As the minor league season rapidly heads towards its Labor Day conclusion, I thought this was an appropriate time to closely examine the Nationals farm system to determine my Top 10 prospects. I have spent significant time in minor league parks this summer watching games, so I feel fairly confident in this list.
The Nationals farm system is currently in a state of flux, as the recent graduations of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, the ramifications of last season’s success, and the forfeiture of their 1st round selection this summer has depleted much of the talent in the organization. Ranked as one of the top farm systems just a few years ago, the Nationals system must now rank toward the bottom third in all of baseball.
My criterion for this list prioritizes the prospects’ possible ceiling, their potential value due to their position, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, and finally how far are they from contributing in the big leagues. With that in mind, here are my current Nationals Top 10 Prospects.
Outside the Top 10
Jake Johansen RHSP, Jeff Kobernus INF/OF, Jason Martinson SS, Brandon Miller RF, Brett Mooneyham LHSP, Eury Perez CF, Tony Renda 2B, Tanner Roark RHP, Matt Skole 1B/3B, Sammy Solis LHSP, Steven Souza Jr. , and Drew Ward 3B
10) Matt Purke LHSP High-A Potomac
A former overslot 3rd round selection in 2011, Purke has battled shoulder injuries since being drafted, throwing less than 100 innings since signing with the Nationals. Injuries have likely ruined his chances to reach his ceiling as a #2 starter, the slim possibility he rediscovers his previously overpowering repertoire keeps him on this list.
9) Ian Krol LHRP MLB Washington
One of three prospects received in the Mike Morse trade last winter, Krol has flourished in his shift to the bullpen this season as his fastball now reaches 93-94mph. Krol has shown the ability to get both righties and lefties out this season, meaning he is more than a specialist in the future. He does not have the highest ceiling, but Krol should be a part of the Nationals bullpen for the next few years.
8) Zach Walters INF Triple-A Syracuse
The prospect received in return for Jason Marquis a few seasons ago, Walters has shown great power at Triple-A this season, slugging 28 home runs and 31 doubles. Scouts are not impressed with his defense at shortstop, and his on-base percentage is sub-.300, but an infielder with this type of power should be an asset to a major league team in a utility role, perhaps as soon as 2014.
7) Michael TaylorCF High-A Potomac
A stellar athlete and potential above-average defender in center field, Taylor struggled offensively at the beginning of this year before improving at the plate in the second half of the year. Taylor needs to get on-base more frequently and cut down on his strikeouts, but only 22-years-old, he still could develop into a starting-caliber player in a few years.
6) Nathan Karns RHSP Double-A Harrisburg
Karns has followed his breakout 2012 season with another excellent season in the minor leagues and was fairly impressive in his brief audition in Washington. Questions exist if he will serve as a #4 starter in the major leagues or a power reliever, but either way Karns is a major league quality arm that should help the Nationals in 2014.
5) Robbie Ray LHSP Double-A Harrisburg
Coming off a mediocre 2012, this 21-year-old lefty has blossomed this season, first dominating High-A with a 3.11 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 84 innings before earning a promotion to Double-A. Ray has a mid-90s fastball and the potential for two average off-speed pitches, and projects as a #4 starter in the major leagues.
4) Taylor Jordan RHSP MLB Washington
Yes, he stretches the definition of a prospect with his lengthy audition in Washington this summer, but for the purposes of the list I have included him. A forgotten name in the system prior to 2013, Jordan bust upon the scene this spring, dominating both High-A and Double-A before forcing a promotion to the show. Jordan has pitched so well he should enter the offseason as the favorite for the #5 starter spot in the rotation in 2014. He projects as a good #4 starter in the majors.
3) Brian GoodwinCF Double-A Harrisburg
Goodwin has struggled this season at Double-A Harrisburg batting .254 with 9 home runs, but he still has the potential to be an above-average offensive and defensive major league centerfielder. Struggling at Double-A as a 22-year-old is not uncommon, and with some adjustments and further refinement in the minor leagues Goodwin could be the Nationals centerfielder in 2015.
2) A.J. Cole RHSP Double-A Harrisburg
Long one of my favorite prospects, Cole was inconsistent with flashes of promise in Potomac before earning a recent promotion to Double-A. Since arriving in Harrisburg, Cole has flourished with a 1.73 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched. Cole has a mid-90s fastball with life, a promising but erratic curveball, and an improving changeup. Only 21-years-old, Cole still has time to refine his breaking ball and delivery if he wants to reach his #3 or #4 starter ceiling.
1) Lucas Giolito RHSP Rookie GCL
The Nationals 1st round pick in 2012, Giolito has returned in the past few weeks from last year’s Tommy John surgery and reports have his velocity back in the high-90s. Giolito combines his powerful fastball with a devastating curveball and above-average changeup, and owns rare #1 starter type potential if he remains healthy. Giolito has plenty of bust potential, but his immense potential is the reason he tops this list.