Giolito showed “free and easy” delivery last season, will begin 2014 in Hagerstown

The Nationals plan on starting top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito at low Single-A Hagerstown next season with the idea of getting him a full season and building up innings.

Giolito pitched well at two levels last season, but was limited in the amount of innings he could pitch because he was returning from Tommy John surgery.

The Nationals would like to see how Giolito fares at Hagerstown from start to start over the course of a season, but they have no set schedule of when Giolito would move on from there. Promotions for any player are determined by the player’s progress at the level and then how ready he is for next challenge.

One scout had this take on Giolito from the winter meetings.

The 6-foot-6, 225 lbs., right-hander began last season with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. During his stint with the GCL Nats, they built up his innings to ease him back into the grind of starting every five days, per the organization’s philosophy - similar to what the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann went through.

Giolito went 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in eight starts for the GCL Nats, compiling 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 22 2/3 innings. He allowed only seven earned runs in those eight games.

Then-GCL Nats and current Hagerstown manager Patrick Anderson was impressed by what he saw on the mound from the 19-year-old(!) right-hander, especially the readings he was getting from the velocity gun.

“Giolito was there and he was coming off that surgery,” Anderson said. “He is special. He was at 93 to 100 mph. He hit 100 mph multiple times. And it was pretty free and easy coming out of his hand. Breaking ball is a plus pitch. He developed a changeup. He did a good job during the instructional league. He was really good. He got moved up.”

Anderson called the Giolito release “free and easy.” Last season, I continued to get reports about his quick and effortless release and how the ball was coming out so smoothly.

“It is different,” Anderson said, describing Giolito’s mechanics. “(Pitching coordinator) Spin Williams, (GCL Nats pitching coach) Michael Tejera and rehab pitching coordinator Mark Grater all noticed. His stuff is really ridiculous.”

Giolito can deliver that kind of power thanks, in part, to his frame and his overall strength. He was able to showcase that strength at the Nationals’ first-ever prospects strength and conditioning camp held in Florida at the end of last season. Giolito ended up ranked second overall out of the 20 prospects in overall team conditioning, team weight lifting and individual weight lifting.

And his stuff is not only impressive from a velocity standpoint, but also what Giolito can do with his breaking pitch.

“You are talking about having so much action off his breaking ball, 12-to-6 type of action,” Anderson said. “He has a loose arm. Ball is coming out there, whether it is a fastball or whatever, just the reaction he had (from hitters) off the swing.

“We had Double-A, Triple-A, big league guys on rehabs, he mowed through those guys. It was a lot different than I had seen. I have seen quality pitchers with the (Kansas City) Royals and Giolito’s stuff is as quality as was the arms that made it to the big leagues.”

Giolito continued on to short-season Single-A Auburn last season. In three starts, Giolito went 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA in 14 innings, striking out 14 batters and walking only four. He allowed just one run in those 14 innings for the Doubledays.

Next challenge for Giolito is to pitch under the lights in Hagerstown.

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