After promoting so many former top prospects–Strasburg, Storen, Espinosa–to the big club, and trading away plenty of others over the past few years, the Nationals system has thinned considerably. Still, their prospect crop continues to rank as one of the best in baseball due in part to smart spending and scouting, as well as years of losing and high draft picks.
The Nats have continued to spend big money on the draft, even under new hard-slotting rules. After drafting blue-chip talents Strasburg and Harper in consecutive years, and then Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin in 2011, they managed to get their hands on Lucas Giolito last June, yet another premium prospect. They’ve also made some smart late-round and international signs lately, with sleepers like Sandy Leon, Michael Taylor and Eury Perez rounding out a system with a surplus of tools.
Overall, the Nats system is still one of the best and deepest in the MLB. Giving them a foundation for the long term, their system has first-tier talent at both the top and bottom levels, and their depth is spread between multiple positions. Things are looking particularly exciting in the near term though, as they’re preparing to graduate Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin–two of the game’s best young hitters–to the MLB.
Top 30 Prospects
A former Conference USA Player of the Year and Dick Hauser Trophy Award recipient, Rendon was almost universally regarded as the best hitter in college baseball during his three-year career at Rice University. Ankle injuries sunk his stock heading in to draft day however, and he fell in to the Nationals’ lap at the number-four over slot. Understanding the caliber of player Rendon was, the Nats didn’t hesitate in selecting him, and then signed him to big money later that summer.
Rendon’s career with the Rice Owls was legendary. As a freshman in 2009 he led Conference USA with a .388 batting average, .702 slugging percentage and he set the Owls single-season homerun mark with 20 bombs. Though he broke his ankle playing against LSU in the NCAA tournament, he managed to recover in time for the 2010 season. He managed to play even better as a sophomore, putting together a monster campaign that included a .394 batting average, .530 on-base percentage and an .801 slugginer percentage. During the following offseason though, he broke his ankle once more. Injuries, combined with the NCAA’s new bat rules led to his numbers declining as a junior–though he still hit a very impressive .327/.520/.523.
Rendon missed a large chunk of his pro debut season to another fractured ankle. When he did play though, he flashed the blue chip ability that the Nationals fell in love with when they decided to draft him. He hit a flashy .333/.438/.630 in the Carolina League, and though he slumped following a promotion to double-A Harrisburg, he finished the season with a commendable .851 OPS combined across four levels. He then tore the cover off the ball this fall in the AFL, posting a .338 batting average, a .436 on-base percentage and 11 extra-base hits in 22 games.
Rendon boasts rare ability, particularly for a third baseman. He’s a legitimate five-tool player with a phenomenal bat, big-time power, a strong arm, acrobatic fielding ability and enough speed to swipe at least a few bags and stretch extra-base hits. His best attribute however, is hit pure hitting ability. Rendon’s swing is almost perfect, as he efficiently uses his core and lower body to generate whirlwhind bat speed. His former coach at Rice once described him as having “Hank Aaron wrists,” and spent an interview raving about his incredible hitting ability.
Rendon is a remarkably polished prospect. Beyond his mechanically-sound swing, Rendon exercises a big-league caliber batting eye at the plate. He never swings at pitches he can’t drive, and he forces opposing pitchers to throw strikes. Facing advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League, he managed to walk more times (15) than he struck out (14) en route to a ridiculous .436 on-base percentage.
Similarly polished in the field too, Rendon has premium range to both his glove and arm-side. He’s one of the best third basemen in the minors at charging weak groundballs and making accurate throws while on the run and off-balance. He’s such a fluid fielder that he could certainly hold his own as a middle infielder if the Nationals choose to move him in deference to Ryan Zimmerman. Regardless of his defensive position though, his bat is premium.
A spectacular athlete, Goodwin has a near ideal skillset for a centerfielder and top-of-the-order hitter. He’s blessed with star-level tools to go with veteran-grade skills and great intangibles. Incredibly balanced, he has top-shelf speed, the ability to hit for both power and average, and a great batting eye. The sum total is phenomenal, and fun to watch on the diamond. The Nats were taken with his impact-level ability, and after selecting him in the supplemental round of the 2011 Draft, they inked him to a way over-slot $3 million bonus.
The former NCBCA Player of the Year and Aflac All-American Game MVP shined in his professional debut last Spring. He hit .324/.438/.542 through 58 games in the South Atlantic League before earning a promotion to double-A Harrisburg. Though his hot hitting slowed down following a few minor injuries, he still finished the year with a .280 batting average, 14 home runs and a superb .384 on-base percentage.
Goodwin boasts the rare mix of athleticism and polish. At the plate, he takes a sweet, fluid left-handed swing and has plus raw power to his pull side. He makes hard contact effortlessly and consistently, and he enjoys extraordinary plate coverage. He’s also a tremendously smart and disciplined hitter, working the count in his favor and exercising a selective, veteran approach.
In the outfield, Goodwin has the speed, fluid hips and body control to be a very solid all-around center fielder. With a graceful, long-legged stride, he glides in to both gaps and can track flyballs over each shoulder seamlessly, even while running at top speed. If the Nationals decide to move him to one of the corners, his skills could make him a premium defensive player. Like Rendon however, his bat will be top-shelf no matter what position he plays in the MLB.
Even with the MLB’s new hard-slotting system restricting their bonus spending, the Nationals still managed to pick the best player in last year’s draft all the way at the 16th slot. If it wasn’t for a sprained elbow ligament–that would eventually require reconstructive surgery–Giolito could’ve been the draft’s top overall pick. A testament to his incredible talent though, the Nationals still selected him and completely restructured the remainder of their draft spending, all the while understanding that he would need elbow surgery.
A long and strong right-hander, Giolito tore apart opposing hitters while pitching for Harvard-Westlake high school in California. As a junior, he posted a 9-1 record and a miniscule 1.00 ERA, and his fastball hit 98 MPH regularly. He committed to play for UCLA before his senior Spring, however he never followed-through with that decision.
Giolito missed nearly all of his senior season after a catching pain in his elbow sent him to the bench. The Nationals agreed to allow him to try to rehab the injury after signing him. But after Lucas left his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League with more elbow pain and swelling, they decided to send him to Dr. Lewis Yocum for T.J. surgery.
