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In his full-season return from his Tommy John surgery in 2014, Giolito showed off the electrifying stuff and innate feel for pitching that had made him one of the most celebrated prep pitching prospects in recent memory heading into the spring of 2012. The son of Hollywood actors Lindsay Frost and Rick Giolito, Lucas slipped in the draft because of his elbow injury and his strong commitment to UCLA, and the Nationals took advantage by selecting him 16th overall and signing him for $2,925,000. That investment looks wise two years later, now that Giolito has established himself as one of baseball's best prospects. After pitching 37 innings in his return from surgery in 2013, he headed into 2014 healthy and confident, and he was consistent from the start of the season until the end. The Nationals had him skip a start here or there at low Class A Hagerstown and shut him down in mid-August in order to keep him around 100 innings, but they were thrilled with his developmental season. Giolito's extra-large frame helps him generate steep downhill angle on his overpowering fastball, which ranges from 92-98 mph and sits comfortably in the mid-90s. He has touched 100 mph a handful of times over the last two years, and his fastball projects as a true 80 pitch on the 20-80 scale because of its velocity, its angle and his ability to locate it. Like any 20-year-old, Giolito has not mastered his fastball command, but he excels at throwing it for strikes, and his sound delivery and arm action suggest he should have at least average command of it, to go along with above-average control. He sometimes lands a bit stiff on his front leg, which can inhibit his ability to locate at the bottom of the zone, but his command improved as the season progressed. Giolito can throw all three of his pitches for strikes in any count, and he is learning how to set up hitters and put them away. His downer curveball can be devastating, a 12-to-6 hammer with uncommon power and sharp bite, and it should be a plus-plus pitch as he learns to repeat it more consistently. He dominated righthanders in 2014, holding them to a .175 average and .251 slugging percentage. The Nationals got Giolito to focus on developing his changeup in the second half of the 2014 season, and he gained great confidence in the pitch against lefthanded hitters. It has good sinking action, and he can throw it for strikes or use it as a swing-and-miss pitch, making it another potential plus offering. Giolito also has a knack for holding baserunners and fields his position well for his size. The Nationals rave about his maturity, humility, competitiveness and diligent work habits. With a rare combination of stuff, size, feel for pitching and makeup, Giolito has superstar potential. He'll still be just 20 years old at the start of 2015, so the Nationals won't rush him, but he should be ready to increase his workload at high Class A Potomac and could reach Double-A Harrisburg by the second half. Giolito is advanced enough to push for a big league job by 2016.
Taylor has made steady progress since being drafted as a raw, athletic shortstop in 2009, first blossoming into an elite defensive center fielder and then emerging as formidable power/speed threat on offense. He posted his best offensive season in 2014, swatting 23 home runs, stealing 37 bases and ranking as the top prospect in the Double-A Eastern League before reaching the big leagues in August. The long-striding Taylor is a fluid, graceful runner with plus speed underway and plus-plus range in center field thanks to his superb instincts and quick first step. He also is a smart, efficient basestealer. Taylor's home run output spiked at Double-A Harrisburg in 2014 as he made substantial progress harnessing his plus power potential by creating more leverage in his swing. In the past, his swing often broke down on his front side, but he did a better job keeping his lower half in better position to allow him to track balls longer and keep his hands to work for him. His feel for hitting has improved, but his bat still projects as below-average and strikeout-prone. Taylor can provide value even if he never hits for average, because his other tools are loud. He could become a solid everyday center fielder, and he has all-star potential if his bat takes another step forward. He figures to spend most of 2015 at Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nationals signed Lopez for just $17,000 in 2012, when his fastball ranged from 87-90 mph. That fall in instructional league, his velocity topped out at 94 mph, and then touched 96 the following spring. He missed nearly all of 2013 with a sore arm that was diagnosed as bone weakness. Lopez added good weight prior to the 2014 season and maintained his electric stuff into the South Atlantic League playoffs. He can overpower hitters with his top-of-the-scale fastball, which often sits at 96-99 mph early in games, and comfortably at 93-96 later in games. After struggling early in the season at low Class A Hagerstown, Lopez went down to short-season Auburn and made an adjustment to his front side, helping him create more leverage and downward angle with his fastball. It also helped his breaking ball go from a sweepy slurve to an 11-to-5 power curveball with depth. It remains a work in progress but flashes plus. His changeup and projects as an average pitch as he learns to command it. Despite his 6-foot stature, Lopez's delivery and arm action have surprisingly little effort, helping him profile as a starter. Lopez has top-ofthe- rotation upside if he can continue to refine his secondary stuff and stay healthy. He figures to begin 2015 at high Class A Potomac and could push for a big league job by 2016.
