By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Lucas Giolito, Starting Pitcher, Washington Nationals
2015 season (Minors): 21 G, 19 GS, 117 IP, 3.15 ERA, 1.282 WHIP, 7 W, 131 SO, 37 BB
It’s never easy for a team to let a young, star pitcher like Jordan Zimmermann go, but you have to believe that blow was softened by the fact that Lucas Giolito, ranked as the top pitching prospect in baseball by MLB.com, is waiting in the wings.
Giolito enters the 2016 season having never pitched above Double-A, but his prospects are so strong that he has a chance to break out in the Majors right away. The top pitcher in the 2012 MLB Draft, Giolito was taken in the first round at the age of 17 and has posted a 2.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 10 K/9 in 53 Minor League appearances over four years. As is the unfortunate case with many young pitchers, Giolito needed Tommy John surgery and he only pitched in 13 games in his first two years with the organization. But he has bounced back from the surgery and shown no signs of slowing down the past two seasons.
Built for the rotation, the 6-foot-6 right-hander boasts three plus-pitches. His fastball, graded a perfect 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, can touch 100 mph and sits in the mid-90s; the curveball is a looping 12-6 curve that earned a 70 grade; and his changeup has developed the last year and been especially effective against left-handers.
Control, or lack thereof, is unsurprisingly an issue, as it is with most young arms. Giolito has walked almost three batters per nine innings, and he averaged 3.2 BB/9 in Double-A last season.
Giolito is obviously not going to make the team right out of Spring Training, barring an injury epidemic, but he may be able to progress from Double A to Triple A to the Majors rather quickly. He is with the Nationals at big league camp this spring, and in his first test against Major League hitters in a Grapefruit League game, what did Giolito do? Well, he struck out the side, of course. Giolito gave up one hit in his first two innings of work, and he will continue to get plenty of chances to impress throughout camp.
While the Nationals have their likely rotation set, the final two spots aren’t exactly set in stone. Tanner Roark will probably earn a spot, but he was a long reliever for much of last year, and the Nats won’t hesitate to put him back in the bullpen if he struggles. The last spot will probably go to Joe Ross. Ross is another promising young arm and former first-round Draft pick, but he is also relatively unproven in the bigs and doesn’t have a ceiling nearly as high as Giolito.
Along with the uncertainty at the back end of the rotation, Stephen Strasburg has battled injuries in his young career and Gio Gonzalez has dealt with inconsistency, so Giolito could push his way to Washington sooner than expected.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.