2015 Washington Nationals Top 10 Prospects Chat

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, welcome to another Nats chat. Happy to be back here in the BA chat room for one last guest appearance to put a bow on this year’s Nationals Top 10. Let’s dive in.

Frank (Chicago, IL): Did Austin Voth make a case for this list? Does he project as a starter or reliever?
Aaron Fitt: Voth landed just outside the Top 10 for me. I don’t think there’s a ton of upside there, but I think he’s a polished three-pitch guy with a very good chance to be a back-end starter. Fairly low-risk, modest-upside prospect, but there is certainly value in that. I think he’s a starter all the way — he doesn’t have a knockout pitch to blow hitters away out of the bullpen, and he tends to get stronger as he works into the middle innings anyway. Very well suited to start.

Grant (NYC): Your opinions of J. Reetz? About how many years away is he? Is he a 11-20 prospect?
Aaron Fitt: Reetz is very intriguing — he’s in the 11-15 range for me. Everything works behind the plate, where he’s got a chance to be an above-average defender, and I think he has a nice swing and a natural feel for his barrel. He obviously needs polish and is a long way from the big leagues, but he’s got everyday catcher upside. Easy to dream on a guy like that.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Aaron. Gotta ask the obvious - where would Joe Ross have ranked here, and while you're at it, Trea Turner as well, had he not been designated a PTBNL?
Aaron Fitt: Ross probably fits in between Fedde and Cole, right around No. 5. Hard to say where Turner would fit in — I could see him anywhere between No. 2 and No. 5. I’m very high on Turner — an electric player to watch at N.C. State, and I believe in his aptitude.

Kelly (Saint Cloud, MN): Drew Vettleson - prospect or suspect?
Aaron Fitt: Vettleson has enough tools to make him a prospect, but he needs to improve his performance to boost his standing. I turned him in near the back of the Top 30. There are some people in the Nats organization who really think he’s got a chance to hit, and provide some power, but right now the production doesn’t match the raw ability (certainly the broken hand was a significant setback for him this year, so it’s hard to know what to make of his season). His best tool is his arm, which earns some 70 grades.

Paul (Flagstaff, AZ): Which RHP are you higher on between Robbie Dickey and Jefry Rodriguez?
Aaron Fitt: I like Rodriguez — I think the ceiling is higher, although he certainly still comes with a lot of risk. But he has a great body and an electric arm, and he’ll show you 98 mph heat and occasionally a legitimate curveball. The secondary stuff needs work, and the command needs a lot of work, but there’s still time. Dickey has arm strength too — we heard some reports of 94-96 heat at his best in the spring, though he did not show that kind of stuff after getting drafted. Definitely a prospect to keep an eye on.

Eric (Baltimore, MD): Was Joe Ross traded too recently to make your list, or was he not high enough to make it regardless?
Aaron Fitt: Ross did not get traded before our transaction deadline, apparently. Obviously Turner will not be eligible for this list until he’s officially a member of the organization next summer.

Jake (Washington DC): Pretend it's June 13, 2015. Where would you rank Turner? Thoughts on the trade that sent him here?
Aaron Fitt: Touched on where Turner might rank a little earlier. That trade was a huge win for the Nationals, I thought. I’m really high on Souza — higher than anyone else in the BA office (I think you could make a strong case for him as high as No. 2 on this list, in fact) — but the Nationals don’t have any place to put him this year, so it made sense to trade him while his value is high. To get two prospects of that caliber for a soon-to-be 26-year-old who has yet to establish himself in the major leagues is a huge, huge win. It is especially hard to find shortstop prospects like Turner; I believe he has a real chance to stick at that position, where I think he has enough arm, though I know not everyone agrees with me on that. His speed is game-changing, and he has real bat speed, and he has a very smart baseball mind, so I believe he will make the most of his exciting tools.

Dave (New York City): Hey, Aaron, delighted to 'see' you here before your new role starts! Did you or the Nats consider John Simms, who moved up from Flat A to AA in 2014 at age 22, as a possible Top 10? What does he need to do in 2015 to become a Top 10 for next year?
Aaron Fitt: Thanks, Dave! Simms did make my Top 30, but closer to the back end of it. I like him, but I think he’s got a modest ceiling — he’s a little like Voth but with less stuff. It’s a fringy to average fastball around 88-92, but it plays up a bit because he commands it well (that is his best asset), and it has some sink and deception. At his best, his curveball flashes above-average, and his changeup has a chance to be fringe-average. You’re probably looking at an up-and-down No. 5 starter type or maybe a middle reliever.

Ryan (Laurel, MD): The acquisition of Trea Turner may impact this, but what position do you see Wilmer Difo settling into?
Aaron Fitt: The Nats think he has a real shot to stick at shortstop, and I think that’s where he’ll stay for the short term. I really like the Cristian Guzman comp for him — I think it fits his body and his skill set, although there’s still plenty of risk — and I think he could wind up as a guy who plays shortstop and second base like Guzman did (but maybe more second than short).

