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March 28, 2013

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Washington Nationals Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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State of the Farm:Yes, I'm gonna break 'em in two, and show you what your loving man can do.”

Prospect rankings primer

The Top Ten

  1. 3B Anthony Rendon
  2. RHP Lucas Giolito
  3. OF Brian Goodwin
  4. RHP A.J. Cole
  5. RHP Nate Karns
  6. RHP Christian Garcia
  7. IF Matt Skole
  8. LHP Matt Purke
  9. LHP Sammy Solis
  10. OF Eury Perez

1. Anthony Rendon
Position: IF
DOB: 06/06/1990
Height/Weight: 6’0’’ 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Rice University (Houston, TX)
2012 Stats: .364/.500/.1000 at complex-level GCL (5 games); .259/.375/.444 at short-season Auburn (8 games); .333/.438/.630 at High-A Potomac (9 games); .162/.305/.368 at Double-A Harrisburg (21 games)
The Tools: 7 potential hit; 5+ power; 6 glove; 5+ arm

What Happened in 2012: Yet another ankle injured cut into his season, but a healthy Rendon flashed star power with the stick, giving scouts hope that the future is bright.

Strengths: Remarkable hands/hand speed; can get inside any ball; excellent bat control; plus-plus potential hit tool; excellent pitch identity/recognition skills; good hip explosion for bat speed and power potential; arm is strong enough for third; glove can play above average; good actions/pickups.

Weaknesses: Can’t stay on a field; power might be more gap/doubles than over-the-fence; injuries have limited lateral range at third; well below average run.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; first-division/all-star potential

Explanation of Risk: High risk; mature talent, but ankle/shoulder injuries on resume; has yet to play a full season.

Fantasy Future: Has the bat to hit for a high average (.300-plus); excellent on-base potential and good extra-base pop; over-the-fence power might play down because of a more linear, line-drive swing.

The Year Ahead: Assuming Rendon can stay healthy, he has a chance to not only reach the majors, but to have an impact. Several scouts scoffed at the idea of using Rendon at the keystone, especially given his history of ankle injuries and the physical demands of the position. In the end, Rendon’s bat is what will carry him to the next level; he has a preternatural feel for putting the barrel on the ball, and given his secondary skills at the plate, could develop into an impact bat. He has to stay healthy, but if he can string together at-bats and find his rhythm, he could find himself in games that count at some point in the season.

Major league ETA: 2013

2. Lucas Giolito
Position: RHP
DOB: 07/14/1994
Height/Weight: 6’6’’ 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Harvard-Westlake (Los Angeles, CA)
2012 Stats: 4.50 ERA (2 IP, 2 H, 1 K, 0 BB) at complex-level GCL
The Tools: 8 potential FB; 7 potential CB; 6 potential CH

What Happened in 2012: Considered the best high school arm available in the draft, Giolito signed and then underwent Thomas Edward John Jr. surgery in late August and will miss the 2013 season.

Strengths: Monster size; excellent present strength; potential for very steep plane from higher slot; elite arm strength; fastball can touch triple digits; routinely worked in the mid-90s; could be future 8 pitch; hard curveball was second monster offering; thrown with incredible arm speed; velo and depth; feel for manipulating the break; plus-plus potential; some feel for changeup; good turn over and action.

Weaknesses: Could dominate with fastball; thrower; had some arm drag and couldn’t always get over the front side; would work up; feel for control; command projection but below average at present; hard to evaluate until he returns to professional level.

Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 1 starter

Explanation of Risk: Extreme; only two professional innings; Tommy John surgery will delay start.

Fantasy Future: If everything returns post-surgery, Giolito has legit no. 1 potential, with a mid-upper 90s fastball, a bat-missing hard curve, and enough feel for the craft to develop the changeup. With size and stuff, he could be one of the better pitchers in the game.

