Washington Nationals Top 10 Prospects Chat With Aaron Fitt

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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.

Aaron Fitt: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another Nats chat. Let's pull up our socks and get after it!

    Dee (DC): What's your assessment of Robbie Ray? Is he 11-20 material?

Aaron Fitt: He's a very interesting, projectable lefthander with feel. He certainly is 11-20 material, and I could see him jumping safely into the top 10 with a good 2011. I was a bit conservative with him this year in light of his lack of pro experience, dip in velocity, mixed reports during the spring and slurvy breaking ball. But his loose, whippy arm action, good changeup and frame are positive indicators for his future.

    JAYPERS (IL): With both the signing of Werth and Harper on the way, what does this mean for Michael Burgess - is he trade bait? Also, how far down the list did he slip this year?

Aaron Fitt: Let's eliminate the suspense and extend Jaypers' consecutive chat streak in the early going. I don't think Burgess is a significant part of Washington's plan for the future — there's just too much uncertainty about his hit tool. His raw power and arm strength still give him a chance to be a quality big leaguer if he can ever refine his offensive approach, and he's still just 21 so don't give up on him. But at this point, if he develops into an everyday player, that will just be a bonus, and the Nationals will deal with any outfielder surplus when it arises. He slipped down toward No. 20 on this year's list.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Tyler Moore had a comeback season this year. About where would he rank, and is he a future MLer or a 4-A player?

Aaron Fitt: He had a miserable first half but a simply remarkable second half, putting himself into the prospect conversation. He has legitimate above-average power potential from foul pole to foul pole, and he became more direct to the ball in the second half, which was critical. He's not a great defender so his bat will have to carry him and he'll have to prove himself at every level, but I think he's got a chance. Gun to my head, I'd still say 4-A player, but with a chance to become more than that — sort of where his former Mississippi State teammate Mitch Moreland was with the Rangers a couple of years ago, and he turned himself into a legitimate big leaguer. Moore ranks in the mid-20s on this list.

    Kade Nelson (Chippewa Falls,Wi.): Hi. What are your thoughts on Kobernus? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: The man has got to stay healthy. His inability to do so over the last two seasons has made it difficult to really evaluate him, and he slipped down the list this year, but he does still have tools. I've always liked his line-drive bat, athleticism and speed, but 2011 is a big year for him. Time to start putting it together.

    JAYPERS (IL): If BA created their Top 100 prospects list today, would you rank Harper as # 1 based on projection alone? Or would a more established player such as Trout or Montero rank above him?

Aaron Fitt: My hunch is the debate will come down to Harper vs. Trout, and I know there are people in our office who come down on both sides of that argument. I love Trout, but I would take Harper. Montero has a great bat, but he lacks the defensive value of the other two, and I think Harper will have the most special bat of the three. Harper is absurdly talented.

    Beatrix Kiddo (Limbo): Now that the Nats have parted ways with Dunn, are they expected to expedite Marrero's path to the bigs any?

Aaron Fitt: I don't think Washington believes Marrero is ready for the big leagues, and it's unclear if he will be the long-term solution — I tend to think he will not be, but like Burgess, he's still young enough to address some of his shortcomings and become the impact bat the Nationals once hoped he would be. I expect Washington to sign a veteran stop-gap to a short-term deal, then re-evaluate in a year.

    Adam (Denver, CO): I'm a bit surprised you have Harper as the top guy in the Best Hitter For Average category when most reviews I've read say he's likely to strike out around 120-150 times a year. How confident are you he'll figure out major league pitching enough to bat above .260 once he reaches the bigs?

Aaron Fitt: We debated that category, because certainly there is a variance of opinion about how much Harper will hit for average. There are certainly scouts who think he'll strike out in bunches and wind up as a .260 hitter, but there are plenty of others who think he'll made adjustments as he matures. Sometimes he does take huge hacks, but there are others when his swing is much quieter and more efficient. His hand-eye coordination is uncanny, and ultimately I think that will make him an above-average hitter. Remember, this guy's work ethic is beyond reproach; he is both intelligent enough to make adjustments and physically able to make adjustments. I really believe he will wind up as a .300-plus hitter with 40-plus home runs — he's that good. That's an admittedly ambitious projection, but I don't mind being ambitious when it comes to Bryce Harper.

