Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/14/14
The Washington Nationals system has been weakened by trades and promotions in recent years but the organization still has some interesting prospects in the system. With that said, the depth in the upper levels of the system took a big hit during the Rule 5 draft when prospects Jeff Kobernus (6th overall) and Daniel Rosenbaum (8th) were selected from the system. It was a curious move to leave those two players unprotected, given that the organization is not exactly overflowing with near-MLB-ready players. The loss of Kobernus and Rosenbaum were done after the Nationals Top 15 list was submitted so I’ll update the list a little later on.   #1 Brian Goodwin (OF) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 21 546 124 32 17 73 114 20 .268 .372 .465 .381 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: A/AA Acquired: 2011 draft (34th overall) Projected 2013 Level: AA/AAA Goodwin, 22, flashed a lot of potential during his amateur career but it’s taken some time for his tools to start clicking on the field. The former 34th-overall selection spent 2012 playing at two levels and completely dominated A-ball before skipping over high-A for double-A where he struggled. A talent evaluator I spoke with wasn’t worried about the outfielder’s difficulties in double-A. “He’s got a very, very interesting ceiling. [Goodwin] hits for average, power and has defensive skills,” he said. “He’s a wonderful young man… the make-up matches the ability. He’s very coachable, and a quick learner.” The contact added that Goodwin is also energetic and a hard worker. “His disposition is always the same whether he goes 4-for-4 or 0-for-4.” Goodwin has a simply, short, quick swing with leverage. His approach is gap-to-gap but he has the power to punish a mistake. Both a scout and the talent evaluator agreed on that assessment of the prospect’s approach. The scout said, “He has chance to hit 15-20 homers down the line as he learns to lift the ball and establishes himself.” I’m also told that he’s learning to become a more effective bunter. In the field, Goodwin has a chance to be an above-average defender in center field with a solid-average arm. The scout I spoke with comped the prospect to Michael Bourn with more power in his prime. The scout suggested a 65-70 on Goodwin’s speed tool with the capability to steal 20-25 bases a season. Goodwin will likely return to double-A to begin 2013 and will look to curb his strikeout rate, which jumped up to 27% from 14.7% with his promotion from A-ball. If everything clicks, he could be ready for the majors late in the season with 2014 being a more likely timeline. With the addition of center-fielder Denard Span from the Twins, the presence of superstar-in-the-making Bryce Harper and the contract commitment to Jayson Werth (through 2017), there is no need to rush Goodwin’s development.   #2 Anthony Rendon (3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 22 254 57 18 6 38 43 6 .271 .390 .490 .402 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: R/SS/A+/AA Acquired: 2011 draft (6th overall) Projected 2013 Level: AA Once considered a potential option as the first overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft, injuries caused Rendon to be available to the Nationals with the sixth selection. He once again found himself on the disabled list in 2012 and appeared in just 43 regular season games – although he reached double-A (albeit with a 90 wRC+). Rendon then appeared in 22 Arizona Fall League contests where he walked more than he struck out, hit .338 and slugged 11 of his 26 hits for extra bases. A contact I spoke to about the third base prospect said he has advanced hitting instincts and – although it has yet to manifest itself – above-average power potential that will come as he matures as a hitter. “His biggest asset is his ability to hit… He has the ability to be an above-average hitter,” the talent evaluator stated, mentioning good balance, hand quickness, and overall strength. In the field, Rendon has “a chance to be very good” with solid hands, body control and he’s quickly learning the fundamentals. When I asked someone within the organization about his future position, I was told that there has been no talk of moving him from third base at this point. They like his work at the hot corner but also feel he has the athleticism necessary to play other positions should it come to that. The litany of injuries that Rendon’s suffered are also not a major concern and the organization is focused on making sure he’s in the best condition possible. Rendon should spend a good portion of the season in double-A but he could be ready for the majors by mid-to-late 2013. He has the ceiling of an all-star third baseman with above-average offense and better-than-average defense. Additional Notes According to Bullpen Banter’s Peter Wardell, Rendon’s lack of professional reps had him looking rusty in the AFL. Still, Pete saw a hit tool will carry him to the big leagues coupled with a strong approach. Opinions on his future power