Giolito has tremendous tools. Though he stands at 6’6″, with long levers and huge hands, he has a clean, fluid and compact delivery. He almost effortlessly fires electric fastballs that regularly sit in the mid 90′s and occasionally touch 98-99 MPH. His easy, smooth mechanics make his four-seamer jump out of his hand, and opposing batters have fits trying to square-it-up. He also throws a nasty, late-breaking curveball in the mid 80′s–a true swing-and-miss pitch already–and his changeup flashes solid potential as a third pitch.
Giolito is a complete pitching prospect, blessed with premium velocity, clean mechanics, a workhorse build and advanced command for his age. Unlike most power pitchers, he shouldn’t have too much trouble throwing strikes and maintaing his pitch counts as he climbs the ladder. Once he gets healthy, he’ll probably move through the Nationals system relatively quickly, and he could take a spot near the top of the big club’s dominant young rotation after only two or three years in the minors.
After selecting Bryce Harper with the top overall pick of the ’10 Draft, the Nationals took Cole a few rounds later at 116th overall , and then proceeded to ink him to an over-slot $2 million bonus. Widely considered to be one of the draft’s best high school arms, Cole fell only because of his strong commitment to the University of Miami and hefty asking price.
After getting his feet wet in pro ball at the end of the summer, Cole put together a promising season in the South Atlantic League in 2011. He got past a rocky start to the season to one-hit the Delmarva Shorebirds on April 13th. From there he caught fire, and finished the season with a 2.81 ERA, 10.5 K.9 and a 4.25 K/BB through his last 64 innings pitched.
Cole had established himself as one of the club’s top prospects. But because of the Nats’ deep arsenal of young arms, they decided he was expendable and made him the headlining prospect of the trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington. In the Athletics’ organization last year, he once again pitched well. He posted a 2.07 ERA and tallied 102 strikeouts in 19 starts with the Burlington Bees before earning a promotion to the California League. He struggled as the youngest pitcher on the Stockton Ports roster, and gave up 7 homeruns through 38 innings pitched in the league’s dry, fast air. His overall line–a 3.70 ERA and 133 K’s through 133 innigs pitched–is still promising, especially considering his age and experience level.
Cole returned to the Nationals this winter via the Mike Morse trade. He’s once again one of their top pitching prospects. A great athlete with a compact build and extraordinary body control, Cole commands his fastball and offspeed pitches with precision. He spots his low 90′s four-seamer to both sides of the plate, and does a nice job of keeping on a downward plane.
Cole throws to the edges of all four strikezone quadrants, and relies on placement as much as movement. He gets decent sink on his two-seamer, and his cutter is becoming a solid alternative against left-handers. He can dial his heater up to 94-95 MPH when he’s loose, and as he adds more muscle to his frame, he could begin sit closer to the mid 90′s. His offspeed stuff is already solid, and he’s comfortable using his changeup and power curveball in any count.
Just 21 years old, Cole still has plenty of growing and developing to do. For his age, his fastball command and velocity are extaordinarily advanced, and his ability to throw his offspeed stuff for quality strikes is impressive as well. He’ll have to prove he can master more advanced hitters before he can think of a big league job, but if he can add more muscle and develop a little bit more power in his game, he could be a top-shelf number-two or three starter.
Garcia has an incredible comeback story. A former top prospect in the Yankees system, he was cast off following multiple Tommy John surgeries and disappointing results. But since the Nationals got a hold of him in 2011, he’s developed in to one of the top arms in the minors.
After acquiring him, Washington moved Garcia to the bullpen and had their coaches streamline his mechanics. The changes have allowed Garcia to stay healthier, and also for his stuff to play-up considerably. Garcia’s fastball has jumped in to the mid 90′s, and his heavy two-seamer has vicious, late movement. Though his breaking stuff has taken a backseat because of his history of arm trouble, he’s developed one of the best change-ups in the system. The nasty two-pitch mix has given opposing hitters fits, and he topped Nats minor league arms with an 11.4 K/9 and an extraordinary 4.8 ground ball/fly ball ratio in 2012.
After posting a 0.56 ERA in 32.1 innings in triple-A last season, Garcia continued his dominance during his late-season big league debut. Through 12.2 innings pitched, he struck out 15 batters and allowed just two earned runs. His performance impressed Nats manager Davey Johnson so much that he handed Garcia a spot on the playoff roster.
Garcia’s hard, heavy fastball is one of the best pitches in the entire National’s organization, and his change rates as an easy plus on the scouting scale. He’s scrapped his slider and splitter in favor of a tight, downer curveball that has shown solid potential recently. Beyond his stuff though, Garcia’s delivery has developed in to a strong point and his control and overall consistency have improved by leaps and bounds. He takes a linear stride towards home plate, and he pitches well out of the stretch, where his lower body helps him generate plenty of power. His arm action still has some red flags–small inverted “V” and some arm drag–but he generates velocity so effortlessly that he should be able to stay (relatively) healthy in relief.
Drafted out of Texas Tech back in 2009, Karns has taken a long road to top prospectdom. After failing to throw a single regular season pitch in ’09, he went under the knife for a torn labrum the following Spring. He proceeded to miss nearly a year and a half while rehabbing. Karns managed to overcome the adversity though, and he established himself as a top prospect in 2012 by dominating the South Atlantic and Carolina League.
When Karns returned form shoulder surgery, the Nationals sent him to the Gulf Coast League to slowly ease him in to the pros. He immediately showed the organization he was ready for more though, allowing just two hits and tossing 18.2 shutout innings before a mid-summer promotion to the New York Penn League. He performed exceedingly well there too, posting a 3.44 ERA through eight starts. Even with the impressive showing however, few could’ve believed he would develop in to a blue chip arm.
Karns opened last Spring pitching for the Hagerstown Suns in the South Atlantic League. He stepped on to the mound a new pitcher, with much smoother, simpler mechanics. His fastball jumped from the 89-92 MPH range in to the mid 90′s, and his two-seamer had developed in to a bowling-ball-heavy sinker. Though the Nats decided to ease him in to the rotation to protect his arm, he took off almost immediately and found himself pitching in the Carolina League by mid-summer. All together, he pitched to the tune of a 2.17 ERA and a whopping 148 K’s in 116 innings. Opposing batters hit just .171 against him, the lowest mark in the minors.
Karns’ fastball is one of the best in an organization that boasts some of the game’s premier power pitchers. His four-seamer sits comfortably in the 91-93 MPH range and touches 95 MPH when he’s warm. His hard, heavy two-seamer is even better, clocking in just a few ticks slower and featuring bat-breaking movement. He throws both pitches with above-average command, and enjoys attacking hitters with heat on the inside. His hard spike curve gives him an effective chase pitch, and he’s capable of racking up strikeouts when he’s on his game. He also throws a rock-solid straight change that’s developing in to a nice mix-in.
Despite a resume short on pro experience, Karns looks like the real deal. At 25, he’s a little on the old side for a guy that hasn’t pitched above single-A, but his stuff and control should continue to challenge opposing hitters at higher levels. The biggest question is whether his past shoulder troubles will resurface in the future. On the bright side, Washington has worked hard to streamline his mechanics, and he strives to employ an efficient approach.
The Nationals signed Leon out of Venezuela in January 2009, and they’ve watched him gradually develop in to a top-notch defensive catcher. After spending a few seasons toiling away in rookie and shortseason ball, his defense took a big step forward in 2010. His strong, accurate arm and spritely footwork caught the eye of assistant GM Bob Boone, a former Gold Glove backstop, and the club started developing him more aggressively.
After gunning down 51% of baserunners in 2010, Leon threw out 53% in the Carolina League the following season. He allowed 13 passed balls, but he lopped his error total in half–from 19 to 10–and his bat started to pick up some steam as well.
The Nationals liked what they saw in Leon, but because his swing was still pretty soft, they took a gamble and left him unprotected in the Rule-V Draft last winter. Watching him breakout this season though, they’ve thanked their lucky stars that they managed to hold on to him. Beginning the season in the Eastern League, he hit .316/.356/.457 before the Nationals called him up to replace Wilson Ramos in May. A flukey knee sprain cut his MLB debut short, but he finished off the season by tearing apart the International League. Through 19 games in Syracuse, he hit .346/.369/.558 and gunned down five of eleven base-stealers.
Leon is a premium defensive catcher with a cannon arm and great actions behind the plate. His strong, accurate arm and quick release has helped him develop in to a weapon against baserunners, and he regularly posts sub-1.8-second pop times. More than just arm strength though, he knows how to call a game and block the plate. With huge, soft hands, he’s arguably the best at framing pitches in the Nationals’ system outside of Kurt Suzuki.
Leon’s hitting is underrated, and he posted a very impressive .322/.396/.460 batting line while playing in the high minors as a twenty-three-year-old last season. A late Spring knee injury slowed his rapid ascent to the big leagues, but no doubt, Leon’s future is behind the plate in the MLB.
Solis put together a tremendous amateur career before signing an over-slot deal with the Nationals as the 51st overall selection of 2010′s draft. At Agua Fria high, he totalled a 25-8 career record and his 398 punch-outs are the second-most in Arizona high school baseball history. He continued to mow down hitters in college, striking out 42 batters and posting a 3.83 ERA in 49.1 innings while leading San Diego to the WCC championship as a freshman.
Back surgery wiped out his Solis’ sophomore campaign, but he returned to the mound in 2010 and tallied 92 strikeouts and a 3.42 ERA through 92 innings (14 starts). The Nationals, a club known for taking players out of the University of San Diego, saw a big time pitcher in Solis and decided to use their second round draft pick on him.
As a pro, Solis has continued to develop in to the pitcher that Nationals hoped they were getting when they drafted him. After posting a 4.04 ERA and a tremendous 2.3 G/F ratio in the South Atlantic League to open 2011, he finished-out the year with the Potomac Nationals. Solis’ command improved as the season progressed and his fastball velocity was sitting consistently in the low 90′s. While helping the P-Nats to the Carolina League playoffs, his shaved a run off his ERA–down to 2.72–and struck-out 53 batters in 56.1 innings pitched.
The most important attribute for professional pitchers is fastball command. And luckily, that’s Solis’ best skill. Employing a short stride and an upright delivery, Solis gets rid of the ball quietly, out of a low 3/4 arm slot. Though there’s some extra movement in his arm action, he times his delivery well and is able to spot his heater with precision. He can throw his four-seam and two-seam fastballs to all four-quadrants of the strikezone with ease, but he does a nice job keeping his pitches on the bottom edges. His two-seamer has natural tail and sink, and he can cut his four-seamer in on the hands of rightes–leading to tons of groundballs. His velocity isn’t premium, but he can throw quality strikes consistently at 90-93 MPH–putting him in rare company as a left-handed pitching prospect.
Solis also throws two quality offspeed pitches–a plus changeup and a decent sweeping curveball. He shows great feel for both pitches, and his ability to hide the ball makes it even more difficult for batters to pick-up his change. The most important part of Solis’ game is the mental side. He’s consistently praised by his coaches and peers for his hardworking, high character, team-oriented approach. And on the mound, he’s cool and confident, able to make his pitches in every situation.
Matt, who is the older brother of 2010 Rangers first-rounder Jake Skole, has turned in to his family’s best ballplayer. After setting Blessed Trinity Catholic high school’s homerun and RBI records, and taking home honors as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Hitter of the Year (2008), Skole took his game to Georgia Tech for two years. During his oustanding Yellow Jackets career, his power continued to grow, and he hit .318 with 37 homeruns and 68 extra-base hits through 448 career at bats. Unfortunately for him, however, a DUI arrest to open his senior spring tarnished his draft stock a little bit.
With the Nationals, Skole has needed just one year in full-season ball to climb to top prospect status. Spending the majority of the season with the Hagerstown Suns last year, he hit .286 with a league-leading 27 homeruns, .574 slugging percentage and 94 walks. After a short stint in the Carolina League to finish out the summer, he was named 2012 South Atlantic League MVP.
After the season, the Nationals sent Skole to the Arizona Fall League to continue to work on his game. Facing the league’s advanced pitchers, he performed admirably and posted a .305/.419/.525 line. His .944 OPS ranked eighth among AFL league leaders, and was second among infielders, behind only Padres prospect Jeudy Valdez.
Standing at a hulking 6’4″, Skole is blessed with huge strength and power in his swing. He’s not a great athlete, but he’s good at the things that matter most in the modern game–power and getting on-base. Skole takes a huge hack at the plate, employing an old-fashioned high leg kick and extension-oriented approach. He sweeps the barrel of his top-heavy bat across the plate with violent batspeed, and is able to drive moon shots to his pull side. And though his swing leads to it’s fair share of whiffs, his such a disciplined hitter that he gets on-base over 40% of the time regardless.