    Wendy (DC): In retrospect, do you think the Nats were a bit too cautious with Strasburg's routine? Also, what are you hearing about his rehab? Is a September ETA out of the question?

Aaron Fitt: I think the Nationals did everything perfectly with Strasburg — elbow injuries just happen. Pitching is an unnatural thing, and it's not easy to predict when pitchers will break down, or why. Sounds like the rehab is going well, but I don't want to speculate about his return date.

    Jay (South Riding, VA): What would you project as offensive numbers for Ramos & Norris when they reach the majors?

Aaron Fitt: Norris strikes me as a .280-.300 hitter with tons of walks, 20-25 homers and plenty of doubles. He's got a really nice, compact swing, and I think he's got a chance to hit for some average in time, as well as power. Ramos, I think, is more of a .240-.250 hitter with 10-15 homers. His value really lies in his defense.

    Brett (Sacramento): I know that Drew Storen is the closer of the future for the Nats, but does Kimball have that kind of upside to be a closer in the majors down the road?

Aaron Fitt: I think he does — his stuff is filthy, and his command and feel for pitching have come light years from when he was drafted. I did New Jersey for the 2006 draft, and the consensus at that time was Kimball was just a raw thrower with arm strength. His transformation has been remarkable — a real success story for the Nationals player development staff. I wouldn't have ranked a 25-year-old reliever No. 7 on this list if I didn't believe he can be a real impact big league reliever, and soon. It's a premium fastball, a wipeout split-finger at times and a solid curveball — real nice package.

    Tommy (New York): All right, let's get down to business: Give me odds on where Bryce Harper starts 2011. I'm trying to plan my baseball travels for the summer and the Harper ambiguity is killing me. I'm going 60 percent chance at Hagerstown, 40 percent chance at Potomac. Thoughts?

Aaron Fitt: That is a closely guarded secret... but if I were a betting man, I might put my money on Potomac. I think a lot depends on how he looks this spring.

    Jasen (FLL): Do you think that Norris will slug high enough to justify a 1B role?

Aaron Fitt: Quite possibly. But honestly I still think he's got a legitimate chance to stick behind the plate, and if he does, he can be an all-star. Don't put too much stock in the projected 2014 lineup — it's more a reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of the system at this point in time. Catching is a clear strength for the Nationals right now, and first base is a weakness, so we put one of the catchers at first base. There is a chance Norris could wind up there anyway, because he does still need to improve his receiving. Just emphasizing that I am not even close to giving up on Norris as a catcher.

    Chris (NYC): Was surprised to not see Lombardozzi on there, especially with bullpen guys like Kimball and Peacock. Do you not think he will be a full time 2b? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: I'm a big Lombardozzi fan, and I thought I was pretty aggressive in ranking him at No. 13. The fact is, he doesn't have great tools, and it's going out on a limb a bit to project him as an everyday player. I think he's got a chance to become that, because I like his contact bat and I love his instincts and work ethic. I think he's a big leaguer for sure, just not completely sold on him as an everyday big leaguer. We'll find out soon enough, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he carves out a nice career as an Eckstein type.

    Roy (Charleston): About where would the Nats' system rank overall? After the first five prospects, it seems as though things take a tumble. Also, about how many guys do you predict will make BA's Top 100?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's probably around the middle of the pack. We place a premium on impact prospects, so Harper alone gives this system a major boost. The problem is a lack of depth of potential impact guys. Most of the pitching depth in the system comes in the form of back-end starters or middle relievers, and there are significant question marks about all of the bats after the top three. My guess is the top three will make the top 100.

    AC (ATL): Where on the top 30 will recent Rule 5 draftee Elvin Ramirez fall?

Aaron Fitt: Around No. 20. He has the kind of premium arm strength this system sorely lacks, with a fastball that reached 98-99 this winter. But he doesn't have much of a track record of throwing strikes until this winter, and his secondary stuff is just OK.

    Jasen (FLL): Who has the better offensive upside, Desmond or Espinsosa?

Aaron Fitt: I'll go with Espinosa.

