Washington Nationals Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports




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Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2011.

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For the first time since the franchise arrived in Washington five years earlier, Nationals fans had legitimate reason to be excited in 2010. The team still finished in last place for the fifth time in six seasons since moving from Montreal, but the anticipated arrival of top prospect Stephen Strasburg infused Nationals Park with energy—and fans.

Strasburg, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, made his major league debut on June 8. Before that, the Nationals averaged 21,560 fans a game. They drew more than 40,000 fans for each of his first two starts, and averaged 33,446 fans in his seven home outings.

Strasburg held up his end of the bargain, electrifying the baseball world with 14 strikeouts over seven innings in his debut against Pittsburgh. He continued to pitch well, going 5-3, 2.91 with 92 strikeouts in 68 innings before his rookie season ended abruptly in August when he tore an elbow ligament. He had Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for most if not all of 2011.

The Nationals are optimistic Strasburg can regain his pre-surgery form, and they hope to pair him with another phenom before too long. Washington had the No. 1 choice for the second consecutive draft and chose 17-year-old slugger Bryce Harper. A year after giving Strasburg a draft-record $15.1 million major league contract, the Nationals handed Harper a $9.9 million big league deal, the largest ever for a position player in the draft.

For the second straight year, the Nationals set a record for bonus spending. They spent $11.51 million in 2009 and $11.93 million in 2010. In addition to Harper, they also gave over-slot deals to A.J. Cole, Sammy Solis and Robbie Ray last summer. Those three immediately ranked among the best starting pitching prospects in an organization short on impact arms.

Washington's big league staff ranked 12th in the National League in runs allowed, and among its six most regular starters, only 35-year-old Livan Hernandez posted an ERA below 4.65. The lineup provided more reason for optimism, albeit while finishing 14th in the NL in scoring. Franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman put together another strong season, homegrown shortstop Ian Desmond enjoyed a solid rookie campaign and Danny Espinosa, Desmond's double-play partner of the future, reached the big leagues in September. Adam Dunn gave the Nationals another 38-homer season before leaving for the White Sox via free agency.

The franchise made a huge move just before the Winter Meetings, signing free agent Jayson Werth for seven years and $126 million—more money than it had spent on free agents in the previous 20 years combined. General manager Mike Rizzo said the deal signaled the start of the next phase in the club's plan, when it plans to "really compete for division titles and championships."

The farm system remains thin in premium prospects, but Rizzo did pick up one of the minors' top catchers in Wilson Ramos when he traded all-star Matt Capps to the Twins in July. The Nationals' Latin American operations have yielded little fruit in recent years, but second-year international director Johnny DiPuglia did make a splash two days later with the signing of Cuban defector Yunesky Maya. Maya reached the big leagues six weeks after signing a $7.4 million contract.

1.  Bryce Harper, of   Born: Oct. 16, 1992B-T: L-RHt: 6-3Wt: 225
 Drafted: JC of Southern Nevada, 2010 (1st round)Signed by: Mitch Sokol
Bryce HarperBackground: Harper was already established as a phenom before Sports Illustrated dubbed him "Baseball's Chosen One" on its cover in June 2009—when he had just completed his sophomore year in high school and was 16 years old. Since then, he has been confronted with gargantuan expectations everywhere he has gone, yet he has managed to exceed even the loftiest projections. In the fall of 2009, Harper earned his general equivalency diploma so he could skip his final two seasons at Las Vegas High and enroll early at the JC of Southern Nevada. Playing in the wood-bat Scenic West Athletic Conference, he destroyed the school record and led national juco players with 31 homers while hitting .443/.526/.987 with 20 steals in 24 tries. He led the Coyotes to a third-place finish at the Junior College World Series, showcasing his athleticism by playing right field, center field and third base in addition to his primary high school position of catcher. Harper was a slam-dunk choice for USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player and the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He signed right before the Aug. 16 deadline for a $9.9 million major league contract (the largest ever given to a position player in the draft) that included a $6.25 million bonus (the third-highest in draft history). After moving to right field full-time during instructional league, Harper faced much older competition yet again in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .343/.410/.629 with one homer in 35 at-bats as a taxi-squad player.