The Year Ahead: Giolito will miss the 2013 season. He should be ready to go by 2014, and if it clicks, it could be scary from the jump. He’s a top 101 prospect while on the shelf, and if he comes back at full strength showing the same stuff that made him the top high school pitcher (talent-wise) as an amateur, he could be a top-tier prospect in the minors in short order.

Major league ETA: 2017

3. Brian Goodwin
Position: CF
DOB: 11/02/1990
Height/Weight: 6’1’’ 195 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Miami Dade South CC (Miami, FL)

2012 Stats: .324/.438/.542 at Low-A Hagerstown (58 games); .223/.306/.373 at
Double-A Harrisburg (42 games)
The Tools: 6+ run; 6 potential glove; 5+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 5 arm

What Happened in 2012: A leg injury might have caused a stumble out of the gate, but Goodwin quickly found his form in Low-A, crushing the Sally League and forcing a big promotion to Double-A after 58 games.

Strengths: Big-time athlete; easy plus run; quick out of the box and good second gear; might be a 7; shows all five tools; excellent range in center; good glove; throws well for position; can put bat to ball at the plate; has a plan; quick hands; can fire hips and show game pop.

Weaknesses: Still raw; reads/routes need work; good fastball hitter, but struggles against soft/spinning; Double-A arm-side pitching shut him down; power approach is more gap-to-gap than over-the-fence; might not have impact bat at highest level.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Explanation of Risk: High risk; has to yet pass Double-A test; speed and glove will play; questions about offensive future.

Fantasy Future: Has speed, contact ability, pop, and an approach, so he could develop into a quality leadoff type; lacks a middle-of-the-order stick, but has catalytic potential because of legs.

The Year Ahead: The jump to Double-A is the second biggest jump in baseball, behind the jump to the majors, and even though he struggled at the plate after the promotion, his game did flash signs of life. A return to the level will tell us more about his future and if his five-tool potential is prophecy or just paper. He can play baseball, with instincts for the game and a good overall approach. He has a nice swing from the left side, with both control and some leverage, so contact won’t be empty. It remains to be seen how far the hit/power tools will develop, but given his speed and defensive potential at a premium spot, the bat doesn’t have to be a monster for him to have value at the highest level.

Major league ETA: 2014

4. A.J. Cole
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/05/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2010 draft, Oviedo High School (Oviedo, FL)
2012 Stats: 2.07 ERA (95.2 IP, 78 H, 102 K, 19 BB) at Low-A Burlington; 7.82 ERA (38 IP, 60 H, 31 K, 19 BB) at High-A Stockton
The Tools: 7 potential FB; 6 potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2012: A poor start in the California League prompted a demotion to the Low-A level, where the high-ceiling talent once again showed his high-ceiling potential, missing bats with a return to the mid-90s cheese.

Strengths: Prototypical size; lean body with projection; quick arm on fastball; can work in the low-mid-90s; easy velocity; could be true 7 pitch with improved command; has some bore and occasional cut; curveball and changeup will flash above-average potential; feel for command.

Weaknesses: Shut down at times; can be too fastball reliant; loses arm speed on the curve; break gets slurvy and sweeps across hitting zone; changeup has some fade, but can aim the pitch; get deliberate in the delivery; throws strikes, but often finds a lot of the plate; needs command refinement and secondary jump.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 2/3 starter

Explanation of Risk: High risk; struggled in initial High-A exposure; found rhythm and consistency in return to Low-A level; secondary stuff needs grade jump to play

Fantasy Future: Has the size and the stuff to work high in a major-league rotation; fastball is legit plus offering and could end up a 7; secondary stuff has the potential to grow; could be bat misser in mid-to-high rotation role.

The Year Ahead: Cole will be able to avoid the California League thanks to his return trip to the Nationals, and with a friendlier environment and improved confidence, he should be ready to take another step forward in 2013. Based on talent alone, he’s an easy top 101 prospect in the game, and if the secondary stuff improves, he should jump up the rankings. Some sources are concerned about the utility of the breaking ball, citing a slower arm and lack of feel for the execution of the pitch. Others think it still has above-average potential, although it could morph into a true slider down the line, given the arm slot and overall difficulty of harnessing a power curve.

