Washington Nationals' Top 10 Prospects: Rankings, Spring Forecasts
At the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Washington Nationals boasted one of the top farm systems in the game. Since then, however, they’ve traded away a majority of their highly regarded prospects for big league talent—which paid immediate dividends.
Prior to the 2012 season, their trade with the A’s for Gio Gonzalez severely depleted their system, as they parted with catcher Derek Norris, as well as pitchers Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole. Well, they basically lent the A’s Cole for a season, as he was traded back to the Nats this offseason as part of a three-team trade for Michael Morse.
The Nats also traded their top pitching prospect this offseason, 6’9” right-hander Alex Meyer, to the Twins in exchange for a much-needed leadoff hitter in Denard Span.
Their farm system took a major hit with the graduation of Bryce Harper to the major leagues last season, which was expected given the phenom’s ceiling of a once-in-a-generation player.
While they still house several top-100 prospects in Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole, the Nats’ system is a shell of what it was a few years ago. However, with a big league roster that’s absolutely loaded with talent, does it really matter?
10. Zach Walters, IF
DOB: 9/5/1989 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 195
Drafted/Signed: Ninth round, 2010 (San Diego)
Scouting Notes: Walters was acquired from the Diamondbacks in July, 2011 in exchange for Jason Marquis; has ascended the organizational ladder since joining the organization; suffered broken hamate bone during spring training; upon his return, Walters played at three different levels and finished at Triple-A Syracuse.
A switch-hitter, Walters employs a balanced and level swing from both sides of the plate; he’s a natural right-handed hitter but is more consistent from the left side; also exhibits more power; hit tool should improve with his plate discipline; too much swing-and-miss given his natural ability, and he’ll need to demonstrate a better feel for the strike zone.
An excellent athlete with only average speed, Walters has been developed primarily as a shortstop; best defensive attribute is his plus arm which is suitable for almost any position; has played the outfield in the past and has the potential to be a super utilityman at the big league level.
Spring Training Forecast: Participating in major league spring training, Walters will likely see playing time at numerous positions, as the organization considers him for a bench role.
2013 Outlook: After a three-level climb through the Nats’ system in 2012, Walters is likely headed back for Triple-A to begin the year. However, as a switch-hitter with defensive versatility, he stands to see time in the majors later this season in a reserve role.
9. Tony Renda, 2B
DOB: 1/24/1991 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 170
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012 (California)
Scouting Notes: Undersized second baseman is listed as 5’10”, 170 pounds, but there’s no way he’s that tall; profiles as a bat-first second baseman with an advanced approach and knack for barreling the baseball; employs a compact, powerful swing, though it doesn’t yield power in the conventional sense; plenty of gap power with slightly above-average bat speed through the zone; doesn’t possess great speed but is an educated and efficient base stealer.
Renda’s defense at second base isn't impressive, and there are concerns that it won’t translate at higher levels; lacks flashy tools or actions, but makes all the routine plays; range is limited but serviceable; footwork is overall solid, but at times he can get out-of-sync on double-play turns; no real risk of moving from second base, as it’s the only position where his defensive skill set plays.
Spring Training Forecast: In his first year with the organization, Renda will head to minor league spring training where he will presumably work on his defense at the keystone.
2013 Outlook: Renda is a solid candidate to be held in extended spring training in anticipation of a full-season assignment in June.
8. Eury Perez, OF
DOB: 5/30/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’, 180
Drafted/Signed: April, 2007 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: Since signing in 2007, Perez gradually has risen through the Nationals’ system; 22-year-old has made major adjustments at each level to retain his above-average hit tool; didn’t reach A-ball until fourth professional season; reached major leagues as a Sept. call-up in 2012 after opening the year at Double-A Harrisburg.
Right-handed hitter’s plate discipline continues to improve as he’s now aware of both his strengths and weaknesses; has improved contact rate and puts the ball in play to utilize speed; bat-to-ball skills should continue to progress with more experience at higher levels; will never hit for power, but has top-of-the-order potential with effortless plus speed.
Covers plenty of ground in center field; reads and jumps are still raw but will improve; doesn’t have a clear path to a regular role in the major leagues with Denard Span and Brian Goodwin ahead of him on depth chart; profiles as a solid fourth outfielder, especially given his base-stealing prowess.
Spring Training Forecast: After reaching the major leagues as a September call-up in 2012, Perez will see considerable time in the Nats’ outfield this spring as the organization evaluates him in a fourth outfielder/pinch-runner role.
2013 Outlook: If he doesn’t break camp with the Nationals, Perez will open the year at Triple-A. But with his speed, the outfielder figures to spend a majority of the year in the major leagues.
7. Sammy Solis, LHP
DOB: 8/10/1988 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 230
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010 (San Diego)
Scouting Notes: 6’5” left-hander with lots of polish and upside; hasn’t been able to stay healthy long enough to move through the system; injury history hurts his chances of eventually reaching his ceiling; was impressive across both Class-A levels in 2011 and then in the Arizona Fall League; suffered elbow injury late in the fall; gave things a go in spring training, but elbow wasn’t improving and required Tommy John surgery.
Throwing 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 95-96; curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch but somewhat of a wild card due to its variance from start to start; throws changeup with convincing arm speed and locates it well relative to his fastball; overall solid command but he’ll be challenged at higher levels.
Spring Training Forecast: Nearly a year removed from Tommy John surgery, Solis will be eased back into action at extended spring training.
2013 Outlook: Solis’ development next season will depend on his health. And knowing the Nationals, they will err on the side of caution. If anything, Solis is a candidate for the 2013 Arizona Fall League.
6. Nate Karns, RHP
DOB: 11/25/1987 (Age: 25)
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 230
Drafted/Signed: 12th round, 2009 (Texas Tech)
Scouting Notes: Suffered a torn labrum shortly after signing in 2009 that required surgery; returned to the mound in 2011; emerged as one of the top comeback stories in the minor leagues during his full-season debut in 2012; registered a 2.17 ERA and .174 BAA with 148/47 K/BB in 116 innings between both Class-A levels.
6'5" right-hander’s fastball sits 92 to 94 mph with weight; uses it to pound the strike zone and get ahead in counts; breaking ball continues to be a borderline plus offering when on; has the depth and pace to induces whiffs; changeup also was noticeably improved last season; needs a viable third pitch to remain a starter.
Spring Training Forecast: After an impressive showing at both Class-A levels in 2012, Karns will see some time on the mound in big league camp until the organizations deploys the rest of the starting rotation.
2013 Outlook: 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 reliever, most likely—as a late-season call-up.
5. Matt Skole, 3B-1B
DOB: 7/30/1989 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 230
Drafted/Signed: Fifth round, 2011 (Georgia Tech)
Scouting Notes: Skole was viewed as more of college/metal bat power hitter coming out of Georgia Tech in 2011; turned in a monster season at the plate this past season in full-season debut and legitimized his prospect stock; was named MVP of the South Atlantic League (Low-A) after leading the league in on-base percentage (.438), slugging (.574), walks (94) and home runs (27); important to remember that he was an older, more experienced player in a younger league; posted an .841 OPS in 18 games following a promotion to High-A Potomac.
Left-handed hitter is a presence in the batter’s box at 6’4”, 230 pounds; demonstrated more natural ability to drive the ball the other way after simplifying swing; excellent pitch recognition allows him to work deep counts; three true outcome hitter; plus raw power is more frequent when he stays inside the ball; strong hitter but doesn’t possesses elite bat speed; upper-cut-style swing will also yield high strikeout totals; with have to make ongoing adjustments in coming seasons.
Skole is a tolerable defender at the hot corner, at least in the low minors; skeptical of whether he’ll be able to stay there; although it puts more pressure on his bat, I like what I saw with him at first base; surprisingly agile with solid range to his right; glove is steady thanks to good hand-eye coordination.
Spring Training Forecast: Coming off an unexpected monster full-season debut, Skole will have a chance to play both corner infield positions as the organizations weighs its options at both positions.
2013 Outlook: With a strong spring, there’s a chance that Skole could open the year at Double-A, though a return to High-A is more likely. Regardless, his plate discipline should get him to the former at some point this season.
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
DOB: 1/5/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 180
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2010 (Oviedo HS, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: Acquired by the A’s from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade prior to the 2012 season; struggled mightily at High-A Stockton with an 0-7 record and 7.82 ERA; was demoted to Low-A Burlington, where he righted the ship and registered a 2.07 ERA with 102/19 K/BB in 96 innings.
6’4” right-hander has a highly projectable frame with the ability to add strength, especially to his lower half and core; fastball sits low-to-mid-90s with natural sink; curveball flashes plus break when thrown with consistency; changeup noticeably improved last season; has a better feel for the pitch than his breaking ball; cleaned up mechanical issues that plagued him in at High-A Stockton following demotion; his exceptional upside and pure stuff profiles as a potential Nos. 1 or 2 pitcher in the major leagues; it may take him some time to get there, but it should be worth the wait.
Spring Training Forecast: Headed to minor league spring training, Cole will continue to
2013 Outlook: After struggling (mightily) at High-A (in the California League) to open the 2012 season, Cole should fare significantly better the second time around.
3. Lucas Giolito, RHP
DOB: 7/14/1994 (Age: 18)
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 225
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Harvard-Westlake HS, Calif.)
Scouting Notes: Was receiving strong consideration for No. 1 overall draft pick last year after sitting in the mid-to-high-90s early in the spring; tweaked UCL in March and missed the rest of the high school season; re-injured elbow in first professional start this summer and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery; well worth the draft pick considering his ceiling as a No. 1 starter; potential to be the best prospect to come out of the 2012 draft class.
6’6” right-hander boasts a smooth and balanced delivery; fastball will range anywhere from 94 to 99 mph and he could carry it deep into starts as an amateur; his curveball is arguably a plus-plus offering and, in all honesty, not fair for opposing hitters; pitch draws as many jelly-leg reactions as swing-and-misses; changeup was a borderline-plus pitch before the injury and should be excellent as a professional; above-average command of all three offerings is impressive given the amount of movement.
Spring Training Forecast: Rehab.
2013 Outlook: More rehab. Given his ridiculously high ceiling, the Nationals will not rush him back to action.
2. Brian Goodwin, OF
DOB: 11/2/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 195
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011
Scouting Notes: One of the rare college players with a considerable gap between athleticism and baseball skills; was impressive in all facets of the game in full-season (and professional) debut and reached Double-A; saw his prospect stock take off over the course of the 2012 season due to his power-speed potential and advanced plate discipline.
Left-handed hitter’s swing can still be inconsistent, but when he’s in a groove it’s pretty; features quick hands and a surprisingly explosive swing that yields slightly above-average power—mostly to his pull side; has the ability to hit velocity; can fall into funks where he commits to pitches too early and tries to pull everything; hits the ball hard the other way when hands stay relaxed; has advanced plate discipline but not necessarily a true feel for the strike zone; possesses above-average speed that’s more noticeable in the outfield than on the basepaths.
Has the athleticism and defensive actions to stick in center field; shows good closing speed and covers a lot of ground; strong arm is a fit at all three outfield positions; if Goodwin’s debut was a sign of things to come, then Denard Span may be a stopgap until he arrives.
Spring Training Forecast: Despite an impressive full-season debut in 2012, Goodwin will participate in minor league camp and used the spring to fine-tune his swing.
2013 Outlook: After struggling at Double-A Harrisburg over the second half of the 2012 season, Goodwin will get another crack at the level with a chance to finish the year in Triple-A.
1. Anthony Rendon, 3B
DOB: 6/6/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6'0'', 195
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (Rice)
Scouting Report: The top bat in the 2011 draft class, Rendon played in only 43 games last season after fracturing his ankle in the second game of the year. He has now suffered three serious ankle injuries as well as a shoulder injury over last four years. He ultimately returned late in the season and reached Double-A; however, he never found a groove at the plate and batted only .233/.363/.489 with 18 extra-base hits and 29/23 K/BB.
A right-handed hitter, Rendon has explosive bat speed thanks quick-twitch muscles; relaxed wrists; loose, quick hands; can track pitches deep and still make loud contact; chance for a plus hit tool if he can stay healthy; power is yet to be seen due to lack of experience; should be at least average; one NL evaluator I spoke with mentioned that he’s skeptical of Rendon’s ability to hit with wood at higher levels; biggest asset is plate discipline, which ranks among the best in the game; advanced pitch recognition; patient hitter who rarely wastes at-bats.
At 6'0'', 195 pounds, Rendon isn’t a physical third baseman; range has understandably decreased after ankle injuries; relies on excellent instincts, clean footwork and above-average glove; defensive actions are solid; develop slowly at times; arm used to be stronger prior to shoulder injury at Rice; still above average and enough for the hot corner; would like to see the Nats give him more reps at second base.
Spring Training Forecast: Finally healthy and coming off a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, Rendon should see significant playing time at the hot corner this spring, especially with the Nationals expected to exercise caution with Ryan Zimmerman.
2013 Outlook: With an advanced hit tool and superb plate discipline, Rendon’s bat is nearly ready for the major leagues. However, he’ll likely spend most of the season in the high minors as he’s blocked by Ryan Zimmerman.