    Mark (Oak Hill, VA): Can you give us a quick look at new Nats prospect Corey Brown? Was he close to making the list? Does he have a shot to hold off Eury Perez for that CF spot between Harper and Werth in 2014? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: Brown probably would have ranked inside the top 10, but he missed our transaction deadline for the Handbook and magazine, so we left him out of the online list today as well. He's a quality athlete with a nice all-around tools package and a pretty good approach. At this point, I'd probably give him a slight edge over Eury Perez, who still comes with question marks about his bat long-term.

    AC (Atlanta): JP Ramirez had a pretty good year, but there still seem to a number of questions surrounding him. What is the outlook on him?

Aaron Fitt: I'm just not sure he profiles. He's got a nice line-drive swing, but he doesn't run at all, he's still a poor defender (though he got a little better this year), he can't throw a lick, and he doesn't really have the kind of power you want in a left fielder who doesn't defend. It was a nice year in low A, and it stopped his slide down the list and even moved him up a few spots, but I'm still not buying in completely.

    Ken (Lakewood CA): Hi Aaron. Thanks for the chat. Wondering what your take is for P Jordan Zimmerman for this year? Do you see him as being ready to have a good season for the Nationals?

Aaron Fitt: I think he's going to have a huge year in 2011. Still really believe in that guy.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Exciting Eury Perez made your top 10. Does GCL middle infielder Roberto Perez of the GCL get top 30 prospect consideration?

Aaron Fitt: Roberto Perez wasn't really close to making the top 30 — he's got a long way to go. The Nationals actually converted him to catcher in instructional league, because he just lacked the foot speed for the middle infield, but they think his tools package could play behind the plate. He's raw at the plate, but does have a bit of feel to hit.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Folks that order the Prospect Handbook directly from BaseballAmerica get that neat bonus booklet of the 31st prospect listing for each organization. Last year redhead pitcher Paul Demny was the Nats 31st guy. Does he slide up into the top 30 and a full place in your handbook this year?

Aaron Fitt: Demny had an OK year, but it was not the step forward I was anticipating, and he dropped a bit this year, though he still garnered some consideration for the Top 30. It's a fastball with some sink and solid-average velocity at times, but he needs to become more consistent with his mechanics and command, and some scouts see him as a bullpen guy. This year's No. 31 is catcher Sandy Leon, a premium defender behind the plate.

    Jon (Chicago): Do you see Atahualpa Severino in the mold of JC Romero and will he be part of the big league pen this season?

Aaron Fitt: That's the kind of guy he can be, but he needs to do a better job repeating his delivery and becoming more consistent with his command. His breaking ball is slurvy, just a fringy pitch. I see him as more of an up-and-down guy than a key piece of a big league bullpen.

    Dan (Augusta, ME): Aaron, I keep hearing different reports on Robby Ray's velocity. Can you clarify the issue and also how much projection do you think he still has? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: He ran it up into the mid-90s during the showcase circuit in 2009, but he worked more in the 89-91 range in the spring, and some days pitched a bit below that. I do think his arm action and frame suggest he will add velocity, though.

    Craig (Vancouver): Where did Brad Myers fit into your to Nats list?

Aaron Fitt: Toward the back. He can pitch, but he was never an overpowering stuff guy, and now his health has become a significant issue. Staying healthy has always been the issue for Meyers, and he's an x-factor right now. The Nats seem to think his second foot surgery this fall was successful, but we just don't know how well he'll come back from this detour.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Thoughts on Destin Hood at this point?

Aaron Fitt: The Nats were actually very pleased with his developmental year — they say he made as much progress as any player in their system. He's becoming a better thrower and defender, and he made major strides with his pitch recognition. He's still very much a work in progress, but many Washington officials are convinced he can become a quality offensive left fielder and adequate defender in the big leagues. He's still pretty high on my list, at No. 12.

    scott (bethesda): No rick hague, tyler moore, or aj morris? Did any of them receive any consideration.

Aaron Fitt: Hague and Morris both wound up in the 11-20 range, and I already addressed Moore. Morris really clicked after moving to the bullpen, showing a 93-95 mph fastball with serious life, and I think he'll be a quality bullpen option in the majors pretty quickly. Hague's kind of a cheap five-tool player, but it's a little hard to profile him, because very few scouts think he can stick at shortstop, and I don't know that he'll be offensive enough for third base. But he's a grinder and a good player, and it was impressive how he held his own in low A (offensively, at least) in his debut.

