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Washington Nationals 2015 Top 10 Fantasy Prospects

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The prospect staff at Fake Teams continues their fantasy prospect rankings and system reviews with an in-depth look at the Washington Nationals.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last year, the prospect staff here at Fake Teams will be taking an in-depth look at each major league organization, including our top 10 fantasy prospects, an overview of the organization's minor league system as a whole and potential opportunities for playing time in 2015. Our goal is to provide you with more information as you prepare for minor league drafts for dynasty and keeper leagues, as well as look at players that could potentially be worth watching during the spring, as they could be in line to potentially help your fantasy team. We will be reviewing two teams per week until we are through all 30 teams, and you can see the schedule of when your favorite team will be reviewed below. If we have already reviewed the team, a link to the post, along with the team's top prospect is noted.

System Schedule

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

Baltimore
(3/11)

Chicago
(2/11)

Houston
(1/14)

Atlanta
(Sims)

Chicago
(Bryant)

Arizona
(Bradley)

Boston
(3/14)

Cleveland
(2/14)

Los Angeles
(1/17)

Miami
(Kolek)

Cincinnati
(Stephenson)

Colorado
(Gray)

New York
(3/18)

Detroit
(2/18)

Oakland
(1/21)

New York
(12/27)

Milwaukee
(Taylor)

Los Angeles
(Pederson)

Tampa Bay
(3/21)

Kansas City
(2/21)

Seattle
(1/24)

Philadelphia
(Crawford)

Pittsburgh
(Glasnow)

San Diego
(Renfroe)

Toronto
(3/25)

Minnesota
(2/25)

Texas
(1/28)

Washington
(Today)

St. Louis
(Piscotty)

San Francisco
(Crick)

Organizational Overview
by Brian Creagh

The Nationals are in the midst of what is shaping up to be an impressive run of playoff contending teams, and are a model example of how to rebuild by the investing in the draft. A 96-66 season in 2014 saw the Nationals run away with the NL East and lose to the future champion, San Francisco Giants in the Divisional Series. The quick exit in the playoffs surely left a bitter taste in the mouths of Nationals fans, but the positives of the 2014 season undoubtedly outweigh the negative outcome, which make the prospects of 2015 all the more enticing.

All of the money spent on high draft picks of the past years is starting to net a return as Stephen Strasburg is entering his prime, Bryce Harper continues to grow (he's still only 22!), and Anthony Rendon broke into the scene in 2014. These three, along with fellow rotation stalwarts, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann all return next year and make the Nationals the prohibitive favorites to take the division crown. The only meaningful departures from last season's team are Adam LaRoche (who signed with the White Sox), and Asdrubal Cabrera (still a free agent), but with Ryan Zimmerman's shift to 1B and the emergence of Anthony Rendon, both positions have been filled organically.

The Nats cleared some payroll with the departure of LaRoche, and figure to still have the assets to make another move. With Bryce Harper and Denard Span as the only left-handed hitters in the projected Opening Day lineup, there is a definite need for some lefty pop, whether as a starter or bench player. Between the payroll and the glut of OF depth at the upper minor league level, Mike Rizzo has some flexibility in who to target. Werth, Harper, and Span are a lock to open the season as the three outfielders, but top prospects Michael Taylor, and possibly Brian Goodwin could be expendable.

The biggest difference with the Nationals organization this year, is the lack of depth at the minor league level. They still have a stud in Lucas Giolito, who some consider the best pitching prospect in baseball, but there is not much else in the way of all-star potential on the list. A.J. Cole, and Erick Fedde are excellent prospects and figure to contribute to an MLB team someday, but they don't carry the same cache as top Nationals prospects of the past. The time is definitely now for the Nationals to make a World Series push. There has been rumors of dealing Jordan Zimmermann, an expiring contract that is apart of an already dominant starting rotation, but with Strasburg's injury concerns and the possible regression of Tanner Roark, moving Zimmermann could look silly very quickly for Washington.

2014 Graduates

The following players have surpassed their rookie maximums of 130 AB, 50 IP, or 45 days of service time.

Zack Walters (AB/trade), Blake Treinen (IP), Aaron Barrett (ST)

Major League Opportunities in 2015
by Brian Creagh

As you would expect for a team poised for a deep playoff run, the opportunities at the MLB level are few and far between for budding prospects. Barring a trade, the rotation is set with Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, and Roark and the only real iffy spot in the field is at 2B where Danny Espinosa takes over and Rendon shifts to 3B. A backup isn't immediately in play and the Nationals have a host of utility types that can step in if injury strikes, so I'm not expecting any big breakouts in 2015 from this prospect class.

