Six minor leaguers who could make an impact in 2014

 

Much will be written this offseason about who the Nats should sign, trade for and hire. I'm not one to beat a dead horse, so I decided to look for an angle. Since the minor leagues are what I know and love, I've compiled a list of players in the Nats organization who are not on the 40-man roster who I could see adding value to the 2014 Nationals. I've also decided against including top prospects like Brian Goodwin or AJ Cole, as both would be obvious picks.

OF Billy Burns 

The 24-year-old switch hitter has top-notch speed and baserunning ability (125 SB in 142 career attempts - an 88% success rate!) to go with excellent bat control (149 BB/144 K, .421 OBP in his 266 game minor league career). I don't think his bat is ready for the show yet, as he has basically zero power to speak of and just 138 PA at the AA level. I do think that he can be a great addition to the September roster and could conceivably see him sneak onto a potential playoff roster as a pinch runner extraordinaire/defensive replacement type. Billy Hamilton was worth 0.6 fWAR in just 13 games for the Reds down the stretch, stealing 13 bases and scoring 9 runs. While Burns does not have quite as much speed as Hamilton (nobody in the league does), he's still one of the fastest and best baserunners in the minors.

OF Steve Souza 

 After struggling mightily in his first five seasons in the Nats organization, Souza put it together in 2012 and 2013, with a .938 OPS in the former and a .944 in the latter. He's got a sexy power/speed combination (38 HR and 36 SB in just 178 games played in 2012-13) and looks more and more like a late bloomer than a bust. He handled AA pitching very well this season (.300/.396/.557 in 323 PA) and could help out as a right-handed bench bat and defensive replacement with some upside.

 C Adrian Nieto

 I'm less convinced about Nieto's 2013 improvements being permanent than I am about Souza, but the 2008 5th round pick is finally starting to show a more consistent offensive game (.810, .726, .821 OPS's over the last 3 years after .656, .624 and .544 in his first 3). The switch hitter is still raw behind the plate, but could conceivably surpass Sandy Leon or Jhonatan Solano as the backup catcher if a) the Nats don't sign a veteran backup this offseason and b) Leon and Solano struggle in the beginning of the 2014 season like they did in 2013.

 RHP Taylor Hill

 I don't buy Hill as a long-term ML prospect because he doesn't strike many batters out, but you can't argue with his 2013 success split between A, AA and AAA ball (2.95 ERA, 1.136 WHIP, 3.59 K/BB ratio). Hill doesn't walk many batters (1.8 BB/9 career, 1.6 in 2013) but as we saw in 2013 with Jordan, Roark, Ohlendorf and Karns, you almost always need those 6th, 7th and 8th starters around for when guys get banged up. Hill relies on his fielders, as he throws a bunch of ground balls. I don't think he's as good as Taylor Jordan, but he could still be a worthwhile long reliever or spot starter in 2014 if needed.

RHP Aaron Barrett

 Barrett was considered to be a nice sleeper pick by the Nats in 2010's 9th round, as he was always seen as a guy who had good stuff but couldn't translate it to on-field success. He struggled out of the gate in the minors, putting up a dreadful 9.43 ERA and 1.14 K/BB in 21 innings in 2010 followed by a 4.05 ERA and 1.60 K/BB in 26 and 2/3 innings in 2011. Everything clicked as he transitioned to being a full-time reliever, however, as he has a 2.12 ERA, 12.5 K/9 and 2.56 BB/9 to go with 43 saves in 102 innings split between A and AA ball over the past two seasons. The righty has ML-quality stuff (a 95 mph fastball and a nice slider) and could be the first Harrisburg-to-Washington promotion in 2014. 

RHP Richie Mirowski 

The 2011 45th round pick has continuously exceeded expectations (mainly because there are very few expectations given to a 45th round pick). 2013 was a big year for Mirowski, who lowered his BB/9 from 4.5 to 2.0 and raised his K/9 from 9.5 to 11.5 despite facing better competition. His inclusion on this list assumes that he'll be able to replicate that success next season (which is far from a guarantee). If he can, and can keep the ball in the yard, he could be one of the first calls if a righty reliever goes down with an injury or is ineffective.

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