While his bat could already push for a promotion to the high minors out of the gate next season, his glove lags far behind. At third base, Skole has stone hands and he lacks the footwork and agility to stay there at high levels. He does have a strong arm, but because his ultimate home is likely at first base, he may not get to use it much moving forward.
Skole profiles best as a first baseman, where his power left-handed stroke, plate discipline and defensive skill-set fits the position’s Major League prototype. His retro/unorthodox swing has a few holes, but it also offers impressive plate coverage and power in all directions. If he continues to develop, he has the chops to be a middle-of-the-order slugger with 30-homerun pop and enough plate discipline to make up for high strikeout totals and a fringy-batting average. If he can prove his doubters wrong however, and stick at third, he could quickly earn top prospect status.
10. Destin Hood -
A member of USA Today’s 2008 All-USA High School Baseball Team, along with other young stars like Eric Hosmer and Gerrit Cole, Hood was viewed as one of his draft class’s elite position prospects. His athleticism was–and is–off the charts, and aside from his tremendous high school baseball career, he was also rated a four-star football recruit by Rivals.com. In the pros, he’s shown plenty of promise, but the Nationals are still waiting for him to turn the corner and make his tremendous potential a reality.
As a high school senior, Hood hit .485 with 8 homeruns en route to being named Alabama’s 5-A Player of the Year. He also led St. Paul’s Episcopal to a state championship on the football field, making 56 catches for 955 receiving yards. On both the diamond and gridiron, he showed tremendous speed, strength and body control. The Nationals, locked in to a rebuilding stage at the time, weren’t scared off by his commitment to play football for Nick Saban, and ended up inking him to $1.1 million bonus.
Hood has been a very solid pro, and sometimes even more. He broke out in 2011, batting .276/.364/.445 with a career-high 13 homeruns and 47 extra-base hits while playing right field for the Hagerstown Suns. But then he failed to take a step forward in 2012, struggling through injuries and general disappointment while playing in the Eastern League. Still though, the Nats were happy with his ability to overcome adversity, and they believe he will be a quality big leaguer.
Hood’s only skills that don’t show plus potential are his arm strength (a tick below average) and his plate discipline (solidly below average). He’s a top-shelf athlete, with a sweet swing from the right side and at least plus raw power to left and center field. His incredible balance and hand-eye coordination allows him to barrel difficult pitches, and his bat speed is among the best in the Nats system. Unfortunately, his poor plate discipline and pitch recognition has led to struggles against more advanced pitching. But, if he can exercise a more balance approach and learn to recognize breaking stuff, he should develop in to a big league homerun threat that offers above-average baserunning and defensive value.
Though his game still has some rough edges to iron out, Hood has top-notch ability and the make-up and work ethic to succeed at an All-Star level in the MLB. His stats aren’t too exciting just yet, but he stands out on the diamond with flashy skills and a sweet swing. If he can make it, he profiles as an Alex Rios/Aaron Rowand type player, an above-average defender with solid power and speed.
Drafted by the Rangers 14th overall in 2009 and inked to an unprecedented $6 million bonus, Purke was once considered an elite-level pitching prospect. But because the MLB was in charge of the Rangers’ finances at the time, they put the nix on the extraordinarily over-slot deal and Purke returned to college. He continued to dominate amateur hitters while at Texas Christian in 2010, but shoulder bursitis ended up killing his draft stock heading in to 2011. The Nationals took him in the third round and signed him to a Major League contract that included a $2.75 million bonus.
After signing, Purke pitched poorly in the Arizona Fall League, allowing 11 earned runs in 7 innings pitched. The Nats continued to try to rehab his ailing shoulder, but after making only three starts in 2012, he went under the knife to fix the injury. The club is optimistic about his recovery, however, and they expect him back for the start of Spring Training. The operating surgeon cleaned out scar tissue, but commented that his labrum and rotator cuff are in “excellent condition.”
A tall, thin left-hander who resembes a young Cole Hamels, Purke has premium potential when healthy. Throwing across his body, out of a low three-quarters arm slot, his low 90′s fastball has natural cutting movement in on the knuckles of right-handed batters. As a pro, his heater has sat in the 87-90 MPH range more often, but when he’s right, he can dial it up to 94 MPH. Opposing hitters can have fits trying to loft the pitch when he’s working the corners, and his because his delivery hides the ball, he can absolutely baffle lefties with it.
Purke also throws a quality circle changeup, with nice armspeed and fade, and a big breaking ball. His slurvy curveball is developing in to a great pitch against left-handed hitters in any count, clocking in around 78 MPH with wide, sweeping break. It flattened out a bit during his pro debut, but when he was healthy during his final college season, it was his out pitch. Thrown with a looser arm, his breaking ball could be a plus-plus pitch one day.
Purke will have to finally prove healthy if he wants to live up to his top prospect billing. His shoulder injury wasn’t nearly as severe as most, but it should give him a very compelling reason to work on improving his delivery. If he’s finally ready to go next Spring, and his velocity returns, then the sky is the limit.
12. Zach Walters -
After a strong sophomore season at the University of San Diego, when he hit .377/.412/.503, Walters struggled through injuries and the NCAA’s new bat rules during his junior season in 2010. As a result, the highly-touted prospect fell in the draft, and the D’Backs ended up taking him in the 9th round, with the 271st overall pick. Since turning pro however, Walters has proven his doubters wrong by climbing the minors and hitting well at every level.
Walters impressed all-around in his 2010 debut, batting .302 with four homeruns and 26 extra-base hits in 275 at bats. Coaches voted him a Northwest League Postseason All-Star, and the D’Backs named him an organizational all-star as well. The next season, he posted an almost identical triple-slash line in the Midwest League, hitting .302/.377/.485 with 9 home runs and 42 extra-base (361 at bats) with the South Bend Silver Hawks. His hot hitting and solid fielding at shortstop drew the eye of Nationals scouts, and they ended up snagging him in the trade that sent Jason Marquis to Arizona.
As a member of the Nationals organization, Walters has continued to exceed expectations and solidify himself as a future big leaguer. After a so-so start to the season with the Potomac Nationals, Walters tore apart advanced Eastern League pitching throughout the summer. His power continued to improve, and he hit .293 and slugged .518 during his 43 games in double-A. His performance encouraged the Nats to send Walters to triple-A to finish-out the year.
