The Washington Nationals are reportedly interested in Wade Davis, due to the shakiness of closer Jonathan Papelbon. In his last two outings, Papelbon has given up seven runs while recording just two outs, only increasing the urgency that the Nationals pull the trigger on a trade for an elite closer.
The Royals are said to be asking a steep price for Wade Davis, as well they should be in the wake of the massive deal for Aroldis Chapman. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports the Royals have targeted top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito in a deal, while Jayson Stark of ESPN says the Nationals are balking at including Giolito or top prospects Trea Turner or Reynaldo Lopez in any deal for a closer.
Baseball America ranked the Nationals farm system as the fifth-best in baseball before the season. Five Nationals prospects appeared on their Top 100 mid-season ranking - RHP Lucas Giolito (#4), IF Trea Turner (#5), OF Victor Robles (#13), RHP Reynaldo Lopez (#48), and RHP Erick Fedde (#61). Here are some of the top names that should interest the Royals.
RHP Lucas Giolito
Giolito has a big arm that can reach triple digits on the radar gun, and is generally considered one of the best, if not the best pitching prospect in baseball. The 22-year old right-hander recently made his Major League debut a few weeks ago, giving up eight runs in 11 innings over three starts before being demoted. The 2012 first-round pick was considered to be one of the best overall talents in that draft, but fell due to concerns over his health when he sprained his UCL while a student at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles, eventually leading to Tommy John surgery.
He has struck out over a hitter per inning in the minor leagues, although his walk totals are a bit higher than you would want at 3.1 per-nine-innings. His 3.08 ERA in 84 2/3 minor league innings is not dominating, especially when you consider he allowed 13 unearned runs. Still, he has a minuscule home run rate, a fastball that sits in the high-90s, and one of the best curveballs thrown by a prospect. He is a pitcher that has all the upside in the world and could likely step in this year into the Royals rotation, with a strong shot to make the rotation out of spring training, and serve as the ace before too long. It would be a dream scenario if the Royals would be able to land him, but most likely Washington will hang onto the flamethrower, and he may even end up on their post-season roster.
SS Trea Turner
The 23-year old Turner was recently called up to the big leagues and has made a splash with the Nats so far, hitting .279/.326/.442 in 11 games, including this exciting steal of home last week. With shortstop already occupied in Washington, Turner has been forced to play other positions such as second base and centerfield. He hit .302/.370/.471 with six home runs in 83 games in AAA before his promotion.
Turner was rated as a top 15 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com. He has tremendous speed, swiping 77 bases in the minors at an 86% success rate. He has good gap power and would seem to be a good fit for Kauffman Stadium. Turner was originally a first-round pick by the Padres in 2014, and was shipped to Washington in a three-team deal that sent Wil Myers to San Diego. Turner had to wait to be included in the trade for several months, however, due to a technicality that recent draft picks cannot be traded for a year, a rule that has since been amended because of Turner.
Because Turner is already contributing at the Major League level, it seems unlikely Washington would part with him while they are in a pennant race. A future double-play combination of Turner and Raul Mondesi makes me weak in the knees, but this almost certainly isn't happening.
OF Victor Robles
Robles is just 19 year old and still in High A ball, so he likely doesn't fit the "MLB-ready" profile the Royals are looking for in a return package. He burst onto the scene last year, and has followed it up with a fantastic season in Low A ball, hitting .305/.405/.459 in 64 games, although he has struggled since his promotion to High A ball in the notoriously difficult hitter's league, the Carolina League. Robles is a right-handed hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic who has a good power/speed combination, although the home run power has not quite developed yet. His considered a solid fielder and hardly ever strikes out, but he also doesn't draw many walks.
Because he would be more of a project and because outfield is not as high of a concern as other positions for the Royals, it seems unlikely Robles would be included in any deal.
RHP Reynaldo Lopez
Lopez is a MLB-ready, high-upside pitcher who can throw in the high-90s. He struck out 100 hitters in just 76 1/3 innings in AA before he was promoted, and he has a 1.80 ERA in three starts at AAA. The 22-year old Dominican right-hander was called up to make his Major League debut on July 19, but was roughed up against the Dodgers. He throws a plus curve, but his changeup has been a work in progress, leading some to believe he will end up a bullpen arm. He has pretty good command for a pitcher with his kind of velocity, walking 2.8 per-nine-innings in his minor league career.
Lopez did suffer from arm soreness early in his career, and he had a disappointing 4.09 ERA in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League last year, although his FIP was just 2.95. A mechanical adjustment has given him more angle to his pitches, making it difficult for opposing hitters.
Lopez is a bit of a risk, but he is the MLB-ready pitcher the Royals are looking for, while also having the high upside that they need. He could be a candidate for next year's rotation, and as a fallback, could end up being the next dominant Royals reliever if starting doesn't pan out.
RHP Erick Fedde
Fedde was a first-round pick in 2014 out of UNLV, days after he underwent Tommy John surgery. He didn't make his pro debut until June of 2015, posting a 2.58 ERA in eight starts in the short-season New York-Penn League, before making six starts in the South Atlantic League with a 4.34 ERA. This year, in the Carolina League, he has a 3.35 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 78 innings. Nationals Assistant GM Kris Kline compared to him to former All-Star pitcher Jack McDowell, saying:
"He doesn't throw anything straight. A lot of life, very heavy. Above-average slider, up to 88 and the makings and flashes of an above-average changeup. A lot of strikes. Very competitive guy. Looks a lot like, if you guys remember Jack McDowell, body-type, delivery, that type of thing with a little more fastball."
John Sickels of Minor League Ball notes his "heavy sinker" and sees his profile as a "number three starter." Baseball America notes "his command, often the last thing to come back after surgery, has improved, and he continues to develop his changeup to complement his above-average fastball-slider combination."
Fedde is a bit further away from the big leagues than the Royals would prefer, and with his injury past and lower ceiling, is probably not the headliner they are looking for. However, they need pitching depth, and at age 23 he could rise through the system quickly once he is further removed from his rehab. Baseball America ranks him as the #61 prospect in baseball, so the Royals may be very interested in including him in any package.
RHP Austin Voth
Voth is a pretty polished pitcher at this point, putting up a 3.45 ERA in 19 starts for AAA Syracuse with 7.4 strikeouts-per-nine innings. The 24-year old Seattle native has been a steady riser in the Nationals system with solid ERAs at every level, although his strikeout rates have declined at each level. John Sickels describes him as "slightly above-average fastball, slider, change-up, nothing exceptional but nothing weak either, throws everything for quality strikes, inning-eating workhorse." Baseball America notes he can "pound the zone."
Voth is a lower-ceiling pitcher, but could step in right away into the Royals rotation. He should not be the headliner for any Wade Davis trade, but he could be a nice complimentary piece.
RHP A.J. Cole
Cole has been on prospect lists for years, but he is still just 24 years old. He originally began his career with Nationals, then was traded to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal. Thirteen months later he was traded back to Washington in a deal for John Jaso. Cole pitched a few innings in the big leagues last year, and is likely to get a cup of coffee this year, despite a lackluster 4.44 ERA in AAA with 90 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings.
His strikeout numbers have declined quite a bit the last few seasons, but his fastball sits around 90 mph. John Sickels writes his "fastball/change-up combo is strong, curve and slider draw mixed grades" and suggests he is a mid-rotation starter. Cole added ten pounds of muscle in the off-season and could join the rotation immediately, but is not a high-ceiling prospect, and like Voth, would likely be a complimentary piece.
Others of note:
IF Wilmer Difo - The 24 year old is having a disappointing season in AA, but has some MLB experience and can fly, stealing 105 bases the last three seasons combined. Could be a utility player or even compete for a second base job.
IF/OF Chris Bostick - He also profiles as a utility-type with speed who can play second base or outfield. He shows a bit more power than Difo and is putting up better offensive numbers at AAA.
2B Max Schrock - The former South Carolina Gamecock is hitting .341/.388/.474 across Low A and High A ball this year. Has good pop for a middle infielder and hardly ever strikes out, with a whiff rate of 8%.
RHP Koda Glover - The 2015 draft pick out of Oklahoma State has shot through the system and was recently promoted to the big leagues. He profiles as a reliever with a fastball/slider combo, and could help the Royals replace Wade Davis.
LHP Jesus Luzardo - The Florida prep star was considered a first-round talent who fell to the third round of this year's draft due to Tommy John surgery in the spring. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he has been described as having three above-average pitches. Technically, Luzardo could not be traded until this winter, so he could be a "player to be named later" until then.
The Royals should have high demands for Wade Davis, but it hard to imagine Washington parting with either Giolito or Turner. If Washington offers a package of either Reynaldo Lopez or Erick Fedde, plus either A.J. Cole or Austin Voth, with two other interesting prospects, the Royals should consider that offer strongly. Having Wade Davis for next year's run would be great, but the Royals also need starting pitching, and we know that relievers can break down at any moment.