This is the second in a six-part Toolshed series that uses FanGraphs' Steamer600 projections to look at how prospects would fare over a full Major League season in 2020. The system bases its forecast on 600 plate appearances for position players, 450 plate appearances for catchers, 200 innings for starting pitchers and 65 innings for relievers -- taking into account age, past performance and previous Minor League levels, among other factors. All players included in the team tables below are ranked prospects who either played at Double-A or above in 2019, sit on their organization's 40-man roster or are placed among MLB.com's Top 100. Projections for American League East prospects can be found here.
The Washington Nationals are World Series champions. In the words of one fictitious Washingtonian, what's next? On the checklist, figuring out what to do at third base. On the list of options, top prospect Carter Kieboom.
One of the keys to a World Series title is good players, and when they reach free agency, other clubs are willing to sign them for lots and lots of money. The Nats learned that lesson quickly this offseason when franchise cornerstone Anthony Rendon departed in a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Angels. That's all well and good. Washington got seven good seasons out of the two-time Silver Slugger. He got paid. That's the way the system works.
But now the Nats must find a replacement and that won't be as clear-cut. Rendon made 146 of the 162 regular-season starts at third base. Howie Kendrick was in second place with only 10 starts there. Washington brought back the veteran infielder on a free-agent deal, but he has more experience at second and first. The club also returned Asdrúbal Cabrera and added another veteran infielder in Starlin Castro. Castro, who played third base in the Majors for the first time with the Marlins in 2019, is likely more of a second-base filler coming off the departure of Brian Dozier. The 34-year-old Cabrera, who was exclusively a third baseman for the Rangers in 2019 before signing with the Nats in August, was just a league-average bat at best.
So the Nats have veteran options at the hot corner, but none of them scream comfort. Rumors continually fly that Washington could pursue Josh Donaldson, though the former AL MVP would seem to be out of its price range given his rumored demands of a nine-figure deal.
The 22-year-old infielder just happens to be the Nationals' top prospect at a time when they could use help on the dirt. Some might remember that the No. 20 overall prospect came up to help the big club in the first half of the 2019 season when Trea Turner was injured, only to go 5-for-39 (.128) with 16 strikeouts and four errors in 11 games.
But if that's all fans remember of the 2016 first-rounder, they missed out on yet another promising offensive season for the right-handed slugger. Kieboom was a Pacific Coast League end-of-season All-Star after hitting .303/.409/.493 with 16 homers, three triples and 24 doubles over 109 games with Triple-A Fresno. He earned a trip to the All-Star Futures Game along the way and was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star for the third straight season.
It shouldn't be a surprise to say Steamer likes a young player who proved himself in the upper levels of the Minors and got some (if limited) Major League experience. This is how Kieboom stacks up against other Nationals infielders who could see time at third base.
This table is organized by wRC+, not WAR like other tables below, because of the following predicament. Kieboom has been a shortstop for much of his professional career, and his 2.2 WAR projection is a reflection of that position. But with Turner entrenched there, Kieboom will have to look elsewhere.
So focus on wRC+ and the offensive abilities of the five players above. Kieboom still fits well in the conversation.
Kendrick is the only third-base option projected to be an above-average hitter, but he's far more likely to be part of a first-base platoon with Eric Thames at first base. If Castro slides over to second, Cabrera is perhaps Kieboom's closest competition at third, and at that point, it becomes a bet between a 34-year-old on the decline and the 22-year-old with plenty of room for growth.
The kicker could be defense itself. Cabrera was just average at the hot corner in 2019. He was worth -4 defensive runs saved, but also posted a positive UZR/150 at 4.6 over 812 innings. Kieboom played only 82 2/3 frames at the position during his time with Fresno, so it'll be more of an uphill battle to show he can provide more than just average value at a tough position, should the Nats decide to give him looks there this spring. The good news: Kieboom earns above-average grades for his throwing arm and that should help with a more full-time move to his right.
Washington GM Mike Rizzo told MLB.com over the weekend that although Kieboom is unproven at any position other than shortstop, the organization is "comfortable from what we have seen at the Minor Leagues at third and at second from him." At the very least, they have few questions about his offensive potential.
"We feel good about where he's at, and we still think he's an everyday player in the big leagues that can hit in the middle of the lineups and be a good big league player for many years to come," Rizzo said.
Will one of those years be 2020 for Kieboom? The projections -- and current Nationals roster situation -- say it should be.
Most ready: Kieboom.
Give it time: The Nationals kept the Big Three intact by re-signing Stephen Strasburg this offseason, and Aníbal Sánchez and Joe Ross give Washington two solid veteran options behind them in the rotation. Fair enough, but good rotations are built around depth. Crowe -- the club's No. 2 pitching prospect at the end of 2019 behind first-rounder Jackson Rutledge -- will factor into that depth in 2020. Whether he can sneak past Sanchez/Ross is yet to be seen. Right now, Steamer says he needs a little more time to develop as he ranks eighth in WAR projection among potential Nats starters. That's not a huge surprise given he had a 6.17 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP over 54 innings with Triple-A Fresno last year, but the 25-year-old right-hander still did enough at Double-A Harrisburg to keep his prospect status and projection afloat. Though he isn't on the 40-man now, Crowe is Rule 5-eligible next offseason and could be an easy starting option once he settles in back at the Pacific Coast League.
Wild cards: A World Series title doesn't take away from the fact that the Nationals bullpen was a major weakness in 2019. The club re-signed Daniel Hudson this offseason and also brought in free-agent setup man Will Harris to help with those concerns, but there should still be chances for prospects to muscle their way in. Bourque is the obvious pick as a right-hander with a plus fastball and a plus curve. Only Sean Doolittle (10.0) has a higher K/9 projection than Bourque, but the latter's control woes could hold him back from realizing such a number right away. Elsewhere, Braymer and German also could be options at some point, though both need a little more seasoning. Note: Fuentes worked as a reliever at Class A Advanced Potomac before becoming a starter at Harrisburg, but he will open the season on the suspended list after testing positive for a banned stimulant last August.
Top-100 talent: There was a lot more hype around Garcia at this point last year, only for the infielder to post a .617 OPS at Double-A Harrisburg. That obviously hurts his projection, and Steamer has him as a replacement-level player right now. No matter. Garcia still won't be 20 until May, and he'll reenter Double-A as one of the level's youngest players.
Most ready: It's counterintuitive to what this category typically does with projections, but this is a weird group. Saying Wilson, Wright and Ynoa are the "most ready" of this group isn't a hot take considering all three have already pitched in the Majors; the first two made their debuts back in 2018. Steamer gave all three reliever projections, though nothing that would put them squarely in the Major League bullpen right now. The truth is Atlanta likely wants all three to get longer looks at a starting role, and the fifth spot is up for the taking this spring. However with so many other starters closing in on Triple-A Gwinnett, the leashes for all three are growing ever shorter. A straight move to relief would hasten their routes to full-time gigs in Atlanta.
Give it time: Anderson has overtaken Wright and Wilson for the title of top pitching prospect in the Braves system, and he also just so happened to finish out 2019 with Triple-A Gwinnett. He will be a pitcher many Braves fans follow closely this spring to see just how close he is to jumping to The Show. Steamer doesn't think he's that far. Anderson's 1.8 WAR projection is fifth-best for a Braves starter. Just behind him in sixth is Davidson. Both are likely headed to Gwinnett to round out their Minor League profile since neither made more than five Triple-A starts last season. But it's good to stick out for now when the competition for that fifth spot in the rotation should be fierce almost all summer long.
Wild cards: The Braves have Travid d'Arnaud and Tyler Flowers down as their catching tandem right now, but is there a chance Jackson breaks through? Not right away, according to Steamer. The slugger's power certainly would play at the top level with 20 homers over 450 plate appearances, but the rest of the projection lags behind his competition. That's especially true in WAR where Flowers (2.9) and d'Arnaud hold a solid advantage. What Steamer doesn't much account for, however, is defense. Minor Leaguers typically receive average Steamer projections for fielding, and Jackson's 36 innings behind a Major League plate aren't enough to give him a strong defensive rating projection one way or the other. That said, Baseball Prospectus had the former outfielder down as Triple-A's best pitch framer in 2019 with 16.8 framing runs. Toss in an arm that threw out 25 of 50 attempted basestealers and the power, and the ingredients are there for Jackson to beat his projection in 2020 if given the Major League chance.
Top-100 talent: Pache and Waters finished 2019 as the game's third- and sixth-ranked outfield prospects respectively coming off impressive seasons split between Double-A and Triple-A. That didn't result in much love from Steamer. The difference between their stocks and their projections comes in part on the defensive end. Both are plus fielders on the grass with Pache especially consistently drawing raves as a potential Gold Glover. That would add to their WAR projections, but Steamer doesn't take that into account just yet. Don't be surprised to see them in Atlanta before this projection alone indicates. Similarly, Langeliers is a gifted defensive catcher who might be underestimated by typical Steamer projections for Minor League backstops. But the 2019 first-rounder doesn't have the robust professional resume to earn an impressive projection anyway.
Most ready: The Marlins grabbed Sharp in the Rule 5 Draft last month, hoping he could provide help in the bullpen. Despite the recent lack of success from such picks, Sharp looks like he has a good chance to stick on paper. His 0.4 WAR projection is tied for third-highest among potential Miami relievers. There is a chance he could provide more value and innings than that as a long reliever/potential swingman in the rotation, given his history as a starter in the Nationals system. Sharp's sinker -- and the ground-ball tendencies that come with it -- could be well-suited for the modern game and give him as plausible an opportunity to stay in the Majors as any one of this year's Rule 5 selections.
Give it time: There are certainly a lot more reasons for excitement in the Marlins pipeline than this time last year. The Fish didn't have a Top-100 prospect when Prospect Projections ran in 2018. Now they have six. But before everyone expects that talent to contribute immediately in the new decade, let the projections be a bit of a cold bath. Sixto Sanchez's numbers would make him the Marlins' second-best starting pitcher right away behind only Pablo López, but Miami wouldn't bring him up for an ERA in the mid-4's. Not when he's yet to pitch at Triple-A. On the offensive side, Chisholm came over from the D-backs with some excitement about the pop in his bat (especially for a shortstop), but Steamer wants to see more from the 21-year-old before predicting big things. Fellow deadline acquisition Jesus Sanchez's projections look even rougher, and the 22-year-old outfielder needs more Triple-A time to show his above-average hit and power tools are real, because they aren't showing up in the numbers just yet.
Wild cards: Harrison was the face of the system not too long ago, and his plus power, run, glove and arm tools would point to someone who can help Miami quite soon. However, the hit tool remains a problem. Harrison fanned in 29.5 percent of his 244 Triple-A plate appearances last season, and Steamer believes that would jump to 31.7 percent over a full Major League season. Without a defensive projection to save him, Harrison's offensive deficiences keep him below the replacement-level line here. If the 24-year-old can find a way to make the most of his bat, the potential is there for an impactful player, and there should be outfield spots for him to claim this summer.
Top-100 talent: Cabrera should be a fun one to keep an eye on coming off his breakout 2019 season. The 21-year-old right-hander throws in the upper-90s and showed improved control at Class A Advanced and Double-A last summer. The projection isn't strong enough to thrust him into the Major League conversation just yet, but a 1.6 WAR puts him close. Bleday was the fourth overall pick last June out of Vanderbilt. The Marlins expect big things from the 22-year-old left-handed slugger, coming off his 27-homer junior season, and it helps that he has already seen Class A Advanced.
New York Mets
Most ready: Peterson isn't a Top-100 prospect nor is he even the Mets' top pitching prospect, but Steamer is a big fan. How big a fan? His 2.6 WAR projection is higher than that of fellow southpaw Madison Bumgarner, who got a five-year, $85-million deal from the D-backs this offseason. The system is a believer because of Peterson's peripherals; his 3.19 FIP over 116 Double-A innings was much better than his 4.19 ERA in that span, and his 2.9 K/BB ratio was a career best. The Mets have three excellent-to-good options in Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman to lead the rotation, are hoping for a healthy season from Steven Matz and brought in Rick Porcello as a bounceback candidate to fill out the starting five. But with Peterson slated to open 2020 at Triple-A Syracuse, New York shouldn't hesistate to look toward him once an opening arises in the early months.
Give it time: Like Luis Garcia, Gimenez was a good shortstop prospect who stalled a bit as a young player at Double-A in 2019. Gimenez batted .250/.309/.387 with nine homers and 28 stolen bases over 117 games at age 20, and Steamer believes that works out to a replacement-level player over a full Major League season. Fair enough. In actuality, Gimenez showed a little more offensive promise over a smaller sample in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .371/.413/.586 in 18 games, and he has some value with a good glove at short. It could take some time (and Major League experience) before Steamer can accurately project that, so it's possible the system could be at least one more year away from giving a clearer picture on Gimenez.
Wild cards: Gonsalves has all the makings of a wild card. The 25-year-old southpaw was once a Top-100 prospect in the Twins system. He fell off a bit of a cliff the past two seasons, capped by the fact he pitched only 13 innings in 2019 due to elbow issues. Minnesota designated him for assignment, and the Mets swooped in with a waiver claim, hoping to get a good arm on the cheap. The lost time doesn't bode well for his chances -- his 0.7 WAR projection is eighth-best among potential Mets starters, per Steamer -- but there is potential for much more than that. Another starting option could be Smith, who struck out 130 and walked 39 over 117 innings between Double-A Binghamton and Class A Advanced St. Lucie last season. Steamer likes his chances to provide the Mets with depth, and he could be a second-half option should they need it.
Top-100 talent: The Mets' two prospects with the highest ceilings are pretty far from Citi Field. Mauricio just finished up his first campaign with a full-season affiliate, playing 116 games at Class A Columbia, and Baty was the 12th overall pick out of a Texas high school last June. It'll be some time before either sticks in Queens long term.
Most ready: The Phillies starting-pitching unit was one of the club's Achilles heels during a disappointing 2019. Philadelphia starters were collectively worth 7.6 WAR, 23rd-best in the Majors. The club addressed that in part by adding Zack Wheeler this offseason. And there could be another big addition around the corner in Howard. The Phillies' top pitching prospect has the third-highest WAR projection among potential starters in the system, just behind Aaron Nola (3.9) and Wheeler (2.0) and above more established options such as Jake Arrieta (1.9) and Vince Velasquez (1.8). It still will take some work to get there. Shoulder issues limited Howard to 92 1/3 innings between the regular season and Arizona Fall League, and the right-hander only has six starts at Double-A or above. But with a plus-plus fastball and good secondaries, the 23-year-old has the stuff to make a rotation spot work. If the Phils are serious about getting back to the playoffs, they may want to give him an early chance to back up the projections.
Give it time: Bohm actually has a miniscule edge over Howard in the WAR projection department, but the scenarios are slightly different. The biggest one on paper is that Steamer projects Bohm to be a league-average bat if he was in the Majors right now. However, the 2018 third overall pick needs to show more if the Phils are going to get him regular at-bats, especially given his potential to be above-average with his hit and power tools. There's also the issue of a defensive home. Bohm is a third baseman by trade but has seen time at first base. The Phillies have the more immediate opening at third, but they may want to experiment more with Bohm defensively. It shouldn't take long before Bohm bangs down the door -- perhaps as early as May or June once he gets a taste of Triple-A -- but it will take some time nonetheless.
Wild cards: If the Phillies don't want to jump straight to Howard, they are not exactly lacking other upper-level starting options. Romero, Jones, De Los Santos and Irvin have a good amount of Triple-A experience already, and Parkinson, Medina and Llovera aren't that far behind with their time at Double-A. Some of the arms in that group will have to break through if they're going to become a No. 4 or 5 starter with the big club. That's even true to a lesser extent with the Lehigh Valley rotation, given all of the arms knocking on the door. The group might lack ceiling, but the depth gives a better chance for someone to pop. Steamer likes Jones most right now, but keep an eye on the group as a whole.
Top-100 talent: Stott rounds out Philadelphia's Top-100 contingent behind Bohm and Howard. The former UNLV shortstop put up solid numbers (.274/.370/.446) during his 44-game stint at Class A Williamsport, but Steamer doesn't have enough data on the 2019 first-rounder to give him a solid projection just yet. See how his above-average bat plays at the full-season levels in the early months to get a more accurate assessment.