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February 28, 2010

Future Shock

Nationals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Five-Star Prospects
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
2. Derek Norris, C
Four-Star Prospects
3. Drew Storen, RHP
4. Danny Espinosa, SS
Three-Star Prospects
5. Ian Desmond, SS
6. Michael Burgess, OF
7. Eury Perez, OF
8. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
9. Chris Marrero, 1B
10. Juan Jaime, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Paul Demny, RHP

Four More:
12. Destin Hood, OF: This big outfielder remains high on upside, but raw with the bat.
13. Justin Maxwell, OF: A toolsy outfielder, Maxwell has plenty of secondary skills, but he's 26, and he might never hit for average.
14. Brad Meyers, RHP: He's a command and control righty who is very good at what he does, but his ceiling ends at a back-end starter.
15. J.R. Higley, OF: Higley certainly passes the scouting sniff test, but will he hit?

1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
DOB: 7/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-4/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, San Diego State University
2009 Stats: Did not play
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: The top player in the 2009 draft lived up to every expectation before signing a record deal as the top pick.
The Good: Strasburg's talent is historic. His fastball sits at 95-98 mph, touches triple digits regularly, and features the pinpoint accuracy of a top-notch finesse pitcher. His power breaking ball is a plus-plus offering that can be an absolute wipeout offering when it's on, and even his changeup is above average with excellent depth and fade. He's a big, physical pitcher who maintains his velocity all night.
The Bad: He's a perfectly sized righty with pitches that rate as an 80, 70-plus, and 60 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale to go along with plus-plus command and control, so it's really hard to criticize any aspect of his game. There are some minor makeup concerns, as he has seemed overwhelmed at times, if not downright uncomfortable with the media spotlight that his talent has generated.
Ephemera: Strasburg's final college numbers: 243 1/3 innings, 144 hits, 50 walks, 375 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He has absolute ace potential and could be a perennial Cy Young contender. He could be the best pitcher in baseball for many years if everything breaks right.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's the best pitcher in the entire Washington organization right now.
Timetable: With much talk just about when Strasburg will reach the majors, the best bet might be a path similar to Mark Prior's first year, when he made nine minor-league starts before arriving in the big leagues in late May.

2. Derek Norris, C
DOB: 2/14/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2007, Goddard HS (KS)
2009 Stats: .286/.413/.513 at Low-A (126 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 4

Year in Review: Norris, a slugging catcher, proved that 2008's big showing in the New York-Penn League was the real deal.
The Good: Norris offers well above-average offensive potential for a catcher. He works the count extremely well, drawing plenty of walks while looking for a pitch to drive. When he gets that pitch, he shows plus power to all fields with significantly more contact skills than most sluggers. His arm is a another plus tool.
The Bad: A converted catcher, Norris' receiving skills are still quite raw. He gets his feet tangled often, needs to learn how to frame pitches better, and also needs to develop pitch-calling skills. Like most backstops, he's a below-average runner.
Ephemera: While Norris batted second in the lineup just 11 times for Hagerstown in 2009, he hit .357/.491/.857 in that slot, including six home runs in 42 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: Norris could be an All-Star catcher, but more notable for his bat than his glove.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's at least two years away, but a projection that optimistic will require significant growth defensively.
Timetable: Norris will begin the year at High-A Potomac, but if he keeps mashing, he could reach Double-A Harrisburg by the end of the year.

