Earlier this afternoon - right around 3:30 PM EST - Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post announced that Lucas Giolito would be making his Major League debut against the Mets on Tuesday, June 28. Interestingly enough, Giolito will be the third stud pitching prospect to make his debut against the Mets this season, following in the footsteps of Julio Urias and Jameson Taillon. He may also be the best of them, as MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and our team all ranked him as the best pitching prospect in baseball heading into this season.
I laid out the reasoning for my belief that Giolito was well-deserving of the hype in the midst of Spring Training:
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.
Giolito’s numbers in 2016 don’t quite match the hype, as his overall line (71.0 IP, 67 H, 34 BB, 72 K, 3.17 ERA) at Double-A isn’t quite as jaw-dropping as one may expect. However, it is important to remember that he is still just 21-years-old - and Keith Law rated him as the top prospect in the game in late May, on the heels of graduations elsewhere on the list. In that same post, Law points out that the pitching coach at Double-A Harrisburg tinkered with Giolito’s delivery, which assuredly played a role in his ups and downs to date (in 40.2 IP since going back to his original mechanics, he has 47 strikeouts and 14 walks).
And, to be fair, his numbers are far from bad; they’re quite good, actually. They simply fall short of what we as fans may expect for a prospect of his stature.
Inquiring fantasy minds want to know whether Giolito is here to stay and, unfortunately, I don’t think we know just yet. Dusty Baker said shortly after the news broke that it was “impossible to answer” how long Giolito would be in the Majors, and that jibes with the fact that the injury status of Stephen Strasburg remains a question of its own. The Nationals may be considering dropping Gio Gonzalez from the rotation, given his ugly 4.73 ERA and team option for next season, but that isn’t normally Baker’s style. And then there’s the matter of Giolito’s unstated innings limit, which I suspect is around 140 IP (which leaves him 69 IP or so to play with), and the Nationals history of shutting down pitchers sooner rather than some would like.
I suspect that Giolito will end up sticking around for good at some point this season - I just don’t know if that time is now. If it is, he will likely be on strict pitch and/or innings counts, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him transition into a long relief role to manage his innings when the weather starts to cool.