*MLB Prospect Watch will be recapping each farm system as a whole, focusing on particular players who did something noteworthy this season. For the next 30 (business) days, we will be featuring one organization per day.
The Nationals system doesn't have the depth it once did, mainly thanks to big league promotions, but it does feature the top pitching prospect in the game and a collection of high-ceiling prospects who are far away from the majors.
Biggest Step Fowrard: Lucas Giolito, RHP: We already knew that Giolito was good before the season started, especially after we ranked him as the 13th best prospect in the game at Baseball Prospectus before he had ever thrown a pitch in full-season ball. Still, there were hurdles for him to overcome this season, namely remaining healthy and pitching a full season. Not only did he do that, but he was the best pitcher in the South Atlantic League and is now the top pitching prospect in baseball. This was the step forward the Nationals were hoping he would take, and the restraints should come off even further next season.
Take a Step Back: Jake Johansen, RHP: Johansen didn't have a terrible year, but the Nationals were looking for him to take a step forward like Giolito did (though their talent levels aren't the same) and it didn't happen. His arm is still brimming with potential, but his command is poor and his off-speed stuff needs plenty of work. He's probably a reliever in the long run.
Ready for the Majors: A.J. Cole, RHP: After returning to the Nationals organization after a stint with the A's, Cole has established himself as the best pitching prospect in the system not named Giolito. He handled a mid-season promotion to Triple-A just as well as he's handled every challenge thrown at him thus far, and will undoubtedly be in the mix for the Nationals rotation next year. He'll probably return to Triple-A to start the year, but when the Nationals need to reach down for starters 6-8, he'll be one of them.
Statistical King: Wilmer Difo, SS: Difo broke onto the prospect scene this season with a .315/.360/.470 campaign with Low-A Hagerstown, but as a 22-year-old, he was old for the league. He has plenty of tools to make him an intriguing prospect, but he'll need to move quickly to get to a more age-appropriate level.
Newest Addition: Erick Fedde, RHP: The Nationals have shown no fear at selecting high-ceiling players in the first round who have dropped because of an injury concern. Add Fedde to the list, as the right-hander was slated to go earlier in the first round but dropped to 18th overall because of impending Tommy John surgery. He has since had the operation and will be on a similar schedule to what Giolito went thorugh during his rehab.