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Pick a sleeper from short season Auburn or the GCL.
Aaron Fitt: I like Raudy Read, Auburn’s catcher this year — he’s a Top 20 prospect in this organization for me. He is an offense-oriented catcher, and the defense needs a lot of work, but he’s got a chance back there, and the bat could be good enough to carry him. That Auburn team didn’t do much for me this year, but keep an eye on Drew Van Orden, who is a bit better than a typical money-saving senior sign. Solid-average fastball, solid-average slider, commands them both well. Probably a bullpen guy, but he may have a shot. I mentioned Robbie Dickey earlier — he’s the best pitching prospect on that Auburn team this year.

Wally (DC): Has Jefry Rodriguez completely fallen off the radar screen? Any word on his injury issues, or what caused him to miss so much time in 2014?
Aaron Fitt: He got hit on the wrist by a comebacker on July 1, causing a hairline fracture that ended his season. He returned to action this fall and was good in instructs, I hear. He’s still a prospect, but this was kind of a lost year for him developmentally.

Brad (DC): Thanks for chatting Aaron. Are Difo's stats from this last season indicative of the kind of player he could become, or is it just more a case of an older guy beating up on younger competetion?
Aaron Fitt: His tools are legitimate — he is a true five-tool guy, with plus speed and three future 55s on his card, along with fringy power potential. He was ready to move up this year, but the Nationals wanted him to really build his confidence and take home some hardware for a very good Hagerstown, and I think that makes sense. Ian Desmond took a long time to figure it all out too; maybe Difo follows that kind of career path.

Dave (New York City): What did the Nats have to say about Jake Johansen and his development in 2014? Do they still believe he can be a rotation starter, or will he move to a relief role in 2015?
Aaron Fitt: At this point I think it’s pretty clear that Johansen’s future is in the bullpen. Really, I think the Nats just started him out in a starting role to get more innings under his belt and help him develop, but deep down I think everyone always figured this guy was a future reliever. And I think he’s still got a chance to become a big league closer if he can figure it all out, because the stuff is loud. But the feel to pitch needs to continue to progress.

Dan (Ohio): Michael Taylor seems to have a similar skill set to George Springer of the Astros. Who would you rather have on your team? Also, when, if ever, will he get a chance to crack the Nationals outfield?
Aaron Fitt: Certainly some similarities there, although I see Springer as more of a power-hitting right fielder who also brings speed, whereas Taylor is a true center fielder who also brings some power, but less power than Springer. Both guys are going to strike out a lot, but both bring pretty interesting power/speed combinations. I would rather have Springer though, I think. As for when Taylor gets unblocked in D.C., your guess is as good as mine. Right now, there is no clear path to playing time. But he definitely could use another full year in the minors to refine his game anyway. Unlike Souza, I don’t think Taylor is quite big league-ready. Souza is absolutely ready now, and it would have been pointless for him to spend another year at Triple-A.

Barry (MD): What do you make of Reynaldo Lopez's development? How good can he be?
Aaron Fitt: This was a really loud year for Lopez — he just exploded onto the prospect landscape and established himself as a bona fide blue-chipper. It was very encouraging that he was able to learn from his early struggles at Hagerstown, go back to Auburn and make some substantial adjustments, then return to Hagerstown and dominate. I think he’s ready to move fast, and he has legitimate top-of-the-rotation upside, although it’s safer to project him as a mid-rotation starter, of course.

Todd Boss (Vienna, VA): A huge jump up for Lopez. Can he stick as a starter?
Aaron Fitt: Just to piggyback on the last answer, at this point I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt he can stick as a starter. He maintains his premium velocity deep into games, and he has three legitimate pitches. He has feel for pitching, his delivery works — the only thing working against him is his size, and I don’t like the knee-jerk instinct to project every smallish righthander as a reliever.

Russ (Maryland): What's your take on Pivetta? Will be SP or RP for Nats and when?
Aaron Fitt: I like Pivetta — good size, good arm strength, and a chance to start. It’s always easier to forecast young power pitchers winding up in the bullpen, but this guy has a plus fastball, the makings of an above-average curveball and a changeup that should be serviceable. He’s still young, and if he can harness his mechanics and command, he does have a chance to start. He’s still a few years away, however.

Justin (New York): Any reason to get excited over any of the Nationals 1B prospects? Shawn Pleffner, Jimmy Yezzo, or Jose Marmolejos-Diaz?
Aaron Fitt: Not really. Pleffner has a few supporters because he has a nice feel for hitting and drives the ball the other way well, but he still needs to learn to hit for power and turn on the ball. None of those guys are Top 30 guys for me.

