When the Nationals drafted Lucas Giolito in the 2012 draft, he was compared to Stephen Strasburg in terms of raw talent with his arm. Tommy John surgery has slowed Giolito's progress a bit, and this will be his first full season in the minors. However, he has looked the part of an ace this season. Through 32.1 innings for Low-A Hagerstown, the 19-year-old has a 2.51 ERA and 36:14 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters are hitting a mere .186 against him. He has also shown the penchant for yielding ground balls, posting a 1.65 GO:AO ratio thus far. He's still a few years away from making a big-league impact, but the Nats could have another rotation anchor on their hands.
Here are some more prospect notes in this week's version of "Three Strikes:"
1. Keep an eye on Astros outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez. The toolsy 21-year-old is batting .301/.383/.574 with eight home runs, 41 RBI and 12 steals through 43 games for High-A Lancaster.
2. Starting to get a little concerned with Jorge Soler's penchant for injury. He recently suffered yet another hamstring injury, his second of the season. He has spent more time on the Disabled List for the Cubs than off of it over the last year or so.
3. Miami Marlins pitching phenom Andrew Heaney was just promoted to Triple-A, and could see the big leagues by the All-Star Break if he continues to dominate.
Next on tap, this week's Minor League Barometer. Get it while it's hot.
Dalton Pompey, OF, TOR - The 21-year-old outfielder has been one of the breakout stars of this young season. A 16th round pick out of high school in 2010, Pompey flashed stellar speed last season with 38 steals at Low-A. However, he hit just .261 and bashed just six home runs in 115 games at that level. He has shown a much more well-rounded game thus far in 2014. Pompey is slashing .325/.402/.484 with four home runs, 21 RBI and 18 steals through 40 games for High-A Dunedin. The switch-hitting Pompey has the potential for 40-plus steals and 10-plus home runs. Those projections make him a prospect to monitor for the Blue Jays, particularly if he can keep his average up.
Steven Matz, P, NYM - The old adage is that you can never have enough pitching, and the Mets have been pitching-rich throughout their farm system over the last couple of seasons. The likes of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob DeGrom have all come through the pipeline. The 22-year-old Matz appears ready to throw his hat into the ring as well. He missed nearly two seasons after having Tommy John surgery in 2010. In his first full season (2013), he posted a 2.62 ERA and 121:38 K:BB ratio in 106.1 innings at Low-A. Currently, the 6-foot-2 southpaw has a 2.22 ERA and 44:14 K:BB ratio through 44.2 innings for High-A St. Lucie. Matz was a second round selection in the 2009 draft, so he was highly thought of before the injury. He throws mostly a mid-90s heater along with an above-average changeup, but has been refining his curveball this season. It appears to be functioning so far, as he continues to dominate the lower levels.
Luke Jackson, P, TEX - Jackson should be getting more publicity. The 22-year-old righty was flat-out dominant in 2013, mostly at High-A. He notched a minuscule 2.04 ERA and 134:59 K:BB ratio in 128 innings. Lackluster control got him in trouble in 2012, but he managed to limit the damage in 2013. Jackson's control has been even better in 2014, as the 6-foot-2 righty has a 49:13 K:BB ratio through 48 innings for Double-A Frisco. Jackson has always possessed strikeout stuff, but if his control remains consistent, he could really take him game to the next level. The development of his curveball and changeup will also go a long way towards determining his future role. With athleticism and an electric arm, Jackson has loads of potential that he could be on the cusp of harnessing.
Trevor May, P, MIN - May is sort of the forgotten soul on the Twins, with Alex Meyer getting all the notoriety from a pitching perspective, and the rest of the organization seemingly stocked with talent on the hitting side. However, this is the still same pitcher who fanned 208 batters in 2011. In fact, May has punched out at least 150 batters in each of the last four seasons in the minors. However, the big development this season has been his surprising control. May was known for being wildly effective in previous seasons, emphasis on the "wild”. An inability to keep the ball in the zone caused added walks, extra base runners and additional runs. Nevertheless, in 2014 the 24-year-old has walked just 17 batters in 43 innings, which is an improvement for him. May has also not allowed a run in each of his last two starts at Triple-A Rochester, lowering his ERA to 3.35. He has still had the strikeouts as well, punching out 47 batters. In sum, May could get just as much of a look as Meyer when the time comes for the Twins to dive into their minor league system for some starting pitching.
Michael Taylor, OF, WAS - The power/speed combo makes Taylor an intriguing prospect. After a poor year at High-A in 2012, he repeated that level last season and hit 10 home runs, drive in 87 runs and swiped 51 bags. He has been on a power surge to begin the 2014 campaign, bashing 11 dingers in 31 games for Double-A Harrisburg. His speed has been on display as well, as he has stolen 11 bags for the Senators. Taylor is also slashing .293/.374/.573, numbers that would shatter his career-highs in every category if they held up. Taylor has battled issues with plate discipline in the past, so it remains possible that his slash line will regress back to the mean. He leads the Eastern League in strikeouts. He looks to me like a poor man's George Springer; however, in prospect terms, that may not end up being such a bad thing.
