In the third installment, we'll take a look at the Washington Nationals. Again, if you haven't seen my explanation of what the heck I'm doing, please take a look first, and then, head over to the others I've done so far (click the "Top 10 Prospects" header for all).
While the Washington Nationals finished third in the NL East, they have done sufficiently enough to scare the hell out of me as a Braves fan. First, they did that without Stephen Strasburg. Second, they already have another young superstar in Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth (who should be better going forward, I would imagine), Jordan Zimmermann, and a quality back of the bullpen. Third, the rookies brought up, in Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, were both 3-win players in their first seasons. Lastly, their farm system continues to get better.
This really was an excellent seasons down on the farm. All of their top pitching prospects pitched well, including breakouts by Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, and AJ Cole. Position player-wise, there wasn’t as much success, but Bryce Harper looks like a monster star, Derek Norris still had enough positives to overlook a steep drop in batting average, and Steve Lombardozzi added more believers to the list. Essentially, no one except for Eury Perez really let the organization down, and that was before the draft.
And what a draft it looks to be. Consensus number one pick before the season, Anthony Rendon’s shoulder injury dropped him from the top slot down to sixth. Alex Meyer, after a successful junior season, lasted until their second first-round pick, and while he certainly has his issues, he could be better than anyone not named Strasburg. If that wasn’t enough, they grabbed Brian Goodwin, who also slipped out of the first round. Finally, they took a chance on Matt Purke, whose stock absolutely plummeted, and they could have found a major steal. And there’s actually a number of good picks afterward.
This is a really good farm system, and with an organization willing to spend at the major-league level, this could turn into a very dangerous franchise. While that hurts my Braves fandom feelings, it’s awfully exciting for the Nationals. Harper is the only guy I’ve put into the “Elite” category, but I could see all the guys in the “Outstanding” category moving up given the right circumstances.
Bryce Harper OF
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 19/AA
Harper is probably the top prospect in the game, though I haven’t put a lot of thought into it yet. Everyone knows about the hitting prowess and prodigious power, and while he struggled in about 40 games in AA, he was might impressive for a guy who just turned 19 a few weeks ago. Defensively, Harper has a rocket arm and seems destined to right field, but I keep hearing times to first of 3.8-3.9 and wonder if he shouldn’t be in center. If he could hold down center, he’s even more of an MVP threat. There’s really nothing not to like about Harper, and if you’re worried about the attitude, ask yourself A) what you’d be like if everyone called you the best thing since sliced bread for your entire life and B) whether it hinders his production. As for his immediate future, he should start next season in AA. They don't need to rush him, and it wouldn't hold him back at all.
Anthony Rendon 3B
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Though he was the best hitter in the past draft, Rendon’s stock fell due to an injured shoulder and weird stats his final season. The explanation of the stats is easy as his shoulder sapped some power and he walked so much because there was really no one else in the Rice lineup to fear. How the shoulder will ultimately affect Rendon long-term is a much more difficult question. If he’s fine, he’s an above-average all-around hitter with more on-base skills than power (though the power is fine), and he’s an above-average to plus defender at third. If he’s not fine, he’ll have to switch positions (he may have to anyway due to Ryan Zimmerman), and he may lose some power, though the on-base skills will keep him productive. I was tempted to put him into the “Elite” category, but I want to see what he looks like after an off-season off to recuperate.
AJ Cole SP
Facing a similar limited workload to Jameson Taillon, AJ Cole was just about as impressive as Taillon. Cole brings a mid-90s fastball, a hammer curve that could use more consistency, and a change-up that needs work but has improved. His command and control were very good, and with simple and repeatable mechanics, that should continue to progress well. Cole has the upside of a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, but I’d like to see a little more before he goes into a higher tier.
Derek Norris C
Projection: 2-4 WAR
One thing we do know about Norris is that he can take a walk. He drew 77 walks this past season, which was actually worse than the previous two seasons, but his batting average took a nosedive down to .210, which was the second-straight season his average dropped. There really isn’t much of a reason for it as he has a nice swing and good pitch recognition, but terrible BABiP luck may not be the only cause. My guess is that it won’t continue to be a problem, and he still has enough on-base and power skills to make him a quality backstop. Defensively, he has improved significantly and is just fine behind the plate. With the rousing rookie season from Wilson Ramos and Norris probably playing next year in AAA, there isn’t a clear path for Norris, but you can’t have enough catching. If you do, you can always make a trade.
