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January 24, 2012

Future Shock

Washington Nationals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Previous Rankings: 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

System In 20 Words Or Less: Thinned out by the Gio Gonzalez deal, but a strong 2011 draft has the potential to make up for it.

Five-Star Prospects
1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
Four-Star Prospects
3. Matt Purke, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Brian Goodwin, OF
5. Alex Meyer, RHP
6. Destin Hood, OF
7. Michael Taylor, OF
8. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
9. Robbie Ray, LHP
10. Sammy Solis, LHP
Two-Star Prospects
11. Tyler Moore, 1B

Nine More:
12. Chris Marrero, 1B: Former first-rounder has put up solid numbers, but not enough for a first-base only player.
13. Eury Perez, OF: Speedster with line drive bat, but little in the way of secondary skills.
14. Zach Walters, SS: Good bat for a shortstop, but profiles better as a second baseman.
15. Taylor Jordan, RHP: Groundballer who throws strikes, but there are questions about ability to miss bats as he moves up.
16. Josh Smoker, LHP: Returned from bust status by touching 95 mph out of the bullpen; could move up with more strikes.
17. Jason Martinson, SS: Intriguing power/speed combination, but defense is lacking and might not ever hit for average.
18. Matt Skole, 3B: 2011 Fifth-round pick has plus bat and power potential; could move up after first full-season.
19. Sandy Leon, C: Will get to the big leagues on defensive chops alone, but bat screams backup.
20. David Freitas, C: Interesting catcher to watch due to on-base skills and developing power; defense lags behind.

1. Bryce Harper, OF
DOB
: 10/16/92
Height/Weight: 6-3/225
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2010, College of Southern Nevada
2011 Stats: .318/.423/.554 at Single-A (72 G). .256/.329/.395 at Double-A (37 G)
Tools Profile: Nothing below average and two 80s.

Year in Review: Arguably the most hyped prospect in baseball history, Harper was as good as advertised.
The Good: Harper is a beast offensively. He has the most violent swing in baseball which, when combined with his strength, gives him easy 80 raw power, but he also somehow controls the swing enough to hit for a decent batting average while understanding the strike zone. A former catcher, Harper was moved to the outfield in 2011 and surprised with his range while showing off a monster arm. He's an average runner to a tick above and shows a knack for stealing bases.
The Bad: Strikeouts will always be a part of Harper's game, and many scouts think his batting average will max out in the .270-.280 range because of it. While his arm is incredible in terms of strength, he still needs to improve his throw accuracy. Few feel he will maintain his speed as he matures.
Ephemera: 32 of the 47 number one overall picks have been spent on position players. Ten have hit more than 200 home runs, and three more could easily be expected to in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton.
Perfect World Projection: MVP-level run producer capable of flirting with a .600 slugging percentage.
Fantasy Impact: The value will come from the power, but he could provide some extra bonuses early in his career with double-digit stolen base totals.
Path to the Big Leagues: While there has been some talk of Harper breaking camp in the big leagues, that is highly unlikely. He'll begin the year in the upper levels, likely at Triple-A Syracuse, and should arrive in Washington at some point during the second half of the season.
ETA: Late 2012.

2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
DOB
: 6/6/90
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2011, Rice University
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: Everything one looks for in a hitter, but hardly a bat-only player.

Year in Review: The projected number one overall pick had an injury-plagued junior year but still earned a massive bonus as the sixth overall selection.
The Good: Everything about Rendon's offensive game impresses. His plate discipline and pitch recognition is already major league-worthy, and his ultra-quick bat allows him to lace line drives all over the field and crush mistakes. He's a plus defender at third base with soft hands and a very good arm.
The Bad: Rendon's college career was filled with injuries, and there are some worries that he is prone to them. Ankle issues leave him as a 40-45 runner, which could be limiting if the Nationals try to move him to second base. He's not overly impressive physically, and struggles during his junior year with the new bats left concerns about his power ceiling.
Ephemera: Rendon is the third player drafted in the first round out of Rice who was also drafted out of Lamar High School, joining Joe Savery and Kenny Baugh.
Perfect World Projection: All-star infielder.
Fantasy Impact: He could hit .300, get on-base at a 40 percent clip, and slug .500 if the believers in his power are right.
Path to the Big Leagues: Rendon's future position is up in the air, but there is no question he can be advanced on the basis of his bat. He could start the year at High-A Potomac with the hope that he will be ready for Double-A just three months into his professional career.
ETA: 2013

3. Matt Purke, LHP
DOB
: 7/17/90
Height/Weight: 6-4/180
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2011, Texas Christian University
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: High-upside left-hander, but one with considerable risk.