3. Drew Storen, RHP
DOB: 8/11/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2009, Stanford
2009 Stats: 3.68 ERA (14.2-11-0-26) at Low-A (11 G); 1.80 ERA (10.0-7-2-11) at High-A (7 G); 0.00 ERA (12.1-3-6-12) at Double-A (10 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: The selection of Strasburg at first overall required a budget-conscious selection with the 10th overall pick, but the Nats found a nearly big-league ready reliever at that spot with Storen.
The Good: Storen has outstanding command and control of a 92-95 mph fastball that can touch 97. He adds a plus slider as his primary secondary offering, but he'll also show a decent curve and changeup. He earns high marks for his makeup, and has yet to seem overwhelmed by any aspect of pro ball.
The Bad: Storen's stuff is impressive, but for some scouts, it falls more into the range of a second-division closer/good set-up man for a winner. He doesn't have the wipeout breaking ball normally associated with one who pitches in the ninth, and he tends to work up in the strike zone.
Ephemera: Sally League right-handed hitters facing Storen went 4-for-38 with 20 strikeouts, but two of the hits were home runs.
Perfect World Projection: Storen's a good closer, but not an elite one.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's nearly ready.
Timetable: After getting promoted twice in his pro debut and reaching Double-A, Storen will likely return there to begin 2010. He could pitch his was to the big leagues by midseason.

4. Danny Espinosa, SS
DOB: 4/25/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2008, Long Beach State
2009 Stats: .264/.375/.460 at High-A (133 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Espinosa, a polished college player with some tools, endeared himself to scouts in the Carolina League.
The Good: Espinosa just plays the game right. He works the count like a big leaguer, has outstanding defensive fundamentals, and is dangerous on the basepaths despite having just a tick above-average speed. His power is well above average for a shortstop, and his high baseball IQ leads to excellent jumps defensively.
The Bad: The biggest question about Espinosa revolves around his core hitting skills. His swing has some length to it, as well as a trigger, and many wonder if he'll be able to hit for much of an average at the upper levels. He doesn't have any true plus tools, but he doesn't have any truly below-average ones, either.
Ephemera: Espinosa comes from a baseball family, as his brother Brandon played at UC Riverside, while his father Dan played at the University of Arizona.
Perfect World Projection: Espinosa will be a good starting shortstop who might hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, but hit .250 while doing it.
Path to the Big Leagues: There's a bit of a road block for now, as he's behind both Cristian Guzman and Ian Desmond on the depth chart.
Timetable: Espinosa will begin 2010 at Harrisburg, and he could be ready for a big-league look at some point next year.

5. Ian Desmond, SS
DOB: 9/20/85
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2004, Sarasota HS (FL) (Expos)
2009 Stats: .306/.372/.494 at Double-A (42 G); .354/.428/.461 at Triple-A (55 G); .280/.401/.561 at MLB (21 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Seemingly in the system forever, this shortstop finally began to produce, including in the big leagues.
The Good: The Nationals have predicted a breakout for Desmond for years, and he finally showed why in 2009. He fits the mold of the modern big, athletic shortstop with gap power, a tick above average speed, plus range and a rocket for an arm.
The Bad: Scouts have had five years of watching Desmond struggle until 2009, so not everyone completely trusts his breakthrough. His approach remains overly aggressive, as he looks to attack early and finds himself behind in the count. He frustrates scouts defensively with his ability to make good plays and then boot routine ones.
Ephemera: While he's hardly their most famous alum, Sarasota High also graduated Ken Forssi who, along with Arthur Lee, founded the seminal 1960s rock band Love.
Perfect World Projection: Desmond projects to be a solid everyday shortstop, maybe in the mold of the good version of Royce Clayton.
Path to the Big Leagues: He's behind Guzman for now.
Timetable: Despite his impressive showing last September, Desmond is likely bound for Triple-A Syracuse in 2010 unless the big-league club chooses to keep him in a reserve role.

