Given the young talent that has already made it to the big leagues, it’s no secret that the Washington Nationals’ farm system is not as deep as it used to be. That being said, the team’s top prospects are still some of the best in baseball and could help the Nationals at the big league level in the near future. Three of the team’s best prospects are Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole and Brian Goodwin, all of whom made it onto ESPN.com’s Keith Law’s list of the top 100 prospects in baseball.
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) January 29, 2014
Leading the list for the Nationals is 19-year-old Lucas Giolito, the team’s top pick in the 2012 First Year Player Draft. Law ranked Giolito as the 21st overall on his last, writing that the right-hander was back up to the high-90′s with his fastball, flashed a “plus-plus” curve and that his change up had improved substantially the last time he pitched, in the instructional league this past September. Giolito, according to the ESPN writer, projects to be a no.1 starter in the near future if he continues to progress.
Giolito, who was named the Nationals’ number one prospect by Baseball America, likely would have been the number one pick in the draft if he hadn’t hurt his elbow, an injury which caused him to have Tommy John surgery in 2012. Though the injury delayed his path to the big leagues, Giolito has recovered nicely from the surgery and his fastball is back to its pre-injury velocity. Along with a filthy 12-6 curve ball, which is as good as any in the majors, Giolito is continuing to improve his change up, a pitch that could make his 100+ MPH fastball even more devastating for hitters. The right-hander’s 6-foot-6 frame also helps, allowing him to pitch from a tremendous angle.
Also on Law’s list is Nationals pitcher A.J. Cole, landing at 65th overall.
Cole, the Nationals’ 2010 Fourth Round pick, made 18 starts for the High-A Potomac Nationals this season, putting up a 4.25 ERA, with 23 walks (2.13 BB/9) and 102 Ks (9.43 K/9) in 97 1/3 IP. In seven starts for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, the right-hander was (4-2) with a 2.18 ERA, 10 walks (1.99 BB/9) and 49 Ks (9.73 K/9) in 45 1/3 IP. Law writes that Cole is working with a 93-97 mph fastball, “power slurve” and a change up that could help him develop into a middle of the rotation arm.
The third Nationals’ prospect who made the cut is outfielder Brian Goodwin, who came in as 83rd overall. Goodwin, who was 44th on Law’s list last year, struggled with the bat in 2013, posting a .252/.355/.407 line in his second professional season, hitting 19 doubles, 11 triples and 10 HRs in 122 games and 533 plate appearances for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.
Despite a down season and dropping 39 spots on Law’s list, Goodwin still has plenty of potential and is considered to be the Nationals’ center fielder of the future. Law notes that Goodwin is a five tool player who just needs more time to put those tools together and develop into the top player the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him in 2011.
Earlier this week, Law ranked the Nationals’ farm system as the 18th best in baseball, noting that there was a big drop after the first six or seven prospects. While the fact remains that the team’s system is not as deep as it used to be, the top players are clearly still some of the best in baseball.
Player development has been a priority for the Nationals ever since they moved to Washington in 2005, and especially since Mike Rizzo became general manager in 2009. In the last few years, the team has produced All-Star caliber players on a regular basis — including Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Ian Desmond, just to name a few.
While Giolito, Cole and Goodwin are still a little ways away from joining the others in the big leagues, they still represent the future for the Nationals. And given the current level of young talent already in the big leagues, along with those up and coming in the minors, that future looks very bright.