Major league ETA: 2015

5. Nate Karns
Position: RHP
DOB: 11/25/1987
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 12th round, 2009 draft, Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX)
2012 Stats: 2.03 ERA (44.1 IP, 23 H, 61 K, 21 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown; 2.26 ERA
(71.2 IP, 47 H, 87 K, 26 BB) at High-A Potomac
The Tools: 6+ FB; 6+ CB;

What Happened in 2012: Injuries had sapped Karns’ progress leading up to the 2012 season, but a lucky bout with health propelled the big righty up prospect lists with a very strong two-level performance.

Strengths: Tall, physical pitcher; creates good angle to the plate and throws downhill; fastball works in the 92-95 range; touches higher; good weight; can pound low zone; curveball is true plus pitch; might project even higher; heavy vertical action; true bat-missing weapon; hard to adjust the bat to the plane; attacks and competes.

Weaknesses: He’s 25 years old; behind developmental curve; can repeat, but delivery has some effort; mostly a two-pitch type; changeup gets over, but is below average at present; can throw strikes, but overall command is loose.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3 starter

Explanation of Risk: High risk; has yet to pitch in Double-A; shoulder injury on resume.

Fantasy Future: Mature body and two plus (to plus-plus) pitches in arsenal; if he can stay healthy, should be able to chew innings and miss bats; could end up in relief if changeup plays down or command regresses.

The Year Ahead: Health will be the biggest factor for Karns, but if he can stay on the mound, he be able to perform at a high level in Double-A. The fastball/curve combo is very legit, with several sources putting high sixes on the offerings. The delivery works, although he does show some effort and the injury history to the shoulder will keep red flags flying for a long time. If the changeup can play as an average pitch and he can continue to miss bats with the power fastball/curve, he won’t be long for the minors. Good arm.

Major league ETA: 2013

6. Christian Garcia
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/24/1985
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2004 draft (Yankees), Gulliver Prep (Miami, FL)
2012 Stats: 1.35 ERA (20 IP, 13 H, 28 K, 6 BB) at Double-A Harrisburg; 0.56 ERA (32.1 IP, 18 H, 38 H, 11 K) at Triple-A Syracuse; 2.13 ERA (12.2 IP, 8 H, 15 K, 2 BB) at major-league level.
The Tools: 7 FB; 5 CB; 5 CH

What Happened in 2012: Yet another oft-injured arm found his way to heath and good fortune in 2012, riding his plus-plus heater up three levels and into the majors.

Strengths: Tall/strong; big mid-90s fastball; very heavy when located down; some deception in the release; jumps on hitters; shows both curveball and changeup; both play well with fastball; changeup will good action; looks like a plus pitch at times.

Weaknesses: Comes high front-side in delivery and can struggle to finish/get over; tendency to elevate as a result; command comes and goes; lacks secondary consistency; can lose confidence in curve and work off FB/CH.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; set-up reliever

Explanation of Risk: Moderate risk; ready for major-league role; two Tommy John surgeries on resume; 27-years-old.

Fantasy Future: Has a legit, bat-missing mid-90s fastball, so he will eventually find a home near the back of a major-league bullpen. He can complement the heater with two playable secondary offerings.

The Year Ahead: It didn’t take long for Garcia to return to the shelf, as a partial tendon tear in his forearm landed him on the disabled list to start the season. When and if he returns to health, he has the type of arm to find a home in a major-league bullpen, although most likely as a 7th/8th guy. The heater is legit, and when he can spot in lower in the zone, the velocity and natural weight to the pitch make it very difficult to lift. The secondary stuff will flash, and the reports on the changeup were quite promising. But he struggles to stay on the field, and the longer he sits on the shelf, the harder his path to sustainable success will be.

