Currently the Nationals possess a win-loss record of 43-42 and if the team hopes to catch the Atlanta Braves in the chase for the NL East division title, it is expected the team will try to improve itself at the rapidly approaching major league trade deadline on July 31st. Although the team seems to be getting many of their players back healthy, namely Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos, the Nationals still have questions with their #5 starter and throughout their underperforming bench that general manager Mike Rizzo will attempt to resolve in the upcoming weeks.
Thursday I highlighted and discussed some of the top hitters teams will request in trade discussions with the Nationals – today in Part 2, I examine a few of the top Nationals pitchers teams will likely inquire about this month.
5) Matt Purke LHP High-A Potomac
A 3rd round pick (96th overall) of the Nationals in the 2011 MLB Draft, Purke signed for a well over-slot bonus of $2.75 million after only two seasons at Texas Christian University. Since signing with Washington, Purke has battled shoulder injuries to his pitching arm, allowing him to pitch only 15.1 innings last season and only 34 innings thus far in 2013. That said Purke has performed well this season, posting a 2.48 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched at Low-A Hagerstown before earning a recent promotion to High-A Potomac.
When healthy, Purke flashes a low-to-mid 90s fastball with life, a devastating wipeout slider, and a decent but inconsistent changeup, along with command of the strike zone. Although there are questions about his ability to stay off the disabled list in the future, his talent is readily apparent and I would expect opposing clubs to attempt to acquire Purke and gamble on his health going forward.
4) A.J. Cole RHP High-A Potomac
Originally drafted by the Nationals in 2010, Cole was a key piece in the Gio Gonzalez acquisition from Oakland two years ago, and was also the key piece in return for Mike Morse last winter. A tall, athletic pitcher with projection remaining, the 21-year-old Cole possesses a powerful mid-90s fastball, an inconsistent but promising curveball, and a feel for a changeup.
This season at Potomac, Cole has posted a 4.10 ERA in 83.1 innings pitched, allowing 81 hits, 20 walks, and 11 home runs against 94 strikeouts. While some scouts think he will eventually become a reliever due to his underdeveloped off-speed pitches, his supporters (myself included) see a pitcher with a monster fastball, the ability to miss bats, and if his curveball and changeup improve with refinement, Cole has the potential to be a #2 or #3 starting pitcher in a few years.
3) Nathan Karns RHP Double-A Harrisburg
The number 5 prospect in the Nationals organization entering 2013 according to Baseball America, Karns has truly blossomed after overcoming some difficult shoulder injuries early in his career. Drafted by the Nationals in the 12th round in 2009, Karns did not take the mound until 2011, when he threw only 55.1 total innings. However, once fully healthy, Karns broke out in 2012, posting a 2.17 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched combined last season at Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. Promoted to Double-A Harrisburg to begin this season, Karns continued to impress, posting a 3.69 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 61 innings. In addition, due to injuries to the starting rotation, Karns made three starts in Washington, making a more favorable impression than his 7.50 ERA and five home runs allowed in his 12 innings pitched might otherwise suggest.
Karns features a heavy 91-93mph fastball that can occasionally reach higher velocities, an impressive downward curveball that generates strikeouts, and a developing but currently mediocre changeup. His supporters see a still improving, potential #3 or #4 starting pitcher with an ability to miss bats. His detractors view him as a 25-year-old pitcher lacking a major league quality changeup and label him a future reliever. In either scenario, most agree that Karns will be a productive major league pitcher in some capacity in the seasons ahead as long as he remains healthy. His impressive career minor league 10.81 K/9 ratio and the fact that he is nearly big league ready makes him one of the more intriguing assets the Nationals have available to trade.
2) Robbie Ray LHP Double-A Harrisburg
A 12th round selection in the 2010 MLB Draft who signed for a well above slot bonus of $799,000, Ray has broken out this season as his fastball velocity and the quality of his off-speed pitches has dramatically improved. Ray started the year in High-A Potomac, where he provided the P-Nats with a 3.00 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 84 innings pitched before earning a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg earlier this week. A 21-year-old left-handed starting pitcher with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s and an aptitude toward missing bats, Ray is easily one of the most coveted Nationals pitching prospects.
1) Taylor Jordan RHP Washington Nationals
The Nationals 9th round selection in the 2009 MLB Draft, Jordan overwhelmed minor league hitters this season, posting a 9-1 record with a 1.00 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 90.1 innings pitched in High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, prompting the Nationals to promote him to Washington. Jordan has made two starts for the Nationals, looking fairly impressive with a 2.70 ERA and 11 hits and 2 walks allowed in 10 innings pitched.
Featuring a 90-95mph fastball with sink and movement inside to right-handed hitters, a sharp slider that generates swings-and-misses, and a promising changeup, Jordan has the makings of a productive #4 starting pitcher. The favorite to win the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year award, Jordan most likely will be the most popular Nationals prospect this month and will be mentioned in most every trade conversation with other clubs.