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Giolito healthy, bulked up for first full season

Feb 25, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

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VIERA, Fla. — Say hello to Lucas Giolito, shake his hand and listen to him speak confidently about his pitching career, and it’s easy to forget you’re talking to a 19-year-old.

Here stands a 6-foot-6, 255-pound right-hander who throws a 100 mph fastball, along with an impressive offspeed arsenal, and grew up in a family full of Hollywood actors and producers who surely taught him how to carry himself with an air of maturity you’ll rarely find in a teenager.

Now for the scary part: Having fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2012, Giolito, the Nationals’ top-ranked prospect, is about to be unleashed on the rest of an unsuspecting baseball world.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said Tuesday morning outside the Nationals minor-league complex near Space Coast Stadium. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to get going. It’s just great that I was able to persevere through everything. I never had a setback.”

The Nationals knew what they were getting when they drafted Giolito 16th overall in the nation two summers ago. His repertoire was as impressive as any pitcher — high school or college — in the country, but other clubs were scared off by an elbow injury and the fact he had committed to play at UCLA that fall.

Unfazed by those potential warning signs, the Nationals lured Giolito away from college with a $2.925 million signing bonus. And they were perfectly willing to wait him out after he had Tommy John surgery a few months later after his elbow acted up again during his first professional appearance.

The wait was worth it. Giolito was back pitching 10 months later and then carved up the rookie Gulf Coast League and short-season Class A New York-Penn League late last summer, posting a combined 1.96 ERA while striking out 39 batters over 36 2/3 innings.

And his arsenal is as strong as ever, if not stronger than it was pre-surgery.

“I think so,” he said. “The Tommy John process allowed me to strengthen a lot of muscles in my arm and become a stronger pitcher and a stronger player mentally, too. So I feel like I came back stronger than before, definitely.”

It didn’t hurt that Giolito bulked up over the winter as well. He said he weighed 240 pounds last season and checked in this spring at 255 pounds. Not bad for a 19-year-old who in theory still is growing into his body.

Members of the Nationals’ staff are still learning what exactly they have in Giolito. Manager Matt Williams plans to watch him throw a bullpen session Wednesday for the first time.

“I’ve got great reports, certainly, but I’ve never personally seen him throw,” Williams said. “So I look forward to that tomorrow.”

Like all pitchers who endure the long and frustrating rehab from Tommy John surgery, Giolito experienced a few nerve-wracking moments along the way. But once he made it through his first post-operation throwing session, he realized all would be well again.

“There’s a little feeling in the back of your head, like: ‘This isn’t going to feel that good,'” he said. “But aside from a few scar tissue releases here and there — which every Tommy John rehab guy goes through — it was a pretty smooth process.”

Giolito doesn’t know yet where he’ll spend this season. Low-Class A Hagerstown seems a likely starting point, but the Nationals will make that decision sometime in the next few weeks. They’ll also determine how many innings Giolito will be allowed to pitch. A late-summer shutdown, not unlike the ones Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann were forced into following their elbow surgeries, almost certainly looms for Giolito.

“Whatever they want me to do,” he said, “it’s obviously for the best.”

Assuming sustained health, there’s every reason to believe Giolito can advance through the Nationals’ farm system at a relatively quick pace. The scouting world certainly expects big things from him: Baseball America rates him the 21st-best prospect in the game, the 2nd-best teenager currently in the minors.

Giolito knows about all the projections. He’s lived under the spotlight most of his young life.

For now, this 6-foot-6, 255-pound ace-in-waiting is concerned simply about pitching a full professional season for the first time. Rest assured, whatever that leads to, he’ll be well-prepared to handle.

“I just want to become a better pitcher and throw more innings and have more experience,” he said. “As far as where I want to be, that’s not something that’s in my control, really. I can just be the best pitcher I can be and hope for the best.”

  1. Doc - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    AA by the middle of the summer.

    He could probably go there after ST, but why rush the process.

    • pburm9qp - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:49 PM

      Jim Bowden is that you?

      I got a dollar saying he doesn’t hit AA this year. Not because he doesn’t have the stuff, but because this is a pillow year for the kid. Let him learn, grow and (hopefully) dominate in A- and A+ in 2014 and shut him down early when he hit is innings limit.

      I figure Rizzo will get aggressive with his promotions in 2015, but without an immediate need and considering he is a year removed from surgery, I bet he is ultra conservative in 2014.

      • jd - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:33 PM

        I agree,

        Furthermore, the only thing we know about Giolito is that he has great tools. To say that he will dominate at that level or the next is still a leap of faith. It’s not that easy.

