Early Thursday morning one of my more active readers emailed me to ask who I thought the Nationals Top-12 prospects currently are in the minor leagues. Much of the talent depth in the farm system was depleted last December when the Nationals traded A.J. Cole, Tom Milone, Derek Norris, and Brad Peacock to Oakland to secure LHP Gio Gonzalez. That said, now that the MLB Draft signing deadline has passed, I thought the timing was perfect to examine the talent level in the Nationals minor league system. In my opinion, these are the current Nationals Top-12 prospects.
Washington Nationals Top-12
#1 – Anthony Rendon 3B -> Selected 6th overall in 2011, Rendon has suffered through yet another injury-plagued season as he shattered his ankle early this spring. He returned to game action this past week, and should rocket through the Nationals farm system and if he can stay healthy, could arrive in Washington as soon as mid-2013. Rendon heads this list because he has all-star ability as an above-average or better defender at third base while hitting .280-.300 with 20 or more home runs.
#2 – Lucas Giolito RHP -> The 1st round pick of the team in last month’s draft, Giolito has the highest ceiling in the organization, as he has true #1 starter type talent, with a plus to plus-plus fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, a devastating swing-and-miss curveball, and a developing changeup that shows promise to be an above-average offering as well. A huge kid with limitless potential, Giolito needs to get back on the pitcher’s mound to prove his elbow is healthy, and if he does, he immediately becomes one of the best 12 pitching prospects in the minor leagues.
#3 – Brian Goodwin OF -> One of my favorite prospects currently in the minor leagues, Goodwin was selected by the Nationals with pick #34 in the 2011 draft, and after some injuries earlier this season, has punished Low-A pitching to the tune of .324/.438/.542 with 9 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 58 games. Goodwin has a terrific left-handed swing with some power and the tools to be an above-average defensive center fielder, but needs polish and refinement in the minor leagues in order to reach his enormous potential.
#4 – Alex Meyer RHP -> Recently promoted to High-A Potomac after overpowering Low-A in the 1st half of the season (90 innings pitched, 3.10 ERA, 107 strikeouts), Meyer has an electric fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, and one of the best sliders in the minor leagues. Meyer still needs to improve his changeup and refine his throwing motion as his massive 6-9 frame hurts his ability to consistently repeat his delivery and results in below-average command. If he can make these improvements, his ceiling is that of a #2-3 starting pitcher and if not, the quality of his fastball and slider should make him an elite relief pitcher in time.
#5 – Matt Purke LHP -> The ultimate boom-or-bust prospect, Purke has shown top-of-the-rotation ability in high school and his freshman season at Texas Christian, unfortunately he has struggled for the past two years with injuries to his pitching shoulder, which has sapped some of his fastball velocity. If the Nationals can rehabilitate his shoulder and help him rediscover his previous stuff, Purke has the talent to become a #2-3 starter; if not, Purke is headed toward a career as a left-handed reliever.
#6 – Nathan Karns RHP -> Aggressively ranked at #6, Karns has battled injures since being drafted in the 12th round of the 2009 draft by the Nationals, but has posted excellent numbers (albeit against competition a bit younger than himself) with a career 2.15 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 146.1 innings pitched, including a 2.08 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 91 innings in 2012. Now healthy and a 24 year old still in High-A, the Nationals need to aggressively promote him to Harrisburg in a few weeks and see if his powerful repertoire continues to miss bats in Double-A and later this fall, in the Arizona Fall League. Sure, he needs to reduce his career walk rate from 4.4 BB/9, but if Karns can harness his control, he could be an important asset for the Nationals either as a #3-4 starter or a high-leverage relief pitcher as soon as late 2013.
#7 – Matt Skole 3B/1B -> After a successful collegiate career at Georgia Tech, Skole has continued to hit as a professional, posting a .280/.434/.553 with 26 home runs in 155 games and 554 career minor league at-bats. His glove is suspect at third base, likely requiring a position shift to either left field or first base, and his numbers should be seen through the lens of a polished college player succeeding in Low-A, but power is at a premium in baseball right now and his on-base skills are excellent. Skole is a prospect with plenty of risk, but his bat is impressive enough that it should carry him to a career in the big leagues.
