In the National League East, the Braves and Phillies are battling for the division lead right now. Both teams also have deep farm systems and are set up for success in the years to come.
That leaves the other three squads—the Mets, Marlins and Nationals— in a tough spot. We know the Nats just got Bryce Harper in the MLB draft (and lost Stephen Strasburg for 18 or so months to Tommy John surgery). The Marlins promoted one of their better minor leagues, Logan Morrison, this season.
What does the future hold for these three organizations as they try to catch up with the Braves and Phillies?
Marlins: Draft failings
Since the selection of Chris Volstad in 2005, the Marlins have not drafted well. The lack of return in the Miguel Cabrera trade—Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller haven't really panned out—hasn't helped.
In 2006, they took Brett Sinkbeil, a right-hander from Missouri State. The 19th overall pick was seen as a big, athletic righty with a power sinker that could get him to the big leagues quickly. He's floundering at Triple-A. Now 25 years old and all but stuck in the minors, even a move to the bullpen has failed to generate any positive results. Sinkbeil has a 6.04 ERA in 102 appearances for New Orleans while allowing 263 baserunners in 143 innings, and one can't find a scout who projects him as a successful big-leaguer.
In 2007, they selected Matt Dominguez, a third baseman out of Chatsworth High School in California. He was picked 12th overall based more on his signability than talent. Now at Double-A as a 20-year-old, Dominguez is hitting .253/.333/.415 while showing a good approach and power potential, but it's his glove that really earns raves. Pedro Feliz generated a decade-plus long career with a similar skill set, but Dominguez is a better hitter. While few see star potential, he should at least be a second-division starter.
In 2008, they selected Kyle Skipworth, a catcher out of Patriot High School in California. The sixth overall pick had one of the worst full-season debuts among first-rounders last year, batting just .208/.263/.348 for Low-A Greensboro. While he's picked things up the second time around with a .253/.318/.439 line, scouts aren't much more enthused. While his 17 home runs show that he's tapping into his clear power potential, Skipworth remains a strikeout machine (126 in 376 at-bats) and a below-average defender with no other position to move to other than first base.
In 2009, they selected left-hander Chad James out of Yukon High School in Oklahoma. One of the fastest risers in last year's draft, James rocketed up boards when he began touching the mid-90s with his fastball. While he still has fantastic velocity on his fastball, the rest of his stuff has fallen flat. Unable to throw strikes, James has walked 62 while uncorking 15 wild pitches in 103 1/3 innings, leading to a 5.05 ERA.
Mets: All about Lucas Duda now
The Mets still have a system in rebuilding mode, but most of their top prospects are still years away from reaching the big leagues. Jenrry Mejia has the ability to make an impact in the rotation, but much of the roster at Triple-A Buffalo consists of a rag-tag group of minor-league veterans and major-league washouts. One player however, is putting up the kind of numbers that are impossible to ignore: Lucas Duda.
A seventh-round pick in 2007 who never lived up to expectations at Southern California, Duda enjoyed a steady-but-unspectacular rise through the Mets' system before exploding this year, including a .308/.384/.604 line in 69 games with the Bisons. A 6-foot-5, 240-pound behemoth with massive raw power, Duda works the count and makes a surprising amount of contact for a slugger, with scouts saying that his statistical line is no mirage. His play in left field is laughable, but he understands the need to improve, knowing that the presence of rookie first baseman Ike Davis in the big leagues means that the weak outfield corner is his only path to the big leagues. Duda will get a long look next spring, but still has some competition in the enigmatic Fernando Martinez, who has yet to prove he can stay healthy, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who likely needs significant Triple-A time before getting a look late next year.
Nationals: So, now what?
Even assuming the healthy return of Strasburg (which many media types are dangerously assuming is a sure thing), the Nationals still have plenty of holes to fill—and a system that's a long way from providing what is needed to get them back to contention.
The biggest problem remains pitching, as while former top prospect Jordan Zimmermann takes Strasburg's rotation spot, that still leaves the rotation at least three arms from a full deck, with no other help in sight. The organization's top starter at the upper levels is lefty Tom Milone, a strike-thrower who profiles at best as another John Lannan, whose inability to miss bats has to nobody's surprise led to a massive regression in 2010.
The lower-level rotations offer no long-term answers either, as finding some pitching talent needs to become the club's top priority–or Bryce Harper's arrival in three or four years will just mean the Nationals lose games by three runs instead of four.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .