Sean's mid-season top 20 prospects list

2013 has not been a kind season to the Nats organization.The major league Nats have struggled all year, but so have their prospects. Top prospect Anthony Rendon graduated from the prospect list, but Brian Goodwin, A.J. Cole and Matt Skole, generally 3 of the top 5-6 on most lists, haven’t taken the steps forward that I would like to see and Lucas Giolito, another top guy, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

In my mid-season updated list, 7 of my top 20 names were listed at 20th or below (or not ranked) in my preseason list published in the Washington Baseball Annual. Ian Krol and Jeff Kobernus weren’t ranked because they weren’t in the organization at the time of publication; Krol was acquired from the A’s to complete the Michael Morse trade in March and Kobernus was a rule 5 draft pick returned to the Nats in March as well. The other two who weren’t ranked were Erik Davis (a regrettable oversight by me) and Jason Martinson (always old for his level with poor patience). I made sure not to look past these guys again.

I’ve teamed together with Konnor Fulk, an equally prospect-obsessed young writer and tweeter to come up with new top 20 lists. Konnor’s list will run later today. Without further ado, here is my list, with all stats pulled from Baseball-Reference and/or Fangraphs on 7/30.

1 – OF Brian Goodwin (#2 on my preseason list). ETA – September 2014

Goodwin’s .254/.351/.399 triple slash is a bit disappointing, especially considering he hit .280/.384/.469 in his professional debut last season. That being said, he’s pretty young for his level (still just 22 in AA Harrisburg) and still seems destined to be the Nats’ CF of the future within the next few years. I’m skeptical of Goodwin’s power and contact potential, but can see him as a 4 tool player in the big leagues if he hits his ceiling, figuring one of the two out.

2 – RHP Lucas Giolito (#4 on my preseason list). ETA – 2016

I fought myself hard between Cole and Giolito on my original list. I believe that Giolito has ace upside and Cole looks more like a #2/3 at this point, though, which is why I gave Giolito the bump. The Nats’ 1st rounder from 2012 got back on the pitcher’s mound on July 9, about 10 months after he had Tommy John surgery. Amanda Comak’s source had him in the 95-98 mph range in his first start for the GCL Nats, which gives me confidence that he’s on the right track in his rehab. If Giolito can combine his upper echelon velocity with the good curveball and changeups that he threw in high school, the Nats will have another Tommy John success story in DC by 2016.

3 – RHP AJ Cole (#3 on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

The Nats’ sole representative in this year’s Futures Game has always been a favorite of mine since being drafted in the fourth round in 2010. 2013 has been an up and down year for him; his 4.50 K/BB ratio is outstanding, but he’s more hittable than I had hoped (8.5 H/9, which is actually under his career average of 8.9). For the third straight year, Cole’s HR/9 has gone up, this year eclipsing the 1 HR/9 mark. I think that Cole will continue to figure out pitching as he moves up in the organization (and he is moving up, having been called up to Harrisburg last week), but for now I feel more comfortable with him one spot behind Giolito.

4 – RHP Nate Karns (#7 on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2013

There’s a big talent gap between the top 3 and the rest of the list. I had to think hard for #4 between Karns, Jordan, Krol and Skole. I went with Karns because out of the 4, I believe he still has the best combination of ceiling and floor.

Karns came out of nowhere to be the best pitcher in the Nats’ minor league system last year. Because he missed so much time due to injury over the years, I was concerned that he might take a step back in 2013, especially since he would be facing AA and higher batters for the first time. Karns has been rock-solid, posting a 3.41 ERA and a 2.89 K/BB ratio in 92 and 1/3 innings and got a cup of coffee with the Nats, where he posted up a 7.50 ERA in 12 innings over three starts. Jordan is the better major league pitcher right now, but Karns has the stuff to be a great #3 pitcher if he can keep the walks and homers down in the future.

5 – RHP Taylor Jordan (#15 on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2013

Jordan’s year has been phenomenal. To this point, he put up a 1.00 ERA in 90 and 1/3 innings in Potomac and Harrisburg and a more than respectable 3.31 ERA in 35 and 1/3 big league innings. He’s certainly outperformed Karns in the big leagues and has exceeded all of my expectations. So why is he a spot further down? Ceiling. Karns has the upside as a powerful #3 starter and the downside of a set-up man or closer.  Jordan is a control-first groundball pitcher; if everything breaks right, I see him turning into something in the Mike Leake/Rick Porcello range. Not bad by any means, but not nearly as sexy as a #3 starter.

