By Cam Ellis
Welcome to the first edition of the 2016 Nationals Prospects round up! This will be a weekly look at the how the Nationals' farm system is performing, both from an individual and team standpoint. Because the minor league season hasn't started yet, this week will serve as a preview of sorts. Let's get to the prospects.
AAA - Syracuse Chiefs
Trea Turner - SS
Turner, the #1 positional prospect and #2 overall prospect according to Baseball America, has seen a rapid ascent through the minors. Famously the "player to be named later" in a three-way trade with San Diego and Tampa Bay, Turner came over from San Diego and has consistently shown why he was taken with the 13th overall pick. In two years of minor league action, Turner has slashed .322/.384./454 with a .839 OPS. Turner even saw some time in the majors last season, hitting .225/.295/.325 in 27 games for the Nationals. With Danny Espinosa and Daniel Murphy starting at the major league level, Turner starts the season in Syracuse, presumably in order to get everyday at bats. Should one of Espinosa or Murphy get hurt, or the offense struggles, Turner will be the first one called up. Either way, don't expect him in Syracuse for too long.
A.J. Cole - RHP
Cole's been in the Nationals system for six years, yet he's only 24 years old. After being taken in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, Cole has been long been considered part of the future of the team's pitching staff. After two seasons of putting up impressive numbers in Double-A, Cole was promoted to Syracuse and has struggled to adjust. In a little under two seasons at AAA, he's waking more, allowing more home runs and striking out less. Adjustment is the name of the game, and there's no reason to believe Cole can't figure out AAA hitters the same way he figured out A and AA hitters. He won't be the first pitcher called up, but another September call up seems probable.
Austin Voth - RHP
It was actually Voth, not Giolito, Cole or Lopez, who was named the 2015 Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year. A 5th round pick in 2013 out of the University of Washington, Voth has put up eye opening numbers since. In 3 seasons of Minor League play, Voth has put up a 2.70 ERA with a phenomenal 4-1 K/BB ratio. In 157 innings last year at AA, Voth struck out 148 while only walking 40. Should the Nationals bullpen once again struggle this season, adding Voth somewhere down the road wouldn't be the worst decision.
AA - Harrisburg Senators
Lucas Giolito - RHP
The crown jewel of the Nationals farm system. The heir to Scherzer and Strasburg. The next great Nationals Prospect. Whatever you want to call him, there's not questioning that Giolito is a special player. He was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 Draft and has lived up to the billing ever since. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery, Giolito hasn't missed a beat, posting a 2.56 ERA with a 10.0 K/9 rate over 253 innings pitched over the last 4 years. He has electric stuff and is one of the rare prospects that projects as a true ace. Because the Nationals love their innings limits, Giolito will be watched closely this season as he fine tunes his skills in Double-A before the inevitable mid-season (if not earlier) call up. Bold prediction: should the Nats make the playoffs, Giolito will start a game for them.
Reynaldo Lopez - RHP
Lopez doesn't come with quite the same fanfare that Giolito does, but there are some who think that his stuff might be just as good. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and occasionally hits triple digits. In just a little under 200 minor league innings pitched, Lopez has a 3.13 ERA to go along side a 1.11 WHIP and 2.95 K/BB ratio. While he's the only one of the Lopez/Giolito/Cole three-headed pitching monster that hasn't seen any major league action, expect that to change at the end of this season or the beginning of next.
Wilmer Difo - SS/2B
Difo is an interesting case. He was the shortstop of the future in DC, evident last year when the Nats brought him up to the majors after 14 games in Double-A. With Trea Turner all of a sudden the new shortstop of the future, Difo finds his path to the majors blocked by someone more highly regarded and two years younger. He's an decent hitting (.278/.345/.401 career average) with some power potential and speed, so there's still plenty of value there. Earlier this spring, Manager Dusty Baker mentioned wanting to see Difo get more innings at second base, which would be the natural change with Turner set to be the Nats' next shortstop. There's not quite the hype for Difo as there used to be, but a teams could do a lot worse than a Turner-Difo middle infield.
High A- Potomac Nationals
Erick Fedde - RHP
Fedde's Tommy John surgery may have been a blessing in disguise for the Nationals, who probably couldn't have gotten him with the 18th overall pick in 2014 if not for his elbow injury. Scouts love Fedde's potential; in 2015 he pitched 64 innings with a 3.38 ERA while striking out over eight batters per nine innings with a 3.69 K/BB ratio. He's still recovering and probably over a year away, but with a ceiling like his, he's someone to keep an eye on.
Andrew Stevenson - OF
Of all the top prospects in the Nationals system, Stevenson is one of the biggest projects. Coming out of LSU, the center fielder projects to be an average hitting outfielder with little power whose value lies on defense. He hit well in Hagerstown last year, slashing .285/.338/.358 over 35 games. He's a long way out, and with the Nationals outfield as crowded as it is, he could be a prime trade piece at the deadline.
Low A - Hagerstown
Victor Robles - OF
Last, but certainly not least, is Victor Robles. Only 18, Robles is one of the fastest rising prospects not only in the Nationals system, but in the entire minor leagues. The outfielder has hit .334/.428/.496 in two seasons at various low-level teams, but the kids is oozing with potential. It's never a bad thing when, as an 18 year old, you're getting compared to Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He's a five tool player, and while the home runs aren't there yet, his power is projected to arrive with physical maturity. He's young, he's far away from the majors, but he's one of the more talented players in the Nats' system and ending the season at Double-A isn't out of the question.