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: Hi everybody. It's an exciting time to be a Nats fan — it's been a long time since there has been this much talent in the pipeline. This was a fun list to put together. Let's get chatting.

    Dale (Columbus): Would you say Alex Meyer is destined for the bullpen? How many above average pitches does he have right now? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: Gun to my head, yes, I would say he winds up in the bullpen. But there is also a legitimate chance he could harness his mechanics and command and become a top-of-the-rotation caliber starter, and just the chance of that happening is enough to make him a very exciting prospect. I saw Meyer at the Houston College Classic this year, and that day he sat in the 93-96 range with life, and he flashed quite a few plus-plus power breaking balls, though sometimes they'd also be below-average. He did not show that kind of explosive stuff in instructs, but it's in there, and you'll definitely see it next year.

    Jay (South Riding, VA): Aaron, Thanks so much for the chat. Always look forward to the top 10. Many Nats fans think Ian Desmond is more utility player than starting SS. Do you think the Nats would be better served shifting Espinosa to SS and trying Rendon at 2B. Can Rendon play 2B and where do you see him hitting in the batting order? Thanks again

Aaron Fitt: I always look forward to this chat! Assuming the Nats lock up Zimmerman long term, I think a move to second base for Rendon would make the most sense (with Espinosa presumably shifting to short). I really believe Rendon could be a plus defender at third — his instincts and hands there are special — but I think he's athletic enough to handle the middle infield. Thanks largely to those two ankle injuries, his foot speed has decreased some since his high school days, when he was actually a darn good shortstop, but I think he'll be quick enough for second, and his baseball instincts will help him make up for any shortcomings.

    Grant (NYC): How far off the top 10 was Tom Milone? Does he project as a #4-5, or is he a RP in the making?

Aaron Fitt: He's in the 11-15 range, which is a pretty solid group (also including guys like Destin Hood, Chris Marrero, Tyler Moore). And I do think Milone can be a back-end starter. It's not a high ceiling, but he really has an advanced feel for pitching. His fastball, as we all know, is not overpowering, but it plays up because of his deception and his outstanding command of it. His changeup is a legit plus offering, and the breaking ball is serviceable. We've seen plenty of lefties with comparable stuff and command succeed as back-end starters in the big leagues.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Chris Marrero at this point - prospect or suspect?

Aaron Fitt: He's certainly still a prospect, he's just not an elite prospect. He's been on the radar so long, it's easy to forget that Marrero is still just 23, and he has been among the younger players in his league at just about every level, and still performed fairly well. He made a lot of progress with his defense this year (and he really needed to), but the question is whether he will hit enough to be an everyday first baseman. I see him now as an average hitter with 55 game power, maybe 60. For a first baseman, I think that makes him a fringy regular, or maybe the righthanded half of a platoon. There is more raw power in there, and if he can unlock it then maybe he can exceed that projection, but that's how I see him at this stage — no longer as a future star, as the Nats once hoped.

    Brad (DC): Percent chance of Harper breaking camp with the team?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's anyone's guess. My guess? 35 percent. There is certainly a chance he could go to camp and blow everybody away, because he's that talented. But there's also no real reason to rush him. He'll have to really convince the Nats that he's ready.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Could we get your input on 3B Matt Skole and his 2011 season? Was he in the 11-20 range?

Aaron Fitt: I think he checked in just outside the top 20. I like him — I wrote him up for the NY-P top 20 prospects list, so I would direct you to that list if you can't wait for the Handbook to see a write-up. He'll need some work to stick at third base, but he's got a chance to do it, and I think he can hit for some power with some mechanical adjustments. He has real good plate discipline, which really stands out to me.

    Harry (Washington, DC): Your thoughts on Robbie Ray? Is he a top 30 guy? top 20?

Aaron Fitt: He's a top 20 guy. I'm not as bullish on Ray as I was a year ago — he had a nice year, especially for his age in low A, but the stuff is sorta fringy and it sounds like the Nats aren't convinced there's a ton of projection there. He worked mostly in that 87-91 range this year with good sinking life, to go with an inconsistent slider and good feel for a changeup. I think he projects as a No. 4 starter type, and he's still a ways off.

    Jay (South Riding, VA): The Nats seem really high on Michael Taylor. Are they right or is it just a case of an organization overvaluing their own guys?

Aaron Fitt: The Nats are extremely excited about Taylor, and he started to garner some buzz from people outside the organization this year, too. Taylor has serious upside — think Mike Cameron or Devon White. He's already the best defensive outfielder in the system, and he only converted from shortstop a year ago. He's got bat speed and power potential, and he's making progress as a hitter. There is still a lot of risk with him — will he ever really hit enough to be a regular? But the upside is tantalizing, and I've heard glowing reports about his makeup, which is always encouraging.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Would you be confident enough to rank the Nats' system in the overall top 10 at this point?

Aaron Fitt: Easily. We tend to value impact talent over depth, and the Nats have serious impact talent (and the depth has improved quite a bit, too).

    Jake (Our Nation's Capital): Amongst the Nats' outfield prospects, about where does Destin Hood rank right now?

Aaron Fitt: He's only behind Harper and Goodwin. Hood had another very positive developmental year. He was never going to be a fast mover, but the Nats have been patient with him, and they could be rewarded for it (as they were for their patience with other slow movers like Ian Desmond and Brad Peacock). Hood projects as a left field-only guy, but his defense has improved out there, and his overall athleticism and foot speed have returned as well (he had lost his athlete some a year or two ago). His bat speed has always been the most intriguing thing about him, and I like that he doesn't sell out for power — he really has become a discipline hitter who sticks with his up-the-middle approach. I think that's encouraging — the power will come, and it was good to see him more than double his career home run total in 2011.

    Frank (Atlanta, GA): What do scouts have to say about 2011 pitching draftees Hill and Turnbull? Who are you higher on?

Aaron Fitt: I'm higher on Turnbull, as are the Nationals, because he has more upside. Don't get me wrong — Hill has a higher ceiling than your typical college senior, with a power sinker/slider repertoire and outstanding makeup. But Turnbull is a projectable lefty with a very fresh arm — I saw him up to 94 this spring, and the secondary stuff is improving. He'll be in the Handbook, but I also wrote him up for SoCal draft coverage, if you want a report sooner.

    Barry (Baltimore, MD): Is Harper's attitude something that will/could likely get worse as he gets older? How concerned are you that it could adversely affect his performance in the coming years?

Aaron Fitt: He's a confident guy, as all of the great ones are, and I think he'll always play with a bit of a swagger. Sometimes that might rub opponents and fans the wrong way. A lot of the great players do that, too (think: Bonds, A-Rod, Kobe, etc). But let's also remember that Harper is 18 years old, and let's give him some time to mature. I'm not concerned at all about his attitude.

    Laura (Dover, DE): Is Harper's power comparable to Stanton's?

Aaron Fitt: It sure is. We've debated in the office which of those guys has more raw power — the bottom line is they're both 80s.

    Paul (Midwest): Assuming Rendon starts off next season at 100% and reverts back to the candidate for #1 draft pick we saw, could he conceivably beat Harper to the bigs?

Aaron Fitt: I think that's very unlikely, just because Harper's already in Double-A and his tools are just about big league-ready. Sure, he needs a little more polish, but if you've got a player with the ability to impact the big league level now, I think it makes sense to let him refine his game at that level, as long as you're not hindering his development. Anyway, I think Harper sees the majors in 2012, and Rendon gets up there in 2013.

    Chris (NYC): Was a little surprised not to see Destin Hood on the top 10, is that more a function of the other 10 being better or do you have big concerns about him? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Well, the first nine guys on the list are just really good prospects, and I gave Lombardozzi the nod at No. 10 because he's a lot safer, and he's an up-the-middle guy while Hood is a left fielder. I also just think Lombardozzi is a really good player who does a lot of things to help you win, even though his tools don't jump off the page (but he does have tools, and I think his bat will really play in the big leagues). I think those kind of guys can be undervalued, and I wanted to make sure I did not undervalue Lombardozzi.

    Jay (Washington, DC): How would you compare Tyler Moore and Chris Marrero, who could both be at AAA next season. Has Moore passed Marrero as a prospect? It seems like Marrero has hit his ceiling, while I can at least still imagine Moore as a 30-HR guy in the majors.

Aaron Fitt: I actually don't think Marrero has hit his ceiling yet, but I'm less optimistic than I used to be that he will do so. Moore has better power potential, for sure, but his bat is no guarantee to play at the big league level; I think Marrero is a safer bet to hit there, actually. You could argue that Moore has more upside because of his superior power potential, and I don't think I would argue with you — but again, I do think Marrero's *upside* is plus power. Moore's is plus-plus. They're comparable defensively — neither guy is going to win you a gold glove, Moore has a stronger arm (and the Nats worked him out in the outfield during instructs, probably in anticipation of a Triple-A log jam at first base next year, but he really fits best at first), Marrero's probably a tick better defensively overall.

    NatsGM (Washington DC): Aaron, thanks for doing this chat... Who are some of your "sleepers" for the Nationals system?

