Washington Nationals prospect Wilmer Difo may not be known to the majority of baseball pundits, but he’s quickly making it clear that he deserves to be recognized. Despite being the South Atlantic League MVP in 2014, Difo hasn’t received much attention going into the minor league season.
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Ranked as the eighth best prospect in the Nationals’ minor league system according to Baseball America, Difo had 176 hits with 90 RBIs and 91 runs scored last season for Class-A Hagerstown last season. Difo had a rough start after his transition into professional baseball. He batted only .217 with a .296 on-base percentage with only five home runs across 61 games in 2013. He nearly tripled that home run total last season.
His success has carried over into this season with Difo batting .316 with nine RBIs through ten games. His performance on Saturday night turned heads as he went 5 for 6 with a grand slam for the Class-A Potomac Nationals.
Potomac manager Tripp Keister spoke about Difo’s performance to milb.com saying:
"“I don’t think he will surprise anyone, he won’t sneak up on anyone. He had a good big league camp and played well overall. People that know him know that he can run and hit and play defense and do a lot of things.”"
After a 5 hit performance that left him a triple short of the cycle, Difo may not be sneaking up on anyone as the season goes on.
His combination of skills gives Difo an excellent chance of one day reaching the majors. His speed, particularly allows him to be a terror on the base paths. With 49 steals in 58 attempts, his straight-line speed is undeniable.
Even more impressive, however, is his ability to produce extra base hits. With 31 doubles and 7 seven triples last season, Difo does an impressive job of determining where the ball is going to land off the bat. That vision has also translated to his ability to recognize pitches at the plate. Striking out only 10.7 percent of the time last season, Difo has developed more patience at the plate as his career has progressed. Yet even with his advancing patience he’s not afraid to swing at his pitch saying to the Washington Post, “I’m ready first pitch. I know I’m ready for fastball.”
Difo’s time in Spring Training may have further boosted his confidence. Although it was only Spring Training, Difo doubled and tripled off of Tigers’ ace David Price, helping guide the Nationals to a win.
Nationals’ Manager Matt Williams was impressed with the young Difo during his Spring appearances saying to the Washington Times “I just think that he’s well on his way to being a big-leaguer. He plays both middle infield positions. Got speed. Runs the bases well. Pretty good package for him. I just think it’s a matter of him getting at-bats.”
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The 6-foot, 175 pound switch-hitter has excellent range either at second base or shortstop with above average arm strength. With the eventual acquisition of shortstop Trea Turner as a part of December’s Wil Myers–Steven Souza trade, Difo’s future could be set at second base. The good news for Washington is he’s prepared for a future at any position as long as he gets the chance to play, saying to SBNation, “I actually feel really comfortable playing both positions,” Difo told reporters in the nation’s capital.
That selflessness and professionalism is what earned Difo the Bob Boone Award this past season. Given to the minor leaguer who best demonstrates the professionalism, leadership…determination, and work ethic required to play the game, Difo represented the Nationals as well as they could have hoped when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic. His teammate and top Nationals’ prospect Lucas Giolito concurred with the decision telling SBNation “He gives it his all every single time. I think he’s completely deserving of the Bob Boone Award. He completely embodies everything that represents. I’m really proud of him.”
After his breakout 2014 season, Difo will get the chance to prove that his production wasn’t a fluke. After his first ten games in the High-A, it looks like he’s well on the way towards proving that. If he continues to adjust his approach at the plate as he progresses it shouldn’t be surprising to see him finish his season at Triple-A with the potential to reach the majors in late 2016.