Down on the Farm: Checking in on the Nationals’ Top 5 Prospects

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July 17, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals first round draft pick Lucas Giolito in the dugout before a game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1: Lucas Giolito, RHP – Class A Hagerstown

When the Nationals selected right-hander Lucas Giolito with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 First Year Player Draft, they knew they were taking a risk on a pitcher who would most likely need elbow surgery. Two years later, it’s clear that the Nationals made the right decision as the 20-year-old has developed into the team’s top prospect and one of the game’s rising young stars.

Giolito, who suffered a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow during his senior year of high school, underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after the Nationals signed him with a $2.925 million signing bonus. After the surgery, however, Giolito was once again the dominant pitcher that would have been top pick in the draft had it not been for the injury.

In his return to the mound last season, Giolito split time between the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League team and rookie ball in Auburn, posting a 1.96 ERA and striking out 39 batters in 36 2/3 innings. 

“I know I have things I need to work on,” Giolito told MLB.com. “So, I’m never satisfied. It’s good that I throw hard and my curveball breaks a lot, but there is more to it than that. I definitely want to improve on the finer aspects of pitching.”

Giolito’s success carried over into the 2014 season, which he began at Class A Hagerstown. In 14 starts for the Suns this season, Giolito is 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA and 72 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings of work. Like Taylor, Giolito’s success this season also earned him a spot at the Futures Game.

Of all of the promising prospects on this list, Giolito is definitely the most exciting young talent as he is already tearing it up in the minor leagues and, at just 20-years-old, he has yet to reach his full potential.

The right-hander has recovered nicely from the surgery and his fastball is back to its pre-injury velocity. Along with a filthy 12-to-6 curve ball, which is as good as any in the majors, Giolito is working on a changeup, 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. 

It’s been five years since the Nationals drafted Stephen Strasburg, and in Giolito, they may have found yet another pitching talent for the ages. If the young right-hander stays healthy and continues to improve his game, we may very well see him in a Nationals uniform in 2016, if not sooner.

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