Matt Skole is probably the only guy I'm going to keep an eye on in my leagues. He's an offensive-first prospect with a questionable defensive profile, but with the departure of LaRoche, there is one less roadblock in his way. He lost a full season of development in 2013 due to injury, so his numbers haven't fully bounced back, but Skole provides the one thing the Nationals offense sorely lacks: power from the left side. He needs some time to continue knocking the rust off from the missed year, but he's a name to remember if he sees a mid-summer promotion and opportunity comes knocking.

Top 10 Fantasy Prospects
by Jason Hunt

Our top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are based upon standard 5x5 fantasy baseball leagues, with a balancing of ceiling and present value. While we are having discussions regarding these lists as a collective group, the top 10 fantasy prospect rankings are finalized by the writer listed above. Players are no longer considered prospects once they exceed either 130 at bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days of service time in the Majors.


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1. Lucas Giolito (RHP)

Photo Credit: Elsa - Getty Images
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
10 0 2.20 1.00 110
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
98 0.60 1.42 7.25% 28.50%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
19 R R A
Roster Status: Protect after 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: 2018

The clear cut top prospect in the Nationals' system, Giolito will be in the running for the top overall pitching prospect in the minors when it comes time to do our overall top prospect lists. Drafted out of Harvard-Westlake high school with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Giolito had Tommy John surgery shortly after signing, and missed the first three months of the 2013 campaign as a result. He did make 11 starts down the stretch with a tight leash on his innings and pitch count that year, although all were at short-season affiliates. He moved up to full-season Low-A in 2014, making 20 starts before being shut down in August at 98 innings pitched.

If you're looking for a prototypical top pitching prospect, Giolito may be the best example. He has a starter's build at 6'6", 255 lbs, and should be capable of providing 200+ inning seasons once he builds up his workload in the minor leagues. He features a fastball which is considered 80-grade (on an 80 scale) right now, touching triple digits at times and sitting in the mid-90s, a curveball which has the potential to be just as evil of an offering, and an absolute strikeout pitch. His third offering, a changeup, is by no means a slouch either, and reports project it as a plus offering as well. He commands all three pitches well, and reports on his makeup are extremely strong.

Giolito is one of the few prospects in the minors that has true ace potential. He can be a top 10 starting pitcher if it all clicks as hoped, capable of providing over a strikeout per inning and low ratios over 200-220 innings per season. He'll head to High-A for the 2015 season, and could be in Washington by 2018.

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2. Michael Taylor (OF)

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.296 86 24 69 37
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
536 0.379 0.512 11.19% 30.04%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
23 R R AA-AAA-MLB
Roster Status: On 40-Man Roster (2 Options Left)
ETA to Majors: Late 2015

A 2009 draftee, Taylor emerged as a potential top prospect after a 2013 season where he hit 10 home runs, stole 51 bases, and hit .263 while playing in High-A Potomac (albeit in his second go-around at the level). We had questions last year about his ability to make contact consistently, and specifically whether he would hit enough to provide the interesting value in counting categories that would make him fantasy relevant. Fast forward another season, where he hit 24 home runs and stole 37 bases across AA, AAA and the majors, and Taylor has emerged as a top 50 overall option.

It was originally thought that Taylor would reach the majors on the strength of his center field defense, and while that will keep him there once he is up for good, there is a lot of fantasy potential here. Taylor has the potential to provide 15-20 home runs per season, to go along with 25+ stolen bases on a regular basis, with a gigantic caveat. That caveat? Taylor has shown a propensity to strikeout in the minors, with his lowest full season at just under 23%. While it won't make him useless in fantasy, you need to be ready for the potential that he ends up as a .230 hitter with slightly less than the projections above in counting stats.

Taylor will likely return to AAA for the 2015 season, as the outfield is pretty well set in Washington. It's possible that he could be the 4th outfielder there, but it seems like a better use of his development time would be to play more than the 12 games he has at AAA so far. With Denard Span a free agent after the 2015 season, look for Taylor to get the first shot at the center field job in 2016.

