|Making the case for the No. 1 prospect
|Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
|J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies
|Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals
|Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
|Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers
But is the Nationals' prized possession the No. 1 prospect in baseball?
Scouts don't like to use the term "ace" when projecting young pitchers because it creates an unrealistic and virtually unattainable ceiling. In Giolito's case, however, it's appropriate.
At age 21, Giolito arguably has the best fastball, curveball and control of any pitcher on the Top 100 Prospects list. He pounds the zone with an elite, 80-grade fastball (on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents average) that sits mid-to-upper-90s, and opposing hitters have difficulty lifting the pitch due to its consistent downhill plane. The curveball projects to be plus-plus, thrown with 12-to-6 shape and a ton of depth and bite, and it gives Giolito a legitimate swing-and-miss offering to pair with his heater.
Giolito's feel for his changeup has improved over the past two seasons and should serve as a legitimate weapon against left-handed hitters once developed. Meanwhile, the right-hander's arsenal is strengthened by his strike-throwing ability and overall plus control profile.
Giolito fell to the Nats at No. 16 overall in the 2013 Draft after missing most of his senior year at Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) High with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament -- an injury which ultimately required Tommy John surgery after he signed. He's been nothing short of dominant since returning to the mound in 2013, though, and has passed every challenge the organization has thrown his way.
After an outstanding full-season debut in the Class A South Atlantic League, Giolito opened his 2015 campaign in extended spring camp before reporting to Class A Advanced Potomac and, later, Double-A Harrisburg. Between the two levels, the 6-foot-6 righty registered a 3.15 ERA and established new career highs in both innings pitched (117) and strikeouts (131). On top of that, he issued 37 walks and yielded only three home runs on the year. Along the way, Giolito started for the U.S. squad in the 2015 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, marking the second straight year he was selected to the event.
The only concern with Giolito is his lack of experience, although it certainly hasn't stopped him from excelling against older hitters in advanced leagues. Washington carefully managed Giolito's workload during his recovery from Tommy John surgery but finally loosened the reins last season, setting the stage for what should be an unrestricted 2016 campaign.
After logging 47 1/3 innings at Double-A last season, Giolito won't need much more time in the Minors before he's ready to make an impact at the highest level. He still has room for improvement in terms of refining his changeup and controlling the running game, but the size, stuff and command all point towards him becoming a true No. 1 starter.