Aaron Fitt: Let's see... Jeff Kobernus had a nice bounce-back year — his speed makes him very intriguing. I like Zach Walters' bat a little more, and he has a chance to be a shortstop (but probably profiles as a nice utilityman). The catching has really improved in this system — Sandy Leon and David Freitas have both turned themselves into prospects (Leon as a defense-oriented catcher, Freitas as more of an offensive catcher). If you're looking for a really deep sleeper, even Adrian Nieto had a bit of a bounceback year, though he's still not a top 30 guy. And Josh Smoker has been wandering through the wilderness for a while now, but his velocity jumped up into the mid- to high 90s this year, which puts him back on the prospect map as a reliever (though he needs to harness his command).

    Chris (Boston): What is the future for Derek Norris in an organization with Wilson Ramos? And do you see it likely that he could see time in MLB in 2012 - potentially slugging 6 September HRs, as Eric Karabell recently mused?

Aaron Fitt: That's a bit of a quandary. Norris' bat is certainly his best tool — well, his combination of pitch recognition, plate discipline and power — and he has the offensive ability to be a viable contributor at first base. But his value as a prospect is really maximized by keeping him behind the plate, where he made considerable strides this year. His future as a catcher used to be a significant question, but I don't think it is anymore. If he has a strong 2012, maybe the Nationals get the most value out of him by trading him.

    Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware): Of the hurlers that are moving from Auburn to Hagerstown for the 2012 season who are your favorites?

Aaron Fitt: I mentioned Taylor Hill before, and Brian Dupra is in a similar category. But I'm more intrigued by Manny Rodriguez, the team's 10th-round pick. He's got a strong, durable frame and a power arm — he ran his fastball up to 95 at times this spring, though he was not at peak pitching shape in instructs, when he worked in the 88-92 range. He's also got the makings of a solid 12-to-6 curveball and feel for a changeup. He needs to hone his command, but he's got intriguing upside.

    Joe R (Newport News, VA): The big difference between Brad Peacock 2011 and Brad Peacock pre-2011 is that his 2011 hit allowed rate is substantially lower. Is there a concern that he was just lucky in 2011, and the 2008-2010 edition is the real Peacock?

Aaron Fitt: I don't think so; if you go back and read my report on Peacock last year, it was actually pretty glowing (he ranked No. 10 on this list a year ago, despite the pedestrian numbers). This is a guy who has always had the talent to dominate, and he's finally put it all together. The reason his hit rate is lower, I think, is because he did a better job maintaining his alighment, which led to better command within the strike zone. When you throw better quality strikes, it is less likely you will surrender hard contact. I think you're just starting to see the real Peacock.

    Roger (Greenville, SC): Did Goodwin respond well to the swing changes that the Nats had him make in instructs?

Aaron Fitt: He came in with "ears wide open," as one Nats official put it, and really took their instruction to heart. His swing coming in was rotational and upper-body oriented, and he did a much better job using his lower half during the course of instructs. Very encouraging.

    Todd (Tosa): Is it accurate to say that Washington's sytem is this year's version of last year's Royals system?

Aaron Fitt: I wouldn't put it on that level. A big difference is that four of the top guys on this list are 2011 draftees who don't have minor league track records yet. I still think they are very exciting prospects, but they have a lot still to prove. Only Christian Colon was a 2010 draftee in KC's top 9 last year (and for the record, I really believe in Colon, but he did not have a great year).

    Jay (Washington): I'm a little surprised that Lombardozzi made the top-10. I would have expected to see someone with a slightly higher ceiling, like Destin Hood. Or am I underrating Lombardozzi?

Aaron Fitt: I talked about this a little earlier, but I think Lombardozzi profiles as an everyday second baseman. I think he's going to hit .280-.310, control the strike zone, hit situationally, play rock-solid defense, pick his spots on the bases and make his teammates better. There have been plenty of players with that profile who have made all-star teams (the proverbial Ecksteins). I'm telling you, he's a good player.

    Dan (Lansing): What's the skinny on Cole Kimball? Is he still viewed as a set up guy?

Aaron Fitt: As with any pitcher who has shoulder surgery, he's a great question mark. The stuff was still electric before he got hurt, but it's impossible to know how he'll come back from that injury. He's still a Top 30 guy and a potential set-up man, but the medical issue clouds his status.

    Paul S. (Dallas, TX): Re Harper: On what planet is a 14-46-.318 and 3-12-.256 line "tearing up" a league? How is that "exceeding expectations"? Mantle's 52-130-.353 line in 1956, now THAT is tearing up a league. Harper is a terrific prospect, no question, but aren't you guys hyping him a bit too much? I've spoken to scouts who love his raw talent, but are troubled by what they see as some rather gaping holes in his swing. Your response?

