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Remains a top-heavy system.
Few teams have produced more impact big leaguers than the Nationals over the past decade. High draft picks like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon paved the way. Washington has a bevy of outfield options at the big league level, but they have more on the way, including Victor Robles and Juan Soto, the top two prospects in the system. Daniel Johnson isn’t all that far behind.
Trea Turner, Rendon and Wilmer Difo give the Nationals a trio of young big league infielders. That’s good news because aside from Carter Kieboom, the system’s next wave of middle infielders is years away. Additionally, trades of players like Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse have thinned the system.
Notable Graduations: SS Wilmer Difo (4) and OF Brian Goodwin (19) filled valuable bench roles.
Robles continues to speed through the minors, while making adjustments at every level on both sides of the ball, which makes his $225,000 signing bonus in 2013 a huge bargain. He started 2017 at high Class A Potomac and excelled before earning a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, where he was one of just four 20-year-olds in the Eastern League. Robles has been one of the most impressive players in every minor league in which he has played. He handled the advanced pitchers in the EL with aplomb by lowering his strikeout rate to 14 percent while continuing hit for a high average. Robles impressed the Nationals enough to earn his first big league callup in September and made the postseason roster as well. Robles' advanced understanding of the strike zone and ability to recognize pitches have helped his quick hands play in the batter's box. He is currently an average power hitter but with the strength and bat speed to project more power as he continues to develop physically. He was pitched backwards frequently in the Carolina League, which he countered by regularly using the entire field and showing the ability to drive the ball to the right-center field gap. Robles is fearless in the box and sets up very close to the plate. He led the Carolina league with 17 hit by pitches despite having just 338 plate appearances. He plays with great energy and aggression, which can hurt him at times, particularly on the bases where he needs to improve his decision-making and basestealing ability, though that might be the only part of his game to nitpick. Robles improved the most in 2017 in the outfield, where he has improved his jumps and routes. He also made strides with his throwing accuracy. He's always had the tools to develop into a premier defensive center fielder, with well above-average speed and a plus arm, and he's now taking the steps to become more efficient. With current plus tools in every category except power--where he has a chance to become above-average--Robles has the chance to become a perennial all-star. While he may require a bit more minor league seasoning in 2018, he could quickly become an outfield fixture in Washington.
Soto signed for $1.5 million in 2015, won the MVP award in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2016 and advanced to low Class A Hagerstown in 2017. He was limited to just 32 games, however, after fracturing his ankle, breaking a hamate bone and dealing with a hamstring injury late in the year. Soto impressed evaluators with his advanced feel at the plate. He made adjustments within at-bats and displayed impressive hand-eye coordination that should allow him to be an above-average hitter. While he's still growing into it, Soto should have above-average power, and he has a chance to hit 20-plus homers a year thanks to strong hands and a simple swing. He is just an average runner, and profiles as a corner outfielder because of that, which limits his ceiling and will put additional pressure on his bat--his best tool. He currently has fringe-average arm strength that is better suited to left field than right, but he uses his legs efficiently on throws and is young enough to safely project an average arm as he continues to mature. Soto is ready for high Class A Potomac in 2018, but given his injury-shortened 2017 season, Washington could opt to be conservative and start him in Hagerstown.
The 2014 first-rounder had a roller-coaster season in 2017. He started off well in Double-A Harrisburg before being moved to the bullpen because the big league club needed for relievers. Fedde's fastball ticked up to 96-97 mph out of the bullpen after he sat in the low 90s as a starter with excellent sinking action. After 16 appearances out of the pen and a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse, Fedde made four starts and posted a 6.94 ERA before making his big league debut, where he gave up seven earned runs in just four innings. Regardless, Washington still sees Fedde as a starter despite his mixed usage and was encouraged with the progress he made with his changeup, which he threw much more often. The pitch flashed plus at times and was occasionally was as much of an out pitch as his low-80s slider, which is still his go-to secondary and a true plus offering. Fedde can also drop in a below-average curveball. Fedde has the repertoire and athleticism to turn into a mid- to back-of-the-rotation starter, and he has displayed no drop in velocity since having Tommy John surgery in May 2014 before being drafted.
The 28th overall pick in 2016, Kieboom had his full-season debut at low Class A Hagerstown shortened thanks to a hamstring injury, which forced him to the disabled list in mid-May and ended a torrid 29-game start in which he hit .333/.398/.586 with six home runs. After rehabbing and making his way back to the South Atlantic League, Kieboom hit just .235 the rest of the way--though he managed to show the same selective approach by walking 18 times compared to 15 strikeouts. He has a chance to turn into a middle-of-the order hitter, with impressive bat speed and a short swing. He shows the ability to drive the ball to all fields and could develop above-average power. Kieboom is an average defensive shortstop who projects to be more of a bat-first player. His high baseball IQ should help him in the field, where positioning and solid hands could be enough to make up for a lack of first-step quickness and an average arm. He showed improvement with his throwing in 2017, however. Kieboom should be ready for an assignment to high Class A Potomac in 2018. Even if he slides to second base, he could become a big league regular.
