of the future in Washington, Severino has played in parts of three major league seasons but hasn’t been able to break through, and his offensive and defensive numbers across Triple-A and the major leagues last year were very poor. It looks quite possible Severino will miss out again on the backup job for the Nats this year, with non-roster invitee Miguel Montero appearing to have a great chance of breaking camp with the team after spring training. Stay tuned.

New guys

Although they didn’t have particularly special seasons, pitchers Luis Reyes, Jefry Rodriguez, and Tomas Alastre seem to have quietly impressed Callis and Mayo enough to make MLB Pipeline‘s top 30 this time around. All three missed the list in 2017. Rodriguez is on the 40-man roster and participating in major league spring training for the first time this year, despite missing much of 2017 due to a suspension for steroid use.

Also exploding into the top 30 are relievers Gabe Klobosits and Wander Suero, who came out of nowhere with outstanding seasons that have them within range of the major leagues. Suero was added to the 40-man roster almost as soon as the Nats’ season ended, having dominated in Double-A and Triple-A. He’s a dark horse for a bullpen spot out of spring training this year. Klobosits was a 36th-round draft pick last year who now looks like an absolute steal, as the right-handed behemoth cruised up the minor league levels to finish the season at Single-A after making his professional debut. Continued success could put him in line to be called up as soon as late 2018, although 2019 may be a likelier target.

Infield prospect Cole Freeman is also a new arrival to the top 30. It’s unclear what basis Callis and Mayo have for ranking Freeman, since he never made his professional debut after being drafted in the fourth round last year (the only position player Washington took on the first two days of the draft). Regardless, he should get a chance in 2018 to prove he belongs on this list.

Free fallin’

Once upon a time as recently as this time last year, in fact starting pitcher Austin Voth and third baseman Drew Ward were considered top prospects for the Nats. But things haven’t worked out as hoped. Voth imploded in 2017, earning a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A instead of making his major league debut as anticipated. Ward spent the year treading water in Double-A, then was left unprotected and unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft in December; according to Callis and Mayo, he had off-season surgery after dealing with wrist issues during the year, which would explain his power outage last season. Ward is still clinging to a spot near the bottom of the list after peaking at seventh in 2016. Voth, who peaked at eighth before the start of the 2017 season, has dropped off the list altogether. It’s discouraging downward movement for two players who, not so long ago, looked like they could be significant pieces of the Nats’ future.

Two lesser-known prospects who have continued to slide are Osvaldo Abreu, who was ranked before the start of the 2017 season as the Nats’ seventeenth-best prospect and has fallen off the list, and Anderson Franco, who ranked fifteenth on last year’s preseason list but has dropped to the last spot this time around. Neither infielder showed well at all in 2017. Abreu is a non-roster invitee to spring training for the first time this year, so the Nats may still feel there’s a future major league ballplayer there.

Taylor Gushue bounded into the top 30 midseason last year after not being ranked at the start of 2017, but the 24-year-old catcher has dropped back down again. Like Abreu, he’s a non-roster invitee this year. Top catching prospect Raudy Read‘s 80-game suspension for a positive steroid test would seem to give him an outside chance at reaching the majors this year if catching depth is needed. But Gushue didn’t finish the 2017 season very strong and was basically unplayable in the Arizona Fall League, which might explain why he’s no longer listed.

Additional trivia

Nine of these 30 players (Victor Robles, Erick Fedde, Kelvin Gutierrez, Andrew Stevenson, Jefry Rodriguez, Pedro Severino, Rafael Bautista, Jose Marmolejos, and Wander Suero) are on the Nats’ 40-man roster. A tenth, Raudy Read, was added to the 40-man roster last year but is currently on the MLB restricted list due to his blown drug test.

Another nine on this list (Seth Romero, Luis Garcia, Yasel Antuna, Wil Crowe, Jackson Tetreault, Nick Raquet, Gabe Klobosits, Jose Sanchez, and Brigham Hill) made their professional debuts last year. A tenth, Cole Freeman, has yet to debut. Of that group, Romero, Crowe, Tetreault, Raquet, Klobosits, and Hill were drafted last year, as was Freeman.

Incredibly, all 30 of the Nats’ top prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline this year are “homegrown”, having either been drafted by Washington or signed as international free agents. (Catcher Taylor Gushue, no longer in the top 30 as of this preseason listing, was the fly in the ointment last time. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and then traded to the Nats in 2016.)

The explanation for the above is straightforward: In trying to win in recent seasons, the Nats have traded more prospects away than they have acquired from other teams. Minor-leaguers like Dane Dunning (now with the Chicago White Sox), Jesus Luzardo (now with the Oakland Athletics), Max Schrock (now with the St. Louis Cardinals), Sheldon Neuse (now with the Athletics), and Taylor Hearn (now with the Pittsburgh Pirates) could easily be on this list had the Nats not shipped them out to bolster the major league roster over the past couple seasons.

Scouting report quotes that stood out

On Victor Robles: “From his athleticism to his immense physical tools and his baseball savvy, Robles has the makings of becoming a true franchise player for the Nationals, one who has the upside of a perennial All-Star and possibly an MVP candidate.”

On Juan Soto: “Soto has the makings of a middle-of-the-order hitter and a potential batting champion at maturity, especially if he can continue to add power in the coming years. Even if he doesn’t, the bat alone could make him an impactful regular in the big leagues.”