#8 – Michael Taylor OF -> Perhaps the player with the most tools in the organization, I was simply awestruck watching Taylor taking batting practice and show off his incredible athletic ability shagging fly balls in spring training this winter. The ball legitimately sounds like an explosion off his bat and after watching him extensively in Viera, I was convinced 2012 was his breakout season; unfortunately he has proven me wrong with a .223/.311/.330 and 92 strikeouts against only 37 walks in 90 games for High-A Potomac. His defense in center field is respectable and could become an asset with refinement, and since he is only 21 years old, Taylor still has time to develop his hitting and improve his approach at the plate. Taylor is an impressive prospect whose tools currently outmatch his performance.
#9 – Tony Renda 2B -> The Nationals 2nd round pick last month, Renda has an excellent ability to hit the baseball and has more pop than you might expect from his rather diminutive stature. A true “baseball rat”, Renda’s scrappy nature allows him to maximize his average tools and his impressive determination gives him a strong chance to carve out a niche, whether as a starting second baseman or utility player, in the major leagues.
#10 – Brett Mooneyham LHP -> His repertoire and talent warrant him being higher on this list, but his below-average command and extremely raw present skills keep my expectations tempered. Mooneyham’s upside is that of a #3-4 starter, the probability of a career as a left-handed reliever, but unfortunately has a reasonable chance of not reaching the majors as well.
#11 – Eury Perez OF -> An outstanding defensive center fielder with exceptional speed, Perez is a major league caliber defender and makes good contact with the ball as a career .304 batter, but hits for little power (11 home runs in 1,791 at-bats) and although he owns a career on-base percentage of .362, his .332, .319, and .345 OBP the past three years make scouts question if he can hit at the top of a professional lineup. Only 22 and promoted only yesterday to Triple-A, Perez still has time to improve his ability to get on-base but his 8 total walks this season in 372 at-bats points toward an eventual career as a backup outfielder and defensive replacement unless he makes adjustments at the plate.
#12 – Jeff Kobernus 2B -> A prospect I liked more than the general consensus in his 2009 draft year after watching him considerably as a collegiate player, Kobernus has produced a career .279/.314/.357 batting line with 9 home runs and 113 stolen bases over 4 minor league seasons. I expected Kobernus to show more power as a professional but has yet to build on the 7 home runs and 22 doubles he produced in 2011. Kobernus must improve his plate discipline (he has never walked more than 21 times in a season) if he wants to become a starting caliber second baseman, but his speed, instincts, and versatility should allow him to carve out a reasonable career as a utility infielder.
Also Receiving Consideration
Corey Brown OF, Destin Hood OF, David Freitas C, Sandy Leon C, Chris Marrero 1B, Jason Martinson SS, Robbie Ray LHP, Danny Rosenbaum LHP, Sammy Solis LHP, Kylin Turnbull LHP, and Zach Walters IF
The Nationals system has struggled thus far in 2012 with poor seasons from Destin Hood and Michael Taylor, amongst many prospects, and has struggled with injuries to Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, and Sammy Solis, making this a difficult system to judge. Not to mention (without beating the proverbial dead horse) that much of the depth of the system departed in the Gio Gonzalez trade last winter. In spite of this, the Nationals still have 4 excellent prospects in Rendon, Giolito, Goodwin, and Meyer, a true lottery ticket in Matt Purke, and the #6-15 in this system could be ranked in most any order as the parity and depth of these prospects is noteworthy. A negative person would knock this system for lacking some “higher quality” prospects from #5-10, and the more positive person would commend the Nationals for the sheer organizational depth they have accumulated in recent years, in addition to the many young players that have graduated to the major leagues in the past 3 seasons: both viewpoints have merit. Nevertheless, although the minor leagues do not possess the same quality and high-ceiling talent it did 12-24 months ago, the Nationals still have a respectable farm system filled with plenty of interesting and talented prospects.
Farm System Mid-Term Grade -> B-/C+
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