    MJ (Valpo): Is it time to write off Josh Smoker (1st rd, 2007)? What has happened to this guy?!?

Aaron Fitt: Smoker was one of the strangest stories of 2010 for the Nationals. His career looked about dead for most of the year — as a starter, he was throwing about 83 mph. Then the Nationals moved him to the bullpen, and all of a sudden he started throwing 93 again, really shocking everyone in the system. The Nats said he was like a kid in a candy store once he rediscovered his velocity — perhaps some guys are just built to relieve. He had developed a pretty good changeup when his velocity was down, and the Nats worked with him in instructs to add power to his breaking ball. Certainly, I'm not ready to declare him a Top 30 prospect again, but he's at least put himself back on the map.

    Ryan (Albuquerque): Did Jordan Zimmerman throw enough innings in the bigs two seasons ago to loose his prospect status or was he just not in your top 10?

Aaron Fitt: Zimmermann has thrown too many big league innings to qualify for the list. He was No. 1 on this list two years ago.

    Mike (Minnesota): Who's going to end up having the most impact in their career as RF'ers: Heyward, Stanton, or Harper? Does Harper have more projectable power than the other two?

Aaron Fitt: Look, Heyward and Stanton are awesome — both look like perennial all-stars. But I'm all in on Harper; I think he's going to be a superstar, and when it's all said and done, I think he will have even more impact than those other two. Stanton has massive power — but Harper has even more. It probably sounds like we're creating unreasonable expectations for Harper, and maybe that's not fair to an 18-year-old kid. Whatever. Believe the hype.

    Dan (TO): According to A.J. Cole's Scouting Report in the Nats Draft Database, he is compared to Karsten Whitson as one of the top available pitchers in the draft and was projected that he would not make it out of the first round. He was taken 116th Overall and given a $2 million bonus. Was it the bonus that scared so many teams away, or was there more to it??

Aaron Fitt: He was regarded as a potential top 10 overall pick entering the year, but he didn't have a great spring. His velocity was down early, but it came back later in the spring, and BA still projected him as a first-round pick heading into the draft. His pricetag, coupled with his early inconsistency, probably caused him to slide — but the Nats got a real steal with pick No. 116.

    Doug (McLean, VA): Why doesn't Tom Milone get more respect as a LHP prospect? He is lefty that has a 24-10 record over the last two seasons with a sub 3 ERA each season.

Aaron Fitt: He's starting to make people respect him — but I'm not ready to rank a guy with an 85-87 mph fastball in the top 10. Still, the guy just plain wins. He can really pitch, he has a very good changeup and uses his fringy curveball well. I think he can be a No. 5 starter in the big leagues, and I ranked him 16th in the system. That's not bad for an almost-24-year-old soft-tossing lefty.

    Dan (TO): If Wilson Ramos projects as the everyday catcher, that leaves Derek Norris and Chris Marrero fighting for the 1B job. Any chance that super phenom Bryce Harper could wind up in CF down the road, flanked by Marrero and Michael Burgess? That would be an outfield with some SERIOUS pop!

Aaron Fitt: There is no chance Marrero can play the outfield. He just doesn't have very much mobility.

    NatsJack (Winter Park, Fl.): The company line has been that the Nats have been stockpiling some solid young arms in their minor league system. When, as fans can we expect to see some results of this effort (Stephen Straburg excepted)?

Aaron Fitt: I think Strasburg and Zimmermann are pretty good returns — that's a potentially dynamite 1-2 punch to build the rotation around. John Lannan is another homegrown pitcher who is, at least, a useful big league starter, and Ross Detwiler still has a chance to be something. As for the system, give the Nationals credit for spending to get Cole, Solis and Ray, because they really needed to bolster their stock of impact arms. But as I said earlier, the bulk of the arms in the system are back-end starters or middle relievers — not exactly a stockpile of high-upside pitchers.

    johnb (greenville,SC): Cole Kimbrell. Do you think he can be the setup man for Storen this year ? Better than Clippard ?