output are mixed. Pete sees double digit homeruns in his future, but Jeff Reese believes Rendon’s power could manifest as an above average tool. We see Rendon starting the year in Double-A and, of course, have our fingers crossed his ankles and shoulder remain intact. (JD Sussman)   #3 Lucas Giolito (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 17 1 1 2.0 2 0 4.50 0.00 4.50 2.20 Opening Day Age: 18 2012 Level: R Acquired: 2012 draft (16th overall) Projected 2013 Level: Injured There isn’t a lot that can be written about Giolito just yet. The talented right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after turning pro and likely won’t be back in game action until very late in 2013 or the beginning of 2014. The organization expects him to be able to take to the mound this coming season but the focus is to make sure he’s healthy. There were injury concerns that crept up in Giolito’s senior year of high school (ulnar collateral ligament sprain in his throwing elbow), which caused him to fall to the Nationals with the 16th overall selection – not unlike what happened with fellow Nationals prospects Anthony Rendon and Matt Purke, to name a few others. The organization felt comfortable drafting Giolito knowing the injury risk because of his make-up, as well as the Nationals’ history of managing similar injury situations. There are a lot of unknowns with Giolito but his potential is immense and he possessed one of the best fastballs in the 2012 draft, touching 99 mph. He also has two other pitches with plus potential – curveball and changeup – and he has an enviable pitcher’s frame. It may be another four years before Giolito impacts the big league level but he could very well be worth the wait. Additional Notes Two of Bullpen Banter’s west coast writers, Pete Wardell and Steve Fiorindo, scouted Giolito extensively in high school. They both agree that Giolitio’s package was “special” prior to his injury. They raved about Giolito’s easy velocity, advanced breaking ball and solid changeup. They expect mechanical tweeks after his recovery finished too, but if he returns healthy the Nationals got a steal. (JD Sussman)   #4 Matt Skole (3B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 22 598 138 32 30 112 151 12 .292 .425 .555 .436 Opening Day Age: 23 2012 Level: A/A+ Acquired: 2011 draft (5th round) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA Skole, who was originally selected in the 5th round of the amateur draft, has developed into a solid prospect. He has surpassed his brother Jake Skole, a former first round pick (15th overall) of the Rangers. in terms of prospect value. The Nationals prospect has impressive left-handed power and slugged 27 home runs in low-A ball but he turned 23 mid-way through the year and will be age appropriate for double-A in 2013. Along with big-time power, which a contact described as “pole-to-pole” pop, Skole also strikes out a ton but offsets that with a large number of walks. “He’s a danger hitter… He doesn’t have to pull the ball to put it out of the park and he’s starting to realize that,” the talent evaluator stated. “He does have some swings and misses, but that’s typical with power guys.” Skole’s defense at the hot corner is behind his offensive development and there is some concern that he won’t be able to stick at the position. The contact I spoke with said the Georgia native has made “incredible strides this year at third base” and has good hands and a strong arm but admitted Skole may never have great range. The prospect has gotten a lot of experience at first base lately, playing the position in both the fall instructional league and the Arizona Fall League in an effort to increase his versatility and possibly open up a direct route to the majors. “He has a chance to be a very good (fielding) first baseman,” the contact stated. After a strong finish to the regular season, which included 18 games at high-A ball and a .944 OPS in the Arizona Fall League, Skole could open 2013 in double-A. More than likely, though, he’ll spend the first month or so in high-A ball before moving up. Additional Notes Having seen Skole on multiple occasions as a third baseman for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, I was familiar with the 22-year old when he took the field as a member of the Hagerstown Suns. Seeing a leaner Skole was a pleasant surprise as he went on to post a triple slash line of .291/.426/.559 across two levels of Single-A baseball. And while Skole has proven to be a 5th round steal for the Nationals, his poor defense at third base and propensity to swing-and-miss (133 strikeouts in 119 games) are cause for concern as he graduates to the upper levels. However, he does have old player skills (Power/Walks) and displayed impressive defense at first base in the AFL Championship Game. Due to the strikeouts, I’m worried the bottom will fall out at the upper levels, but he could push 1.5-2 WAR/season at first base if things break right. (Mike Newman)   #5 Samuel Solis (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 22 24 24 122.2 129 9 8.66 2.86 