Evaluating the Development of Washington Nationals' Top 5 Prospects

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2013

Evaluating the Development of Washington Nationals' Top 5 Prospects

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    The Washington Nationals head into Friday, Aug. 16, with a record of 59-61 and sit 14.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East standings

    At this time last year, the Nats were 73-45 and owned a lead of 4.5 games over the Braves for first in the division while boasting the best record in baseball. 

    Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth recently talked to Byron Kerr of MASNSports.com about the state of the team, saying the Nats are still in a developmental stage:  

    So it kind of put things in perspective with the success last year and really where we are at now with the guys. We are still in a building phase. I know with all the expectations it doesn't really seem like that. We got a lot of young players. The direction is still good. We got a lot of talent. There is a lot of things to look forward to here in Washington.

    One reason that Werth is so confident about the Nationals' future is due to the progress of the organization's top prospects.

    Here is an evaluation of the development of the Washington Nationals' top five prospects. 

    Note: Top Prospects according to MLB.com's 2013 Prospect Watch. All statistics updated through Aug. 16 courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

5. Nathan Karns, SP: Double-A Harrisburg

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    Nathan Karns is back in Double-A Harrisburg after making three starts for the Washington Nationals earlier this season. 

    Karns pitched 12 innings for the Nats over three starts, compiling a 0-1 record and a 7.50 ERA while walking six, striking out 11 and yielding a .321 batting average against opposing lineups. 

    In 20 starts in the minor leagues in 2013, Karns is 7-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 112.1 innings and two complete games. Karns has 44 walks with 132 strikeouts and has a .222 batting average against while surrendering 11 home runs.

    The right-hander is fifth in the Eastern League in ERA, tied for first in complete games and third in strikeouts.  

    The 25-year-old Pennsylvania native has steadily progressed from the beginning of last season in Single-A Hagerstown, where he made five starts and six relief appearances. He finished with a 3-0 record and a 2.03 ERA in 44.1 innings, with one complete game and two saves. Karns walked 21, struck out 61 and opponents batted .148 against him. 

    After his promotion to Potomac, Karns was used solely as a starter, going 8-4 in 71.2 innings over 13 starts with a 2.26 ERA and one complete game. Karns totaled 26 walks and 87 strikeouts to with a .190 opponents' batting average. 

    Evaluation: Karns has earned himself a September call-up this season. Also expect him to be invited to camp next spring where he will most likely make the team as a long reliever.  

4. Michael Taylor, CF: Single-A Advanced Potomac

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    Michael Taylor is quietly moving up the ranks of the Washington Nationals' outfield prospects, which happens to be a very deep group. 

    Taylor has played in 115 games for the Single-A Advanced Potomac Nationals this season. In 448 at-bats, the Florida native is batting .257 with 31 doubles, six triples, nine home runs and 185 total bases while racking up 76 RBI and 69 runs scored. Taylor has a .326 on-base percentage, a .413 slugging percentage and has stolen 39 bases in 45 attempts.

    Taylor ranks third in the Carolina League in RBI, fourth in total bases and second in stolen bases

    The center fielder spent all of 2012 at Potomac as well, hitting .242 in 384 at-bats and 109 games. Taylor hit 33 doubles and three home runs for 139 total bases while driving in 37 runs and scoring 51 times. He finished with a .318 on-base percentage and a .362 slugging percentage while stealing 19 bases in 28 attempts. 

    Evaluation: The 22-year-old was drafted out of high school, so the Nats expected to give him plenty of seasoning in the minor leagues. That being said, he should be ready for Double-A next season and may even make his major league debut sometime during the year, most likely as a stop-gap measure for the Nationals. 

3. A.J. Cole, SP: Double-A Harrisburg

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    A.J. Cole was recently promoted to Double-A Harrisburg from Single-A Advanced Potomac and in four starts since his promotion, he has been nothing short of dominant. 

    Cole is 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings for the Senators with seven walks, 26 strikeouts and teams batting .161 against him. 

    Before moving up a level, Cole went 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 97.1 innings over 18 starts for Potomac. Cole walked 23, struck out 102 and yielded a .257 batting average to opposing teams

    Last season, Cole was a member of the Oakland Athletics' organization, before being traded back to Washington—the team that drafted him in 2010—as part of the Michael Morse deal. In 2012, Cole went 6-10 with a 3.70 ERA in 27 starts and 133.2 innings pitched. Cole walked 29 and struck out 133 while opponents batted .267 against him. 

    Evaluation: Cole's promotion to Harrisburg is a big deal for the Nationals' organization. The talented right hander has never pitched higher than Single-A Advanced in either the Nationals' or Athletics' farm system. His early success at Double-A bodes well for his journey to the top of the Nationals' rotation, a journey that should be complete by 2015. 

2. Lucas Giolito, SP: Rookie League

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    Lucas Giolito is finally pitching again for the Washington Nationals' organization. 

    The prized pitching prospect has taken the next step in his recovery from Tommy John surgery by joining the Gulf Coast Nationals of the Rookie Gulf Coast League. 

    In eight starts so far, Giolito is 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched.

    The California native has 10 walks, 25 strikeouts and opposing teams are batting .232 against him. He also has yet to surrender a home run this season. 

    Giolito has thrown five innings in each of his last two starts and 14 innings in his last three starts overall, as he gradually increases his workload.  

    Evaluation: Giolito's steady progress in his Tommy John rehab is great news for the Nats. If he continues, Giolito could join A.J. Cole in the Nationals' rotation by the 2015 season. 

1. Brian Goodwin, CF: Double-A Harrisburg

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    Brian Goodwin is now at the top of the Nationals' minor league heap, having earned the distinction of being the top prospect in the organization. 

    Goodwin is playing with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators for the second straight season. So far in 2013, Goodwin is hitting .254 in 398 at-bats over 104 games with 13 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs and 159 total bases. The 22-year-old has driven in 31 runs while scoring 67 times and has a .351 on-base percentage while slugging .399. Goodwin has 18 stolen bases, but has been caught 11 times. 

    Goodwin leads the Eastern League in triples and is seventh in runs scored

    Last season, Goodwin ended up in Harrisburg after beginning the campaign with the Single-A Hagerstown Suns. All told, Goodwin hit .280 in 382 at-bats over 100 games with 26 doubles, 14 home runs and 179 total bases. Goodwin had 52 RBI and 64 runs scored while compiling a .384 on-base percentage and a .469 slugging percentage. He stole 18 bases in 25 attempts. 

    Evaluation: Goodwin has played better at Double-A this season than he did in 2012 to earn a spot in the Eastern League All-Star Game. He should return to Harrisburg next season only after receiving an invite to Nationals' spring training. Expect Goodwin to debut with the Nats sometime early next season.