Scouting Report: Harper's raw tools are freakish. His power rates as a legitimate 80 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. There are plenty of stories and videos of him hitting 500-foot homers, and he has the ability to easily backspin the ball over the fence to any part of the park. Harper is incredibly intense and aggressive in all phases of the game, including at the plate. Some scouts wonder if he'll hit for a high average because of his propensity to take huge swings with a high, exaggerated leg kick and get jumpy at the plate. But at other times he shows a much quieter, more efficient swing. Those flashes, coupled with his uncanny hand-eye coordination and impeccable work ethic, give other scouts reason to believe he'll eventually become more selective and produce for average as well as power. Harper has shown 96 mph heat off the mound in the past, and his accurate outfield arm gives him a second 80 tool. His slightly above-average speed plays up on the basepaths because he's extremely aggressive at taking the extra base. He's still refining his routes and reads in right field, but he has the athleticism and instincts to be a premium defender there. He has impressed the Nationals by hustling to put himself in position to back up plays.

The Future: The most hyped prospect in draft history, Harper has superstar potential, and it's hard to find an evaluator who thinks he'll fall short of that ceiling. He's also incredibly advanced for an 18-year-old, and a strong spring could put him in position to jump right to high Class A Potomac to make his professional debut. He won't start any lower than low Class A Hagerstown. A realistic big league ETA for Harper is 2013—when he'll be just 20.
 
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Did Not Play—Signed Late
 
2.  Derek Norris, c   Born: Feb. 14, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Goddard, Kan., 2007 (4th round)Signed by: Ryan Fox
Derek NorrisBackground: After establishing himself as the best position-player prospect in the system in 2009, Norris broke the hamate bone in his left hand that fall. Complications from surgery caused him to miss the first month of the 2010 season, and he was hit in the head with a 95 mph fastball shortly after returning. He never really got fully healthy until the fall, when he hit .278/.403/.677 in the Arizona Fall League.

Scouting Report: Norris has a compact, efficient swing with plus power potential, and he can hit the ball to all fields. He has exceptional pitch recognition, feel for the strike zone and discipline, allowing him to lead his leagues in walks in each of the last two years. Sometimes he takes too many pitches, and Washington wants him to pounce when he gets a pitch he can drive. Considering he had little catching experience before turning pro, Norris has made major strides defensively. He still needs to improve his receiving, but he has gotten better at blocking balls in the dirt. His solid-average arm plays up because of his quick release and accuracy, allowing him to throw out 51 percent of basestealers last year. He has fringe-average speed.

The Future: An offensive catcher with all-star potential, Norris will reach Double-A Harrisburg at age 22 in 2011. If his defense continues to progress, he could reach the big leagues the following year.
 
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Potomac (Hi A) .235 .419 .419 298 67 70 19 0 12 49 89 94 6
 
3.  Danny Espinosa, ss/2b   Born: April 25, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 190
 Drafted: Long Beach State, 2008 (3rd round)Signed by: Mark Baca
Danny EspinosaBackground: Espinosa was one of three minor leaguers to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in 2010. He earned a September taste of the big leagues, following in the footsteps of fellow Long Beach State shortstops Bobby Crosby, Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria.

Scouting Report: Espinosa has a tightly wound frame and strong, quick wrists that generate excellent bat speed. He swings hard and has solid power, but the Nationals want him to be a bit less aggressive. Harrisburg hitting coach Troy Gingrich helpled him make his upper and lower halves work together more effectively in his swing. If Espinosa continues to refine his approach and setup he could become an average hitter, thanks to his excellent hand-eye coordination and bunting skills. Espinosa's plus-plus arm plays well at shortstop, and his instincts, intelligence and hands give him a chance to excel at second base or be solid at short. He has average speed and runs the bases well.

The Future:Espinosa had surgery to remove the hamate bone in his right hand in late November but should be ready to compete for Washington's second-base job in spring training. He projects as a solid regular.
 
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Harrisburg (AA) .262 .334 .464 386 66 101 16 4 18 54 33 94 20
Syracuse (AAA) .295 .349 .463 95 14 28 2 1 4 15 8 22 5
Washington .214 .277 .447 103 16 22 4 1 6 15 9 30 0
 
4.  A.J. Cole, rhp   Born: Jan. 5, 1992B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—Oviedo, Fla., 2010 (4th round)Signed by: Paul Tinnell
A.J. ColeBackground: Regarded as a potential top-10-overall pick heading into his senior year at Oviedo (Fla.) High in 2010, Cole got off to a slow start because of the flu and bad weather. His velocity dipped to 88-93 mph early in the year, though he touched the mid-90s later in the spring. Signability concerns (he was a Miami recruit) dropped him in the draft, and the Nationals were elated to get him in the fourth round. He signed a day before the Aug. 16 deadline for $2 million—a record for the round.

