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November 24, 2010

Future Shock

Washington Nationals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: The historic talent in Harper improves an otherwise middle-of-the-road system.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Derek Norris, C
Four-Star Prospects
3. Danny Espinosa, SS/2B
4. A.J. Cole, RHP
Three-Star Prospects
5. Sammy Solis, LHP
6. Wilson Ramos, C
7. Michael Burgess, OF
8. Robbie Ray, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
9. Eury Perez, OF
10. Tyler Moore, 1B
11. Rick Hague, SS

Nine More:
12. Cole Kimball, RHP: This power arm out of the bullpen was touching 97-98 mph in the Arizona Fall League.
13. J.P. Ramirez, OF: Ramirez has impressive hitting skills, but he needs to improve his power and plate discipline to profile in a corner.
14. Chris Marrero, 1B: Like Ramirez, Marrero can hit, but as a first baseman only, he has to do more than just that.
15. Brad Meyers, RHP: He has a deep arsenal and plus command and control; scouts just wish he threw harder.
16. Jason Martinson, SS: Martinson probably is not a shortstop in the end, but he does have intriguing tools for third or second base.
17. A.J. Morris, RHP: He's a classic sinker/slider type who might work better in a relief role.
18. Brad Peacock, RHP: Peacock has excellent command, but his fastball is straight and often up in the zone.
19. Paul Demny, RHP: Demny was much improved in a second go-round at Low-A; his sturdy frame offers some projection.
20. Destin Hood, OF: He had no power, speed, or walks in full-season debut, but he has a surprisingly adept bat.

1. Bryce Harper, OF
DOB
: 10/16/92
Height/Weight: 6-3/225
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2010, College of Southern Nevada
2010 Stats: Did Not Play (Signed late)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/glove

Year in Review: The most-hyped player in draft history somehow exceeded expectations and signed for just under $10 million as the first overall pick.
The Good: Harper has the potential to be a historic talent. His calling card is his power, which ranks as an easy 80 on the 20-80 scale, with multiple scouts commenting they've never seen in-game power in a player so young before Harper. He's already capable of blasting moonshots and has an excellent sense on when to turn on a ball, while being equally effective in driving balls to the opposite field. The power occasionally overshadows his pure hitting ability, as he has bat speed and hand-eye coordination that is also advanced beyond his years. He's a big athlete with solid average speed and a cannon for an arm that will be a true weapon in right field.
The Bad: Harper's power comes at a cost, as he's an aggressive hitter who takes a healthy cut and could be prone to strikeouts. He commits to balls with a pre-swing hip slide that could leave him susceptible to more advanced breaking balls. Issues with his makeup are well documented; he plays the game with a chip on his shoulder that for many goes well beyond a confident style that would be valued, as he's turned off opponents and teammates with his behavior. He's never struggled in baseball, and for many he simply has some standard growing up to do. He's very big for his age, and there is concern that he could grow into a slow, massive slugger in the mold of Adam Dunn. He's new to the outfield and still working on his jumps and routes.
Ephemera: A total of 42 players have been drafted out of the College of Southern Nevada. Three have reached the big leagues, and none have hit a home run.
Perfect World Projection: Harper has the potential to be a consistent name at the top of the home run leaderboard and a frequent MVP candidate.
Fantasy Impact: Huge.
Path to the Big Leagues: Harper has the ability to move quickly, but it's important to manage expectations, as he just turned 18 years old. His pro debut at Low-A Hagerstown is among the most anticipated in recent memory.
ETA: 2013.

2. Derek Norris, C
DOB
: 2/14/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2007, Goddard HS (KS)
2010 Stats: .235/.419/.419 at High-A (94 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/glove

Year in Review: One of the best offensive catching prospects in the game, Norris struggled with a hand injury, but he still finished second in the Carolina League in OBP despite hitting just .235.
The Good: Finally healthy, Norris hit and hit for power in the Arizona Fall League. He has a short, easy stroke and plenty of power to all fields, but it's his plate discipline that makes him potentially special. He has an uncanny feel for the strike zone and nearly never swings at a bad pitch. He has a plus arm and made great strides in harnessing it during the season by shortening his release and improving his accuracy.
The Bad: Norris needs to improve defensively to stay behind the plate. He's a rough receiver who is often handcuffed by breaking balls, leading to plenty of pitches that are not caught cleanly. He's a power hitter who will always rack up a strikeout rate, and it's unlikely that he'll hit for a high average. He's a below-average runner.
Ephemera: Norris' walk totals became even more inflated with runners in scoring position, as while he hit .300 (24-for-80), his 42 bases on balls in those situations gave him on on-base percentage of .535.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an offense-oriented catcher, with the kind of OBP and slugging combo rarely seen at the position.
Fantasy Impact: The power will be good, but unless your league counts on-base skills, his real-world value will always be larger.
Path to the Big Leagues: A healthy Norris could return to the big numbers of 2009 at Double-A Harrisburg.
ETA: 2012