        In the previous year there were a bunch of pitchers selected early in the 1st round and most of them were at least college juniors: (Cole, Hultzen, Bauer) in addition there were a couple of high school phenoms (Bundy, Bradley). The year before Taillon was selected right after Harper.

        Of all of these guys only Cole has had even moderate success at the MLB level so far.

        Before you pencil Giolito into the Nats rotation let’s let the kid progress through the minors and see where he lands.

        I will be over joyed if he lands at the top of the rotation in say 2016 but to be sure that this will in fact happen is wishful thinking.

      • Doc - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:40 PM

        pburm9qp, I’ll send you my address, when I win!! LOL

        I hope ‘pburm9qp’ isn’t your address; USPS probably wouldn’t deliver there!

      • sjm308 - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:48 PM

        late to this party but I am also in the camp of not rushing the young man. He will be on a strict innings count and there is no sense in moving him around to different coaches. Lets let him settle in this year and then we can push him just a little more in 2015.

        By the way, Mark – New Picture of Lucas please!!

  2. tcostant - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    I’m looking foward to Giolito pitching for the P-Nats by the mid-summer. Skies the limit…

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:59 PM

    II think AA thi year is unrealistic. I may wish for it but I don’t see because of the likely innings limit. What will that be? Jordan pitched a little more than 50 at age 23 the year after TJ. Maybe that was low because of the timing of his return but I can’t imagine the Nats allowing Giolito to go more than 100. At five innings per outing that allows 10 starts (two mos.) at Hagerstown and two more mos. at Potomac. I just doubt there’s room for any time at Harrisburg. With good fortune he has Jordan’s 2013 year w/ Harrisburg (120-130 innings?) in 2015.

  4. veejh - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:01 PM

    I see the Nats rotation stacked for the foreseeable future.

  5. alexva6 - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    in four straight drafts the Nats get Strasburg, Harper, Rendon, and Giolito.

    all talents worthy of a #1/#1 ranking. just wow

    • natinalsgo - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:30 PM

      Rendon and Giolito were thievery thanks to other teams health concerns.

      In the near future Rendon will compete for batting champ. His ability to be patient and get his pitch and center it up for line drives has been fun to watch and this year he should show marked improvement.

      • adcwonk - Feb 26, 2014 at 9:31 AM

        Rendon and Giolito were thievery thanks to other teams health concerns.

        Which is another way of saying: Rizzo took calculated risks (that other teams wouldn’t) and was looking long term on those drafts. (Also, the way he was willing to go way over slot with the bonuses to get them).

        Which is my way of saying that Rizzo has been, overall, an awesome GM for the Nats.

    • sjm308 - Feb 25, 2014 at 11:50 PM

      Just another reason I don’t see us having a definitive “Window”

      Too much talent all the way through the system

  6. David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/tht-live/expanded-2013-infield-shift-data/

    Nationals employed the fewest infield shifts in baseball last year. Only 41 all year. The top teams all shifted over 400 times. 10X as much as us.

    That should change this year.

    • Doc - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:44 PM

      Now that sir, is a revealing stat!!!

      Guess Davey only believes in offensive sabermetrics!

      I bet our pitchers are going to see a few more balls caught.

      Thanks for the link, DP!

    • adcwonk - Feb 26, 2014 at 9:37 AM

      Wow! I never seen data like that. Awesome. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

      So here’s the obvious question: surely, every team must be aware of that data.

      Given that, how can teams possibly not use the shift on guys like: McCann (who hit over .100 lower BABIP with shift) or Ryan Howard (who hit .200 lower!)

      It wasn’t just the Nats — but other teams almost never used the shift either.

      What’s up with that?!

  7. veejh - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:09 PM

    Are we gonna see baby Gio pitch this ST?

    • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:11 PM

      No, he’s not in major league camp. He’s over in minor league camp.

  8. Section 222 - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    This seems like a good place to post this lengthy video of someone’s picks for the best curveball, slider, changeup, and fastball in the NL:

    Curve: Wainwright, Kershaw, Fernandez
    Slider: Kimbrell, Romo, Harvey
    Changeup: Hamels, Ryu, Clippard
    Fastball: Chapman, Harvey, Kimbrell

    Maybe Giolito will have stuff like this.

    • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:22 PM

      Interesting, since Brooks Baseball which tracks pitches has Strasburg’s curveball as the #1 overall curveball, ahead of Kershaw.

