Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system.
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the season ahead. Some are competing for jobs in big league camp, others are prepping for the season as they vie for spots at Minor League affiliates up and down a team's system. MLBPipeline.com will be visiting all 30 camps this spring. Today, we check in on the Washington Nationals.
VIERA, Fla. -- There are a lot of good things happening for the Nationals down on the farm.
Obviously, any time an organization can start with the likes of Lucas Giolito and Trea Turner at the top, it's easy to feel optimistic. After the Dodgers' tandem of Corey Seager and Julio Urias (No. 1 and 4), Giolito and Turner at Nos. 3 and 11 are the highest-ranked prospect duo on the Top 100 Prospects list. But it goes well beyond that. There is a good amount of depth that has come together on the back fields of Space Coast Stadium.
"You have Giolito and those guys at the top," Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel Doug Harris said. "Then you have guys like Tyler Watson and Kelvin Gutierrez at the bottom who aren't necessarily household names, who are going to be better and become more interesting guys."
Giolito and Turner will likely help the Nationals in 2016. Guys like Watson (more on him later) and Gutierrez are just getting started. While there is talent up and down the system, most of the high-end guys are closer to the bottom rungs. But given the potential, the player development staff doesn't mind.
• Five questions with prospect Erick Fedde
"I think there's upside at the bottom," Harris said. "It is spread out a little bit; we're going to have some guys at the upper levels, but predominantly it is younger players. Our staff loves working with these guys. Our scouts not only have identified the athleticism and physicality, but they've done an unbelievable job with the makeup and the aptitude that makes it easy on player development."
One of the areas of focus for the scouting departments -- domestic and international amateurs, as well as professional -- has been to find more of the athleticism Harris mentioned. As a result of those efforts, there's more tools and ceiling than there's been in a while.
"It's been a conversation," Harris said of the need to find more athletic players. "Some of it was, we've had a lot of guys graduate to the big leagues who were at the front of that. We've also traded some guys who carried those tools, so it was time to replenish those things. I know [general manager] Mike Rizzo, [assistant GM and VP of scouting] Kris Kline and [VP of international operations] Johnny DiPuglia, it's been a point of emphasis for them in their searches."
MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports
Many in the organization have thought catching prospect Raudy Read had some potential. He'd shown glimpses of it, breaking out in 2014 in the New York-Penn League and even at times during an uneven full-season debut in '15. What they hadn't seen was consistency. That appears to be changing this spring.
A 10-day stay in big league camp seems to have left an indelible mark on the 22-year-old backstop, ranked No. 27 on the team's Top 30 list. Read's sense of purpose has been noticed by the player development staff.
"From a tools perspective, he has the profile of everyday catching tools," Harris said. "The skills and the day-to-day ability to execute were still very much a work in progress. He's really taken some really nice strides this spring.
"His leadership, his investment in pitch-to-pitch, each pitcher on the defensive side, he's become the general on the field you really want. Offensively, he continues to mature as a hitter. He has strength, he has power, but it's the hittability and the approach that continues to evolve, putting himself in a position to maximize that power."
Perhaps Read will be catching 2014 first-rounder Erick Fedde in the future. Fedde is another standout as he continues to put his Tommy John surgery from May '14 further in the rearview mirror. The right-hander returned to the mound last June, but now that he's been able to shake most of the rust off, he's looked like the exciting college arm most thought he'd be pre-injury.
"He's much stronger than he was last year," Harris said. "He's added about 10 pounds. We've been thrilled with what we've seen. There's been angle to the fastball with some finish, some swing and miss with his slider, and command and pitchability."
The Nationals drafted the aforementioned Watson in the 34th round of the 2015 Draft. The Arizona high school product got $400,000 -- fifth-round money -- to sign, and it's looking like it might be money well spent. With size and projectability, Watson could be poised for a big first full season.
"We've seen strides from the day we've gotten him," Harris said. "His breaking ball has progressed to where, at times, it's a swing-and-miss pitch. Next, it's the evolution of the velocity. That's going to be a work in progress. He's a good strike-thrower, he has a really good feel to pitch for a 19-year-old, and he competes his tail off."
The Nats are expecting more good things from another 2015 draftee as well. No. 19 prospect Koda Glover was their eighth-rounder, and he pitched exceedingly well during his pro debut last summer. The organization was a bit cautious in moving him quickly, but he could really jump on the fast track in 2016.
"We had to be mindful of how fast we pushed, because he didn't pitch in the summer in any of his college years," Harris said. "He probably could've gone another level last year, but we had to be mindful of that. He continues to take the next steps this spring."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter.