The Washington Nationals have some legitimate high-end prospects in their farm system. Some of them have higher ceilings than others, though.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Nationals owned one of the top systems in baseball. Bryce Harper could be thanked for that, but the team also had a plethora of other strong talent as well.
Much of that talent was shipped off in order to prepare for the 2012 season, and it's hard to argue with the results. Washington finished first in the NL East and had the best record in baseball before being ousted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series.
Coming into the 2013 season, Washington's system did not rank nearly as high as in previous years. It no longer possesses superstar talent, though there are a few players that have the potential to be quality everyday major leaguers.
Anthony Rendon, 3B
Might as well start with the organization's top prospect and most obvious candidate. Anthony Rendon has all the tools to be a top major league third baseman, even if his small sample of major league time wasn't that impressive.
Rendon possesses one of the best gloves in the entire organization—major leagues included. He's a likely future Gold Glove winner and could win multiple before the end of his career. He has all the range a third baseman needs and boasts a strong arm to make all the throws at the hot corner. Ryan Zimmerman may be forced to change positions within a few years in order to make room for Rendon at third.
Offensively, Rendon has the swing to spray line drives to all fields. He has the propensity to hit the ball hard every time at bat. Eventually, Rendon could develop 25-home run power. His line-drive swing is not really suited for clearing the fences, though.
If I could compare Rendon to another major league third baseman, I would say David Wright. Rendon could end up having slightly less power with an even better glove, but Wright represents a good outline for the type of player that Rendon could become.
Lucas Giolito, RHP
Lucas Giolito is the top pitcher in the Nationals farm system, even though he's pitched just one game for the organization. He underwent Tommy John surgery after that start and has been rehabbing ever since.
He has the potential to be an ace and could very well end up being one of the top players of the 2012 draft class. His fastball peaked in the mid-90s before his elbow injury, so we'll have to check out his velocity when he's back at full strength sometime this season.
His curveball and changeup both profile as plus-pitches, with both off-speed offerings being quality out pitches. He can go to either one with two strikes and get the strikeout. The best part about Giolito's repertoire is that he has command of all three of his pitches and can spot them wherever he chooses. This is what sets Giolito apart from other pitchers in the minors.
Josh Johnson of the Toronto Blue Jays represents a nice comparison for Giolito. Both are big pitchers (Giolito stands at 6' 6") and possess strong off-speed pitches. Johnson has ace potential when healthy, but that has been a tremendous issue for him. The Nationals will surely be hoping that Giolito doesn't develop chronic arm issues.
Zach Walters, INF
Personally, I'm a huge fan of Zach Walters. He has the potential to be an All-Star at either second base or shortstop—whichever position the Nationals find a spot for him.
Walters' primary position is shortstop. He is a fantastic athlete with a plus-arm that translates to the left side of the infield. His athletic ability makes him a candidate to play anywhere on the diamond, though.
What makes Walters so special is the strong swing he boasts from both sides of the plate. Walters is a natural right-hander but actually exhibits more power and consistency from the left side. That being said, he's solid from the right side as well.
Walters has 15 home run-15 stolen base potential with an average in the .280 range at the major league level. While not a star's numbers, those numbers can be useful on many teams. He could become a Jerry Hairston kind of player, albeit with a little more power.
His versatility both at the plate and in the field make him an invaluable asset that the Nationals could make use of as early as 2013.