The possibility of seeing an elite-potential baseball player in his professional infancy doesn’t come along in Class A baseball very often.
For those at Lake Olmstead Stadium this past Tuesday, there was the glimpse of a budding major league future on the mound for the Hagerstown Suns.
Right-hander Lucas Giolito towered over the mound, painted the corners with 96 mph fastballs and spun unhittable curves. Augusta GreenJackets batters were unable to pull the trigger, swinging only once in the first inning and striking out looking twice.
Giolito was drafted 16th overall by the Washington Nationals in 2012 out of a California high school, signing for $2.9 million. He was seen as a possible No. 1 overall selection throughout his high school career, but the threat, and eventual need, for Tommy John surgery pushed his stock down.
The Nationals took that chance, and Giolito had elbow surgery not long after the draft. He returned in 2013 and swept through two short-season leagues with ease, totaling 39 strikeouts in 36⅔ innings.
Giolito is making his full-season debut for Hagerstown this season, and he’s displaying that same dominance, recording a 2.65 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 17 innings.
“I’m just trying to throw a lot of innings and have fun and win games, which is what we’re doing in Hagerstown,” Giolito said.
“It’s definitely been a fun experience so far. I’ve got two good starts under my belt and two not so good ones, so it’s been balanced.”
Giolito said he wasn’t happy with his start against Augusta. He allowed two earned runs and three runs total on three hits in four innings, walking three and striking out five. It was a change from his previous two starts, when he allowed a combined three hits and struck out 12 in 10 scoreless innings.
Outings like Tuesday’s are reminders that Giolito is only 19 years old with 55 innings of professional experience. But he flashes stuff early in games that should be reserved for the major league’s elite.
Industry sources largely agree Giolito shows No. 1 starter potential, which is a label handed out only a couple times per year throughout the minor leagues.
Giolito stands 6-foot-6 and, after adding muscle over the off-season, he said he currently weighs 255 pounds. He throws a fastball that touches in the high-90s and can sit mid-90s throughout a start. It jumps on hitters because of his size and length.
His curveball is a second elite offering when spun well. It’s a hard, downward pitch with 12-to-6 movement that froze more than a few GreenJackets batters. His changeup also shows potential as a third quality pitch.
Giolito said he gained more feel for the changeup after surgery to the point where he has confidence in it as a third weapon in his arsenal.
“After surgery, I really consider it one of my better weapons, especially since guys like to cheat fastball all the time,” he said. “My feel for the pitch got substantially better.”
Conversations with Giolito on pitching are equally impressive. He said he agrees with the Nationals’ plan to limit innings during development, and he’s happy being in an organization that has proven more than capable of handling pitchers.
“They’ve seen it all and have the perfect plan,” he said.
Giolito said he doesn’t look back at what might have happened had he not been forced to undergo elbow surgery during draft season, nor is he looking ahead to how his future could play out. He’s playing in the present and working daily to build stamina and increase his fastball command.
“There’s always what-ifs, but it’s not something I dwell on,” he said. “I’m very happy being in the situation now. I really like the organization, and I’m having a blast playing pro baseball. There’s nothing better I could ask for. It’s been great.”