Walters is a legitimate shortstop prospect. He’s blessed with a strong, accurate arm and a quick release and he shows solid body control and footwork. He can make plays to both his glove and arm side–though he does need to work on keeping his center of gravity lower when he moves laterally. At the plate, he’s a switch-hitter with a smooth, compact stroke from the right side. When he hits left-handed, he’s a little bit longer to the ball, but still gets great extension and plate coverage. He has nice hands and a great feel for the barrel, and if he can improve his plate discipline, he could continue to hit for average and solid power in the MLB.
13. Michael A. Taylor -
Playing on the talent-laden Braurd County circuit in Florida, Taylor wasn’t considered a top prospect until his senior high school season. But then he grew taller and stronger heading in to his final year, and ended up hitting .447 with 7 home runs and 29 RBI that season. The Nationals liked what they saw and decided to give him a private workout. In his tryout at the organization’s spring training complex, he ran a sub 6.6 60-yard dash, threw 90 MPH off the mound and flashed impressive power in the cage. He impressed the club enough to earn a 6th round draft pick and a $125K signing bonus a few weeks later.
Considered a player development project when he was drafted, Taylor has come a long way as a pro. A high school shortstop, he moved to centerfield in his first season. After working with coaches Tony Tarasco and Marlon Anderson on his outfield fielding techniques, he’s quickly developed in to the organization’s premier defensive centerfielder. Last season, he racked up a ridiculous 19 outfield assists while manning centerfield for the Potomac Nationals.
At the plate, Taylor’s swing was a mess when he signed, but he showed promising bat speed, hand-eye coordination and raw power. He’s worked closely with Anderson, Rick Eckstein and Brian Daubauch on over-hauling his swing, and the changes have paid huge dividends. After batting a horrific .199/.276/.298 in his pro debut in 2010, Taylor broke out and hit .253/.310/.432 last year in the South Atlantic League. And while he slumped out of the gate this past Spring, he once again flashed his upside by hitting .283/.336/.465 with four stolen bases and 12 extra-base hits in July.
Taylor’s future is bright, and many of the higher-ups in the Nationals organization are outspoken in their optimism. After his breakout 2011 campaign, he proved he still had a lot to work on during his disappointing Carolina League stint. But considering his remarkable athletic gifts and the incredible improvements he’s made after just two full season of professional coaching, there really is a lot to be optimistic about. His glove and arm in centerfield are already MLB-ready, and with more experience he should develop in to a Gold Glove caliber fielder. And while his hitting skills are still raw, his swing mechanics and feel for the barrel are looking better and better.
14. Eury Perez –
The Nationals signed Perez out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, when he was a teenager. He rewarded their confidence in him by leading the Gulf Coast League in batting average (.381), on-base percentage (.443) and hits (60) during his 2009 stateside debut. He then followed with an All-Star performance in the South Atlantic League and the Dominican Winter League, before kicking his game in to an even higher level last season.
Perez is one of the minor’s most extreme examples of a defense/speed prospect. Built with a rail-thin-but-lithe frame, he has almost zero home run power, but his plus-plus wheels, feel for contact and premium fielding ability make him a nice fit as a lead-off man in the National League. After hitting .316/.344/.361 between the Eastern and International League last year, his career batting line sits at an impressive .306/.363/.373 and he’s racked up 219 stolen bases in 281 tries.
Perez still has a little bit of room to fill out, and considering he’s reached the majors before his twenty-third birthday, it’s probable that he’ll be able to improve his game considerably over the next few years. Playing in a system stocked with centerfield talent, his below-average plate discipline will keep him from assuming a starting job with the big club in the near-term, but he’s such a valuable fielder and baserunner that the Nats will nevertheless be excited to use him off the bench in the upcoming season. Right now, he looks a lot like Rajai Davis, but if he can really improve his approach and power, he has the upside of a right-handed-hitting Michael Bourne.
A small town kid that’s managed to overcome unbelievably tough odds, Blake Treinen is following an extraordinary path to the big leagues. After stuggling to even succeed as a JV player at Baker College, Treinen stopped playing ball for three years before finally deciding to re-try his hand at pitching.
After spending months practicing with former All-American and pro pitcher Don Czyz, he impressed South Dakota coaches during a try-out and earned a spot on their team in 2010. He stepped on to the mound a drastically different pitcher, now 6’4″ and armed with 94 MPH heat, he struck out 82 batters as one of South Dakota’s starters. He followed with an even better 2011 season, putting together a 7-3 record and 3.00 ERA and striking out 84 batters through 13 appearances. His performance not only earned him First-Team All-Summit League honors, but he was selected in the 7th round of the 2011 Draft by the Oakland A’s.
Because he doesn’t have a lot of experience on the mound, the A’s limited his workload in 2011 and had him pitch out of the bullpen exclusively. He performed exceedingly well in the Arizona and Midwest Leagues, posting a 3.30 ERA, a remarkable 4.7 G/F ratio and striking out 36 batters in 30 innings. He continued his rapid development in 2012 while pitching in the low gravity atmosphere of the California League. He started 15 games and made 24 total appearances for the Stockton Ports, totaling a 4.37 ERA and 92 strikeouts through 103 innings. He pitched well enough to pique the Nats’ interest, and the A’s ended up pairing him with A.J. Cole and sending him to Washington via the Michael Morse deal.
Treinen works primarily with a two-pitch mix, an explosive mid 90′s fastball and a hard, slider clocking in the high 80′s. His over-the-top arm slot and lightening-quick arm speed adds plenty of hop to his heater, and his two-seamer has natural tail and boring action. He gets on top of hitters quickly, and they have fits trying to loft his fastball.
Treinen is an aggressive pitcher, and he attacks each batter with a go-right-after-’em approach. Like he’s been doing it for years, he’s adept at sinking his heater across the bottom edge of the strikezone early in the count, and then busting a rising four-seamer by hitters up-and-in to finish them off. His slider is so hard and tight, that he throws it more like a cut-fastball, spotting it on the edges of the plate and using it to jam left-handed hitters.