On Carter Kieboom: “He was aggressive to a fault at times and showed some swing-and-miss tendencies during his pro debut, though his approach appeared more refined in 2017, leading scouts to project him as a future above-average hitter. Kieboom gets good loft to his right-handed swing, too, so much so that he should have at least average power once he fills out physically.”

On Luis Garcia: “A plus athlete who is a near plus-plus runner, Garcia proved an adept baserunner during his pro debut and should continue to pile up stolen bases during his ascent of the Minor Leagues.”

On Daniel Johnson: “Johnson could develop into a dynamic outfielder who contributes in all facets of the game if his development goes as hoped, while his power-speed combo portends a solid big league floor.”

On Kelvin Gutierrez: “The Nationals view Gutierrez as one of the better pure hitters in their system. […] And while he hasn’t yet figured out how to apply his raw power during games, club officials do expect him to clear more fences once he becomes more comfortable firing his barrel and turning on the ball. “

On Andrew Stevenson: “A lack of impact potential with the bat will keep Stevenson from becoming an everyday player, but he does enough things well to continue to profile as a fourth or fifth outfielder at the highest level.”

On Luis Reyes: “Reyes’ stuff arguably is the best among right-handed pitchers in Washington’s system. Combining athleticism with a fast arm, Reyes pitches with a 92-94 mph sinking fastball that nets him both whiffs and ground balls. Club officials rave about his high-spin-rate curveball, a potential plus pitch, and Reyes impressed them with his changeup development in 2017.”

On Jefry Rodriguez: “Throwing more strikes and developing a serviceable changeup would do wonders for Rodriguez’s chances of starting games. A late-inning bullpen role is more realistic, as it would allow Rodriguez’s electric fastball-curveball pairing to play up in shorter bursts.”

On Gabe Klobosits: “An imposing presence on the mound at 6-foot-7, Klobosits has the ability to dominate hitters with his blend of size, stuff and deception. […] Klobosits’ strike-throwing ability will be tested at higher levels, as will the consistency and quality of his stuff. But if his pro debut is a sign of what’s to come, Klobosits could make a quick rise through the Minors en route to a late-inning role in Washington’s bullpen.”

On Pedro Severino: “Severino’s bat, however, still lags behind his glove, as his aggressive approach results in too much forced, weakly hit contact and little in the way of power. It’s that lack of impact potential at the plate that likely will limit Severino to backup duties at the highest level.”

On Rafael Bautista: “Defensively, Bautista gets good reads off the bat and has range for days in center field. His blend of speed, defense and hitting ability gives him a solid floor as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues, though he’ll need to get back on track offensively to sustain that profile.”

On Jose Marmolejos: “Marmolejos stands out most for his natural hitting ability, as he’s an advanced left-handed hitter with a mature approach and a clean, repeatable swing that generates hard contact from line to line and gives him utility against same-sided arms. […] He lacks the power to profile as an everyday big leaguer there but has enough feel to hit and on-base to serve as a future bench option for the Nationals.”

On Wander Suero: “A raw thrower with little feel for the zone early in his career, Suero has since learned to harness and refine his stuff. […] While the stuff might not be good enough for him to close games in the big leagues, Suero, with his strong track record against right-handed hitters, should have no trouble carving out a late-inning role.”

Prospects to watch

This year will be huge for Juan Soto and Carter Kieboom as they look to bounce back from injury-ridden 2017 campaigns. Both could end up not just in the Nats’ top 30, but in Major League Baseball’s top 30, if they sustain the output they produced in 2017 over the course of a full season.

Erick Fedde and Seth Romero were occasionally brilliant in 2017, but they could not find consistency. The Nats will be watching these two closely to determine whether they will form part of future major league rotations. Romero, the Nats’ top draft pick last year, is likely a year or two behind Fedde, although it’s not impossible to see him moving quickly as an advanced college pitcher.

Daniel Johnson burst onto the scene in 2017 after flying under the radar in 2016. Though his advanced skills allowed him to dominate the A-ball ranks last year, his real test will come in Double-A, where he is expected to start the year. A good season could put him in line for a September call-up when rosters expand. This year may go a long way toward determining whether Johnson is truly someone the Nats will have to factor into their outfield picture beginning in 2019.

Even if Pedro Severino loses out on the backup catcher job to Miguel Montero this spring, he’ll still be an important depth piece if the Nats option him to the minors. He dealt with some injuries last year, so perhaps he could come back with a healthier, stronger season that would at least stop his slide into irrelevance. While offense has never exactly been his forte, better glovework and a modest improvement to his batting line could be his ticket to sticking in the majors. He’ll be waiting in the wings if Montero doesn’t seize his opportunity.

Kelvin Gutierrez and Drew Ward could make some waves if they are able to come on strong and hit for more power in 2018. Ward will apparently be coming back from surgery, so it’s unclear how much to expect from him this season. Another bad year for him could drop him off the prospect radar altogether. Gutierrez, meanwhile, is already on the Nats’ 40-man roster. If he continues making strides, he could end up in the majors at some point this year.

Fast-rising pitchers like Luis Reyes, Jefry Rodriguez, Gabe Klobosits, Wander Suero, and Tomas Alastre should all be considered prospects to watch, too. Rodriguez, Suero, and possibly Klobosits could all end up working out of the Nats’ bullpen at some point in 2018. As for Reyes and Alastre, they are probably the least-known prospects on this list as of right now. They could earn greater recognition if they build on the intriguing potential Callis and Mayo see in them.

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