On November 6th, Baseball America released their rankings of the top ten prospects in the Nationals’ system for the 2014 season. BA is one of the most respected prospect publications in all of baseball, and their rankings are among the most highly anticipated every year. Here’s how they've assessed the future Nationals stars. Today, we'll look at numbers six through ten.
6. Sammy Solis, LHP
Much like every other Nats pitcher, Solis missed a season with Tommy John surgery, his being 2012. He was relatively highly regarded before the injury, having been drafted in the second round in 2010 and putting up a 3.26 ERA between Low A and High A in 2011. He looked back to his old self when he finally returned to action this May, with a 3.43 ERA in High A.
However, a consequence of his injury is that his timetable has been delayed. Next season, he will start at AA as a 25-year-old. He has a solid fastball that sits in the low 90s, complemented by a decent changeup and breaking ball. Fitt says he “has a chance to be a No. 4 starter in the majors,” but has reservations about his health, which has been a problem for him all the way back to his college days.
7. Michael Taylor, CF
As risky as Brian Goodwin is, Taylor may be him but riskier in every way. His defense is spectacular, but his bat leaves much to be desired. He spent 2013 repeating High A, but still only posted a .766 OPS. He will start 2013 as a 23-year-old in AA, so not far behind a normal advancement curve, but he needs to improve at the plate to have a chance to make the majors.
Fitt raves about his defense, saying he “can be an all-star” if he becomes a simply average hitter. Coaching might be able to help his struggles with hitting, so an offseason jump in his skills is not out of the question. 2014 will be his reckoning: his status as a prospect will live or die with his bat.
8. Jake Johansen, RHP
The first Nats pick in the 2013 MLB Draft at 68th overall is the ultimate hit-or-miss prospect. He never posted good numbers in college, but threw a 99 MPH fastball and had a perfect frame at 6’6”, 235. The Nationals seemed to get an immediate return on their investment when Johansen made his pro debut, as he had a 1.06 ERA in 10 starts at short-season Low A despite high walk numbers. However, he struggled upon his promotion to Low A Hagerstown, getting lit up to the tune of a 5.79 ERA, albeit in just two starts.
Johansen has the physical tools, but needs a lot of coaching. He has a similar ceiling to Cole and Ray if he keeps improving, but could just as easily flame out as a starter and end up in the bullpen.
9. Nate Karns, RHP
Two things jump out at you when you look at Karns’ résumé: his health and his age. He pitched well in AA last season, with a 3.26 ERA, and so will certainly be in AAA Syracuse to start 2014, but injuries have slowed his progress significantly. He was drafted in 2009, but a torn labrum kept him from debuting until 2011. He’ll be 26 next season, quite old even for his proximity to the bigs. He showed he wasn’t ready last year, despite his success in the lower levels, as he had an ERA over 7 in three major league spot starts.
He has a low-mid 90s fastball and a plus curveball, but his changeup and command aren’t good enough to keep him in a major league rotation. If his health permits, he could be a strong reliever for the Nats in 2015.
10. Steven Souza Jr., OF
Souza was the name you heard every year when talking about potential sleeper prospects in the Nats’ system. He had a semi-breakout year in 2012, hitting .297 between Low A and High A, and he vaulted himself into legitimate prospect status by hitting .300 last season at AA, in addition to seeing his OBP jump 30 points to .396. He only hit 15 homers, but played in only 77 games.
He will be 25 and in AAA next season, so there is certainly cause to doubt him, but he has the power and hit tools to be a major league regular. He is also more prone to injury than one might like, but Fitt points out a comp between him and Morse, who didn’t break out with the Nats until he was 28. Nats fans can only hope that will come true.