3.52 3.31 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: Injured Acquired: 2010 draft (2nd round) Projected 2013 Level: AA Solis follows the trends of bad luck with injuries and Nationals’ prospects. The big lefty was showing improved fastball velocity – and a related uptick in prospect value – when he hurt his elbow during the 2011 Arizona Fall League. Rest and rehab through the winter did not solve the issue and he underwent surgery this past March, putting him on a timetable to return in early 2013. Solis, 24, has a big, strong frame that should be capable of providing lots of innings if his elbow can hold up. His fastball sits in the 90-94 mph range and can touch the mid-90s. Both his curveball and changeup show promise but they were inconsistent prior to the injury so he has lost some important development time. With that said, a contact told me that he is “in tremendous shape” right now. Solis should be ready to spend most of 2013 in double-A and he could be ready for the majors at some point in 2014. A reasonable projection for his ceiling would be No. 3 or 4 starter. There is also a chance that he could end up as a high-leverage reliever if his secondary pitches don’t develop as hoped.   #6 Jeff Kobernus (2B) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 24 366 92 10 1 19 57 41 .279 .322 .330 .301 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: AA Acquired: 2009 draft (2nd round) Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB Kobernus has been an under-the-radar prospect for a few years now as a speedy second baseman who can hit a little bit and has a chance to be an everyday player. The 24-year-old infielder has 75-80 speed with good base running instincts and that allowed him to 95 bases over the past two seasons while being caught 19 times. He also does a solid job of making contact and hitting for average, but he doesn’t walk nearly enough to take full advantage of his greatest asset. When I asked a contact about Kobernus, he described the prospect as a “table-setter” who sprays line drives with gap strength. He also provides steady defense at second base. Although he’s played the keystone almost exclusively in his career there has been some talk of expanding his defensive repertoire to include other positions – in an effort to perhaps prepare him for a future utility role – but a cracked rib derailed the experiment during the fall instructional league. Kobernus should open 2013 in triple-A with an eye on reaching the majors late in the season, although a trade of big league middle infielder Danny Espinosa could accelerate his timetable. With a little more patience at the plate, the prospect could turn into an average big league second baseman with a floor projection of back-up infielder.   #7 Eury Perez (OF) Age PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR 22 5 0 3 .200 .200 .200 .177 3 0.3 0.1 Opening Day Age: 22 2012 Level: AA/AAA/MLB Acquired: 2007 international FA Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB The swift-of-foot Perez has stolen more than 45 bases in each of the past three seasons and is yet another player in the Nationals system that possesses close to 80 speed. The outfielder was not a natural base stealer, though, and has had to work on his instincts on the base paths. A contact I spoke with said that he’s improved both his leads and his reads. “He could impact [the game] on his legs alone,” the talent evaluator said. Perez does not walk as much as I would like to see from someone who relies on speed but the contact I spoke with said the issue would be more of a concern if Perez didn’t make such good contact and that the organization preaches aggressiveness, not passiveness. “It can be a detriment to try and change a young hitter’s natural aggressiveness,” the contact said. “He has a clear understanding of what he has to do to be successful.” Perez spent most of 2012 in double-A but also appeared in 40 triple-A games late in the season. He hit more than .300 at that level and stole 20 bases; that earned him a 13-game cup of coffee in the majors where he stole another three bases in as many tries. He should return to the triple-A level to open 2013 although a trade of Michael Morse could start to lessen the log jam in front of him. He has the ceiling of a fringe-average, everyday center-fielder but is more likely to end up as a valuable fourth outfielder and pinch runner.   #8 Daniel Rosenbaum (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 24 26 26 155.1 164 8 5.74 2.26 3.94 3.41 Opening Day Age: 25 2012 Level: AA Acquired: 2009 draft (22nd round) Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB Rosenbaum is the type of pitcher that doesn’t overwhelm scouts – or opponents – but he continues to succeed as he moves up the organizational ladder thanks to above-average command and control. The now-25-year-old southpaw thumbed his nose at the double-A challenge in 2012 and survived while producing above-average ground-ball rates. With better-maintained infields and slicker fielders, Rosenbaum should be able to trim his hits-allowed rate (9.50 H/9) when he reaches the majors. The former 22nd round draft pick shares some similarities with Tom Milone as an over-achieving lefty with fringe stuff that plays up thanks to the aforementioned command and control. They both have similar fastball velocities (with Rosenbaum perhaps having an extra tick) and features solid secondary offerings: changeup for Milone, curveball for Rosenbaum. What perhaps gives the Nationals prospect the edge is the develop of his cutter. “I believe Danny has excellent feel for all of his pitches,” a talent evaluator told me. “He relies on his cutter primarily, which is a pitch that he doesn’t have to manipulate. It comes out of his hand naturally and is very difficult to pick up by opposing batters.” A contact I spoke with about Rosenbaum feels that he slots in nicely as a future No. 4 or 5 starter. “Consistency, circumstance and opportunity are the only things holding him back from getting that shot,” he said. “He is in excellent physical shape and works extremely hard maintaining his strength throughout the season.” Rosenbaum should move up to triple-A to begin 2013 and will await his opportunity in the Nationals’ big league rotation.   #9 Sandy Leon (C) Age PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR 23 36 0 0 .267 .389 .333 .334 109 -1.0 0.0 Opening Day Age: 24 2012 Level: AA/AAA/MLB Acquired: 2007 international FA Projected 2013 Level: AAA/MLB The backstop position was a cursed role for the Nationals in 2012 and that earned Leon and emergency promotion to the majors in mid-May. Unfortunately, he was injured in a home-plate collision in his MLB debut and ended up on the 60-day disabled list with a badly-sprained ankle. When healthy, though, Leon showed a much-improved hitting approach over his previous five seasons. A contact told me that the hitter tweaked his bat path and worked to develop a simplified, more efficient swing – both of which created better plate coverage. “He made adjustments to become a better hitter… We don’t think it’s an anomaly,” the talent evaluator said. With that said, Leon’s greatest asset is still his defense. The catcher has above-average arm strength with good catch-and-throw mechanics. He’s also a very good receiver and calls a good game. Even after Jesus Flores was non-tendered, Leon still has big leaguers Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos ahead of him but he offers more upside than fellow catching prospect Jhonatan Solano, who is also on the 40-man roster. He should open 2013 in triple-A but could be the first catcher recalled when injuries strike.   #10 Zach Walters (SS) Age PA H 2B HR BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA 22 484 121 23 12 24 109 7 .266 .302 .418 .320 Opening Day Age: 23 2012 Level: A+/AA/AAA Acquired: 2011 trade (Arizona) Projected 2013 Level: AAA A 2010 ninth round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of San Diego, Walters was acquired by Washington in 2011 for veteran hurler Jason Marquis. His floor is that of an offensive-minded utility player but he could develop into an everyday second baseman at the big league level. Walters currently plays shortstop in the minors and makes plays on everything hit to him, but there are doubts over his ability to stick at the position on a long-term basis. A contact I spoke with suggested that Walters was an underrated prospect as a switch-hitter who flashes four or five tools, although he doesn’t show much in-game power. “He’s learned a ton and will continue to get better,” the contact said. The hitter has an overly-aggressive approach at the plate, walking just 24 times in 126 games last year, and will need to curb that if he’s going to realize his full potential. Walters played at three minor league levels in 2012, topping out with 29 games in triple-A. He’s also playing in the Puerto Rico winter league. He should open 2013 in triple-A and could reach the majors at some point during the season.   #11 Robbie Ray (P) Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP 20 22 21 105.2 122 14 7.32 4.17 6.56 5.00 Opening Day Age: 21 2012 Level: A+ Acquired: 2010 draft (12th round) Projected 2013 Level: A+/AA A former above-slot draft pick out of a Tennessee high school, a lot of teams considered Ray unsignable but a switch in commitment from Vanderbilt to the University of Arkansas gave the Nationals organization hope that the talented pitcher would be willing to turn pro. It was a smart decision and he’s been pushed through the system at a steady pace but he hit a wall at the high-A ball level in 2012 when his command – and consistency – deserted him. Repeating his delivery has always been an issue for the southpaw and it cropped up in a big way last season. The good news, though, is that Ray’s issues are mostly mechanical and not due to an injury or lack of stuff. A scout I spoke with suggested that Ray, at his peak, could possess an average curveball, potentially-plus curveball (55-60 on the 20-80 scale) and an average changeup. The off-speed pitch has not b...
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