A 24th-round pick by the Padres after flashing 94 mph heat at Las Vegas High, Fedde went to Nevada-Las Vegas and spent three years in the rotation. He emerged as a likely first-rounder in 2013, but he got even better during his junior spring in 2014, when he went 8-2, 1.76 with 82 strikeouts in 77 innings before Tommy John surgery ended his season. He slipped to the Nationals at No. 18 overall and signed for $2,511,100. At his best, Fedde's fastball sat at 93-95 mph and bumped 98 in the middle innings, with angry sinking action that helped it rate as a double-plus pitch. His slider also drew some plus-plus grades at its best, when he threw it 85-88 mph with late two-plane tilt. His 83-84 mph changeup has flashed plus. His overall stuff wasn't that loud in every outing, playing down by as many as three ticks at times. Fedde has advanced command of his fastball for his age, and he is a groundball machine. He is an excellent athlete who fields his position well, though his lack of physicality raises questions about his durability. Fedde's recovery from Tommy John surgery is progressing according to schedule, and he probably will make his pro debut some time in 2015. The Nationals have nursed Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Lucas Giolito through T.J. with brilliant results, so Fedde should jump on the fast track when he returns.
Since the Nationals restarted Souza's career by sending him back to low Class A in 2012, he has matured, on and off the field. He followed up his 2013 breakout in Double-A by leading the Triple-A International League in hitting (.350), on-base percentage (.432) and slugging (.590), and he reached the big leagues in September. The physical, athletic Souza has multiple tools that rate better than average. His plus raw power plays in games because he excels at driving balls into the right-center field gap, and the Nationals would like to see him pull the ball with authority a bit more. Souza controls the strike zone fairly well, taking his share of walks and putting himself in good hitter's counts. He has a short swing and projects as at least a fringe-average hitter. He also has slightly above-average speed and is a smart baserunner who likes to steal bags. His speed translates to good range at either outfield corner, and his plus arm allows him to handle right field ably. Souza has nothing left to prove at Triple-A Syracuse, but he appears blocked for an everyday job in Washington, where Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span are entrenched in the outfield. He has a strong chance to be an everyday player given the chance. Did not play
In his second season since being reacquired from the Athletics, Cole returned to Double-A Harrisburg and thrived. He spent the second half at Triple-A Syracuse and continued to hold his own, ranking as the No. 7 prospect in the International League. Cole's fastball was not quite as overpowering early in 2014 as it had been in the past, but he still pitched comfortably at 91-93 mph with decent life and bumped 96. He locates his heater well at the knees to both sides of the plate, and his sound mechanics and clean arm action give him a chance to have above-average control and solid command. Cole's second pitch remains his 83-85 mph changeup, which rates as solid-average to plus with good sinking action. Cole made progress getting more swing-throughs with his short, 81-84 mph slider in 2014, and it rates as solid-average at its best, though it can be fringy at other times. He also will occasionally steal a strike with his fringy curveball, but it is not a swing-and-miss offering. Cole figures to spend the spring in big league camp for the second straight year and open 2015 back in the rotation at Syracuse. He is a safe bet to be at least a No. 4 starter, and many scouts project him as a No. 3.