3. Danny Espinosa, SS/2B
DOB
: 4/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2008, Long Beach State
2010 Stats: .262/.334/.464 at Double-A (99 G); .295/.349/.463 at Triple-A (24 G); .214/.277/.447 at MLB (28 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/hitting for average

Year in Review: The biggest surprise of 2009 had a 20-20 season at the upper levels of the minors and hit six big-league home runs following a September call-up.
The Good: Espinosa can do a little bit of everything. He works the count well and generates surprising power from a torque-heavy swing that produces power from his explosive core. His average speed plays up due to outstanding baserunning instincts, and he has good defensive fundamentals and a solid arm. He gets the most of his ability with a max-effort, infectious playing style.
The Bad: Espinosa is not especially big or toolsy, so it's hard to see a star-level projection. Espinosa's swing is long, and he can get pull-happy, leading to plenty of questions about his ability to hit for average. His athleticism is a bit short for the left side, but he settled in at second base last year with little adjustments.
Ephemera: Espinosa hit for the cycle in Puerto Rico this winter, going 4-for-4 with three runs and four RBI for Ponce on November 16.
Perfect World Projection: A middle infielder with walks, double-digit power and stolen bases, he'll need them to make up for a sub-par batting average.
Fantasy Impact: It's a mixed bag, as it's hard to find middle infielders with power, but he's going to hurt in other departments.
Path to the Big Leagues: Espinosa enters spring training with the big-league second-base job.
ETA: 2011.

4. A.J. Cole, RHP
DOB
: 1/5/92
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Fourth round, 2010, Oviedo HS (FL)
2010 Stats: 0.00 ERA (1.0-1-1-1) at Short-season (1 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Velocity/change-up

Year in Review: One of the top high school righties in the draft scuffled at times this spring but didn't change his price tag, leading to a drop to the fourth round but a $2 million bonus nonetheless.
The Good: Cole has good stuff now, but he's absolutely loaded with projection thanks to a broad-shouldered, skinny frame and extremely long levers. He sits in the low 90s now but often gets into the mid-90s, which scouts believe will become more common as he progresses. He throws a power curveball with hard bite that flashes potential. His delivery is clean and simple, and he has a more consistent release point and better command than most tall teenagers.
The Bad: Cole needs to develop a true starter's arsenal. His curveball can get slurvy when he overthrows it, and his change-up is nascent. His gap between what he is now and can be is larger than most million-dollar arms, so he's not expected to move briskly.
Ephemera: Only five pitchers drafted with the 116th overall pick have reached the big leagues, and their combined record is 21-61.
Perfect World Projection: Cole has the ceiling of an impact big-league starter.
Fantasy Impact: It's too far away to worry about.
Path to the Big Leagues: Cole has the ability to earn a full-season assignment in spring training, possibly teaming with Harper at Hagerstown.
ETA: 2014.

5. Sammy Solis, LHP
DOB
: 8/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/230
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010, University of San Diego
2010 Stats: 0.00 ERA (4.0-2-0-3) at Low-A (2 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Command/breaking ball

Year in Review: This massive left-hander proved he was healthy after 2009's back problems and was the draft's first pick on day two.
The Good: In a system filled with polished arms, Solis ranks with any of them. He locates his 88-91 fastball effortlessly within the strike zone and can touch 93 mph when he reaches back for extra. His change-up is a plus pitch that he'll throw at any point in the count, and his command and control are both big-league worthy.
The Bad: Solis' curveball is average at best, and he could use another good secondary pitch because of his lack of velocity. While he held his own in the Arizona Fall League, he didn't miss many bats, and his pitching style has little room for error. For some scouts, his body is more soft than bulky.
Ephemera: Solis' parents bought a 75-acre farm five years ago in South Africa, which they converted into a home for children orphaned by AIDS.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a consistent fourth starter and innings eater.
Fantasy Impact: Limited.
Path to the Big Leagues: Solis has the ability to move quickly. He'll likely begin the 2011 season at High-A Potomac and could reach Harrisburg by the end of his first full season.
ETA: Late 2012.

