Sign Up! Join our newsletters, get a FREE e-Edition
TRACK RECORD: The only thing that could have halted Robles’ rapid ascent to the major leagues was injury, and of course that’s what set the top-ranked talent back in 2018. Robles gruesomely hyperextended his left elbow during a game with Triple-A Syracuse in early April and didn’t return to the International League until July 27. He hit .269/.345/.386 in 36 games with Syracuse before earning a September callup to the big league club, where he looked right at home and hit .288/.348/.525.
SCOUTING REPORT: While Robles overflows with above-average tools, what will make him a perennial all-star candidate is his hitting ability, which grades out as plus thanks to his quick hands and pitch recognition. He opened up his stance a bit in 2018 and can cut himself off at times because of that. He stands on top of the plate, but he generally stays on line well to the ball. Scouts raved about Robles’ ability to hit to all fields, and he did that to a larger extent this season, particularly in his time in Washington by hitting 27 percent of his batted balls to right field compared to just 5 percent in 2017. Robles’ plus-plus speed will allow him to hit for plenty of extra bases, and while he doesn’t have plus raw power he should have enough to hit 15-20 home runs annually. Speed is Robles’ loudest tool, and he ranked in the 95th percentile of major leaguers this season with a sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second, according to Statcast. That running ability has allowed him to rack up 129 stolen bases over five minor league seasons (at a 74 percent success rate) and should allow him to become a headache for major league batteries. His speed plays well in the outfield, allowing Robles to cover great swaths of grass. His natural running ability, as well as the steps he’s taken over the past few seasons to improve his jumps, routes and throwing accuracy, should allow him to become an elite defensive center fielder. His plus arm gives him the ability to handle right field without a problem, but there are few outfielders who could force him out of center at this point.
THE FUTURE: Robles should be a regular fixture in the Nationals’ outfield in 2019, buttressing a formidable young core alongside Juan Soto. While Soto has a higher offensive ceiling, Robles has the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball at a premier defensive position while also hitting at the top of the lineup.
TRACK RECORD: A 2016 first-round selection out of Walton High in Marietta, Ga., Kieboom made the most of his first healthy full season in pro ball in 2018, advancing to Double-A Harrisburg at age 20.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Nationals wanted to see the normally selective Kieboom get more aggressive on fastballs in the strike zone in 2018, and they were happy with the results when he started to figure that out. After hitting .198/.308/.347 during the first month of the season with a 14 percent walk rate, Kieboom went on to hit .301/.370/.469 during his final 99 games, with a 9.5 percent walk rate. Kieboom has excellent balance at the plate and the ability to hit to all fields, and he started to tap into his plus raw power with a career-high 16 home runs. Kieboom improved his consistency at shortstop and showed a strong internal clock, reliably soft hands and a solid first step to go with above-average arm strength.
THE FUTURE: While Kieboom has shown he could handle shortstop, he will get reps at second base to increase his versatility and provide a more clear path to the big leagues, where he could provide an impact bat in the middle of the order.
TRACK RECORD: The No. 3 prospect available in the 2016 international signing class, Garcia hit .298 in his full-season debut and even climbed to high Class A Potomac, where he was the only 18-year-old in the Carolina League.
SCOUTING REPORT: Garcia stands out for his excellent feel to hit, with impressive hand-eye coordination, a consistent lefthanded stroke and a strong understanding of what he’s trying to do at the plate. Nationals coaches raved about his baseball IQ, and while they didn’t directly compare him with Juan Soto, they did point out that he makes adjustments within at-bats in a similar manner. While Garcia doesn’t have huge raw power, he homered seven times and scouts noticed increased physicality in 2018, giving him a chance for above-average power in the future. Garcia’s run grades seemed to be universally lower than a year ago, when he was a plus-plus runner—now he’s closer to above-average. Defensively, Garcia has the instincts and arm for shortstop, but he might profile better at second base as he continues to fill out.
THE FUTURE: Garcia should start the 2019 season with Potomac but could push his way to Double-A Harrisburg if he continues to hit.
TRACK RECORD: A converted catcher, Denaburg established himself as one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in a deep 2018 prep pitching class and did enough over the summer and during his spring season to get selected at No. 27— even though he missed time with biceps tendinitis. He did not pitch after signing for $3 million.
SCOUTING REPORT: An athletic righthander with an ideal starter’s frame, Denaburg touched 97 mph at times as an amateur, though he usually settles into the low 90s. At the lower velocities he commands the pitch substantially better. However, as Denaburg continues to refine his understanding of pitching, he has the mechanics, arm action and athleticism that should allow him to develop at least above-average control. In addition to a plus fastball, Denaburg has a curveball in the upper-70s that will need more consistency but has the power and depth to become a second plus offering. Denaburg rarely threw a low-80s changeup as an amateur, but he showed good feel for the pitch at instructional league.
THE FUTURE:Denaburg has middle-of-the-rotation upside and should have more than enough body control to make the small adjustments that will be necessary to handle his first full season.
TRACK RECORD: Crowe had a strong 2017 debut for the Nationals after signing for $946,500 in the second round. In his first full pro season in 2018, Crowe posted a 2.69 ERA in the Carolina League before earning a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg where he struggled in five starts.