6. Michael Burgess, OF
DOB: 10/20/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Hillsborough HS (FL)
2009 Stats: .235/.325/.410 at High-A (131 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: The top power prospect in the system struggled in the Carolina League but earned some good reviews from scouts.
The Good: Burgess' small frame, quick bat, and outstanding raw power remind some of Gary Sheffield, who attended the same high school in Tampa. Burgess understands the strike zone very well, and plays a solid outfield with one of the better arms in the system.
The Bad: "If he's Gary Sheffield, he's the 36-year-old version," joked one scout. Burgess is bulky and slow, which costs him some range. His swing gets long and he's prone to over-swinging, while the profound uppercut in his also leads to big strikeout totals.
Ephemera: While Burgess primarily hit fourth or fifth for High-A Potomac, he was especially miserable in the three hole, going just 3-for-31 in eight games.
Perfect World Projection: He's an everyday outfielder whose value revolves more around his walks and power than his ability to hit for average. Adam Dunn minus seven inches and sixty pounds?
Path to the Big Leagues: This year will tell us much more about his path.
Timetable: Burgess will face a big test in 2010 at Harrisburg.

7. Eury Perez, OF
DOB: 5/30/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007
2009 Stats: .381/.443/.503 at Rookie-level (47 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: Signed for just $25,000, this Dominican outfielder had an eye-popping U.S. debut, to go with equally impressive scouting reports.
The Good: Perez's tools are awfully impressive. He has a smooth, quick swing and makes consistent contact with gap power. He has the ability to his 10-15 home runs annually, and he's also a 65-70 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, with good instincts in the outfield and a very good arm.
The Bad: Perez plays out of control, with nearly every aspect of his game needing to be tempered. He swings at many bad pitches and needs to work the count, while his baserunning and routes in the outfield are a bit of a mess.
Ephemera: With runners on base in 2009, Perez went a remarkable 34-for-70 (.486).
Perfect World Projection: Perez has a very high ceiling and could move way up this list if he continues to develop.
Path to the Big Leagues: He could require patience.
Timetable: Perez will use spring trying to convince officials that he's ready for a full-season assignment. Chances are good he'll start the 2010 season at Hagerstown.

8. Jeff Kobernus, 2B
DOB: 6/30/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2009, UC Berkeley
2009 Stats: .220/.273/.244 at Short-season (10 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Did not qualify

Year in Review: Not a classic college second baseman, Kobernus went, as predicted, in the second round. However, his pro debut was cut short by some minor injuries.
The Good: Kobernus is not your stereotypical grinding college infielder, as he offers some impressive tools as well. He's a true plus runner whose speed plays up due to his instincts, and he's a very good all-around athlete. He employs a quick, line-drive bat to spray balls to all fields with occasional gap power, and a possible ceiling for more. He has good defensive fundamentals at second base, and he should have no problems staying there long-term.
The Bad: While it looks like he should hit for power, Kobernus' line-drive swing doesn't give him much projection in that department. He's always been an aggressive hitter, rarely drawing walks, even in college, with many scouts worried that upper-level pitching could exploit his big strike zone.
Ephemera: Kobernus' father, Jeff Sr., pitched five years in the minors from 1981-85, primarily with Oakland, topping out at Double-A.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an everyday second baseman, just not an impact-level one.
Path to the Big Leagues: While none of them are monsters, the Nationals do have quite a few middle infielders in the system, including Desmond and Espinosa sitting ahead of Kobernus.
Timetable: Kobernus could make his full-season debut as high at High-A Potomac.

9. Chris Marrero, 1B
DOB: 7/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Monsignor Edward Pace HS (FL)
2009 Stats: .287/.360/.464 at High-A (112 G); .267/.345/.387 at Double-A (23 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: Marrero, a former top prospect, made a solid return from an injury-plagued 2008 season.
The Good: Marrero still impresses with his hitting ability. He has a sound approach, makes a decent amount of contact, and has well above-average raw power. He earned high praise for the work he put it after breaking both his leg and ankle in 2008, and scouts saw significant progress in his overall game last year.
The Bad: Marrero is a bat-only player who's doesn't present much tools-wise. He's slow on the basepaths and a below-average defensive first baseman. Because of his profile, he still has to make many improvements as a hitter.
Ephemera: Of Marrero's 16 home runs in 2009, six came in just 51 at-bats with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a solid first baseman, but not a great one.
Path to the Big Leagues: It could be pretty clear once Dunn moves on.
Timetable: Marrero will begin 2010 at Harrisburg with a goal of reaching the big leagues in 2011.