Despite his unlikely path to the pros and his lack of experience, Treinen is remarkably advanced. His mechanics have come a long way, and his simple rock ‘n fire delivery helps him throw strikes consistently. His stuff is top-notch, and his ability to induce groundballs makes him a great candidate for a late-inning job in the MLB, where a low FIP is a must.
Anthony Rendon’s former teammate at Rice, Hague was also an All-Conference USA selection and college star. He hit a sparkling .335 with a .544 slugging percentage during his three-year college career, and as a member of Team USA in 2008, he won the Best Hitter Award in the World Baseball Challenge. After a shaky start to his junior season though, he ended up falling to the third round of the 2010 draft. The Nats were more than happy to grab him at a discount.
Hague continued to hit for a high average during his first season playing professionally, totalling a .327/.386/.522 line in single-A ball, but then fell off a bit last year. Most of his troubles stemmed from an injured right shoulder he sustained in the beginning of 2011. He recovered from rotator cuff surgery and resumed an everyday job in the Carolina League by May, but still didn’t look comfortable until later in the summer. After posting an ugly .560 OPS in the first half of the season, he recovered to hit .287/.335/.422 after the All-Star break.
Hague is a great young hitter, who’s blessed with tremendous hands and bat control. He takes a short, linear stroke reminiscent of Derek Jeter’s, and is able to line pitches with authority to all fields. He’s incredibly quick to the baseball, able to get his front foot planted early, and he gets his hands cocked and ready to fire much faster than most. He also does a great job of staying inside the ball, and while he likes to pull the ball to showcase his improving power, he’s a polished opposite field hitter.
Hague employs a patient approach in the box, and his improving power is beginning to draw average grades for a middle infielder. Outside of health, his only problems have come in the field, where he lacks the fluidity and hands to stick at shortstop. He does have a strong arm however, and shows a quick first step in on the ball and to his glove side. After proving to be a decent third baseman when he played there occasionally during college, he played well at second last season. If he can continue to soften his hands and improve his transfer and footwork, he might be able to play solidly at either position moving forward.
Renda racked-up a long list of accolades during his three-season college career at California. He was a first-team All-American, and was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year after hitting .330 with 38 RBI as a sophomore. He arguably had a better season as a senior, when he hit .342 with a .436 on-base percentage and slugged .484. The Nationals liked what they saw, and inked Renda at a discount out of the 2nd round of last June’s draft.
Renda is undersized, and is light on tools for a second-round pick. But his tremendous hitting ability and Moneyball batting eye give him the opportunity to make up for his shortcomings. Just 5’8″, he sets up with a small strikezone and takes a lightning-fast, compact swing. He doesn’t even stride, instead taking a subtle toe-tap to transfer power from his legs, but manages to employ his core in his swing by loading his hands smoothly and along a direct path. He’s remarkably short to the ball, and whips the bathead across the plate. His big, strong hands afford him premium bat control, and combined with his top-notch plate discipline and pitch recognition, makes him a tough strikeout.
A scrappy, hard-working player with great hitting chops, Renda is similar to Brewers prospect Scooter Gennett. He should post high batting averages and on-base percentages as he moves up the ladder, and his ability to avoid strikeouts and put the ball in play is commendable. He’ll never have a ton of power, and he’ll have to overcome his iffy-fielding and arm strength to profile as an everyday player, but he shows the work ethic and grit to realize his full potential.
Selected with the 15th overall pick by the Nationals back in 2006, Marrero’s pro career has taken an up-and-down, winding path. Right when he begins looking like a draft bust, he starts to hit. Then when it appears he’s finally turned the corner, he either goes down with an injury or falls back in to mediocrity. Now that he’s set to turn 25 this summer, he’s running out of time to figure it out. He’ll have to break this pattern of inconsistency if he wants to carve out a place for himself in the Majors. Whether or not Marrero can be anything more than a tease isn’t clear just yet, but his performance this upcoming season should finally help settle the debate on whether or not he’s the big-league talent that he’s been billed to be.
When Marrero turned pro, he needed little time to adjust to the competition and immediately started to produce. After batting .309 as a 17-year-old playing in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, he hit .275 and swatted 23 homers in A-ball in 2007. He’d established himself as one of the hottest first-base prospects in baseball by his 20th birthday, and appeared to be on the fast track to super-stardom.
But then in 2008, a broken ankle slowed his expeditious ascent up the minor-league ladder. Though he eventually recovered from the injury, and hit well in in 2010 and 2011, he never fully developed the power that the Nats projected he would have when they signed him. The club hoped he could contribute off the bench last year, but a torn hamstring caused him to miss the majority of the 2012 season.
Marrero still has the tools to become an everyday big league first baseman. He has filled his frame with huge stores of muscle over the years, and if he can tap in to his power, he could be a 25-30-homerun threat. He has plus raw power from the right side, a nice swing and a smart, patient approach. His bat speed has always been above-average, and while his swing can get long, he manages to barrel pitches in all parts of the zone when he’s at his best. For whatever reason though, he has trouble converting his tremendous hitting tools in to gameday production. He still has some time to put it together, but if he wants to make good on his promise, he’ll have to start by hitting with more power and playing with more confidence this season.
After mashing a nation-leading 23-homeruns as a senior at Samford University, Miller was selected in the fourth round by the Nationals last June. A special player, Miller not only holds the program record for homers, but he’s also their highest draft pick–in any sport.
A catcher at Georgia Tech before he transferred to Samford for his final two seasons, Miller has now settled in to the outfield as a pro. Less emphasis on defense has allowed him to concentrate on developing his strengths–working the count and hitting for power. So far, it’s helped him transition to the pros more quickly, and he led the Auburn Doubledays with a .549 slugging percentage and a .903 OPS this summer.
Though not overly hulking, Miller’s 6’2″ frame is fortified with muscle from top to bottom. In college he was known for his ability to the ball hit hard and to hit it out of the park often, and he’s capable of mashing tape-measure shots. With wood bats, his raw power still grades as a 7 on the 2-8 scale, giving him 30+ homerun potential. He generates huge bat speed, and his strong hands and core allow him to whip the barrel with great leverage.
Despite his bat speed and power, Miller takes a remarkably controlled swing. Paired with his selectivity and polished approach, he should be able to hit for solid batting averages at higher levels. Defensively, he’ll probably never be more than just acceptable, but if his bat pans out, nobody will be talking about his glove anyway.