6 – LHP Ian Krol (NR on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2013

Although he’s stuggled of late (4 ER allowed over his last 8 and 1/3 innings), Krol has been an excellent addition to the Nationals’ bullpen. The PTBNL from the Michael Morse deal has a 2.00 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 5.33 K/BB ratio and .889 WHIP in the big leagues and was equally good in AA Harrisburg, where he put up a 0.69 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 4.14 K/BB and .808 WHIP. He overmatches lefties, holding them to a .167/.212/.233 triple slash against in the big leagues, but still pitches righties toughly as well (.229/.250/.371). The only reason Krol is #6 here rather than closer to the top is that he’s a reliever. Thank goodness he took Zach Duke’s role. Note - Krol's rookie eligibility has expired due to his extended stay on the Nats' roster. I added a #21 writeup for ya'll. Hope you don't mind being called ya'll.

7 – SS Zach Walters (#9 on my preseason list). ETA – September 2013

Walters has real power; with 24 HR and a .555 slugging percentage in 395 plate appearances at AAA Syracuse this year, there is little doubt about his ability to hit the ball hard. What’s keeping a switch-hitting middle infielder with a ton of power this far down the list? Bro can’t get on base. Walters is currently sporting a 11/93 BB/K ratio, and while our own Ian Desmond shows that you can be an effective hitter without walking a bunch, 2.8% is really, really bad. Walters’ track record of power (25 career HR in 3 seasons prior to this year) is a little shaky as well, so I’m hesitant to push him too far up the list.

8 – 1B/3B Matt Skole (#5 on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

A freak injury in the second game of the season has robbed Skole of valuable development time as he rehabilitates from Tommy John surgery on his left (non-throwing) arm. Because he’s a righty and not a pitcher, rehab time won’t take a year, but he’ll still probably be out until September. Grant Morrow of Penn Live has an informative article about Skole’s recovery here. When healthy, Skole has a nice combination of power and patience and profiles as a league average corner infielder (which is much more valuable than it sounds).

9 – OF Eury Perez (#12 on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2012

In the past, I’ve always been low on Perez. I’ve always considered him to be a 4th OF type. Well, the Nats could sure use a 4th OF right now, so either he or Corey Brown needs to make an appearance in DC soon. Perez is showing power for the first time in his career this year, already setting a career high with 7 HR through 66 games.  Patience has always been the problem with Perez because if he could get on base at a higher clip, he’d be a nice leadoff guy. Unfortunately, he’s down to a 2.3% BB% this year. Perez’ lack of OBP skills or power push him into the reserve OF role, but I think he’d thrive there given his excellent baserunning ability (68% this year in SB attempts, 77% last year and 77% as well for his career) and solid defensive instincts. Perez likely is not going to benefit by more time in AAA; he’s the same player now that he’ll ever be, so the Nationals might as well bring him up since they could use the contact, speed and defense off of the bench.

10 – LHP Robbie Ray (#21 on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

I didn’t see this coming. After a great first full professional season in 2011 (3.13 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 2.5 K/BB in A ball), Ray was destroyed last season in high A (6.56 ERA, 5.00 FIP, 1.76 K/BB). The numbers that you want to be high were low (7.32 K/9, 17.7 K%) and the numbers that you want to be low were high (.287 batting average against, 1.62 WHIP, 1.19 HR/9, 4.17 BB/9). Ray has rebounded nicely this year, putting together a 3.28 in 21 starts between Potomac and Harrisburg. His strikeouts are back up, his HR/9 is back down and he’s not being hit as well. I expect Ray to have control issues for most of his career, but there’s still something quite useful about a young lefty who can strike guys out. See Gonzalez, Gio (and no, that’s not a direct comparison).

11 – RHP Erik Davis (NR on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2013

Omitting Davis from my original list was a stupid, stupid oversight. The Tyler Clippard clone has put together another solid season in Syracuse (2.92 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 10.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 in 40 innings) alongside a few brief stays with the big club (6.23 ERA, 0.50 FIP, 14.54 K/9, 2.08 BB/9 in 4 and 1/3 innings). Barring the trade or injury of a Nats reliever in the next month, I wouldn’t expect to see Davis until September, but like Christian Garcia last year, I could see him getting some meaningful innings in the last full month of the season.

12 – 2B/OF Jeff Kobernus (NR on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2013

Kobernus missed my initial list because he was taken in the Rule 5 Draft. Like Perez, He is what he is at this point: a contact hitter who provides good baserunning and defense but without power or much patience. Kobernus actually has improved with his batters eye this year, improving his BB% to 6.8% and dropping his K% to 14%, both career bests, so I’m happy to see that. I’d prefer Kobernus to Lombardozzi on the bench right now because he has elite speed and more range at 2B rather than being a jack of mediocre trades. But more than likely, Kobernus will have to wait until September to be called back up.

13 – LHP Sammy Solis (#10 on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

The Nationals still consider Solis to be one of their top pitching prospects despite throwing just 131 and 2/3 innings over the past four seasons. He’s got a promising three pitch mix (93-94 MPH fastball and good curve/change combo), but has issues staying healthy. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, Solis missed some time due to shoulder fatigue this season.  He’s back in action now, and has a shiny 2.63 ERA in 24 innings for Potomac, but his 3.91 FIP and 5.63 K/9 add some grime to the mix. Solis’ health will be interesting to monitor over the next year or two, but if he stays healthy he could be a decent #3-4 starter fairly quickly.