Year in Review: Entering the spring as a potential number one overall pick, Purke did not pitch well, suffered through shoulder problems, and fell to the third round, where he signed for a $2.75 million bonus.
The Good: The 2010 version of Purke profiled as a front-of-the-rotation starter. His low-to-mid 90s fastball can be as notable for its movement as much as its velocity, and his slider is a potential wipeout pitch with heavy bite. His changeup is at least average and he throws it with confidence.
The Bad: Purke's stuff was all over the board in 2011, and he showed just average velocity in the Arizona Fall League to go with flat secondary offerings. That might be rust, but there are concerns that his shoulder issues could become more regular due to an arm-heavy delivery that requires significant effort.
Ephemera: While it's a bit of a moving target, Jake Arrieta is already the all-time wins leader among pitchers drafted out of TCU with 16.
Perfect World Projection: Star-level starter.
Fantasy Impact: At this point, he's a risky investment.
Path to the Big Leagues: A return to form will rocket Purke up the prospect lists, while a repeat of the 2011 version will cause him to plummet. We'll see what we get when he begins the year at one of Washington's lower-level squads.
ETA: 2014

4. Brian Goodwin, OF
DOB
: 11/2/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2011, Miami Dade South CC
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: Five-tool outfielder.

Year in Review: Winding college career went from North Carolina to the junior college ranks, but tools earned him a $3 million bonus in August.
The Good: Goodwin has plenty of tools. He has bat speed and the raw strength to project for average power. He's a plus-plus burner who covers plenty of ground in center field and has a plus arm. He has a good idea at the plate and understands the value of drawing walks.
The Bad: Goodwin is still a bit raw. He focuses more on pulling balls than making contact, letting his speed and natural strength work for him. He often needs his speed in the outfield to make up for bad jumps.
Ephemera: Goodwin was a 17th-round pick by the White Sox in 2009 out of Rocky Mount High School in North Carolina. None of the four players drafted out of the school reached the big leagues, but their athletic program has produced several NFL and NBA players, including Buck Williams and Phil Ford.
Perfect World Projection: Star-level outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: A potential stud who fills up all five categories.
Path to the Big Leagues: Goodwin has plenty of potential but will likely need to play at each level while he develops, starting a Low-A Hagerstown.
ETA: 2014

5. Alex Meyer, RHP
DOB
: 1/3/90
Height/Weight: 6-9/220
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2011, University of Kentucky
2011 Stats: DNP
Tools Profile: Giant right-hander with giant arm.

Year in Review: After two years of struggles at Kentucky, began to harness his raw stuff and landed in the first round.
The Good: Meyer is a pure power pitcher. He's an imposing presence on the mound and sits in the low-to-mid 90s with a fastball that can touch 98 mph and features a heavy downward plane due to his size. He'll flash a plus slider and has some feel for a change. He's an intense competitor who worked hard to hone his raw abilities.
The Bad: Meyer's body and complicated delivery can lead to command and control issues. His changeup comes in a bit too firm at times and could use more velocity separation. He often racks up high pitch counts, and his overall package profiles better as a closer for some.
Ephemera: As a six-foot-nine professional athlete, it should be no surprise that Meyer was a four-year letter winner in basketball at Greensburg High in Indiana, earning all-conference honors twice.
Perfect World Projection: Dominating pitcher, but role is still up in the air.
Fantasy Impact: Either as a starter or closer, Meyer could be an early pick.
Path to the Big Leagues: Meyer has the potential to move quickly if he makes improvements at the same rate as 2011, although there is still much work to be done. He'll begin the year at one of Washington's A-level affiliates.
ETA: 2014

6. Destin Hood, OF
DOB
: 4/3/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, St. Paul's Episcopal HS (AL)
2011 Stats: .276/.364/.445 at High-A (128 G)
Tools Profile: Plenty of them