Scouting Report: Cole has an athletic, projectable frame and a loose, electric arm. He attacks the strike zone with his fastball and curveball, and his low-maintenance delivery suggests he'll have at least solid-average command. His fastball topped out at 93 mph in instructional league, but he regularly has reached 95-97 in the past. As he matures physically, his heater should be a premium pitch. Cole's 76-80 mph spike curveball has short 11-to-5 break, good rotation and depth, giving him the makings of a second plus offering. He also has feel for a changeup, though it's inconsistent. He's an intense competitor with a professional approach to preparation.

The Future: Cole has frontline-starter upside and could move fairly quickly for a high school draftee. With one pro inning under his belt, he'll probably open 2011 in low Class A.
 
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vermont (SS) 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 .333
 
5.  Wilson Ramos, c   Born: Aug. 8, 1987B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 220
 Drafted: Venezuela, 2004Signed by: Jose Leon (Twins)
Wilson RamosBackground: Ramos had ranked as one of the Twins' best prospects since 2007, but Joe Mauer blocked his big league path. In need of a closer, Minnesota traded him and lefthander Joe Testa to the Nationals for all-star Matt Capps last July. Ramos spent September in Washington, then put together another solid winter in the Venezuela League.

Scouting Report: Strong and physical, Ramos stands out for his defensive skills behind the plate and his power potential. He's a good receiver with soft hands, and his plus arm helped him throw out an International League-best 50 percent of basestealers in 2010. He's still learning to call games and manage pitchers. Ramos has good loft and leverage in his swing, giving him a chance to hit for solid-average or slightly better power in time. He does get pull-happy, and he must improve his contact rate and patience at the plate. Conditioning has been an issue for Ramos in the past, and he's a well below-average runner.

The Future: Ramos' defense and power potential could make him a valuable everyday catcher. He should battle for time behind the plate in Washington this year.
 
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Rochester (AAA) .241 .280 .345 278 25 67 14 0 5 30 12 49 1
Minnesota .296 .321 .407 27 2 8 3 0 0 1 0 3 0
Syracuse (AAA) .316 .341 .494 79 14 25 3 1 3 8 3 12 0
Washington .269 .296 .404 52 3 14 4 0 1 4 2 9 0
 
6.  Sammy Solis, lhp   Born: Aug. 10, 1988B-T: R-LHt: 6-5Wt: 230
 Drafted: San Diego, 2010 (2nd round)Signed by: Tim Reynolds
Sammy SolisBackground: Solis missed nearly all of 2009 because of a herniated disc in his back, but he rebounded to go 9-2, 3.42 with 92 strikeouts in 92 innings as a redshirt sophomore at San Diego last spring. The 51st overall selection in the 2010 draft, he signed two days before the Aug. 16 deadline for $1 million. He impressed against older competition in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 3.80 ERA in 24 innings. His family owns an AIDS orphanage in Africa.

Scouting Report: With a big, physical frame and an easy arm action, Solis projects as a mid-rotation workhorse. He has good command and feel for his three-pitch mix, highlighted by a plus changeup that he throws with good arm speed and deception. He pitched at 88-92 mph with late life on his fastball last spring, then sat at 91-92 in the fall and topped out at 94. Solis adds and subtracts from a knuckle-curve that ranges from 74-81 mph. It's a true downer with good depth when he stays on top of it. Some scouts think his three-quarters to low-three-quarters arm slot is better suited for a slider.

The Future: A polished strike-thrower with an unflappable mound demeanor, Solis figures to jump to high Class A to start his first full pro season and could reach Double-A in the second half. He could arrive in Washington by 2012.
 
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hagerstown (Lo A) 0 0 0.00 2 2 0 0 4 2 0 0 3 .143
 
7.  Cole Kimball, rhp   Born: Aug. 1, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 225
 Drafted: Centenary (N.J.), 2006 (12th round)Signed by: Alex Smith
Cole KimballBackground: Kimball ranked as the top draft prospect in a weak New Jersey college crop in 2006 based solely on his arm strength, but he was regarded as a long-term project who needed to transform from thrower to pitcher. The Nationals used him as a starter for his first three pro seasons to get him innings, but he found a home in the bullpen in 2009 and broke out in 2010, capped by a dominant turn in the Arizona Fall League that earned him a spot on the 40-man roster.

Scouting Report: Kimball has taken off as he's learned to control his big, physical body. He has a long arm action and a high arm slot, but he has figured out how to repeat his mechanics fairly well, and he's throwing increasingly more quality strikes. Kimball attacks hitters with a heavy fastball that ranges from 93-98 mph. His 83-87 splitter is a swing-and-miss offering that ranges from average to plus-plus. Kimball has learned to throw his low-80s curveball for strikes early in counts, and it gives him a third out pitch at times. He has a fierce mound presence.