Major league ETA: 2012

7. Matt Skole
Position: IF
DOB: 07/30/1989
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Acquired: 5th round, 2011 draft, Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
2012 Stats: .286/.438/.574 at Low-A Hagerstown (101 games); .314/.355/.486 at High-A Potomac (18 games)
The Tools: 5 potential hit; 6 potential power; 5 arm

What Happened in 2012: Making his full-season debut, Skole raked in the Sally League before a promotion put him in High-A, where the bat showed few signs of slowing down.

Strengths: Very strong; good hands; good hip explosion; raw power is easy 6; can barrel balls and use all fields; can hit arm-side pitching; hit tool could play to solid-average; run producer; shows on-base ability; strike-zone judgment.

Weaknesses: Not ideal for left-side defensive role; actions aren’t smooth; lateral range is below average; well below average run; game power might play below plus; swing has some miss; has struggled against velo; most likely a first baseman; all pressure on the bat.

Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player

Explanation of Risk: Moderate; yet to play in Double-A; mature body with good now hit/power.

Fantasy Future: Won’t be a value monster on first, but the bat has the potential to hit .260-plus with 15-20 bombs and some on-base ability. Potential to be solid, but not special.

The Year Ahead: The Double-A test looms for the 23-year-old, and sources are mixed on the overall potential of the bat. While it’s clear that he has strength and a good overall feel for putting the bat on the ball, higher level pitching could exploit some of the holes in his swing, as he already shows some swing-and-miss in the zone. The approach is good, which means he won’t be giving away outs, but he will have to really stick it if he wants to climb the ladder as a bat-first type, one most likely to end up at first base in the end. He has a shot to make it work.

Major league ETA: 2014

8. Matt Purke
Position: LHP
DOB: 07/17/1990
Height/Weight: 6’4’’ 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 3rd round, 2011 draft, Texas Christian University (Ft. Worth, TX)
2012 Stats: 5.87 ERA (15.1 IP, 15 H, 14 K, 12 BB) at Low-A Hagerstown
The Tools: Plus potential FB/SL

What Happened in 2012: A shoulder injury and subsequent surgery limited his 2012 season to only three starts, continuing the trend of setbacks that started his sophomore year at TCU.

Strengths: Size/pitchability from left side; from lower slot, fastball was lively in the 90-93 range; touching 94; some natural sink; slider was second above average pitch; slicing pitch with good tilt; good command profile; can show a quality changeup; can add/subtract.

Weaknesses: Fastball velocity will fluctuate; can work smooth in 91-94 range, then lose arm speed and work high 80s; when arm slows, everything gets sweepy; struggles to stay over the ball; shoulder woes have obscured the real picture.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3 starter

Explanation of Risk: Extreme risk; shoulder surgery on resume; limited professional record; already 22.

Fantasy Future: If everything returns to freshman year form, Purke has a chance to develop into a steady major-league starter, one with a plus fastball/slider combination from the left side. If the changeup takes a big step forward and the command is sharp, maybe even a higher ceiling.

The Year Ahead: The hope is that Purke’s shoulder ailments will be a thing of the past, and the once heralded prospect can retuned to the spotlight. Lefties with good size, pitchability and stuff are hard to find, but shoulder surgeries are scarier than elbow surgeries, and uncertainty is the only certainty at this stage of the process. Purke could pitch in extended spring training before getting a full-season assignment when his arm is ready, and assuming full health, could jump up prospect lists with a strong summer.

Major league ETA: 2015

9. Sammy Solis
Position: LHP
DOB: 08/10/1988
Height/Weight: 6’5’’ 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2010 draft, University of San Diego (San Diego, CA)
2012 Stats: Did Not Pitch
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential CH

What Happened in 2012: Thomas Edward John, Jr.

Strengths: Big bodied; strong arm; fastball works low-90s; can go get more; locates; can use above average changeup against both righties and lefties; very good deception from fastball; excellent arm speed and late action; good rollover pitch that can miss bats as well; will mix in curveball; can achieve tight rotation; competes; pitchability.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have go-to breaking ball; spins a curve, but it shows more than showcases; struggled to drop it in the zone; throws strikes, but often finds the barrel; limited experience because of assorted injuries.

Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter

Explanation of Risk: High risk; coming off Tommy John; 24; yet to achieve Double-A.

Fantasy Future: Has the body to log innings and the stuff to force poor swings and miss a few bats; most likely a mid-rotation innings chewer.

The Year Ahead: Coming back from Tommy John has become routine, but not every arm comes back with the same stuff or the same feel. It’s assumed that Solis will jump back into the prospect mix at some point in 2013, most likely starting back in High-A after a continued rehab stint in extended spring training. Solis showed good feel for pitching before the injury, which will help his cause, as will his makeup and work ethic, which have received positive marks from the scouting community. If he returns to form, he could move quickly as a mid-rotation type.

Major league ETA: 2015

10. Eury Perez
Position: CF
DOB: 05/30/1990
Height/Weight: 5’11’’ 190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2007, Dominican Republic
2012 Stats: .409/.435/.455 at complex-level GCL ( games); .299/.325/.342 at Double-A Harrisburg (82 games); .333/.373/.390 at Triple-A Syracuse (40 games); .200/.200/.200 at major-league level (13 games)
The Tools: 7+ speed; 6 glove; 5 arm

What Happened in 2012: Perez played at four minor-league levels and reached the majors in September, where he only managed to get five at-bats in 13 games.

Strengths: Easy 7+ runner; glides; very good athlete; versatile defender; chops for center; arm is average; can make contact at the plate; use legs to press defense; will swipe a base.

Weaknesses: Lacks power; swing can be empty contact and light; hit tool is below-average, but utility can play up because of run; approach can be too aggressive; doesn’t work himself into favorable hitting situations; can’t exploit mistakes.

Overall Future Potential: 5; second-division player

Explanation of Risk: Low risk; achieved upper-minors/major-league taste; can play defense/run at highest level.

Fantasy Future: Catalytic type with defensive versatility; most likely a bench outfielder; can make some contact and swipe some bases; won’t hit for power.

The Year Ahead: Perez could use some more time in Triple-A to work on his approach and refine his defense in center. His athleticism and pure plus-plus speed give him options even if the bat struggles to play at the highest level, but its not a given that Perez is just a bench bat in the making. He needs to work on his approach and his swing against quality stuff, but he has a chance to play beyond the role of backup, especially if he can turn the ball back with more authority.

Major league ETA: 2012

Prospects on the Rise:

1. OF Brandon MillerHe’s behind the curve as a prospect, turning 23 in October and yet to experience a full-season level, but Miller has legit power potential, and that’s easy to sell. The hit tool is fringy, and the defensive profile will be in a corner, but the power has a chance to play. Assuming the bat clicks, Miller could take a quick ride and has a chance to emerge as a power-first corner type at the highest level.

2. OF Michael Taylor: Toolsy and frustrating, Taylor fell short of expectations in the Carolina League in 2012, producing a less-than-robust .680 OPS. While it’s a tough league to hit in, Taylor lost his way at the plate, taking himself out of at-bats and swinging over anything soft. A return trip to the circuit could do the young outfielder some good, as the tools are there for future impact, if he can slowly start to put it all together.

3. OF Estarlin Martinez: A converted infielder, Martinez has legit power in his bat and a swing that might just let it play. After showing off his offensive chops in the New York-Penn League, the 21-year-old Dominican will look to take another step forward in full-season ball, where his stock could either soar with a strong performance or sink if the bat fails to adjust to the competition.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2013

1. IF Zach Walters: Like most players put into the utility infielder box, the overall skill set just isn’t very sexy. But Walters has more in the tank than some observers give him credit for, and he could develop into a valuable player at the highest level. While not flashy with the leather, Walters can make the plays he can make, with a very strong arm and good overall fundamentals. The stick isn’t anything special either, but he can drive a baseball if you make a mistake, and several scouts mentioned the bat as having some life.