Year in Review: Among the most athletic players in the system, Hood made great strides in converting his athletic ability into baseball skills.
The Good: A much improved approach was the key to Hood's step forward in 2011. He learned to lay off breaking balls out of the strike zone and did a better job of recognizing pitches he could drive, leaving scouts to believe he can be an average hitter capable of hitting 15-20 home runs annually. He's filled out a bit since signing but remains a plus runner who should steal 15-20 bases annually. He's an average right fielder with a strong arm.
The Bad: Hood is a streaky hitter who can be guilty of tinkering when things go bad. He has plenty of skills, but scouts don't see star-level tools in him, and he'll need to continue hitting to play in an outfield corner.
Ephemera: In a strange split, Hood was a perfect 11-for-11 when stealing a base off a left-handed pitcher but was just 10-for-16 against righties.
Perfect World Projection: Solid, all-around, everyday outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: He could end up being worth more in fantasy leagues due to his power/speed combination.
Path to the Big Leagues: Hood will face a big test at the upper levels by starting 2012 at Double-A Harrisburg.
ETA: 2014

7. Michael Taylor, OF
DOB
: 3/26/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2009, Westminster Academy (FL)
2011 Stats: .253/.310/.432 at Single-A (126 G)
Tools Profile: Yes, many of them.

Year in Review: Athletic outfielder made improvements throughout the season.
The Good: Taylor's tools are loud. He's an impressive athlete with above-average speed and plenty of raw power. Drafted as an infielder, Taylor made progress in the outfield and projects to be an above-average defender with a plus arm. His improvements at the plate were even more noticeable, as he hit .291/.351/.498 after the All-Star break.
The Bad: Taylor has trouble against right-handed pitching, and his approach does him no favors as his impatience leads to pitchers expanding his strike zone and getting him to chase. Strikeouts will always be a part of his game, as his swing can get unhinged at times, and there are questions about his pure hitting ability. His arm is strong, but he often misses his mark.
Ephemera: Three of Taylor's seven triples in 2011, as well as five of his 11 home runs, came in the fifth inning of games, as hit hit .316/.355/.719 in 57 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: All-Star center fielder.
Fantasy Impact: If every tool actualizes, he'll be an impact performer. It's important to note that this almost never happens.
Path to the Big Leagues: A full-season of performance like Taylor's second half could make him a Top 101 prospect a year from now. He'll begin 2012 at High-A Potomac.
ETA: 2015

8. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
DOB
: 9/20/88
Height/Weight: 6-0/170
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 19th round, 2008, St. Petersburg College
2011 Stats: .309/.366/.454 at Double-A (65 G). .310/.354/.408 at Triple-A (69 G). .194/.219/.226 at MLB (13 G)
Tools Profile: Plus bat, but more fundamentals than true tools.

Year in Review: Classic grinder continued to hit at every level and made his big league debut.
The Good: Lombardozzi's bat stands out. He has a simple, quick swing from both sides and projects to hit .280-plus in the big leagues due to his ability to make consistent contact. The son of a big leaguer, he's a baseball rat who has been a role model to his minor league teammates for his energy and work ethic. He's not a flashy defender but makes every play he gets to at all three infield positions.
The Bad: Lombardozzi doesn't have much in the way of secondary skills. He's an aggressive hitter who looks to put the ball in play, but there is little power in his game or projection for any. He's an average runner but not a true base stealing threat.
Ephemera: Lombardozzi was born with clubfoot and had surgery at two months old while also wearing corrective shoes when he began walking.
Perfect World Projection: Second-division starter or good utility player.
Fantasy Impact: Limited because of a lack of power or stolen bases.
Path to the Big Leagues: Lombardozzi is big league ready, but his best hope in 2012 is to make the roster as a utility player.
ETA: 2012

9. Robbie Ray, LHP
DOB
: 10/1/91
Height/Weight: 6-2/170
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 12th round, 2010, Brentwood HS (TN)
2011 Stats: 3.13 ERA (89-71-38-95) at Single-A (20 G)
Tools Profile: Solid but unspectacular across the board.

