Anthony Rendon is one of a select few Nationals' prospects capable of reaching the major leagues in 2013.
The Washington Nationals’ farm system is a shell of what it was at this time last year—but that’s kind of what happens when a prospect like Bryce Harper graduates to the major leagues. Still, the organization has its share of high-level prospects in third baseman Anthony Rendon, outfielder Brian Goodwin and right-handers A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito.
Beyond the aforementioned players, the Nats’ system also has an impressive crop of undervalued talent.
In selecting players for this article, I targeted prospects who are behind the developmental curve relative to their age, have a concerning medical history, lack significant professional experience or are simply under-appreciated.
Here’s a look at the five most underrated prospects in the Washington Nationals’ farm system.
Drafted out of Samford in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, Miller is a 6'2" right-handed hitter with easy plus raw power. In his professional debut last season, the outfielder batted .292/.354/.549 with 18 extra-base hits and 36 strikeouts in 29 games for Short-Season Auburn.
Miller has solid plate discipline and will coax walks, but there’ll always be swing-and-miss to his game. Along the same lines, the development of his hit tool will depend upon the improvement of his approach and pitch recognition.
He has all the makings of a major league right fielder given his plus power and strong, accurate arm. He’ll be limited to a corner outfield spot given his lack of speed and stiff actions. In Miller, a bat-first corner player with college experience, the Nats hope that they found the next Matt Skole. Expect Miller to head to Low-A next season for his full-season debut.
After an erratic senior season at Stanford which hurt his draft stock and caused him to fall to the third round, Mooneyham had a decent showing in his professional debut for Short-Season Auburn, as he registered a 2.55 ERA with 29/16 K/BB in 42.1 innings.
A 6'5", 235-pound left-hander, Mooneyham has been inconsistent over the last three seasons. His fastball velocity has ranged anywhere from 86 to 93 mph, while his command of the pitch continues to be impeded by his quirky delivery. Given his size and arm action, it may take him a few seasons with a major league pitching instructor to get it ironed out.
Beyond that, Mooneyham does feature three secondary pitches in a curveball, slider and changeup, with the latter being the least developed of the three offerings. At this point, it seems as though the left-hander will either figure things out, or be out of baseball in a matter of years.
Selected in the second round of the 2010 draft out of the University of San Diego, Solis, a 6'5" left-hander, has always flashed plenty of upside, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to move through the system. He was impressive across both Class-A levels in 2011, as he registered a 3.26 ERA with 93/23 K/BB in 96.2 innings.
He followed that with an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, but suffered elbow injury late in the fall. Solis ultimately rehabbed it and gave things a go in spring training. However, it wasn’t improving and required Tommy John surgery that held him out the entire 2012 season.
Thrown on a consistent downward plane, Solis’s fastball registers in the low-90s with late life to his arm side, and he’ll occasionally reach back for 95 to 96. The southpaw’s curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch, but the shape is inconsistent and varies from start to start. He throws changeup with convincing arm speed and locates it well relative to his fastball.
Prior to the injury, Solis, now 24, showcased advanced command of three pitches, as well as the ability to miss bats. Although he’s now behind the developmental curve, the left-hander could hop back on the fast track to the major leagues with an impressive return to the mound in 2013.
A 30th-round draft pick in 2009, Wort seemingly came out of nowhere last season to post the highest strikeout rate (15.1 K/9) and strikeout percentage (41.3) in the minor leagues. Granted he did it as a 23-year-old while repeating High-A Potomac, but it was nonetheless impressive.
Overall, the 6'2" right-hander registered a 2.38 ERA with 95/19 K/BB in 56.2 innings. After posting a 6.6 BB/9 at the level in 2011, Wort’s improvement to 3.0 BB/9 last season was a huge step in the right direction.
After tweaking his arm angle, Wort’s fastball had more late life last season, which in turn made his swing-and-miss slider all the more effective. He also developed a changeup that became a third weapon. Wort was especially deadly against right-handed hitters, as they batted a paltry .174/.243/.265 against him with 69 strikeouts in 144 plate appearances.
If he dominates next season at Double-A as he did in 2012, expect Wort to reach the major leagues in a hurry.
A 12th-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2009, Karns suffered a torn labrum shortly after signing that required surgery. The right-hander returned to the mound last season, but was kept on a short least by the Nationals and logged only 56 innings in the complex leagues.
Finally healthy—but still on a short least—Karns emerged as one of the top stories in the minor leagues during his full-season debut in 2012, as the 25-year-old registered a 2.17 ERA and .174 BAA with 148/47 K/BB in 116 innings between both Class-A levels.
The 6'5" right-hander’s fastball sits 92 to 94 mph with weight, and he uses it to pound the strike zone and get ahead in counts. His curveball continues to be a borderline plus offering when on, as it’s depth and pace was the source of many of his swing-and-misses last season. Karns’ changeup also was noticeably improved last season, and gives him a viable third pitch.
The 25-year-old will presumably head to Double-A to open the 2013 season, and if he pitches anywhere close to as well as he did last season, could conceivably reach the major leagues as a late-season callup.