A top-10 talent in the 2017 draft on pure stuff, Romero slid to the Nationals with the No. 25 overall pick because he faced makeup questions after being kicked off the Houston baseball team in the spring. Houston also suspended Romero in 2016 and again in 2017 for violations that included failing a drug test, missing curfew and fighting with a teammate. He was removed from the roster only a week after being reinstated this spring. Despite facing maturity questions, Romero has unquestionable talent. He has a mid-90s fastball that he can locate to both sides of the plate and a swing-and-miss slider that's already a plus pitch. Romero also throws a changeup that is close to average with a chance to become a third above-average offering. He has some funk to his delivery with a lot of moving parts, so being able to repeat his mechanics consistently while adjusting to pro hitters and a five-day pitching schedule will be a priority for him. Romero's pro debut, spent primarily at short-season Auburn, wasn't terrific from a statistical standpoint, but he could move fairly quickly, especially if he's moved to the bullpen. For now, the Nationals are developing him as a starter with a No. 3 ceiling.
Garcia was Washington's top international target in a 2016 signing class that included three players ranked among the top 15. He commanded $1.3 million because of his impressive all-around set of tools and simple lefthanded swing geared for line drives. His father of the same name played shortstop for the Tigers in 1999. Garcia lived up to his scouting report in his first season in 2017 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He used extremely quick hands and an advanced hitting approach to spray balls all over the field. He can rely on his hands a bit too much at the plate currently, and the next phase of his development will be getting his legs into his swing with more consistency. A plus-plus runner, Garcia gets down the line well and swiped 11 bases in 13 tries in his debut. Defensively, he has above-average arm strength, smooth actions and soft hands at shortstop, but he'll need a few years to continue honing the fundamentals and getting acclimated to the speed of the game. Garcia will be just 18 for most of 2018, when he should find his way to short-season Auburn.
The Nationals made Crowe their second selection in the 2017 draft and signed him for $946,500 after his bounce-back junior year at South Carolina. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 that forced him to sit out the 2016 season. Crowe served as the ace of South Carolina's staff as a freshman, posting a 2.75 ERA before his injury. He dominated early during his junior campaign in 2017 to show evaluators that he still had impact stuff. That translated to pro ball where Crowe posted a 2.96 ERA, mostly at short-season Auburn, while showing four average or better pitches. He has a fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s and has been up to 97 mph, a curveball and slider that are both average or slightly better, depending when you see him, and a low-80s changeup that's also an average pitch. Washington will be cautious with Crowe given his medical history, but he's fairly polished and seems like a safe bet to be a No. 4 or 5 starter if he remains healthy. Washington could opt to challenge him with an assignment to high Class A Potomac in 2018 if he looks good in the spring.
Johnson was one of the toolsiest players in the Four Corners area for the 2016 draft, but many teams were concerned about the rawness of his game. The Nationals drafted him in the fifth round after his junior season at New Mexico State, where he hit 12 home runs and stole 29 bases. After a mediocre pro debut in 2016 at short-season Auburn, Johnson began 2017 at low Class A Hagerstown and dominated. He finished second in the South Atlantic league in home runs (17) and fourth in slugging percentage (.529) despite moving to high Class A Potomac in late July. Johnson has quick hands and a whippy swing, with above-average raw power that he began to tap into thanks to better use of his legs. He also took a step forward with his pitch selection, lowering his strikeout rate after being promoted to the Carolina League. Johnson might be the strongest player in the system and is a plus runner with plus arm strength as well. Johnson still has details to iron out, such as his baserunning, throwing accuracy and outfield jumps. He has the speed to handle center field but profiles best in right field with his strong arm.
Read has improved seemingly every year since signing with the Nationals in 2011, and he took strides on both sides of the ball in 2017. The best defensive catcher in the Carolina League in 2016, he improved his blocking technique in 2017 and reduced his passed ball count from 20 to 14. Read won the Nationals' Bob Boone award, which recognizes the minor leaguer who best displays professionalism, leadership and consistency. Read has an above-average arm and has improved his footwork. In previous seasons he tended to throw from his knees frequently, but that wasn't as much of an issue in 2017. Offensively, Read has potential for above-average power and held up well as the season progressed, hitting 10 of his 17 home runs during his final two months at Double-A Harrisburg before making his big league debut as a September callup. He occasionally loses balance in his lower half at the plate, but when he sits back and lets the ball travel, his power plays more consistently. Like most catchers, he's slow and doesn't hit for average. Read has the tools to impact the game offensively and defensively, which is a rare commodity among major league catchers. He could earn a share of the big league catching job at some point in 2018.
Antuna ranked as the No. 14 international prospect in 2016, when he signed for $3.85 million and broke the Nationals' franchise record for an international amateur. He shows a calm hitting approach from both sides of the plate and the ability to man the left side of the infield. Antuna has a line-drive approach and similar-looking swings whether batting lefthanded or right. However, he struck all but one of his 12 extra-base hits in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting lefthanded, which is his natural side. Antuna has a projectable frame, long limbs and wide shoulders. That physicality allows evaluators to dream on his power potential, and he has a chance to be an impact hitter down the line thanks to his polished approach. At the same time, Antuna probably will outgrow shortstop and already is an unreliable defender who recorded a .815 fielding percentage in 2017. He frequently played third base in the GCL, in part because of Washington's glut of young shortstops at that level. Antuna has enough arm for shortstop, so he will see more time there in 2018, possibly at low Class A Hagerstown, to improve his consistency.
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