Aaron Fitt: A .977 OPS as an 18-year-old in the Sally League is tearing it up, period (and I never said he tore it up in Double-A, only that he held his own, especially given his age). It is pure folly to compare an 18-year-old's numbers in low A with a 24-year-old Hall of Famer's numbers in the big leagues in his prime. He is not a finished product offensively, and he has some things to work on with his approach. But he is so talented that I have little doubt he'll really, really hit. I think there is a natural tendency for people to distrust and even dislike anyone who is "hyped." Well, guess what? Superstars have to come from somewhere. Griffey and A-Rod were extremely heavily hyped. LeBron James was hyped even more than Harper. Strasburg was extremely hyped. Sometimes, outrageously talented athletes come along, and it doesn't take a genius to recognize they are special.

    Tony (Pittsburgh): Where will Rendon start this year?

Aaron Fitt: To be determined, but my guess is Potomac.

    William (Pensacola, FL): How patient will the Nationals be with the development of J.P. Ramirez ?

Aaron Fitt: I don't think he's much of a prospect anymore.

    Jay (Washington): How many players on this list would you expect to make BA's top 100 prospects? Harper, Rendon and Peacock, obviously. Cole seems likely. Goodwin and Meyer? Maybe even Purke?

Aaron Fitt: Somewhere between six and nine, I'd say. I'll go with seven and include Purke.

    Jon KK (Elkhart, Ind.): Alex Meyer, listed at 7-7 tall in the scouting report, must get a lot of downward plane on his pitches! Who among Peacock, Cole, Meyer, Purke and Solis have the highest ceilings and are the most likely to reach theirs?

Aaron Fitt: I'll get that typo fixed. Tough question... from highest ceiling to lowest, I'll say Meyer, Cole, Peacock/Purke, Solis. From likeliest to least likely to reach their ceiling, I'll say Peacock, Solis, Purke/Cole, Meyer. So as you can see, balancing ceiling vs. likelihood to reach ceiling makes ranking those guys tricky — and you could rank them in a lot of different orders.

    Andrew (DC): When do you think the Nationals will decide what to do with Rendon? If they keep him in the minors at 3rd, doesn't that slow his development if they want him to eventually be a second baseman?

Aaron Fitt: This is tricky. Part of me thinks they should do what the Mariners did with Ackley — if he's eventually going to be a second baseman, just go ahead and make the move now, take your lumps while he learns the position but get the process underway. The other part of me says he's just such a good third baseman, it would be a shame to move him, especially with Zimmerman's contract up after 2013... maybe you keep him at third base for the time being, and make a move when your hand is forced. I do think Rendon could pick up second base fairly quickly — he even made a cameo or two there this spring for Rice, when his shoulder kept him from playing third but the Owls wanted to show scouts he had versatility, and perhaps also assuage their concerns about his health a bit. Obviously, there will be a learning curve, but I think his would not be particularly steep, so maybe you can afford to wait to make the move.

    Kevin (New Jersey): What are your thoughts on Rendon's chances for a successful move to second base? What about an outfield of Rendon in left, Harper in center and Werth in right?

Aaron Fitt: Just to piggyback on the last answer — I don't see a move to the outfield, because his infield actions and instincts are so good that you'd be wasting a lot of his value if you moved him to left.

    JC (VT): You described Derek Norris as getting too far out over his front foot when things are going bad. Is this a correctable mechanical fault? I know he'll never be a .300 hitter but is there reason to believe that his contact issues the last two years are fixable (to an extent)?

Aaron Fitt: He does stay back and let the ball travel at times, which means he's capable of doing it more consistently — it's not like he has to relearn his swing or anything. And when he does let it travel, he can really drive the ball from line to line. He has such a compact, quick stroke — I still believe in his bat.

    Casey (Denver, CO): A potential All-Star catcher at #9, and guys like Destin Hood outside of the Top 10. So I would guess that it is safe to assume this is the best organizational system out there?

Aaron Fitt: I don't know about "safe" to assume that, but I'd have to imagine it's a strong contender for No. 1. That's a better question for Jim Callis or John Manuel though — and I doubt they'd tip their hands until we release our farm system rankings.

    Antonio (San Domingo): No more Eury Perez? He was 5th in the Carolina League in batting at age 20 while stealing 45 bases even though he missed almost a month in the DL. Is his stock really going down? I think he could have a big '12 and bounce back. What do you think?