Michael Lorenzen, P, CIN - With all the hype surrounding fellow Reds pitching prospect Ben Lively, it's easy to forget about Lorenzen, who was a first-round selection in last year's draft. The college pitcher has been aggressively pushed through the system, already appearing at Double-A. He is a ground ball machine, having posted a 1.94 GO:AO ratio through 51.2 innings. The only knock on Lorenzen so far has been his lack of strikeouts; the 6-foot-3 righty has fanned just 37 batters to begin the season. However, he's just 22 years of age and is already more than holding his own in Double-A, so the strikeouts could bump up a tick as he refines his secondary pitches. Regardless, Lorenzen could be competing for a rotation spot in Cincinnati as early as next season.
Greg Bird, 1B, NYY - Injuries have stunted Bird's growth in the past, and ultimately forced his move from catcher to first base. Still, he had a breakout campaign in 2013, hitting .288/.428/.511 with 20 home runs and 84 RBI in 130 games for Low-A Charleston. Perhaps most impressive was the 107 walks that Bird drew as a 20-year-old. His balky back forced him to miss the first month and a half of the 2014 season, but he is back on the field and has picked up right where he left off in 2013. The power-hitting lefty is batting .304/.418/.543 with two home runs and four RBI through 12 games for High-A Tampa. With a power stroke tailor-made for Yankee Stadium and Mark Teixeira not getting any younger, Bird could be working his way into the future plans for the Bronx Bombers. As long as he can stay healthy.
Matt Olson, 1B, OAK - Olson has a huge frame at 6-foot-4, 240-lbs, and a left-handed power bat to go with that size. He managed 23 home runs and 93 RBI during his first full season in 2013 as a 19-year-old. Like the aforementioned Bird, he takes a lot of pitches, but also strikes out a lot. Unlike Bird, Olson has not proven he can hit for average just yet, as he batted just .225 last season. He's been bumped up to High-A in 2014, and thus far it has been more of the same for Olson. He has 11 home runs in 44 games, but is batting just .230 on the season. Olson's power is legit, but if he can't hit for average, he is obviously going to have a difficult time at the higher levels. At just 20 years of age, he still has time to work out the kinks, though.
Victor Roache, OF, MIL - The raw talent is still way ahead of the actual baseball skills for Roache. He was a first-round pick in 2012, but did not begin his professional career until the following season due to wrist issues. He slugged 22 home runs at Low-A but hit just .248. Perhaps most significantly, he struck out 137 times in 116 games. The power has been evident in 2014 at High-A, but so has the lack of patience at the dish. Roache is batting just .198 through 42 games for High-A Brevard County. He does have six home runs and 23 RBI, but he also has 44 strikeouts as compared to just 10 walks. Roache is already 22 years of age and played college ball, so he isn't exactly a teenager still trying to learn his way around the strike zone. The upside is still there, but Roache has a long way to go for the Brew Crew.
Lucas Sims, P, ATL - Arguably the top prospect for the Bravos entering the 2014 campaign, the 20-year-old Sims has sputtered a bit at High-A Lynchburg. Sims has a 4.07 ERA and 30:15 K:BB ratio through 48.2 innings. Sims has been a little wild, and also snake-bitten by the long ball thus far. He has surrendered six home runs over his last eight starts. The lack of strikeouts is also a tad alarming. By contrast, Sims fanned 134 batters in 116.2 innings at Low-A in 2013. There's still plenty of time to turn his year around, but Sims has not shown the same level of brilliance as a season ago.
Miguel Almonte, P, KC - Almonte has been battered and bruised in 2014, a far cry from his first full season as a professional in 2013. Last year, Almonte had a 3.10 ERA and 132:36 K:BB ratio in 130.2 innings for Low-A Lexington. His peripheral numbers in 2014 are actually still somewhat in line with his 2013 statistics, as he has a 43:16 K:BB ratio through 44 innings at High-A Wilmington. However, his ERA has ballooned to 5.52. Another victim of the home run ball, Almonte has allowed five home runs through eight starts in 2014. By comparison, he allowed just six dingers all of last season. In sum, the ball has been too far up in the zone for Almonte; the resulting missed location has provided a few more walks and a few more balls knocked out of the park for the 6-foot-2 righty.
Severino Gonzalez, P, PHI - Gonzalez got the dreaded vote of confidence from the Barometer, and what followed has been a precipitous decline in production. Control has been Gonzalez's calling card, but he has simply been catching too much of the plate over the last month. On May 11, he allowed a staggering 10 runs on 10 hits in just 3.2 innings for Double-A Reading. As a result, the 21-year-old's ERA currently sits at a bloated 5.22. Gonzalez is also not overpowering, with a fastball barely reaching 90 mph. He's a right-handed version of Oakland A's pitcher Tommy Milone when right, but you must have superior control with a lackluster fastball. When his control is off, he can get lit up, despite having four pitches in his versatile repertoire. His margin for error is very slim, and it will be interesting to see if he can hold his own at the higher levels against better competition.