      • jd - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:36 PM

        Stras has a killer curve. I think that his command is not yet were Kershaw’s or Wainwright’s is.

      • Section 222 - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:47 PM

        I was expecting to see Stras on there too. He’s got a pretty good changeup as well.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:17 PM

      same observation as everyone else. stras is missing.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:26 PM

      wow kershaw really made us look like minor leaguers.

      • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:53 PM

        Except Werth! Werth homered off him twice in the same game.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:31 PM

        that’s not the same game. this is happening in LA.

      • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:42 PM

        oh whoops. If that’s the game, we had the bases loaded in the first inning and couldn’t score.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 26, 2014 at 1:45 AM

        11 Ks can do that to you. besides it is kershaw. i am sure he has done better against better lineups.

    • wahoo11 - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:28 AM

      FYI, I believe this is from Baseball America

      http://www.baseballamerica.com/majors/mlb-2013-best-tools/

  9. jd - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:52 PM

    222,

    He’s got everything. He just needs to put it all together. Stras needs to learn to roll with the punches, everyone gets rocked sometimes. The great ones never give it a second thought. There is absolutely no reason that Stras shouldn’t be in the Cy Young conversation every year, he’s that good.

    • veejh - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:24 PM

      Stras lacks mental fortitude at this point. If he learns to control the doubts and pouts, he will become legendary.

  10. Faraz Shaikh - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    man, I am a bit tired of our prospects taking their sweet time in getting to majors. I mean, it just seems to me that other teams’ top prospects get up here more quickly than ours.

    • Hiram Hover - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:44 PM

      That’s a joke, right? Stras, Harper, Rendon didn’t exactly languish in the minors.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:29 PM

        none of them are top WAR producers from their class. I understand injuries had a role to play but still.

        my comment may have been a bit short-sighted considering development of players from later rounds. but there are counter examples such as Alex Wood, Trevor Rosenthal, etc.

    • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:54 PM

      Huh? Our prospects get here VERY quickly.

    • veejh - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:56 PM

      I guess Hiram and DPs sarcasm detectors dont work.

      • David Proctor - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:13 PM

        It’s hard via text

      • Faraz Shaikh - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:22 PM

        I was not being sarcastic actually.

      • Hiram Hover - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:22 PM

        On the internet, no one can see you smirk….

  11. unkyd59 - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    Only 19…. Wouldn’t the current prevailing wisdom have him increasing his innings through the next couple years, even if he hadn’t had TJ? Hard to imagine him pitching a full MLB season before ’16, right?

    Plenty of time… Maybe he takes JZ’s slot, after we ink Stras to an extension… Just don’t think we can get both SS and JZ, long term, and still have a chance of keeping Desi, who we need, IMO, and Bryce, (duh)…… Be nice to hVe Wilson around for awhile, too….. Hey..a feller can dream….

    • knoxvillenat - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:31 PM

      If I understand the “Rizzo Philosophy” correctly young Mr. Giolito will dominate so to speak at different levels in the minors before moving up to the next level. If you believe as I do, that Young Gio will be on an innings limit this season, than like others I suspect he will not rise above the Potomac level in 2014 after sufficient time in Hagerstown. I would look for him to open 2015 in Harrisburg before possibly moving on to the Chiefs if not directly to the majors.

  12. nats128 - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    Don’t rush the kid. With the signing of Fister and his 2 years of team control, the Nats could use him in 2016. That gives him 2 seasons to progress and if hes not ready by then so be it as hopefully AJ Cole can step up.

  13. Candide - Feb 25, 2014 at 7:47 PM

    Just got an email – the 2014 edition of MLB At Bat is out. Includes spring training games.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/mobile/atbat/

    • nats128 - Feb 25, 2014 at 8:44 PM

      Candide, I just tried to purchase it for my Android and it came back declined. I went to my credit card statement and it charged $1. Not good.

      • natsjackinfl - Feb 26, 2014 at 5:30 AM

        I paid for my MLB.tv package last week and MLB AT Bat 14 was included and already loaded on my Galaxy S4. Very good.

      • NatsLady - Feb 26, 2014 at 6:14 AM

        I got it on my iPhone and saw that Robbie Ray struck out 5 in 2 innings of work, and Lombo went 2 for 2 with a double. OK, it was against college kids…. But, hey Doug Fister, ball is in your court. ;)

      • natsjackinfl - Feb 26, 2014 at 7:26 AM

        Not just college kids but Division II college kids.

      • nats128 - Feb 27, 2014 at 8:30 PM

        Got it to work! Had to call Google Wallet!

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