Aaron Fitt: The thing I really worry about with Eury is his approach. He's just such a free-swinger, and that's not what you want out of a speedy table-setter type. I'm just not sure his bat will play at the upper levels — he's got this big leg kick that drives the Nationals nuts, and sometimes it works anyway because he has such good hand-eye coordination, but he's going to need to quiet down his mechanics and become more disciplined if he's going to become a big league regular. He's still in the top 30, but not inside the top 20.

    DeathSpeculum (Axis of Tweevil): thoughts on Tom Milone? incredible command and devastating change, but sits at 86-90? can he be a starter long term? is the secondary stuff enough to make up for a livan hernandezesque "heater?"

Aaron Fitt: You've got him pegged, and yes, I think he can stick as a starter.

    Patrick Yee (LA): When you say that Harper is "the best power prospect ever", is that hyperbole, or is he better than ARod, Stanton, etc?

Aaron Fitt: I don't think I called him the best power prospect ever — I think I just called him the "most hyped," which is largely a product of the world we live in now, where information about prospects is more readily available than ever before. And, of course, this guy was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old with the title, "The Chosen One." I don't think A-Rod, Stanton or Babe Ruth can match that kind of hype, given Sports Illustrated's status as a mainstream, iconic sports publication.

    Ron (Wisconsin): Goodwin - He's a fairly new name to me...so, can you think of anyone whom his style of play resembles? Are we talking Mike Cameron comps like so many before or what do you ultimately see him being as a stat contributor??

Aaron Fitt: Michael Taylor is more of a Cameron kind of athlete with a Cameron kind of tool set. I've heard Goodwin's swing compared to Garret Anderson's; he obviously has more speed than Anderson, and he profiles as a center fielder rather than a corner guy, but if you're projecting, maybe he can be that kind of offensive player (which is pretty darn good). Although I don't see Goodwin ever hitting 35 homers in a season, as Anderson did at his peak.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Where does Matt Grace fit into the plans for the Nats? Good college LHP out of the pen, but they seem to want to make him a starter

Aaron Fitt: I think they are mostly developing him as a starter for now to get him innings, but he still projects better as a reliever, with a quality slider that could carry him a while.

    Petey Pablo (Carrboro): This is an awkward question, but... how bearish is BA / the rest of the baseball world on Purke vis-a-vis how DC feels about him. I get the impression that other orgs wouldn't have sprung for so large a deal.

Aaron Fitt: Let's not forget that the Rangers were ready to give Purke $4 million out of high school, but MLB wouldn't sign off on the deal (and MLB controlled the Rangers' purse strings at the time). He came into 2011 as one of the consensus top three prospects in the draft, so we're talking about a serious talent here. Now, the health questions scared a lot of teams off, and the Nats undoubtedly made a bold move investing in him. It is a gamble, but it's a high-upside gamble, and Washington examined his medical records thoroughly and came away convinced that he is healthy. So I don't think Washington was so far removed from the mainstream line of thinking by giving him $2.75 million. I suspect somebody else would have if the Nats hadn't.

    andy (denver): how do alex meyer & andrew brackman compare stuff wise at this stage of their career? brackman was very tall and highly thought of, but never seemed to reach that potential and was recently released. same story here?

Aaron Fitt: I compared Meyer to Brackman back in the spring, and I think that is the cautionary tale here. He's a high-risk, high-reward guy. Those tall pitchers often struggle to harness their mechanics and command, and that has been the case so far with Meyer as it was with Brackman (who flashed similarly overpowering stuff in college). But if I were in charge of a team that was stuck in the bottom half of my division for years, I would do exactly what the Nats have done — spend through the draft, take some gambles. If your $2 million gamble on Alex Meyer doesn't work out, that's OK — but I'd rather spend the $2 million on him than spend $4 million a year on the Cristian Guzmans and Vinny Castillas of the world. If Meyer puts it all together, he can be a top-of-the-rotation guy and have a much greater impact on your franchise than a journeyman free agent can have. That is a gamble worth taking, and I think it is smart to take a bunch of those if you are a franchise trying to turn things around.

    Mark (Washington, DC): What's your take on Danny Rosenbaum?

Aaron Fitt: Nice prospect, nice year, not a high ceiling. He is a Top 30 guy because he has very good feel for pitching and gets the best out of his fringy stuff, but he won't be more than a No. 5 starter and probably fits better as a middle reliever. He's a little like Tommy Milone, but Milone has a plus pitch in the changeup while Rosenbaum lacks a plus pitch, and Milone has even better command.

Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, that's all for today. Thanks for all the fine questions, as always, and thanks for reading Baseball America! For Nats fans — enjoy watching these young players blossom over the next couple of years; it's going to be a fun ride.