The discussion of baseball is steeped in hyperbole. We have a better understanding of the game that we love today than we ever did before, and yet we cannot help but make exaggerated claims about the stars that dominate the field. Everyone knows that Giancarlo Stanton can't literally hit the ball a mile, but it sure as hell feels like he can, doesn't it? The majority of these claims are made for fun and in jest, with a healthy dose of tongue in cheek - but it still makes the game somehow feel more real, and more relatable. And the players that garner a great deal of such praise are often our favorites.
So if you have yet to hear of Nationals uber prospect Lucas Giolito, prepare yourself.
It all begins with his breaking ball. Former Mets GM Steve Phillips described Giolito's curveball as 'bowel-locking.' Ted Lerner, the team president of the Nationals, claims that it breaks "three times on its way to the plate." Jeff Passan of Yahoo! describes it as dropping "from 12 to 6 like a rave." And Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post describes it as a science experiment.
And that's just his curveball. Giolito's fastball, which sits in the mid-90s, is generally labeled as a 70-grade offering (plus-plus to elite) at the very worst; many folks, such Baseball Prospectus' Ezra Wise, believes it to be a future 80-grade pitch. It should be noted that Wise also sees Giolito's future as a 'top-of-the-rotation demigod', so there's that. In an effort to avoid further gushing, suffice it to say that his fastball is a true power offering with movement, that he commands quite well on both sides of the plate. Here is a sample of the spectacle that is Giolito's curveball from last week - take however long you need.
The key for Giolito (aside from the standard health concerns, given that he had Tommy John Surgery after being drafted) will be his overall command, and the development of his change-up. At this time, most scouts view both tools as average or better, with a ceiling closer to the above-average range. As is the case with similarly giant pitchers (Giolito is 6'6" and around 250 pounds), however, he can lose his release point at times. Giolito's fastball and curve are devastating enough to allow him to pick up swings and misses and weak contact even when he's a bit off - but he will need to tighten things up a bit to reach his ceiling, which may be the highest of any prospect in the minors. That being said, if Giolito's command and change-up stay in the average range, his ceiling is still at the top of most rotations. Everything else is that good.
For all of this, Giolito is a consensus top-five prospect in all of baseball. We ranked him second, Baseball Prospectus third, MLB.com third, and Baseball America fifth. If the Nationals were in contention last year, we may well have seen him pitching out of the bullpen to garner some valuable experience; unfortunately, they were not, and so we had to wait. This season, however, Giolito is all but a lock to get a taste of the show, even with the Nationals deep rotation. And once he comes up, the Nationals are not going to want to send him back down.