SCOUTING REPORT: Crowe has no plus pitch in his repertoire, and the 6-foot-2 righthander relies on excellent feel for a solid four-pitch mix to succeed. Scouts and Nationals coaches both rave about Crowe’s ability to mix his entire repertoire in any count, which includes a willingness to work inside against hitters. His fastball sits in the 91-92 mph range with solid sinking action. He has a curveball and slider that are both average offerings and a changeup that has become his go-to out pitch. Crowe doesn’t throw as hard as he did in college, when he had more rest between starts. He also had Tommy John surgery as a sophomore. Still, the emergence of his changeup and his overall strike-throwing ability has allowed him to become of Washington’s most consistent pitching prospects.
THE FUTURE: After wearing down a bit at the end of 2018 under the stress of a career high 116 innings, Crowe will likely start 2019 back in Double-A.
TRACK RECORD: Cate established himself as one of the better lefthanded college pitchers in the 2018 draft class after two strong seasons as a starter with Connecticut. He was in the middle of a third before being sidelined with an elbow injury. Despite Cate’s short stature and injury concerns—he had Tommy John surgery in high school—the Nationals liked him and his curveball enough to sign him for $986,200 in the second round.
SCOUTING REPORT: Scouts don’t talk about Cate without raving about his 77-83 mph hammer curveball. One of the best breaking pitches in the 2018 class, it’s at least a plus offering and many scouts go as far as throwing a 70 grade on it. Cate lands his curve regularly and uses it as a swing-and-miss offering both inside and outside the strike zone. His fastball is more solid-average, in the 90-92 mph range, but he has touched the mid-90s in the past and the Nationals hope he will be able to get there more regularly in the future with improved body strength. Cate will need to develop his changeup, which is a distant third pitch.
THE FUTURE: Cate has a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling, but could also be useful as a breaking ball-heavy reliever if his size and injury history limit his workload.
TRACK RECORD: Romero’s pro career has stalled multiple times since the Nationals made him their first-round pick in 2017. He was sent home from spring training in 2018 for violating team rules and later in the year had Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for all of 2019. In college at Houston, he served multiple suspensions and eventually was kicked off the team.
SCOUTING REPORT: Despite a long history of makeup concerns and new question marks about his health, Romero draws raves from scouts for the quality of his stuff. He has three plus pitches in his repertoire between a fastball that sits in the mid-90s with good life, a slider with sharp bite and a changeup that has good separation and diving action. Romero should have no issues racking up strikeouts, but his delivery will never be described as clean—with plenty of moving parts—and he will continue to face questions about his character until he proves his maturity.
THE FUTURE: The start to Romero’s pro career has been about as bad as anyone could have anticipated, and he will now have to wait until 2020 to prove that he can return healthy and fully take advantage of his obvious talent.
TRACK RECORD: The Nationals signed Sharp out of Drury (Mo.) University despite a 5.90 ERA at the Division II school in 2016, but the lanky, athletic righthander has come into his own in three years in the Nationals system. A gifted athlete, Sharp was recruited to play basketball in college but that athleticism has transferred well to the mound.
SCOUTING REPORT: Sharp doesn’t overpower batters with velocity, but uses a sinking fastball in the 90-92 mph range with terrific boring action that he routinely locates in the bottom half of the strike zone. He complements his sinker with a changeup that has diving action as well, with a tick of armside run. The two pitches allowed him to record one of the highest groundball rates in the Nationals’ system. Sharp also has a developing slider that could become a third average pitch, but he needs to improve his control of the offering and learn to trust it as much as his fastball and changeup. Sharp’s stuff plays up thanks to plus deception.
THE FUTURE: Sharp reached Double-A Harrisburg in 2018 and will likely return to the Eastern League to begin 2019. He has the overall package to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.
TRACK RECORD: The No. 14 international prospect in the 2016 class, Antuna had a strong debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 before taking a step back at the plate and having Tommy John surgery in 2018.
SCOUTING REPORT: Antuna signed for nearly $4 million thanks to his offensive potential as a switch-hitter with above-average raw power. In 2018 he struggled mightily with the bat, because he lacked a consistent plate approach and looked better from the right side than the left. Antuna’s power hasn’t yet shown up in games, but scouts see raw strength in batting practice. His large frame and terrific work ethic in the gym could produce a more powerful hitter in the future. Defensively, Antuna has smooth actions and strong hands at shortstop, but he had issues with throwing accuracy and sat back on balls too frequently. When healthy, Antuna had plus arm strength, but that will have to be re-evaluated when he returns in mid-2019.
THE FUTURE: Antuna still has upside thanks to his physical tools, but he has plenty of work to do when it comes to refining his game—both offensively and defensively. He must develop a consistent offensive approach and get the reps to improve his confidence.
Track Record: Irvin improved every year at Oklahoma, culminating in a 6-2 junior campaign in which he posted a 3.41 ERA with 115 strikeouts to just 28 walks in 95 innings. With an impressive Big 12 track record and a large, 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame, the Nationals signed Irvin for $550,000.
Scouting Report: While his build and college track record are both impressive, Irvin’s stuff is more ordinary than overwhelming. He has a solid-average fastball that’s routinely in the 90-94 mph range, only occasionally touching 95 or 96. His slider is average, a low 80s breaking ball with solid finish that he’s able to throw for strikes in most counts, but the pitch gets slurvy at times and he’ll need to sharpen it up moving forward. Irvin rarely threw a changeup in college, but scouts thought it had a chance to be a solid pitch in the future and the Nationals like his feel for the offering currently. Irvin will likely never rack up a high number of strikeouts, but he’s a solid strike thrower, repeats his delivery and hides the ball well on his backside.
The Future: A potential quick-mover, Irvin stands out more for his high floor than high upside, and could be a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever.
-- Reports written by Carlos Collazo
In order to access this exclusive content you must have a Baseball America Account.
Login or sign up