Alex Meyer SP
Projection: 2/3, Relief Ace
Meyer may have the best stuff of any Nationals prospect left in the minors. He has an upper-90s fastball and a wicked slider, and his change is actually pretty good as well. The question in regard to Meyer comes in regard to repeating his delivery and the control issues that ensue, and even though he’s 6’7”, he doesn’t really throw “downhill”, making me wonder if home runs will be an issue. While there are legitimate concerns about Meyer repeating that delivery and improving his control, he did make significant strides this season and has plenty of time to improve in pro ball. We’ll have to wait and see how he transitions to pro ball, but he could be an ace if he figures things out
Brad Peacock SP
Projection: 3/4, Late-Inning Reliever
Peacock was the breakout player of the year in the Nationals system, and he created quite the buzz around the league. During his time in the minors, his velocity has gone from 89-91 to 91-93, and his curve has become an above-average to plus pitch. His change remains well behind the others, but it has improved. His mechanics are fine, but similar to Meyer, he doesn’t pitch “downhill” very well (essentially, the ball has a downward angle out of the pitcher’s hand, which makes it more difficult for the hitter to elevate). Peacock has really improved over the last couple seasons, but there are still concerns that he might need to move to the bullpen. He may end up more famous if he becomes a closer or set-up man, but I see no reason he can’t start, where he’d be more valuable.
Steve Lombardozzi 2B
Projection: 2-3 WAR
How you feel about Lombardozzi comes down to how you feel about his bat. As a second baseman, Lombardozzi is above-average, and the Nationals’ best future defensive alignment might be him at second with Danny Espinosa moving to short. At the plate, Lombardozzi has a solid hit tool that has helped him hit about .300 every year in the minors, but his secondary skills are fringe-average. He’ll be 23 next season and could easily be in the Nationals’ starting lineup (he had a rough first go-round late this season), and my proposed alignment would probably be an upgrade over Espinosa and Ian Desmond.
Brian Goodwin CF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
An academic issue forced Goodwin’s transfer from UNC to Miami Dade JC, which allowed him to enter the draft a year earlier than he would have otherwise. Goodwin is a potential five-tool player with plus speed, good defense in center, a pretty good hit tool, and the potential to have average or better power. The drawback to Goodwin is that he’s still raw, trying to get better reads in the outfield and working to get a better approach (he also seems to transfer forward too early in his swing). The tools are there for Goodwin to really shoot up the list, but there’s something about him that makes me doubt him just a bit.
Sammy Solis SP
Solis is your prototypical polished lefty. His fastball is maybe average at 88-92, but he has a plus change and a good curve. Along with the stuff, he has above-average control, and he knows how to work hitters. His mechanics are a little unorthodox with a bunch of moving parts and a low three-quarters delivery, but he seems to repeat it well enough to have above-average control. The lone drawback to him is that he’s fits the description of a guy who dines on A-ball hitters but has more problems against more advanced hitting. Reports indicated that he was hitting 91-92 more often later this season, which would be a plus, but if the velocity regresses, he’s more of a back-end guy.
Robbie Ray SP
Ray performs a lot like Solis, but he has significantly worse control, which might be helped if he, you know, finished his delivery. Otherwise, Ray looks like a solid prospect with a 89-92 mph fastball, above-average change, and an improving curve, but he’s not a standout type of prospect. If he can improve his control and command, he might fit in the middle of a rotation, but if I have some doubts about Solis, I have to have a few more about Ray.
Big Question - Matt Purke
Some of you may have noticed I left out Mr. Purke, but I honestly could have made arguments for putting him on and leaving him off the list. Coming into this season, Purke was probably a top-5 pick, but after some arm issues and a noticeable drop in stuff, his stock took a nosedive. The Nationals, in a good move in my opinion, took a gamble and spent $2.75 million to reel him in. Before this season, he sat 91-95 and could hit 96-97, and he had a plus slider and improving change. During this season, his fastball dropped to 88-92 with a maybe average slider. Reports out of Arizona this past month were inconsistent. In one start, he looked pretty good, but in the other, he looked like the guy whose stock plummeted. We’ll wait until he has an off-season to hit the restart button, but restarting doesn’t mean he’ll go back to what he was.
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