14 – LHP Matt Purke (#11 on my preseason list). ETA –2014

According to Mike Rizzo (via Federal Baseball), Purke was hitting 94-95 mph on his fastball earlier this month, so it’s good to see him regaining arm strength. If he can get back to full health, the Nats will have a nice prospect, but that’s a huge if. Purke threw pretty well at Hagerstown this year (2.48 ERA, 5.86 K/BB) before being called up to Potomac at the beginning of July. In Potomac, Purke has a 7.07 ERA and 1.70 K/BB ratio. That ain’t good. Purke just turned 23, so all is not lost, but it would certainly be nice to see him start putting together some good numbers.

15 – RHP Christian Garcia (#6 on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2012

Poor Christian. Poor, poor Christian. He’s never healthy, and probably will never be healthy for a full season. When he returns from the DL (or if he does), the Nats should bring him up to the majors and stick him in the pen and ride out his arm as long as they can. He’s got a dirty three pitch mix, including a GIF-worthy curve. Jim Bowden semi-famously prayed for Jesus Colome’s buttocks and his family, so we should pray for Garcia’s buttocks and his arm (that’s how it goes, right?).

16 – OF Michael Taylor (NR on my preseason list). ETA  2015

The tools are there - Taylor has a nice combination power and speed. The problem is that Taylor can't really hit. He's up to .266/.336/.418 so far this year, which really isn't that impressive for a guy repeating high A ball. Time is one Taylor's side, at just 22 years old still. The .151 ISO is nice, and the 34 steals are excellent, but I just don't think Taylor will ever be able to hit given his .248 career average, 8.1% BB%, and 24.1% K%. The tools are great, though, and perhaps he could be a Justin Maxwell type (with more speed, less power) even if he doesn't develop better hitting skills.

17 – OF Steve Souza (#28 on my preseason list). ETA – 2014

After years of suckitude, Souza hit the crap out of the ball in 2012 and has continued to do so this season, even after being promoted to AA for the first time. In his 672 PA from 2012-13, Souza has 37 HR, 116 RBI, 111 runs, 27 SB and a .288/.369/.562 triple slash. Pretty damn good. Don Shelton of the Seattle Times wrote an article in March about his rise back to being a prospect after an ADHD drug-related suspension in 2011.

18 – 2B Tony Renda (#14 on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

Renda’s 2012 season scared me, as he only hit 9 extra base hits with a .031 isolated slugging. While the second baseman obviously wasn’t drafted for his pop, you need at least something to keep pitchers from just slinging the ball down the strike zone because they know the worst thing you can do with it is single. Fortunately, Renda has come through with 36 extra base hits this year in 399 at-bats and has an impressive 11% BB%. I like Renda’s chances of being a decent spot starter at 2B and utility guy eventually.

19 – OF Billy Burns (#20 on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

If we’re going by tools, Burns wouldn’t make the list. At 5’9” and 180 lbs soaking wet, he’s not exactly a physical specimen, and he has 42 extra base hits to his name in his 232 game minor league career. Burns is an on-base machine, though, and has fantastical speed (yes, fantastical). He covers every category you’d want in a classic leadoff man (169 career runs, 100 career steals, career .308 hitter) and in a new-fangled one (.417 career OBP, 87% success rate on steal attempts, exact 1:1 BB:K ratio). I’m not sure that the 2011 32nd round pick out of Mercer will be able to keep hitting this well when he continues to move up in the system, but he’s done all the Nats could ask for him to this point, thus the 19th overall player in the system.

20 – SS Jason Martinson (NR on my preseason list). ETA – 2015

He’s always been old for his level, but in no season since his rookie campaign has the 2010 5th round pick put together less than a .770 OPS for the season. He’s on pace to eclipse 20 HR and 20 SB for the second straight year (and in 2011, he went 19/26). Martinson strikes out too much and will never hit for a high average, but he’s an intriguing left side of the infield prospect with pop and speed.

21 -  OF Corey Brown (#8 on my preseason list). ETA – Played in the ML in 2012

#FREECOREYBROWN! He’s a 27 year old lefty bat with a history of patience and pop. He’s a solid defender and with a track record of running the bases efficiently. He’s basically the exact opposite of Roger Bernadina, and that’s who he should replace in the majors ASAP. 

Next Ten (in alphabetical order):

RHP Aaron Barrett

RHP Robert Benincasa

LHP Matt Grace

RHP Jake Johansen

1B Chris Marrero

C Adrian Nieto

RHP Nic Pivetta

1B Shawn Pleffner

OF Wander Ramos

3B Drew Ward

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