The Future: Kimball will compete for a big league bullpen job out of spring training, though some seasoning at Triple-A Syracuse would do him some good. He projects as the future set-up man for Drew Storen in Washington.
 
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 3 0 1.82 19 0 0 6 25 17 0 8 27 .210
Harrisburg (AA) 5 1 2.33 38 0 0 12 54 33 4 31 74 .171
 
8.  Eury Perez, of   Born: May 30, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 180
 Drafted: Dominican Republic, 2007Signed by: Dana Brown/Moises de la Mota
Eury PerezBackground: After winning the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting title with a .381 average in 2009, Perez posted a .571 OPS Hagerstown in the first two months of last season. The Nationals were prepared to send him down to short-season Vermont, but after Hagerstown hitting coach Tony Tarasco and Nats minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu worked with him on minimizing his leg kick and staying inside the ball, Perez caught fire and had an .835 OPS in the second half.

Scouting Report: Perez sticks out most with his well above-average speed, and he became a much better basestealer last year. He finished second in the minors with 64 steals and succeeded at an 83 percent rate, up from 67 percent in 2009. The Nationals challenged him to play shallower in center field and trust that his speed would allow him to catch up with balls over his head. He projects as a plus defender with an average, accurate arm. Perez isn't a power hitter, but he's strong enough to drive the ball to the gaps. He thrives when he slashes the ball to the middle of the field, and he knows how to protect with two strikes. He has become a good bunter.

The Future: Perez profiles as a tablesetter with premium speed and strong defensive skills in center. He'll advance to high Class A in 2011.
 
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hagerstown (Lo A) .299 .345 .381 438 88 131 17 5 3 42 23 74 64
 
9.  Chris Marrero, 1b   Born: July 2, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Opa Locka, Fla., 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Tony Arango
Chris MarreroBackground: A 2006 first-round pick who signed for $1.625 million, Marrero ranked No. 1 on this list heading into the 2008 season, during which he broke the fibula in his right leg and tore ligaments in his ankle on a slide at home plate. After recovering, he turned in a solid Double-A performance in 2010 to claim a spot on Washington's 40-man roster. His brother Christian is a first baseman in the White Sox system.

Scouting Report: Marrero's ticket always has been his plus to plus-plus raw power, but he has yet to really tap into it in games. He has some length and leverage in his swing, and he has battled—with mixed success—to stride forward rather than step in the bucket. He expanded his strike zone too often when Double-A pitchers fed him a steady diet of breaking balls early last season, but he showed more discipline in the second half. Some scouts wonder if he'll hit enough to justify an everyday job, and he remains a defensive liability at first base. The Nationals rave about his commitment to improving his agility and footwork in 2010, though he still needs more work. He's a well below-average runner.

The Future: Marrero hit well (.306) and impressed manager Pat Listach with his defense in the Puerto Rican League. He will advance to Triple-A to start 2011. Just 22, he still has time to develop into the middle-of-the-order slugger the Nationals always hoped he'd be.
 
2010 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Harrisburg (AA) .294 .350 .450 524 73 154 28 0 18 82 43 102 1
 
10.  Brad Peacock, rhp   Born: Feb. 2, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 175
 Signed: Palm Beach (Fla.) CC, D/F 2006 (41st round)Signed by: Tony Arango
Brad PeacockBackground: Primarily a shortstop in high school, Peacock has made significant strides on the mound since signing with for $110,000 as a draft-and-follow in 2007. He led Nationals farmhands with 148 strikeouts in 142 innings last season, then racked up 17 more whiffs in 12 innings as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League.

Scouting Report: Peacock always has owned a quick, loose arm, and his velocity climbed last year, when his fastball sat at 92-94 mph and regularly topped out at 96. He's a bit undersized and often has struggled to pitch downhill, so the Nationals worked to help him turn his front shoulder more and keep his head down. He made some progress but still needs to do a better job working down in the zone. Peacock's knuckle-curve is a plus offering with sharp downer action that complements his straight fastball well. He also has developed a decent changeup to use against lefties, though it still lags behind his other two offerings. Peacock fields his position and holds runners well.

The Future: Peacock has the arm strength and stuff to become a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues if he can put everything together. There's some sentiment that his AFL bullpen stint was a sign of things to come, and that his frame is better suited for relief. For now, he'll return to the Harrisburg rotation.
 
2010 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 4 9 4.44 19 18 1 0 103 109 11 25 118 .268
Harrisburg (AA) 2 2 4.66 7 7 0 0 39 33 5 22 30 .234

Complete Index of Top 10 Prospects
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