The Nationals picked Kimball out of a small New Jersey college back in the 12th round of the ’07 draft. Initially, they liked his premium arm strength, but his poor mechanics, violent arm action and general lack of feel left him toiling in the low minors for his first four seasons. After getting more comfortable in the bullpen though and developing his offspeed stuff, Kimball started mowing down batters in 2010. Before long, he’d forced himself in to the big leagues, and posted a 1.93 ERA in an injury-abbreviated debut in 2011. A torn rotator cuff has left him on the shelf for the next year-and-a-half, and the severity of the injury casts legitimate doubt on his future in baseball.
Right before blowing out his shoulder, Kimball was looking more and more like a future big league closer. His stuff was absolutely unhittable at times during his 2010 and 2011 seasons. His riding fastball was sitting in the 93-96 MPH range and often clocking in at 98 and 99 MPH, and his two-seamer showed heavy, bat-breaking sink. Pitching with an aggressive approach and violent delivery, Kimball would attack hitters on the inside, forcing plenty of awkward swings. He also threw a nasty, late breaking splitter in the high 80′s and a sharp, disappearing slider. Despite his utter lack of control, both pitches were also legitimate swing and miss weapons.
Rotator cuff surgery is a tough break for a young pitcher, but if Kimball can beat the odds and come back with an electric fastball, then he could still realize his potential as a first-rate set-up man or even a closer.
21. Carlos Rivero -
Signed out of Venezuela at the ripe old age of 16 back in 2005, Rivero is a former top prospect that fell in to the Nationals’ hands last winter. Per the MLB’s Rules on teenage signees, the Indians and Phillies were forced to add him to their 40-man rosters or expose him to waivers once he completed six years of service time. Neither club held on to him. After the Phillies claimed him from the Nationals, they left him unprotected and the Nats grabbed him before the start of last season. They added him to their 40-man roster, and as luck would have it, Rivero re-established himself as a quality prospect by putting together a fine season.
Still just twenty-four years old, Rivero mashed the veteran-laden International League last year. He hit .303/.347/.435 with ten homeruns and 39 extra-base hits in 126 games, and also flashed a nice glove at third base. A former member of the AFL Rising Stars, Rivero’s performance last season legitimizes the promise he showed early in his career with the Indians.
Though he’s primarily played third base for the past two seasons, Rivero’s cannon arm and fluid footwork also plays well at shortstop. At the plate, the 6’3″ Rivero has long arms and shows good power when he gets his arms extended. He’s quick to inside pitch, and now that he’s shortened his stride, he’s able to wait and adjust to offspeed. With more experience, Rivero has the potential to be a solid average hitter, with enough power to hit 10-15 homeruns and the glove to be a quality defender at multiple infield positions.
22. Brett Mooneyham -
Mooneyham has sky-high potential, but his repertoire is raw and his delivery is ugly and inconsistent. Knowing this, the Nationals still drafted him because they saw the opportunity to get a top-shelf lefty starter at a bargain-basement price. And for the most part, they were happy with what they saw in his professional debut, when he posted a 2.55 ERA through 42.1 innings in the New York Penn League last summer.
Mooneyham’s stuff, build and mechanical issues strike a resemblance to Ross Detwiler when the Nats drafted him out of Missouri. And watching Detwiler develop in to one of the better young lefties in baseball over the years, suggests the Nats knew what they were doing when they took Mooneyham–a similar project.
Mooneyham was one of the top pitchers in California during his final season of high school. On the mound, he went 9-2 with a 0.97 ERA, and struck out 103 batters in just 58 innings. He continued to cut through bats as a freshman at Stanford, and was recognized as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American after posting a 4.14 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 13 appearances. He was then so-so as the team’s weekend starter in 2010, and ended up missing the entire 2011 season to a freak hand injury. Though he recovered with a solid junior campaign last year, he wasn’t consistent enough to warrant much excitement.
Mooneyham has promising fastball velocity and breaking stuff, and his body was built for pro pitching. When he’s at his best, loose and repeating a more compact delivery, he can blow a 90-93 MPH fastball by opposing hitters. He’s been clocked as high as 95 MPH, and his two-seamer has great arm-side run. His changeup is his best offspeed pitch, and already grades out as at least average. He throws the pitch with fastball arm speed, out of a nearly identical release and arm slot. His curveball is inconsistent, but when he throws it with good velocity, it shows sharp, late break. His strong grip and long fingers adds plus spin to all of his pitches.
Employing the slow-then-fast mechanics (think Phil Hughes or Tommy Hanson) that makes experts cringe, Mooneyham has trouble getting the most out of his arm. His fastball velocity often sits in the 86-88ish range and wavers from inning to inning. His command is prone to disappearing completely, and from one start to the next, he’ll often look like two different pitchers. A large portion of his problems can be attributed to his delivery and arm action. Both have some red flags (hyperabduction, inconsistent stride, push-off right before release), and he’ll need to iron them out if wants to succeed in the pros.
23. Adrian Nieto -
A former Aflac All-American and long-time teammate of Eric Hosmer, Nieto has an impressive skillset for a catcher. When the Nationals selected him in the 5th round of the ’08 Draft, many considered Nieto to be the premier switch-hitting catcher in the nation. And though he’s flown under the radar thus far in to his pro career, he’s steadily improved with every promotion and appears poised for a breakout season.
Because he’s a catcher, Nieto has been forced to focus on developing his fielding, while many other prospects are able to go almost full speed ahead on their work in the cage. As a result, he’s still a little bit raw for a guy that just turned 23. But, he’s come along steadily over the past few seasons. After hitting .302/.397/.462 in the New York Penn League in 2010, he’s held his own in the South Atlantic League over the past couple of years, totaling a .256 batting average and .739 OPS.
Nieto’s two best tools are his power and arm strength. He hits well from both sides of the plate, and he has the juice to drive the ball out to all fields. In batting practice, while batting left-handed, he shows plus homerun power to right field, but he’s also learning to drive outside pitches the other way. His aggressive approach is the only thing standing in the way of bringing more power in to games, and he’s done a nice job of exercising a more disciplined approach recently.
Defensively, Nieto has a strong, accurate arm and hes posted pop times in the 1.8-1.9 second range throughout last season. His receiving is improving to a solid level, and while he still has trouble handling hard breaking pitches to his arm side, he looks like he’ll be able to stick at catcher moving forward. If he can make good on his promise, he could be a solid catcher in the Greg Zaun/Johnny Estrada mold.
