On the Cusp: Washington Nationals
In this series, Bernie Pleskoff takes a team-by-team look at which top prospects are poised to make a contribution at the big league level in 2015.
The Nationals have depth throughout their roster and in their farm system. Should a pitcher or position player be needed this year, the team can pick from a number of qualified replacements. They are among the deepest organizations in baseball.
Here are the Nationals prospects I think have a chance to make an impact in Washington in 2015, listed by their rankings in the Nationals Top 20 Prospects list.
A.J. Cole | RHP | 6-foot-5, 200 pounds | No. 2
The athletic, tall and slender Cole has shown a good feel for pitching in his five Minor League seasons. Pitching as a starter, Cole has an outstanding combination of command and control of his mid-to-high 90s fastball that he supports with an average curveball and an above-average changeup. The late life on his fastball adds a bit of deception to the mix. Throwing strikes with good command, Cole may be among the first calls if a right-handed starter is needed.
Michael Taylor | OF | 6-foot-3, 210 pounds | No. 3
With Jayson Werth still recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery, Michael Taylor may get the nod to start the season with the Nationals. Normally a center fielder, it is possible Taylor could staff left field until Werth returns. With his rookie eligibility still intact following a brief debut with the big league club last year, at this stage of his development, the speedy Taylor is more advanced defensively than at the plate. A former shortstop, his professional conversion to the outfield best uses his speed and good glove.
Matthew Skole | 3B/1B | 6-foot-3, 225 pounds | No. 6
The left-handed-hitting Skole scuffled at the plate last year after returning from 2013 Tommy John surgery. Playing at Double-A Harrisburg last year, he hit .241 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs. Viewed more recently as a first baseman, Skole provides some corner depth to the organization. There is some power in his bat which I saw firsthand in the 2012 Arizona Fall League.
Brian Goodwin | OF | 6-feet, 200 pounds | No. 7
A left-handed hitter, 2014 was not kind to Goodwin as he played last season at Triple-A Syracuse. He hit only .219 in 329 plate appearances. A quad injury limited his playing time. Seemingly healthy now, Goodwin's good speed is probably his best and most refined tool. Playing a good defensive center field, Goodwin may be a year away from making the club, probably as outfield depth off the bench. But if his hitting tool emerges, he could easily be in the mix for an eventual starting role.
Sammy Solis | LHP | 6-foot-5, 250 pounds | No. 13
Big and strong, Solis has suffered from several injuries that have cut his development time. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and returned to pitch 88 2/3 innings in 2013. When I saw him in the 2013 Arizona Fall League, he was just returning from surgery, but he threw well. Solis pitched for several Nationals farm teams last year, trying to regain confidence and his release point. He has lost some velocity on his fastball, and he must do a good job of mixing in his curveball and changeup to find success.
Drew Vettleson | OF | 6-foot-1, 185 pounds | No. 14
The left-handed-hitting Vettleson is not as advanced in his development as other Nationals outfield prospects, but he may add some late season depth from the left side of the plate. With no overwhelming tool, he provides a balanced approach in his hitting tool, power, running ability and defense. Using a short swing, he has managed to reduce strikeouts and improve his contact rate. If his power increases, his chances will increase as well.
Felipe Rivero | LHP | 6-foot-2, 195 pounds | No. 16
Rivero came to the Nationals from the Rays in a deal for pitcher Nathan Karns. If Rivero helps the team in the coming year, it would be in a relief role. He has a quick, live arm and can mix his high 80s to mid-90s fastball with a good changeup and mediocre curveball. He's walking a bit too many (3.7) per nine innings, but the ability exists for him to contribute. Left-handed relievers are always in demand, and Rivero has the ability to neutralize left-handed hitters extremely well.