6. Wilson Ramos, C
DOB
: 8/10/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2004, Venezuela (Twins)
2010 Stats: .241/.280/.345 at Triple-A with Minnesota (71 G); .316/.341/.494 at Triple-A with Washington (20 G); .296/.321/.407 at MLB with Minnesota (7 G); .269/.296/.404 at MLB with Washington (15 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Arm/plate discipline

Year in Review: Eternally blocked by Joe Mauer in Minnesota, the top catching prospect in the Twins' system got off to a disturbingly slow start at Triple-A before getting dealt to Washington for closer Matt Capps.
The Good: Ramos has the ability to be an impact-level defender. He's an athletic receiver who moves well, has very good blocking skills, and a plus-plus arm that shuts down the running game. He has solid hitting skills with a projection for at least average power as a big-leaguer.
The Bad: Ramos' offensive skills are held back by a swing-at-anything approach that usually leads to bad counts and/or bad contact. Further complicating matters is a power-hungry swing that doesn't fit his potential. His offensive problems are especially visible against right-handers.
Ephemera: During his brief stints in the big leagues, Ramos went 9-for-16 against left-handed pitchers with four doubles.
Perfect World Projection: He's a plus defender behind the plate with solid but unspectacular offense.
Fantasy Impact: Double-digit home runs and a decent batting average provide some value at the position.
Path to the Big Leagues: A healthy Jesus Flores creates a bit of a cloud at catcher, and Ramos might return to Triple-A Syracuse in 2011 simply to get consistent playing time. He'll still get an honest look this spring.
ETA: 2011

7. Michael Burgess, OF
DOB: 10/20/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Supplemental first round, 2007, Hillsborough HS (FL)
2010 Stats: .262/.351/.430 at High-A (101 G); .284/.391/.649 at Double-A (21 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/speed

Year in Review: This slow-developing outfielder made some second-half strides and finished the year strong in the final weeks of the season at Double-A.
The Good: Burgess shows classic right-field skills out of a thick, compact, muscular frame. He works the count well and can pound mistakes with raw power that rates as 60-65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He's a good outfielder who reads balls off the bat well, and his arm strength is above average.
The Bad: Burgess' speed is a tick below average and likely to get worse as he gets older. He cut his strikeout rate in each of the past two years but still can be fooled by good breaking balls. While he hits left-handers well, he cuts down on his power in order to do so.
Ephemera: Nine of Burgress' 12 Carolina League home runs were hit in the first three innings of games. From the fourth inning on, he had just three jacks in 229 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a classic everyday right fielder with power.
Fantasy Impact: He'll have standard right-field value, with even more value to leagues that value on-base skills.
Path to the Big Leagues: Burgess will begin 2011 back at Harrisburg. If he builds on the late-season power surge, he could enter the big-league picture quickly.
ETA: 2012.

8. Robbie Ray, LHP
DOB
: 10/1/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 12th round, 2010, Brentwood HS (TN)
2010 Stats: 0.00 ERA (1.0-0-0-2) at Short-season (1 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Fastball/curveball.

Year in Review: Thought to be too expensive after an up-and-down senior year, the Nationals continued their aggressive drafting by taking Ray late and giving him just under $800,000 to sign.
The Good: If you see Ray on a good day, he looks like an easy first-round pick. Skinny and loose, he generally sits in the low 90s with a naturally darting fastball and has a change-up that is highly advanced for his age. His arm action is clean and his command and control are solid.
The Bad: If you see Ray on a bad day, he looks like a potential first-rounder who would have been best served by going to college. One area scout described his fastball as 85-94 mph, and his breaking ball wandered between usable and nothing more than a get-me-over pitch with little movement.
Ephemera: Located in a Nashville suburb, Brentwood High School was attended by pop star Ke$ha, not that it's anything to be proud of.
Perfect World Projection: Ray has a high ceiling, but it's not without considerable risk.
Fantasy Impact: Let's see what version we get this year before we start projecting.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ray will compete for a full-season assignment this spring, but there are no guarantees.
ETA: 2014.

9. Eury Perez, OF
DOB
: 5/30/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Dominican Republic
2010 Stats: .299/.345/.381 at Low-A (131 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Speed/power

Year in Review: This fast outfielder struggled in full-season debut but finished with a bang, batting .339/.384/.451 after the All-Star break.
The Good: Perez is a plus-plus runner and he already knows how to use it, leading the Sally League with 64 stolen bases at an 83 percent clip. He developed a more contact-oriented approach as the season wore on, making consistent contact while being equally effective against both lefties and righties. He's a solid outfielder and his arm is average to a tick above.
The Bad: Perez has a leadoff profile but needs to develop a true top-of-the-order approach. He goes up looking to swing the bat and needs to draw more walks for his role. His outfield play is also a bit rough, as he often needs his speed to make up for bad jumps. He doesn't have power, nor does he project for any.
Ephemera: In July and August, Perez stole 38 bases in 41 attempts last season.
Perfect World Projection: He'd be a classic old-school leadoff hitter.
Fantasy Impact: If Perez develops into an everyday player, his stolen-base totals alone will help any fantasy squad.
Path to the Big Leagues: Perez is equal parts excitement and risk. He'll try to build on 2010's second half at Potomac.
ETA: 2013.