Craig (Vancouver): Can we consider Solis and Purke as busts at this point?
Aaron Fitt: Certainly they have been disappointments, and at this point I think Purke is a real long shot — he just is not the same guy he used to be. He’s no longer in the Top 30 for me. Solis is still in the Top 30, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him still provide some big league value. But the guy just can’t ever stay healthy. He needs to prove it.

Justin (New York): How do you see some late draft rounders like Austen Williams, Austin Davidson, or D.K. Carey ending up?
Aaron Fitt: Right now they’re all just depth chart guys, but they all have something that makes them at least mildly interesting. Williams has shown 94 mph heat and a decent slider at times, but he’s probably a reliever. I’ve liked Davidson’s swing for years, and I know a lot of scouts in SoCal who kept waiting for him to really hit, but it hasn’t really happened yet. The fundamentals of the swing are very sound, but he strikes me as a bit of a tweener — not enough foot speed for second base, not enough power for third. Carey is a good athlete with some speed and power, and he seemed to really turn a corner as a senior at Miami this year. He also has some arm strength and good defensive skills in the outfield. The question is, will his bat play at higher levels? I have my doubts.

Justin (New York): The Nationals had some promising catchers pop up this year. Any feelings on Spencer Kieboom or Raudy Read?
Aaron Fitt: Both those guys are Top 30 guys, and I discussed Read earlier. I like Kieboom a tick better than Read, just because he’s a safer bet to catch. He doesn’t have any standout tools, but he runs the show well behind the plate, he’s a solid receiver and blocker, and I think he has a chance to hit enough to make the big leagues as a backup catcher. Lower ceiling than Read, but less risk — and Kieboom’s outstanding makeup gives him additional value as a catcher.

Todd B (Vienna, VA): Skole was #6 in your mid-season rankings; has he fallen that far? I'd have him above Goodwin if we're adjusting for poor 2014 performance.
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, Skole slipped down into the 20s for me (for the record, I did not write the Nats’ midseason top 10). The problem is he’s really a first baseman only, so he’s just got to hit a lot, and his swing has so many moving parts that I think people are starting to become a little more skeptical that his bat is going to play in the big leagues. I should add that I’m also lower on Goodwin than BA in general is, but his athleticism and all-around tool package still gives him a lot more value than Skole.

Brad (Philadelphia): Terms question: Fedde's capsule includes this line: "He is an excellent athlete who fields his position well, though his lack of physicality raises questions about his durability." What is the difference between athleticism and physicality in this sense? Thanks.
Aaron Fitt: Translation: he’s skinny and needs to get stronger to improve his durability. But he’s still very athletic.

Justin (NY): Is Wander Suero someone to watch?
Aaron Fitt: Sure — he’ll show you 90-93 with natural cutting action and a solid curveball, and he is a relentless strike-thrower. He needs to improve his changeup to have a shot to stick as a starter, and I got mixed reports about the quality of his stuff this year, but he’s certainly a name to file away.

Craig (Ohio): Like what I've seen of Renda. Where does he rank in the top 30? Is Joe Panik a good comparison?
Aaron Fitt: I’m a big Tony Renda fan — top-of-the-charts makeup, just a baseball rat who will always get the most out of his tools. And he can really hit. But he does not have Panik’s raw tools or size. And he doesn’t defend as well — he has worked hard on his defense, but he’s really a bat-first player. Panik has impact ability both ways.

jeff (brooklyn): whats the ceiling on rafael bautista? is he another eury perez or starling marte?
Aaron Fitt: I think Eury Perez is a pretty good call. Bautista could be a speed/defense guy off the bench, but neither player strikes me as a legitimate big league regular.

Justin (NY): Have any reports from the DSL? Some strong years from Davinson Pimentel, Telmito Agustin, Isreal Mota, and Victor Robles.
Aaron Fitt: The guy who jumps out is Victor Robles, who actually made my Top 30. Really live-bodied guy with plus-plus arm strength and plus-plus speed, as well as a high baseball IQ. Obviously he’s got a lot of development still ahead of him, but sounds like a really exciting package.

Mike (miami): Any words on Pedro Severino? his swing and offensive potential improved slightly this year
Aaron Fitt: I like Severino, and consider him a borderline top 10 prospect. His defensive skills behind the plate are elite, and his arm is a rifle. He did make progress offensively in the second half, although his bat remains the real question mark with him. I’ll still be very surprised if he doesn’t at least carve out a career as a big league backup because of his defense, and if his bat comes, he has everyday starter potential.

Aaron Fitt: OK friends, that’s all for today. I have really enjoyed writing about Nationals prospects over the last decade, and chatting with all of you every year. Thanks for reading, and I hope all of you enjoy the holidays. So long, everybody!