Aaron Fitt: I could see him growing into that role this year. His raw stuff is better than Clippard's, but he doesn't have Clippard's moxie at this point.

    steve (wichita): are there concerns about harper's makeup?

Aaron Fitt: No. He's incredibly intense, and sometimes that comes off the wrong way — but this is a guy who plays the game at full speed at all times, and I think fans will love that about him. He's also a very hard worker.

    Tobias Funke (California): What kind of ceiling do you see JR Higley as having? He seemed like an Aaron Rowand/Eric Byrnes type. Do you think he has a chance to rebound and be added to the roster at the end of this season? Thanks J-

Aaron Fitt: Always nice to hear from another resident of Orange County (where the sun has just poked through the clouds for the first time in a week!). Higley had a lost year — his hamate injury lingered into the season and caused him to get off to a slow start, and he was suspended 50 games for violating the substance-abuse policy later in the year. He can defend, throw and run, but the bat is a pretty significant question mark, and he has backslid in a big way as a prospect.

    Dan (Augusta, ME): Any sleepers in the system that jump out at you? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: Sleepers: Infielder Adrian Sanchez has a real nice line-drive stroke and had a breakout year in the GCL. I like a couple of Texas college infielders from this year's draft — the athletic Jason Martinson and the scrappy Blake Kelso. Another 2010 draftee, Hawaii catcher David Freitas, was one of the big surprises of the year for the Nationals, who believe he will continue to hit as he moves through the system. Former UCLA lefty Matt Grace is interesting — trapped behind the Bruins' ridiculously talented front-line pitchers, he was relegated to a relief role, but he's got a quality fastball-slider mix, feel for a changeup and a chance to start in pro ball. And the Nats are very high on outfielder Wade Moore, who started his college career at NC State but finished it at Catawba. Good athlete, can run, defend, strong arm, and is a grinder. Has a long swing, but made some nice adjustments in the second half.

    Chris (NYC): If you had to pick one guy to make a big jump this year, would you take Eury Perez (into the top 100)? Or AJ Cole(top 50)? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Cole.

    Bruce A. (Georgia): Post 2012, Strasburg or Hellickson?

Aaron Fitt: Strasburg.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Regarding Harper, the Washington Post quoted GM Rizzo as follows: "I assume [Harper]starts in Hagerstown. That could change. If the minor league season opened today, it would be Hagerstown. I think he needs to start in a comfortable position for him to succeed and move on." That was in min-November. Do we know of any new developments that might change Rizzo's perspective?

Aaron Fitt: I hadn't seen that quote. Hagerstown would make the most sense to me — I'm just saying, there are rumblings within the organization that they might not be afraid to push him beyond that.

    Eric (McLean, VA): What's your view of two mid- to late-round picks from last year's draft - Randolph Obuber and Aaron Barrett?

Aaron Fitt: All right, some deep cuts! Oduber had a great debut against younger competition in the GCL, but he does have some tools — a bit of pop, average speed, below-average arm that will relegate him to left field. He's a backwards player — bats right, throws left — but he's an interesting name to remember. Barrett was a very interesting prospect a couple of summers ago in the Northwoods League, then he had a very rough junior year at Ole Miss after transferring from a JC. He was a solid senior starter for the Rebels this spring, but he's just OK — pitches off his slider, does not have the kind of plus fastball he once flashed.

    Jesse (Chicago): Aaron, was H-Rod considered for the top 10 given how recently he was acquired?

Aaron Fitt: Henry Rodriguez has already used up his prospect eligibility. But Jim Shonerd, who does our A's list, says this about him: "throws really hard, not many strikes. Was better about it this year. Also has a decent slider that he also doesn't control."

    ryan (dc): what positions do the Nats need to focus with their first three picks in the draft and who would be the likely candidates who would be available? Should they go college or high school?

Aaron Fitt: Best players available. Period. This is a very strong, deep draft on the college side, so if they're drafting best players available, they'll probably wind up taking more college guys this year.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that's all for today. Thanks for all the great questions, as usual! Our Top 10s take a little break now for the holidays. Here's wishing all of you safe and happy holidays, and a terrific 2011.