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3. A.J. Cole (RHP)

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
13 0 3.16 1.343 111
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
134 0.70 0.76 5.57% 19.30%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 R R AA-AAA
Roster Status: On 40-Man Roster (3 Options Left)
ETA to Majors: Late 2015

In an odd turn of events, Cole was traded away by the Nationals (as a part of the Gio Gonzalez trade), and then reacquired by the team (as a part of the Michael Morse trade). As a result, he spent the 2012 season with the Athletics, struggled enough to be sent back a level, and returned to High-A in 2013 following his return to the Nats. He spent the 2014 campaign between Double-A and Triple-A, making 14 and 11 starts respectively and pitching well at both stops.

Cole features a three-pitch repertoire with an excellent fastball-changeup combination. Both pitches are above-average to potentially elite offerings, and his slider is expected to be at least an average offering, albeit not necessarily a strong swing-and-miss one. He commands all three pitches well, and has shown the ability to consistently limit his walks at every level. Another tall pitcher, Cole stands 6'5", 200 lbs, and should be just fine for a starter's workload.

Cole isn't the same wonderful profile that you're seeing in Giolito, but Cole should still be a solid fantasy producer for many years. He profiles as a mid-rotation type, and should provide production across four categories in all formats. He's likely a back-end type in shallow formats (think SP 4 or SP 5 in 10 team leagues), but should debut at some point in the 2015 season, with a shot at sticking in the rotation by 2016.

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4. Trea Turner (SS)

Photo Credit: Bruce Thorson - USA Today Sports
2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.323 45 5 24 23
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
321 0.406 0.448 10.90% 20.87%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 R R A-A-
Roster Status: Protect after 2017 Season
ETA to Majors: 2016

While he is not officially a member of the Nationals yet, to say that it has not been established that Turner will be headed to Washington in mid-June as the player-to-be-named-later is pretty funny at this point. I won't rehash the whole write up that Brian Creagh included when he ranked Turner as our #4 fantasy prospect (which you can find here), but believe that the Nationals have found their long-term answer at shortstop should incumbent Ian Desmond leave via free agency after the 2015 season. Turner could move quickly as a polished college product, and it would not surprise me if he reached AA during this season.

5. Reynaldo Lopez (RHP)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
7 0 1.08 0.82 70
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
83.1 0.10 1.92 8.33% 22.44%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
20 R R A-A-
Roster Status: Protect after 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: 2017

A lanky right hander out of the Dominican Republic, the Nationals signed Lopez for just $17,000 back in 2012. After his strong performance in 2014, that investment looks like it will pay off drastically better. He started the season at full-season Low-A Hagerstown, but after two starts was sent back to short-season Auburn. He finished up his seventh and final start there with six shutout innings, returned to Hagerstown, and proceeded to allow just one earned run over his final 39 innings of the season.

The reports on Lopez are extremely glowing, with a top-of-the-rotation type ceiling not out of the question. He gets rave reviews about his fastball (mid 90s, touching high-90s), and curveball, which both can be strikeout offerings on a regular basis. He is a bit raw at this point, as his changeup is a work-in-progress and there are your usual items which need development (consistency in delivery, general growth, etc.) for a young pitcher in the low minors.

Lopez definitely popped up with his strong 2014 performance, and in a year's time could be right near the top of this list. He'll likely move up to High-A for the 2015 season, and if he can maintain even some of his performance and glowing reports then, he might move into the top 100 fairly easily. The range remains wide for him, but a high-end starting pitcher is the ceiling and worth keeping an eye on for dynasty formats.

6. Erick Fedde (RHP)

Roster Status: Protect after 2017 Season
ETA to Majors: 2017

It seems like every year the Nationals are playing in a slightly different draft than everyone else. Each of their last three top picks have all been players that had potential to go much higher in the draft, but fell due to some injury concern. Fedde is no different, as he had Tommy John surgery prior to the draft. That didn't stop the Nationals, who took him with the 18th overall pick.

Fedde can be a mid-rotation type of starting pitcher, with three pitches which profile as average or better and capable of providing strong production in at least three categories. Obviously the risk associated with the surgery remains high, but the Nationals have a strong history of bringing pitchers with this in their past back to productivity. We should have a better idea of how astute a pick this will be by the end of next season (and we see the reports on how he is throwing after the surgery), but I wouldn't bet against the Nationals on this.

7. Joe Ross (RHP)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
W SV ERA WHIP K
10 0 3.92 1.26 106
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
IP HR/9 GO/AO BB% K%
121.2 0.60 1.59 5.58% 20.38%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 R R A+-AA
Roster Status: Protect after 2015 Season
ETA to Majors: 2016

The main prospect acquired from the Rays for Souza, Ross was our #9 prospect from the Padres' system (you can find Brian's writeup of him here). He slots in here at #7 in the Nationals, and should head to AA to start the season.

8. Wilmer Difo (2B/SS)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.315 91 14 90 49
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
610 0.360 0.470 6.07% 10.66%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
22 S R A
Roster Status: On 40-Man Roster (3 Options Left)
ETA to Majors: 2018

Added to the 40-man roster in November, Difo played a full season for the first time in 2014 since signing in 2010. The performance was excellent, hitting .315/.360/.470 with 14 home runs, 49 stolen bases, 91 runs scored, and 90 runs driven in. He split time between shortstop and second base during the season, and Baseball America ranked him as the top defensive second baseman in the South Atlantic League.

The numbers jump off the page for Difo, and the reports out there help back up how he accomplished them. He is known for his speed, with 30+ steals a year a reasonably good possibility. The power potential isn't necessarily matching up with the home runs from this year, as it sounds like he should provide a few home runs per season rather than double-digits. He has shown the ability to take a walk and also make contact at a high rate, which bodes well for his potential to provide batting average. Overall, he profiles as an interesting middle infield prospect that could be much more prominent if he can reproduce that production at High-A in 2015.

9. Jakson Reetz (C)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.274 20 1 15 6
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
155 0.429 0.368 16.77% 19.35%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
18 R R Rk
Roster Status: Protect after 2018 Season
ETA to Majors: 2019

A third round pick out of a Nebraska high school, Reetz is one of the more interesting fantasy catching prospects from the 2014 draft. He signed for an overslot bonus of $800K, and posted an interesting line over 43 games at the Nationals' GCL affiliate.

With catching prospects, you generally only get one side of the game or the other, but it sounds a lot like Reetz might be able to provide value on both. He gets good reviews about his defense, and is expected to be able to stay at the position long term. At the plate, he is anticipated to provide above-average value in both batting average and power, with 15+ home runs a possibility down the line.

It will be interesting to see if the Nationals send him to a full-season assignment in 2015, or if he returns to one of their short-season affiliates. He's a long way away, and catchers don't tend to move particularly quickly as prospects to begin with. He's a name to keep an eye on, and worth drafting in very deep formats right now.

10. Rafael Bautista (OF)

2014 FANTASY STATISTICS
AVG R HR RBI SB
0.290 97 5 54 69
2014 SECONDARY STATISTICS
PA OBP% SLG% BB% K%
543 0.341 0.382 6.08% 13.26%
OTHER INFORMATION
AGE Bats Throws 2014 Levels
21 R R A
Roster Status: Protect after 2016 Season
ETA to Majors: 2017

Signed in 2012 from the Dominican Republic, Bautista made his full season debut this year, after debuting stateside in 2013 in the GCL. Bautista is carried by his speed, and it is easily his best tool. He can potentially provide 30-40 stolen bases on a regular basis, providing he hits enough to let the speed play. He's not expected to provide value in the power categories, but instead profiles as more of a leadoff-type as a result of his swing type. Defensively he should be able to stay in center field, and his speed should help him out with that as well. I'm always interested in hearing about these high stolen base total prospects, but at this point until he can carry it up toward the AA level, he's only worth a flier in the deepest of formats right now.

Other Interesting Prospects
by Jason Hunt

Matt Skole - Skole is an interesting power prospect, who has shown the ability to hit 25+ home runs in previous seasons. It's hard to see how he helps the Nationals right now, as he is limited defensively to first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is locked in for the next six seasons. He'll likely head to AAA this season, and might be a potential trade chip for a team desperate for power.

Brian Goodwin - I don't know if anyone saw this coming from Goodwin. He missed time in 2014, was ineffective when he did play, and has been passed on the organizational depth chart by Taylor. I think that Goodwin returns to AAA for the 2015 season, and will look to rebuild on the potential that made him a potential five-category contributor. At this point though, I need to see it before I can put him back in the top 10.

Chris Bostick - Acquired from the Rangers in the Ross Detwiler trade, Bostick has always been a personal favorite of mine. He's going to need to continue to prove it at every level, but he has filled up the counting stats at each level, including an 11 home run, 24 steal campaign at High-A Myrtle Beach in 2014. He could be the long-term answer at second base, but we really need to see that he can maintain his average and reduce strikeouts somewhat at AA in 2015.

About the Authors

Jason Hunt is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in the minor leagues and prospects
Follow him on Twitter 

Brian Creagh is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter 

David Spracale is a contributing writer for Fake Teams, specializing in fantasy baseball and the minor leagues.
Follow him on Twitter