Right-hander the top-ranked pitcher on list, trails only Seager, Buxton
By Andrew Simon
The Nationals are coming off a disappointing 2015 season that saw them slip to 83 wins and fall short of the postseason. But fortunately for Washington, help is on the way.
The Nats placed four players on MLBPipeline.com's 2016 Top 100 Prospects list, which was unveiled on Friday night. Right-handed pitcher Lucas Giolito (No. 3) led the way, followed by shortstop Trea Turner (No. 11), center fielder Victor Robles (No. 63) and right-hander Erick Fedde (No. 78). The Dodgers are the only other club to land a pair of prospects within the top 15.
The annual ranking of baseball's Top 100 Prospects is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo, Jim Callis and Mike Rosenbaum, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. Only players with rookie status entering the 2016 season are eligible for the list. The rankings follow the guidelines laid out by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, in terms of who falls under the international pool money rules: Players who were at least 23 years old when they signed and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.
Giolito is the only holdover on the list for Washington, although Turner also made the Top 100 list a year ago, when he was still with the Padres' organization. The Nationals are one of 14 teams to place four prospects on the 2016 list, and they rank 10th with 249 prospect points -- a measurement that assigns a score of 100 for the No. 1 prospect, 99 for the No. 2 prospect and so forth.
Giolito, the highest-ranked pitcher, came in at No. 6 a year ago, then third when the list was updated midseason. Among all players, he trails only Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager and Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, both of whom made their Major League debut in 2015.
Meanwhile, Giolito rose as high as Double-A Harrisburg in his age-20 season, posting a 3.80 ERA over eight starts there, with 17 walks and 45 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings. After the organization held him back at the beginning of the season to limit his innings, Giolito notched a 2.71 ERA in 13 outings at Class A Advanced Potomac before his promotion, striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings.
The 16th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Giolito underwent Tommy John surgery soon after but has made steady progress since returning to game action in July '13. He set a career high with 117 innings last season and will take part in big league camp for the first time this spring.
"I was delighted," Giolito told MLB.com earlier this month. "I feel like I've been working pretty hard the past two years, especially coming back from Tommy John surgery. It's a huge honor to get that invitation. It's a good step in the right direction toward making the club and contributing."
Turner was in a strange spot a year ago, when he ranked 63rd on this list. The Nats had unofficially acquired him from the Padres in a three-team trade in December 2014, but Turner had to remain a "player to be named" until last June, a year after San Diego drafted him with the 13th overall pick out of North Carolina State.
The speedy right-handed batter made the most of the awkward situation, hitting .322/.370/.458 with eight home runs and 29 stolen bases over 116 games split between three Minor League affiliates in two organizations. After a brief taste of the Majors in August and September, Turner looks like a potential shortstop of the future for Washington, with Ian Desmond a free agent. This offseason, he has focused on adding some weight as he prepares for a shot at more significant big league time.
"I think that would help [me] strengthen and just make it through a full season," Turner said in December. "I think that'll also benefit me as a player, talent-wise -- being able to drive the ball more and maybe be a little bit quicker, more powerful side to side and whatnot. I've been trying to do it, but I also don't want to gain too much weight and lose the speed."
This is the first time on a Top 100 list for both Robles and Fedde.
Robles began his 2015 campaign in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and more than held his own after a promotion to Class A Short-Season Auburn. In 38 games there, the 18-year-old right-handed hitter posted a .343/.424/.479 line, with 11 extra-base hits and 12 steals.
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Robles now owns a .334 average, a .428 on-base percentage and 46 steals over his first 108 professional games.
Fedde, a UNLV product, had Tommy John surgery not long before the Nationals made him the 18th overall pick in the 2014 Draft. That delayed his pro debut until this past June 21, but Fedde went on to show why Washington took the risk to select him.
Over 14 starts split between Auburn and Class A Hagerstown, Fedde posted a 3.38 ERA in 64 innings, walking 16 and striking out 59. The 22-year-old was limited to no more than five innings per outing, and the Nats figure to use caution with Fedde in 2016 as he continues to rebuild his stamina.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.