2. C Sandy Leon: Backup catchers never get the glory, but when you can bring above-average catch-and-throw skills to the table along with a competent bat, you are going to get some love. He’s not first up in the backup queue, but strong Triple-A campaign could force his name into the mix, where his strong arm and sound approach could add value when called upon.

3. 1B Chris Marrero: Remember this guy? Once a top prospect in the system, Marrero never developed into the monster many observers saw in his amateur days. A torn hamstring before the 2012 season didn’t help matters, and after a disappointing season, he’s back in Triple-A looking to thump his way back into the conversation. He has an uphill battle and the bat will need to show serious life to force the issue, but a healthy and hungry Marrero just might get the chance should an opportunity present itself.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/87 or later)

  1. Bryce Harper, OF
  2. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
  3. Anthony Rendon, 3B
  4. Drew Storen, RHP
  5. Lucas Giolito, RHP
  6. Wilson Ramos, C
  7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
  8. Brian Goodwin, OF
  9. A.J. Cole, RHP
  10. Nathan Karns, RHP

Although Washington’s farm system lacks depth behind the elite talents at the top, no team in baseball can top their under-25 one-two punch. Even that may be an understatement, as Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are two of the game’s rapidly emerging superstars.

Harper, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, will play the entire 2013 campaign at age 20. His gargantuan raw power and plus-plus arm from the outfield have been well documented over the years. Harper flashed an impressive feel for hitting with the ability to make late-season adjustments down the stretch last season. Meanwhile, a healthy Strasburg is a true ace. Armed with three wipeout pitches, the 24-year-old righty attacks hitters with a fastball that averages 96 mph, a power curveball, and a diving changeup.

Harper’s narrow edge over Strasburg is all about personal preference, and it leads to an intriguing debate. Just for kicks, a handful of scouts and front office personnel were asked, “If you were starting a team, in a vacuum that excludes contract status, would you choose Harper or Strasburg?” The answers were split about evenly. In the end, the rankings of these two are subjective. The important aspect is that both are already well above average major leaguers, and there’s no reason to believe they’re done improving.

High-ceilinged righty Lucas Giolito could zoom up this list if he makes a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and performs as expected. Having thrown just two professional innings, the 18-year-old Giolito slots behind 25-year-old reliever Drew Storen this year. Storen is one of the game’s better young bullpen arms. He’s had success in each of his three major-league seasons and even logged 43 saves for an 80-win Nationals team in 2011. After missing a chunk of last season to elbow surgery (bone chips), he quickly regained his mid-90s velocity and plus slider while pitching in a setup role. Washington’s offseason signing of Rafael Soriano may keep Storen in the seventh or eighth inning for the time being, but there’s no reason to believe his performance will dip.

After Wilson Ramos went down with a season-ending knee injury in May of last season, the Nationals acquired Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki for the stretch drive. With Suzuki still around, the two should split the club’s catching duties this year. Ramos remains Washington’s catcher of the future, however. The 25-year-old Venezuelan broke out when fully healthy in 2011, hitting .267/.334/.445 while handling himself very well behind the dish.

Danny Espinosa, also 25, may not be a star, but he has established himself as a capable everyday second baseman. The Long Beach State product provides a plus glove at second along with the chops to handle shortstop in a pinch. While his massive strikeout rates will always hold him back offensively––he led the NL with 189 punchouts in 2012––the switch-hitter consistently hits lefties well and provides enough overall pop. For this season, it may be important to keep in mind that Espinosa is attempting to play through a torn left rotator cuff. —Jason Cole

A Parting Thought: It’s a gamble to buy low on injured talent in the hopes it rebounds and provides you with a high return, but it takes only one big score to justify the risk, and if the Nationals can hit on a Rendon or a Giolito, or a Purke, they will look very smart for playing the ponies.

Last year's Nationals rankings

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

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