Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would start some of the initial posts here at Nats EXPOSed by publishing my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects. Yesterday, I posted prospects number 30-21. Today, it is numbers 20-11. Feel free to argue with me, or agree with me if you will, in the comments.
20. Felipe Rivero, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Trade 2014; Age 22.
After being part of the trade last offseason in which the Nats acquired backup catcher Jose Lobaton from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for hurler Nate Karns, Rivero has taken the injured Matt Purke’s place as the organization’s top lefty starting pitcher prospect despite missing half the year due to injury himself. For Rivero, it wasn’t so much the pedestrian overall numbers he put up for the Harrisburg Senators (2-7, 4.12 ERA) but how he finished the year, giving up only one earned run in his last three starts, that provides some hope that he may still develop into a serviceable major league starting pitcher.
19. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2012; Age 20.
Another “graduate” of the Nats’ Dominican Summer League team (or the D-Nats, as I call them), Lopez came out of nowhere this season to challenge top Nats’ prospect Luke Giolito as the best pitcher on a very good Hagerstown squad. Coming off an injury that cost him most of his first stateside campaign in 2013, Lopez started late this season but quickly made up for it, going 7-3 in 16 starts split between Auburn and Hagerstown while posting a blistering cumulative ERA of 1.08 and WHIP of 0.816. As with any player who makes a huge sudden jump in his level of performance, however, Lopez will have to prove that he isn’t just a one season wonder. If he shows next season that he really does have the right stuff, he’ll be yet another great young arm added to a organization that’s already well stacked with them.
18. Nick Pivetta, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (4th Round) 2013; Age 21.
With top prospect Luke Giolito on a tight post-Tommy John surgery innings limit, and Reynaldo Lopez not joining the team until late in the season, Nick Pivetta was the horse of the 2014 Hagerstown staff both in terms of stature (6′ 5″, 220 lbs) and innings pitched (132.1, not counting the playoffs). Neither Pivetta’s ERA (4.22) nor his strikeout rate (6.7 per 9 innings) really jump out at you, but being able to handle such a heavy workload at a fairly young age certainly tags him as a potential future lower in the rotation innings eater at the MLB level.
17. Matt Grace, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (8th Round) 2010; Age 25.
A failed starter, Grace could be next season’s left-handed version of Aaron Barrett, the rookie reliever who makes the team out of Spring Training and ends up becoming a bullpen mainstay. After making good progress in 2013 in his first full year in the pen, Grace had his breakout year in 2014, posting a sizzling combined ERA of 1.17 and WHIP of 1.104 in 77 combined innings at Harrisburg and Syracuse. Even more important for a lefty reliever, left handed batters managed only a paltry .144 average and only 3 XBHs (all doubles) against him in 112 PAs. That kind of dominance in the high minor leagues is what gets a player his shot at making The Show.
16. Jeff Kobernus, IF-OF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2009; Age 26.
Kobernus is currently enjoying his second September callup with the Nats thanks to his good speed and his ability to play both infield and outfield. In a way, he resembles a poor man’s Steve Lombardozzi. Both came up through the system as second basemen, both hit the ball well (but not for power) and showed good base stealing ability in the minors (Kobernus has actually been better in that latter category) and both were turned into “super-utility” type players as they reached the major leagues. The difference is that while Lombardozzi was a “surprise” as a 19th rounder to make the bigs, as a 2nd rounder more might have been expected of Kobernus. With one more minor league option remaining, Syracuse seems to be Kobernus’s likely destination again to start next season.
15. Tony Renda, 2B; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2012; Age 23.
What is it about the Nats and how they keep drafting natural second basemen who hit around .300 every year in the minors (.307), can steal some bases (19) but have virtually no power (zero home runs). First it was Steve Lombardozzi, then Jeff Kobernus and now the latest such player is Tony Renda. I actually have a soft spot for Renda. Standing a mere 5’8″ and weighing in at 180 lbs soaking wet, when he plays (I saw him at Potomac) he looks like someone’s kid brother was allowed out onto the field. Nevertheless, Renda DOES show good on base skills, and is what they call a “grinder” out in the field, so a future as an MLB utility player does not seem out of the question.
14. Pedro Severino, C; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: IFA 2011; Age 20.
Catcher is one position in which the Nats’ system is loaded with prospects. Scouts have been raving about Severino’s defensive prowess ever since he arrived stateside last year from the D-Nats. All Severino needed, it was said, was for his bat to develop. Well, there were signs this season that it is doing just that. At the tender young age of 20 playing at Potomac (fun fact: when Bryce Harper played some rehab games in Woodbridge this year, Severino was the only P-Nat player younger than him), Severino bashed 9 homers and got his OPS over .700 for the first time in his career. He still has two or three more development years ahead of him before he’ll become MLB-ready, but don’t be surprised if Severino eventually sets himself up as Wilson Ramos’s potential successor.
13. Jackson Reetz, C; Highest 2014 Level: Gulf Coast Nationals (Rookie); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2014; Age 18.
High schooler Reetz was the Nats’ highest position player draftee in 2014, and he rewarded their confidence in him by putting up a .276/.429/.368 slash line for the organization’s Gulf Coast team (or the G-Nats, if you will). It’s that amazing OBP that really jumps out. Though among the youngest players in U.S. professional baseball this year, Reetz’s command of the strike zone was such that he almost had more walks (26) than strikeouts (30). He even added six stolen bases to his stats, showing surprising agility on the base paths for a catcher. Granted, he plays a position that takes many years to learn properly (which is why the Nats never seriously considered keeping Bryce Harper behind the dish after drafting him), but Reetz looks like he will be fun to watch as he moves up through the system in the coming years.
12. Drew Ward, 3B; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A): How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2013; Age 19.
Right now, Ward probably projects as the best pure hitter in the lower portion of the Nats’ minor league system. Though still listed as a third basemen, scouts have said the his poor range will eventually necessitate a move across the diamond to first base. Should that happen, it will be a question of whether Ward can hit well enough to play every day at the MLB level. The last similarly talented high school draftee the Nats’ had such hopes for was Chris Marrero, who ultimately couldn’t hit well enough to stick with the big club. Ward is off to a good start, however. His .269/.341/.413 slash line with 10 dingers and 73 RBIs represents strong progress for a 19-year old already playing in full season A ball.
11. Matt Skole, 1B; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA, playoffs only): How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2011; Age 24.
Speaking of hard-hitting former third basemen who made the switch across the diamond, we have the example of Matt Skole, who set the world on fire by bashing 27 round-trippers at Hagerstown in 2012 and collecting more than 100 RBIs between there and a short end-of-season stint at Potomac. Then Skole was bizarrely sidelined for nearly all of 2013 after being that rare position player needing Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, he did not come back strong in 2014, putting up a relatively modest .241/.352/.399 slash line during Harrisburg’s trash fire of a season and collecting only 14 deep flies in the process. The Nats did think enough of Skole to promote him to AAA Syracuse for the playoffs (after starting Syracuse first baseman Tyler Moore was called up to the big club), but that doesn’t obscure the fact that he had a disappointing season and that bouncing back next year will be critical if he hopes to get a crack at The Show someday.