Difo had shown flashes of potential during his first four years in pro ball, but his lack of maturity held him back. He struggled mightily to process failure, and the Nationals reset his career in 2013, sending him back to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to learn how to cope with the ups and downs of the game. He responded well and posted a breakout 2014 season in the low Class A South Atlantic League, winning league MVP honors. Difo has quality tools across the board. He is a plus runner who sometimes shows double-plus speed and is both aggressive and efficient as a basestealer. He has very good first-step quickness that translates to above-average range at either shortstop or second base, and his slightly above-average arm plays at either spot. A switch-hitter, Difo has a short, quick stroke and flashes average raw power from both sides, but he is stronger from the right side. He has a knack for making contact and is a good bunter, giving him a shot to be at least a solid-average hitter with fringy game power. Difo's game was ready for higher levels in 2014, but the Nationals wanted him to gain confidence and earn some postseason hardware, so they left him at low Class A Hagerstown. They could push him in 2015, now that he's on the 40-man roster, with a likely assignment at high Class A Potomac and a chance to play his way to Double-A Harrisburg.
Ward is young for his level after he graduated high school a year early and successfully lobbied Major League Baseball to make him eligible for the 2013 draft. He held his own at low Class A Hagerstown as a 19-year-old in 2014, and the Nationals were pleased with the way he maintained a consistent approach. Ward's calling card is his lefthanded bat. He has good feel for his barrel and can spray hard line drives from the left-center field gap to the right-field line. He has a calm two-strike approach and recognizes pitches well enough that he should draw his share of walks, and he could develop into at least a solid-average hitter. Ward is learning to create more length and leverage in his swing to unlock his above-average raw power, which mostly plays to the pull side currently. He is still growing into his body, and his size-16 shoes suggest he could outgrow third base, but he made progress at the position in 2014. A well below-average runner, Ward's lateral mobility and footwork is just adequate currently, but his hands work and his solid-average arm is accurate. Ward has a chance to hit enough to become an everyday first baseman down the road, assuming he outgrows the hot corner as most evaluators expect. He'll advance to high Class A Potomac in 2015.
Goodwin has yet to capitalize on the raw ability that prompted the Nationals to sign him for $3 million in 2011. They pushed him to Double-A Harrisburg by the second half of 2012, but he followed a lackluster 2013 with a horrific 2014 campaign at Triple-A Syracuse that ended on July 1 when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder sliding into second base. The Nationals believe Goodwin was just starting to make some progress before he got hurt, but scouts have been disappointed by his inability to make adjustments. He has bat speed and can turn on fastballs middlein, but he cannot handle offspeed stuff or anything away from him. The Nationals have been trying for years to get him to stay in his legs and let his hands work for him, but he can't break the habit of pulling his lead shoulder and lunging. Goodwin has average power potential, but must become more aggressive in order to tap into it. His high walk rate is more befitting of a leadoff hitter, though. Goodwin remains a plus runner with plus defensive skills in center field and a solid-average arm. While the odds now seem remote, the Nats hope Goodwin is just a late bloomer like current center fielder Denard Span. His shoulder rehab was going well in the offseason, and the club added him to the 40-man roster in November. He faces a likely return to Syracuse in 2015, assuming he's ready to swing the bat.
A Canadian Junior National Team star in 2009 and 2010, Pivetta was fairly raw when he signed with the Nationals for $364,300 in 2013, but he made good progress in 2014 at low Class A Hagerstown. His velocity remained consistent all season, and he markedly improved his conditioning. Pivetta has a physical frame and a long, loose arm action that produces easy velocity. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph and bumps 96. It is effective when he repeats his delivery and pitches down in the zone with good angle, but he gets into trouble when he leaves the ball up. Likewise, the quality of his breaking ball depends upon whether he's staying over his lower half and controlling his delivery. At its best, his curveball is an above-average pitch with sharp 11-to-5 break and power, but at times he'll overthrow it. He also is developing feel for his changeup, which has good sinking action when he throws it with conviction--but he must learn to do so more consistently. Pivetta's mechanics and command still need work, but he has upside as a potential mid-rotation starter if he can continue to progress. He figures to spend 2015 at high Class A Potomac.
Voth dominated low Class A South Atlantic League hitters in the first half of 2014 to earn a promotion to high Class A Potomac, then carved up Carolina League hitters to earn a late July promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, where he struggled due in large part to fatigue. Voth stands out for his advanced command of his solid-average fastball, which sits at 88-92 mph in the early innings. He has a tendency to get stronger in the middle innings, flashing 94-95 mph heat, and his fastball has good deception and angle to both sides of the plate. His best secondary pitch is his changeup, which rates as solid-average. He has good feel for the pitch and sometimes cuts it a bit, causing it to look like a slider. His curveball remains inconsistent. He can throw it for strikes, but it is fringy and flashes solid-average. Voth lacks wipeout stuff, but his savvy and feel for pitching give him a chance to be a back-end starter. He should return to Double-A to start 2015 and could push for his first taste of the majors by the end of the season.
Renda's magnetic personality and dirtbag mentality make him exceptionally likable, and he has backed up his intangibles with performance. He won the high Class A Carolina League batting title at .307 in 2014 and helped lead Potomac to the league championship. The undersized Renda will never dazzle with his tools, but he does have a carrying tool in his bat, which has a chance to be above-average. He has a compact, line-drive stroke and uncommon hand-eye coordination. He excels at executing the hit-and-run and controlling the strike zone. He is tough to strike out, and he has a patient approach. Renda is strong enough to scorch liners from gap-to-gap but has well below-average home run power. He has fringeaverage speed but is an instinctive, efficient basestealer. The Nationals were pleased with Renda's defensive progress, as he made strides with his footwork and his double-play pivot. He has average range at second base but is learning to take better angles. His hands work fine, and he projects as an average defender with an average arm. Renda will advance to Double-A Harrisburg in 2015, and his superb makeup and batgive him a shot to be an everyday second baseman.
Severino struggled offensively for two and a half years, but his defensive prowess helped him move up the ladder. His bat started to come around in the second half of last season, when he .308/.379/.477 thanks to improved control of his lower half. He worked to improve his base and balance, allowing his quick hands to work and keeping his bat in the zone longer. He still hits fastballs better than breaking balls, but he has a chance to become a serviceable hitter with fringy power. Severino doesn't need to hit a ton to have value, because his defensive skills are elite. His accurate, double-plus arm sometimes produces sub-1.8-second pop times, and his transfer is smooth. A fringe-average runner, he is an excellent athlete who has lateral mobility and quickness, making him a standout blocker. He is also a good receiver with soft hands and advanced game-calling skills. Severino's defense figures to get him to the majors, and his bat will determine whether he's a quality backup or a regular. Some think he may have turned the corner at the plate, and he'll get a true test at Double-A Harrisburg in 2015.
A three-sport star during his prep days in Nebraska, Reetz batted .345/.459/.586 for USA Baseball's 18-and-under national team and was MVP of the Perfect Game All-American Classic in 2013. The Nationals signed him for $800,000 to lure him away from a commitment to Nebraska (where his father was a football linebacker). Reetz held his own in his pro debut, and he impressed the Nationals with his aptitude and feel for the game. He has a physical, athletic frame and soft hands behind the plate, where he quickly made adjustments with his setup, receiving and blocking. His transfer and release are sound, and his arm rates as solid-average. He needs polish, but he has the tools to become an above-average defender. Offensively, Reetz has a short righthanded stroke and a gap-to-gap approach, and he is selective for his age. He has the bat-to-ball instincts to become an average hitter, and the strength and leverage to grow into average power. He has played both outfield corners in the past, but he is a below-average runner. Reetz figures to start 2015 in extended spring training before heading to short-season Auburn.
The Nationals continue to value Solis' ability and makeup, but he just cannot stay healthy. He battled back and leg injuries before missing all of 2012 and much of 2013 following Tommy John surgery. He had a strong showing in big league camp in 2014 and looked poised to make the Nationals' Opening Day roster, then tweaked his back at the end of spring training. After three rehab starts in mid-May, he strained his elbow and was out until late August. He was healthy heading into the offseason, and the Nationals hope a winter of rest will do him good. When healthy, Solis shows quality stuff, including an 89-93 mph fastball that bumps 95, a solid-average changeup and a slurvy breaking ball that flashes solid-average. He has No. 4 starter ability, but he needs to prove he can get through a full season, and he's now 26. Solis will be in big league spring training, but he's likely to open with an assignment to Triple-A Syracuse.
After spending two years in Vanderbilt's weekend rotation, Hill was drafted in 2011 as a senior and moved quickly through the Nationals system. He led the Triple-A International League in WHIP (1.12) and ranked second in ERA (2.81) in 2014 before making his major league debut in September. Hill lacks overpowering stuff, but he makes up for it with his advanced feel for pitching. He has plus control and solid-average command, and he keeps hitters off balance by throwing four pitches for strikes. His fastball sits at 90-92 mph with solid sink and occasionally bumps 94, and he pitches in with it exceptionally well. He can backdoor both of his breaking balls for called strikes. His solid-average slider is the better offering, but his curveball has become another useful pitch. He also has good feel for his average changeup. Hill is a dogged competitor who knows how to set up hitters and induce groundball outs. He fields his position and holds runners well. His upside is limited, but he has the stuff and savvy to pitch in the big leagues.
Johansen followed up his dominant debut with an uneven year at low Class A Hagerstown, but he finished on a positive note after shifting to the bullpen and carried his progress over into instructional league. Big and physical, Johansen has serious arm strength. His fastball ranges from 92-99 mph in a starting role, sitting in the mid-90s with heavy life when it's down in the zone, though it is very hittable when he leaves it up. Because of the life on his heater, he often struggles to locate the pitch, and his command and control are both well below-average. His 89-91 mph cutter ranges from fringy to plus, and it generates swings and misses when he throws it right. His power curveball has good depth and rotation about once out of every four times he throws it. He has some feel for a changeup, and it showed progress late in the season, giving it a chance to be fringe-average. Most evaluators see Johansen's future in the bullpen, where he can overpower hitters in short stints without fine command. He could make a permanent transition to a relief role as soon as 2015, when he figures to advance to high Class A Potomac.
Tampa Bay traded Rivero, along with Jose Lobaton and Drew Vettleson, to the Nationals for Nate Karns in February 2014. His first season in the organization was marred by injury, as he missed seven weeks in the middle of the summer with an elbow strain, but he bounced back in the Arizona Fall League, where he focused on staying closed in his delivery and improving his alignment. Rivero has a loose, quick arm, but his body awareness is still evolving, and he needs to repeat his mechanics in order to improve his command. His best pitch is a lively fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and touches 97. His breaking ball is a power slurve that is too often below-average. His remedial changeup has a tendency to get too hard, and improving it will be a point of emphasis. Rivero's command and mechanical inconsistency will likely push him to the bullpen, but his power stuff from the left side still makes him intriguing, and the Nationals aren't giving up on his chances to start. He figures to get a shot in Triple-A at some point in 2015.
A former infielder who converted to pitcher after signing with the Nationals, Rodriguez had his 2014 campaign cut short on July 1 when a comebacker hit him in his left (non-throwing) wrist, causing a hairline fracture. He returned to action in the fall and looked good in instructional league. Rodriguez is still growing into his 6-foot-5 frame, and his broad shoulders suggest he'll get stronger. He already shows premium velocity, pitching at 93-95 mph and touching 98. He'll need to learn to control his lower half better to maximize his stuff and his command. He has what the Nats call "area control," but his command has a long way to go. He flashes a bona fide plus curveball with good power, but it remains inconsistent. His changeup is in its early stages of development, but he has some feel for it. Rodriguez has tantalizing upside, and the Nats hope he is on the verge of making a leap forward, as Reynaldo Lopez did in 2014, but he comes with plenty of risk. He should return to low Class A Hagerstown in 2015.
Bautista led the low Class A South Atlantic League and ranked second in the minors with 69 stolen bases last season. His best tool is his well above-average speed, and he is an instinctive baserunner who gets good leads and reads. His speed also translates to center field, where he is an above-average defender with a solid-average arm. He hit at the bottom of the lineup in 2014, but he spent the second half in the leadoff spot and continued to thrive. Bautista is a slasher with good bat-to-ball instincts, and though his power is well below-average, he is wiry enough to drive the gaps for extra-base hits. He'll need to become more patient to realize his potential as a table-setter. He shows good aptitude, and he works hard to implement suggested adjustments. Bautista will advance to high Class A Potomac in 2015, and he has an outside shot to become a starting big league center fielder, though he profiles better as a speed merchant off the bench.
Kieboom missed nearly all of 2013 after having Tommy John surgery, but his return to action in 2014 was a major success. A natural leader and outstanding game manager, he was Lucas Giolito's roommate for the past two years, and the Nationals say he was a positive influence on the younger righthander. Kieboom is a good receiver and blocker, with an average arm that plays up because of its accuracy. Offensively, he has an open stride and his bat stays in the zone for a long time, and he excels at driving balls to the right-center field gap. He has improved his leverage, giving him below-average to fringy power potential. Kieboom probably lacks the offensive upside to become an everyday catcher, but his defense and makeup could make him a valuable big league backup in the David Ross mold. He'll advance to Potomac in 2015.
Read took a major step forward in 2014, putting together the best offensive and defensive season of his young career. He wore down a bit late in the season, causing his production to tail off, but he impressed enough to rank as the No. 13 prospect in the New York-Penn League. Read flashes above-average raw power and is learning to make use of his pop in games. He has good pitch recognition and can handle breaking balls in addition to velocity. The key to his development will be whether he takes ownership at the catcher position. He has soft hands and an above-average arm that helped him throw out 47 percent of basestealers in 2014, but he has a lot of work to do cleaning up his receiving, blocking and footwork. His pitch-calling and game management also have a long way to go. Read's bat could get him to the big leagues, but he'll need to improve behind the plate to become a regular.
Grace spent most of his college career as a reliever, and after the trying him as a starter for three seasons the Nationals realized that's the role he is suited for. He dominated Double-A and Triple-A hitters last season to earn a spot on the 40-man roster. Grace's calling card is his sinker, which ranges from 88-93 mph and plays up because of its excellent life down in the zone, generating loads of groundballs. Because of his ability to locate it to either side, he could be more than just a situational reliever'though he is dominant against lefties. His No. 2 pitch is a slider that ranges from fringe-average to solid-average, and he also commands that pitch well. He also mixes in an occasional changeup against righties. Grace's ceiling is modest, but he should compete for a big league job in 2015.
After an injury-wracked 2013 season, Skole struggled with his swing mechanics last year. He has a lot of moving parts in his swing, and the Nationals are still trying to get him to tone down his big leg kick and exaggerated, pre-pitch bat waggle. He has a long uppercut swing, a physical frame and plus raw power to the pull side, but scouts question his ability to catch up to good fastballs, and he chases high heat too often. He takes his share of walks, but he also strikes out a lot, and he projects as a below-average hitter. A third baseman for his first two pro seasons, Skole played mostly first base in 2014, though he was a serviceable fill-in at the hot corner, where he lacks range but has a solid arm. He must unlock his power potential to have a shot at an everyday role. The Nationals could challenge Skole with an assignment to Triple-A Syracuse in 2015, which will be a crucial year for his development.
The Nationals signed Robles for $225,000 in 2013, and he hit for average and showed basestealing ability in an impressive Dominican Summer League debut. A live-bodied, quick-twitch athlete with a high baseball IQ, Robles plays with energy and is learning to play under control. His raw tools are tantalizing, as he is a plus-plus runner with plus-plus arm strength and good instincts in center field. His pitch recognition and approach are advanced for his age. He has experimented with switch-hitting in the past, but for now he's a righthanded hitter with good bat speed. Robles could grow into some pop has he matures, but he has a tendency to overswing at times. Robles is very young and needs plenty of refinement, but his upside is significant. He figures to advance to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2015.
