Luke Erickson: Looking over the minor league rosters

As you might have guessed, the release of last week’s rosters was almost precisely what fans of the “Baby Nats” were hoping for - not too conservative with the kids, not too aggressive with the top pitcher and top position player.

The folks in Hagerstown have to be happy with the talent that’s sent there. Because the Nationals tend to draft collegiate players over high schoolers, it’s rare to have one teenager on a full-season roster, never mind four (Carter Kieboom, Juan Soto, Tyler Watson and Anderson Franco).

They’re joined by four other highly regarded prospects (Sheldon Neuse, Blake Perkins, Nick Banks and Daniel Johnson) for nearly a third of your typical top 30 list by Baseball America and/or MLB.com. It should be noted, however, that youth and draft position play an outsized factor in those lists, as any Orioles fan who remembers Billy “But He’s Still Young” Rowell can tell you.

At Potomac, all eyes are on Victor Robles, the Nats’ No. 1 overall prospect, and maybe Joan Baez (it’s pronounced YO-AHN, wise guy). The high Single-A roster is often a curious mix of might-be’s, could-have-been’s, and hey-I-thought-that-guy-retired’s.

But there are two under-the-radar guys that I’m excited to see (the P-Nats home opener is tomorrow): Kelvin Gutierrez and Telmito Agustin. Gutierrez is a gut pick based on what I saw last August, but Agustin has been in Robles’ shadow for almost his entire career because the two have often been teammates and his numbers have been “merely” very good instead of terrific.

Erick Fedde did not disappoint in his first start for Harrisburg, which is the true top level for prospects (more on this in a bit). Andrew Stevenson and Drew Ward, who were both promoted from high Single-A to Double-A last summer, are both back. Two other names to know: Osvaldo Abreu and Raudy Read, who are both trying to even out their game, as the bat is behind the glove (Abreu) or vice-versa (Read).

Syracuse may be the highest level of minor league ball, but for decades now, the rosters at Triple-A have been primarily built to supply stopgaps and fungible replacements for the big league club. True top prospects don’t spend much time there (e.g. Trea Turner or Anthony Rendon). Nevertheless, I like Pedro Severino to perhaps succeed Jose Lobaton as the primary backup and root for Austin Voth to get his shot, even if I know it might be like Tommy Milone or Brad Peacock redux.

It’s still early, of course, but a lot of the fun is seeing which guys live up to the hype and which guys that you like but aren’t top-rated stars to get noticed outside of the “Natmosphere.”

Luke Erickson blogs about the Nationals’ minor league affiliates for NationalsProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter: @nats_prospects. His thoughts on the Nationals’ farm system will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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