10. Juan Jaime, RHP
DOB: 8/2/87
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2009 Stats: 1.88 ERA (24.0-15-15-36) at Short-season (6 G); 2.27 ERA (31.2-22-16-40) at Low-A (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: A fastball specialist, Jaime missed plenty of bats during the second half of the season.
The Good: After Strasburg, Jaime has one of the liveliest arms in the system, sitting at 93-95 mph and touching 98. The pitch also features heavy boring action, and Jaime is an aggressive pitcher who tries to blow away every hitter.
The Bad: After one talks about Jaime's plus-plus heater, they're done saying good things about him. There's considerable effort to his delivery, which also hurts his command. He'll flash a slider, as in occasionally throw one, but it's usually a flat pitch with little or no downward movement. He turns 23 in August, so he's raw and well behind developmentally.
Ephemera: In his only two starts at home for Vermont in the New York-Penn League, Jaime struck out 17 over nine shutout innings while allowing only four hits.
Perfect World Projection: He's a power reliever.
Path to the Big Leagues: Because of his age and weaknesses, he's very risky.
Timetable: Jaime will begin the year with a full-season team, and some think he could move quickly with a switch to the bullpen and the addition of a second pitch.

11. Paul Demny, RHP
DOB: 8/3/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2008, Blinn College (TX)
2009 Stats: 5.14 ERA (105.0-101-42-110) at Low-A (23 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not ranked

Year in Review: This strong-armed righty had scouting reports far more impressive than his 5.14 ERA.
The Good: Demny is a classic broad-shouldered Texas righty, sitting at 90-93 mph with his fastball while touching 95. He'll showcase the occasional good slider with two-plane break, and has some feel for a changeup.
The Bad: Everything about Demny's game is inconsistent, from his velocity to his command to the quality of his breaking balls. He tends to fly open in his delivery, and his release point fluctuates wildly.
Ephemera: You want inconsistent? Demny allowed one or zero runs in nearly 40 percent of his starts, and four or more in an equal amount of outings.
Perfect World Projection: There are the makings of a nice fourth starter somewhere in here.
Path to the Big Leagues: There's also no guarantee, with some scouts already wondering how he'd look in relief.
Timetable: Demny will look to find more consistency in 2010 at Potomac.

The Sleeper: Miniscule lefty Atahualpa Severino has decent velocity, an even better breaking ball, and should get to the majors as a LOOGY at the very least.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)

1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP
2. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
3. Derek Norris, C
4. Drew Storen, RHP
5. Jordan Zimmerman, RHP
6. John Lannan, LHP
7. Jesus Flores, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Ross Detwiler, LHP
10. Elijah Dukes, OF

Ryan Zimmerman is the face of the franchise right now and understandably so, and yes, Strasburg is that good. Jordan Zimmerman is still recovering from elbow surgery and will miss most, if not all of 2010, but if he comes back, he's better than any non-Strasburg pitcher in the organization. Lannan was the team's best pitcher last year, but this kind of success is not maintainable with that low a strikeout rate. Flores is still recovering from labrum surgery and might not be ready for Opening Day, but Ivan Rodriguez and, possibly, Wil Nieves block him. He has above-average offensive skills for a catcher. Detwiler has been a massive disappointment, as his big-league showing in 2009 was not somebody getting adjusted to the majors; he's been hit hard at every level and will miss the first three months of this season after undergoing hip surgery. Dukes remains enigmatic. He could hit 25 home runs this year or be in the minors by June.

Summary: The Nationals system is seeing slow but steady improvement, as the scouting background of general manager Mike Rizzo is starting to pay dividends. Plus, having Strasburg alone moves this system up the organizational rankings considerably.

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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