Vettleson has flashed the raw ability that made him a supplemental first-round pick out of high school, where he earned publicity for being a switch-pitcher, but the Rays traded him to the Nationals along with Jose Lobaton and Felipe Rivero for Nate Karns in February 2014. After hitting home runs in both ends of an April 12 doubleheader, Vettleson was hit on the back of his left hand by a pitch, breaking a bone and sidelining him for two months. He still intrigued the Nationals for his natural feel for hitting. He can drive the ball to all fields, but he must become a more selective hitter. His body is maturing, and he could hit for average or slightly better power. He also has a well above-average arm with good accuracy and carry, giving him a chance to be a true right fielder. He has decent range but still is developing as an outfielder, where he makes his share of mistakes. Vettleson should return to Double-A Harrisburg in 2015.
Lean and wiry, Silvestre is still maturing physically, but his arm action is long and loose. His low-90s fastball regularly touches 94 mph, and he isn't afraid to challenge hitters. His No. 2 pitch is a changeup with good sink that projects as an average pitch. His breaking ball remains a work in progress because he's still learning how to spin it consistently. The Nats expect the pitch to morph into a power slurve or a slider as he develops. Silvestre is a relentless strike-thrower, but he lacks a true out pitch. His arm strength and control give him a shot to become a back-end starter if he can improve his breaking ball. He'll likely return to Potomac in 2015 and could push for a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg by midseason.
Simms split time between the rotation and the bullpen in a strong career at Rice, but his stuff went backward even as he carved up college hitters. Viewed as a potential first-round candidate after his strong freshman summer in the Cape Cod League, Simms eventually signed for $100,000 as an 11th-round pick after his junior year in 2013. He jumped to Double-A Harrisburg by the end of his first full pro season in 2014, though he tired down the stretch. Simms' best asset is his good command of his average fastball, which ranges from 88-92 mph with some sink and deception. He spots his fastball and his curveball to both sides of the plate, and the Nationals think the curve has a chance to be above-average, because it is an out pitch when he has his best feel for it. His changeup remains below-average but is improving and could wind up as a fringy pitch. Simms holds runners and fields his position well, and he is a fierce competitor. He profiles as back-end starter or a middle reliever, and his stuff has played up in the bullpen in the past. He'll likely return to Harrisburg to start 2015 but could reach Triple-A Syracuse by midseason.
Dickey struck out 100 batters in 85 innings for Blinn (Texas) JC in 2014, and the Nationals signed him for $400,000 as a fourth-round pick. His stuff was live in the spring, as his fastball sat at 92 mph and often reached 94-96. But fatigue took a toll on him in his pro debut, when his fastball topped out at 92 and his breaking ball was inconsistent. At his best, Dickey flashed a plus curveball with power and depth, though it remains inconsistent. He also has feel for a changeup. He has a drop-and-drive delivery that causes his plane to flatten out a bit and his fastball to stay up in the zone, so the Nationals plan to work with him on staying taller and over the rubber. Dickey has a physical, durable frame and earns plaudits for his work ethic. He has a shot to become a back-end starter if everything comes together for him. He'll likely open 2015 at low Class A Hagerstown, where he made two starts in 2014.
Lee showed electric stuff in 2013, and continued to do so when he was healthy in 2014, but he was limited to 31 innings by an elbow strain, and his poor command got him in trouble. His inability to repeat his delivery inhibits his control, and he has averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings over the course of his pro career. He spent two years as a starter, but he spent most of 2014 in a relief role, which is where he profiles. He is strong and athletic, and his fast arm produces heat that ranges from 90-96 mph. His hammer breaking ball is a true plus pitch with power and depth at its best, and his low-80s slider has a chance to be solid-average. Lee has the ingredients to become a useful lefthanded reliever, but he has plenty of work to do. He figures to get another crack at Potomac in 2015, and if he takes to the bullpen role and stays healthy he could force his way to Double-A Harrisburg by the end of the year.
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