24. Robert G. Ray -
Robbie Ray got hot during the perfect times during his final two seasons of high school. He’d performed well as a junior at Brentwood high (TN), but really turned it on come showcase time, and when scouts were watching closely during his final Spring. After lighting up 92′s and 93′s on radar guns during the Perfect Game National Showcase, Ray turned plenty of heads and thrust himself in to the nation’s top 100 draft prospects.
Ray legitimized his prospect status in front of Nationals scouts while playing with Bryce Harper on the 18U National Team during the ’09 Pan Am Games, and then shredded opposing hitters during his senior Spring. He tossed an unbelievable three no-hitters in 2010, and posted a 0.50 ERA. The Nats inked him to an overslot bonus out of the twelfth round. Thus far in to his career, he’s shown promise but is still years away from making a big league impact.
Ray works with a solid three-pitch repertoire. He commands his fastball well in the 86-90 MPH range, but he’s still prone to overthrowing in order to register sexier radar gun readings. His curveball, sitting in the high 70′s, is developing in to a solid-average pitch, with sharp, two-plane break. His changeup still lags behind his other two offerings, but has promise as well.
Ray’s delivery is fairly clean and simple, and he does a nice job throwing strikes with his fastball. He got in to a little bit of trouble nibbling at the corners last year, and when he got tired he was prone to losing his timing. But for the most part he’s performed well for his age, and his command and mechanical issues should be easy to correct with more coaching.
25. Steven Souza –
When the Nats took Souza with the 100th overall pick back in 2007, they knew they were investing in a raw, player development project. A third baseman at the time, Souza offered rare potential for a third-round pick. He showed great batspeed, a strong arm, some footspeed and a long, athletic frame in tryouts. But a former two-way high school star, Souza struggled to put it together on the field. He hit just .191 with a .630 OPS in the Rookie League and A-Ball, and made 36 errors through 90 games at third base during his first two seasons.
In 2010, Souza started showing more promise to open the season, but was suspended fifty games for PED use over the summer. He then moved to the outfield in 2011, and since then, he’s been a far better hitter. At the plate with the Hagerstown Suns last season, Souza hit .290/.346/.576 and mashed 17 homeruns in his first 70 games. He was named SAL Player of the Week for July 2-8, promptly earning a promotion right after that. He finished-out the year raking in the Carolina League, and ended up leading the Potomac Nationals in batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.421) and slugging (.560).
26. Derek Self -
A hardthrowing closer out of Louisville, Self can dial his fastball up to 95 MPH already. He didn’t draw a ton of attention during college, largely because he was forced to split closing duties with Mets third-round pick Matt Koch during his senior season. But the Nats and other pro scouts have had him on their radar since he was a Cape Cod League All-Star back in 2010. A starter at the time, he threw a complete game one-hitter and totalled a 2.36 ERA through six starts. He followed with a strong junior campaign in the Cardinals rotation, but looked his best when he was closing games in 2012.
Since moving to the ‘pen, Self’s fastball has sat 90-94 MPH with heavy movement, and he’s developed a handle-breaking cutter. His mechanics are raw, and he’s more of a thrower at this point, but his arm strength and solid control make him a potential late-inning guy in the MLB one day. The biggest issue for him will be refining his mechanics and adding a swing-and-miss pitch. His slider is erratic, but could eventually grade as plus with more work.
27. Kylin Turnbull -
Drafted out of Santa Barbara Junior College, the 2011 Nats fourth-round pick took an over-slot $325K bonus to pass on his commitment to pitch at Oregon. With an 90ish MPH fastball that can touch 93-94 MPH when he’s on his game, Turnbull has intriguing potential for a lefthander. His secondary stuff is raw however, and his control is inconsistent. He made a decent showing in his first professional season, posting a 4.94 ERA in 22 games (including 21 starts) and striking out 51 in 89 innings, but he has a long way to go before having Major League relevance.
28. Taylor Jordan -
Drafted out of Brevard CC, Jordan has a strong arm and shows good sink on his fastball. After throwing in the low 90′s during his first two seasons, his velocity dropped to the 87-91 MPH range for much of 2011. His two-seamer showed great sink though, and his cutter and slider led to plenty of weak groundballs. His 2.48 ERA and 9-4 record earned him a spot on the South Atlantic League All-Star team that June, but he promptly went down with a torn elbow ligament just a few weeks later.
Jordan recovered from elbow surgery swiftly, and he returned to the South Atlantic League last July. His fastball was clocking as high as 94-95 MPH at times, and his overall command had taken a step forward. He’s still raw and inconsistent, but with more work and a bullpen job, he could develop in to a quality late inning reliever in the MLB.
29. Billy Burns -
A little, switch-hitting speedster who was drafted out of the 32nd round in ’11, Burns shows the makings of a quality lead-off man. He made a quiet debut in the New York Penn League in 2011, but proceeded to rake with Hagerstown in low-A ball last season. While playing a strong center field, he hit .322 and stole 38 bases in 47 attempts. He also showed a tremendous batting eye and advanced pitch recogition skills, posting a spectacular.432 on-base percentage.
Burns hits almost equally well from both sides of the plate, and should continue to switch-hit moving forward. He chokes up on the bat, and takes a super compact stroke that sprays line drives to all fields. His small stature and short swing have led to just one homerun in 615 pro plate appearances, but his plus-plus speed, knack for contact and ability to get on-base makes up for his bottom-of-the-scale pop. Skinny-but-athletic, he’s built like Jason Tyner or a young Brett Butler–two players with very similar skill sets. Like those two, he’s also a strong defensive outfielder.
30. Estarlin Martinez -
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, Estarlin Martinez has some intriguing tools. He takes a long, sweeping swing, and he wraps the bat. But, he shows plus power potential nonetheless, and manages to barrel his share of pitches. He has a strong lower body and power to all fields, with surprising pop to right. He’s also an extremely patient hitter for his age, and he works the count like a veteran. Defensively, he struggled to take to multiple infield positions during his first few stateside seasons, but seemed to fit well in the outfield last year.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Barrett, Corey Brown, Erik Davis, Taylor Hill, Neil Holland, Spencer Kieboom, Rafael Martin, Stephen Perez, Caleb Ramsey, Adrian Sanchez, Blake Schwartz