10. Tyler Moore, 1B
DOB
: 1/30/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 16th round, 2008, Mississippi State
2010 Stats: .269/.321/.552 at High-A (129 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Power/speed

Year in Review: This obscure 16th-round pick was arguably the most dangerous power hitter in the minors during the second half of the year, batting .346/.404/.716 after the break with 22 home runs in 243 at-bats.
The Good: Moore has massive raw power that's a combination of both bat speed and raw strength, and he doesn't need to fully square up a ball to drive it over the fence. He gets high praise for his work ethic, and worked hard with the coaching staff to close some of the holes in his swing. He's a surprisingly good defender at first base who excels in picking balls out of the dirt.
The Bad: Moore is a bat-only non-athlete. His loopy swing will prevent him from hitting for average, and he'd be a better prospect with a more patient approach. He's a well below-average runner.
Ephemera: The Nationals drafted Moore three times, including a 2005 selection (41st round) out of high school, and again in 2006 (33rd round) after his first junior college season.
Perfect World Projection: He could be a low-average/high-power everyday player.
Fantasy Impact: Power and... well, that's about it.
Path to the Big Leagues: Moore's prospect status could move up significantly if he can prove himself against more advanced pitching at Harrisburg.
ETA: 2012

11. Rick Hague, SS
DOB
: 9/18/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2010, Rice University
2010 Stats: .275/.380/.300 at Rookie (10 G); .327/.386/.522 at Low-A (39 G)
Best/Worst Tool: Bat/glove

Year in Review: This third-round pick had a mixed debut by exceeding all expectations offensively while being a disaster in the field.
The Good: Hague impressed scouts during his pro debut, looking like the potential first-round pick that he was before a poor junior year at Rice. He's a lean athlete with a solid approach, coupled with a quick, quiet swing that some project for average power in the big leagues. He's at least an average runner and he has enough arm to play third base.
The Bad: After being seen as a fundamentally-sound defender during the early part of his college career, Hague completely fell apart this spring, and it bled into his pro debut, as he committed 20 errors in 38 games and sometimes on the most trivial of plays. He's not an ideal shortstop as is, and scouts think he might work better at the hot corner, where he can focus more on reads and reacts, as opposed to getting to balls.
Ephemera: In just 19 at-bats for Hagerstown with runners in scoring position and two outs, Hague hit three triples.
Perfect World Projection: No matter where he ends up defensively, his bat will be where the value lies.
Fantasy Impact: It's solid but never sexy.
Path to the Big Leagues: Hague will begin the year with one of Washington's A-level teams, but his Opening Day position will be as interesting as his assignment.
ETA: 2013

The Sleeper: Yet another catcher worth keeping an eye on, 21-year-old Venezuelan Sandy Leon has a massive arm and scouts hope that his good approach at the plate will help him develop as a hitter.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/85 or later)
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP

2. Bryce Harper, OF
3. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
4. Drew Storen, RHP
5. Derek Norris, C
6. Ian Desmond, SS
7. Danny Espinosa, SS/2B
8. Ross Detwiler, LHP
9. A.J. Cole, RHP
10. Sammy Solis, LHP

Sure, Strasburg is a risk now due to the elbow injury, but is he no more a risk than an 18-year-old kid? His brief major-league run was phenomenal, as I'd still wager on a Cy Young in his future. Zimmermann should be Strasburg's role model, as he made an impressive return from Tommy John surgery and is an excellent breakout candidate in 2011. Storen got to the big leagues quickly, but on a stuff level, he's more of a closer on a bad team/set-up man on a good one. Desmond made plenty of errors in 2010, but he was also a spectacular defender at times and could last in this league for a decade-plus in a Royce Clayton-like fashion. It's unlikely that Detwiler will ever be the pitcher that was the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft, but there's no reason he can't slide into the back of a big-league rotation.

Summary: While the injury to Strasburg delays the franchise's improvement, this is still an organization heading in the right direction. The team will be able to pull out of the cellar, but there's not enough talent on the offensive side of things to call them a future contender yet.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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