Year in Review: Big bonus baby from 2011 was held back in extended spring to limit his workload but struck out over a batter per inning.
The Good: Ray has average fastball velocity that plays up due to his inability to throw the pitch straight. He's honed his hybrid breaking ball into a usable pitch, and his changeup flashes plus and generated swings and misses in the Sally League. He has loose, easy arm action that allows him to maintain his stuff deep into games.
The Bad: Ray is not an impressive physical specimen, which could limit his upside. His command and control falter at time, but it's not a big concern as they should be addressed with more experience. He tends to work up in the zone, which could lead to some troubles at the upper levels.
Ephemera: 36 percent of the runs Ray allowed in 2011 came in the fourth inning; he had a composite 2.32 ERA in all other frames.
Perfect World Projection: Number-three starter.
Fantasy Impact: Not a monster but could help a bit in every category.
Path to the Big Leagues: Ray will move up one level to High-A Potomac in 2011.
ETA: 2014

10. Sammy Solis, LHP
DOB
: 8/10/88
Height/Weight: 6-5/230
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2010, University of San Diego
2011 Stats: 4.02 ERA (40.1-39-12-40) at Single-A (7 G). 2.72 ERA (56.1-61-11-53) at High-A (10 G)
Tools Profile: Solid stuff, better command.

Year in Review: Second-round pick pitched well at both A-level affiliates.
The Good: Solis attacks hitters with a low-90s fastball that can touch 94-95 mph. He works low in the strike zone, uses both sides of the plate effectively, and is consistently ahead in the count. His beefy frame and simple delivery is designed for a heavy workload.
The Bad: Solis can rely too heavily on his fastball, which causes him to give up too many hits. He'll show a good curveball at times, but it's very inconsistent, while his changeup also comes and goes from start to start.
Ephemera: Despite being a relatively high pick that produced our most recent Hall of Famer in Barry Larkin, the 51st overall selection has not been kind to pitchers, as Chris Haney (38), Tim Scott (24), and Rocky Biddle (20) are the only ones to reach double digits in wins.
Perfect World Projection: Durable number-four starter and innings eater.
Fantasy Impact: One of those starters who helps by not hurting your team.
Path to the Big Leagues: Solis's ceiling is a bit limited, but he has the ability to move through the system quickly. He'll begin 2012 at Double-A Harrisburg.
ETA: 2013

11. Tyler Moore, 1B
DOB
: 1/30/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 16th round, 2008, Mississippi State University
2011 Stats: .270/.314/.532 at Double-A (137 G)
Tools Profile: Power, and that's about it.

Year in Review: Last year's breakout performer proved himself at the upper levels by leading the Eastern League in home runs, extra base hits, and total bases.
The Good: Moore has plus-plus power and is capable of hitting balls out of any part of any park. He's a surprisingly solid defender with soft hands at first base, doing an excellent job picking balls out of the dirt. He gets lauded for his makeup and effort level.
The Bad: While Moore's platoon splits are not concerning, his numbers do look better due to his ability to crush left-handers. He's far too aggressive at the plate and does not adjust when behind in the count. He's a non-athlete who does not run very well.
Ephemera: Moore made five errors in the first 18 games of the 2011 season, followed by just three in his final 119.
Perfect World Projection: Second-division starter.
Fantasy Impact: Home runs will be the only category he provides value in, but he could hit 30-plus.
Path to the Big Leagues: Moore's path to Washington is a bit muddled, and it's hard to figure out how the Nationals will work things with both he and former first-round pick Chris Marrero (who is equally limited athletically) set for Triple-A.
ETA: 2013

The Sleeper: 2011 sixth-round pick Taylor Hill combines a big body with average stuff and extreme command and control. He could move quickly, although his ceiling is limited.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/86 or later)
1. Stephen Strasburg

2. Bryce Harper, OF
3. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
4. Anthony Rendon, 3B
5. Wilson Ramos, C
6. Drew Storen, RHP
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
8. Matt Purke, LHP
9. Brian Goodwin, OF
10. Alex Meyer, RHP

Strasburg looked to be all the way back in his brief big league showing at the end of 2011, and the thought of what he'll do in 2013 once the training wheels are off remain terrifying. Zimmermann gets those wheels off this year and should be an above-average starter for years to come. Ramos had an eventful off-season away from the field, and while there are issues in his approach and pure hitting ability, his combination of power and defensive skills are hard to find in a backstop. Storen is the rare first-round college reliever who worked out as anticipated, and his ranking is more a reflection of the value of a 70-inning reliever as opposed to his ability. There was nothing fluky about Espinosa's flirtation with a 20/20 rookie season, nor in his disturbing strikeout rate.

Summary: The Nationals are loaded with young talent, have the potential for an excellent minor league system, and have ownership with money to spare. They're set up to be a factor in the National League East for years to come.

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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