Washington Nationals: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Washington Nationals: Scouting Reports

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, 2009.

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The Nationals endured a whirlwind 2009. By the end of the summer, the signing of No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg to a record contract and the installation of Mike Rizzo as general manager generated some actual excitement, even with the club headed toward its second straight 100-loss season. But the road to that optimism was a bumpy one.

Washington's year got off to an ugly start when it came out in February that shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez, who signed for $1.4 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, actually was Carlos Alvarez. While his listed age was 19, he actually was 23 years old.

The next week, the Nationals fired special assistant Jose Rijo, who had signed Gonzalez, and moved out of their Dominican academy, which was owned by Rijo. On March 1, general manager Jim Bowden resigned amid a federal probe into Latin American bonus skimming. Rizzo was promoted from assistant GM to interim GM.

With the major league season lost by the end of April, after Washington dropped 16 of its first 21 games, Rizzo's priority became the No. 1 pick in the draft. To no one's surprise, the Nationals selected Strasburg, the most hyped and perhaps the best prospect in the history of the draft. Agent Scott Boras made it clear Strasburg sought a precedent-setting contract, and the Nationals inked him to a record-shattering $15.1 million deal—including a $7.5 million bonus—scant minutes before the Aug. 17 deadline.

Washington also had the No. 10 choice as compensation for its failure to sign 2008 first-rounder Aaron Crow. The Nats used that selection on another college righthander, Drew Storen, who signed for $1.6 million on draft day and quickly reached Double-A Harrisburg. Headlined by the Strasburg and Storen deals, Washington doled out a record $11,511,500 on draft bonuses in 2009.

The Strasburg drama gave Nats fans a distraction from a dismal big league season. There were a few bright spots: free-agent acquisition Adam Dunn slugged 38 homers; franchise player Ryan Zimmerman had another strong campaign and made his first all-star team; center fielder Nyjer Morgan was a revelation after being acquired from the Pirates in a midseason trade for Lastings Milledge; lefthander John Lannan blossomed into a steady workhorse.

But Jordan Zimmermann, who ranked No. 1 on this list a year ago, was lost to Tommy John surgery halfway through his rookie season as a member of Washington's rotation. The Nationals ended the year with the worst record in the majors (59-103) and will have the No. 1 draft pick for the second straight year, giving them another chance to infuse their mediocre farm system with impact talent.

Catcher Derek Norris and shortstops Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa took major steps forward in 2009, but there were few other bright spots in the minor leagues, as many of Washington's top prospects turned in disappointing seasons.

In the fall, Rizzo replaced farm director Bobby Williams with former Indians scout Doug Harris. Longtime scouting director Dana Brown left to take a job with the Blue Jays and was replaced by assistant scouting director Kris Kline.

Rizzo hired decorated Braves scouting director Roy Clark, who consistently brought in quality talent in Atlanta, as vice president of player personnel. The Nats also brought in former Red Sox international scouting coordinator Johnny DiPuglia to revamp the organization's beleaguered international department.

1.  Stephen Strasburg, rhp   Born: July 20, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-4Wt: 220
 Drafted: San Diego State, 2009 (1st round)Signed by: Mark Baca
Jenrry MejiaBackground: Strasburg went undrafted out of high school in 2006 because of questions about his conditioning, work ethic and maturity. Three years later, he was the No. 1 overall pick and regarded by many scouts as the best prospect in draft history. Strasburg's transformation began his freshman year, when he worked hard to get into better shape and posted a 2.43 ERA and seven saves out of San Diego State's bullpen. His coming-out party came in the summer of 2007, when he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the New England Collegiate League and dominated in an exhibition against Team USA. As a sophomore, he struck out 23 batters in a game against Utah on his way to first-team All-America honors, then served as the ace for USA Baseball's collegiate national and Olympics teams that summer. While withstanding a relentless maelstrom of hype and national media attention, Strasburg posted one of the most dominant seasons in college baseball history in 2009, going 13-1, 1.32 with 195 strikeouts and 19 walks in 109 innings to lead the Aztecs to regionals for the first time since 1991 and capture Baseball America's College Player of the Year award. The Nationals drafted Strasburg in spite of agent Scott Boras' proclaimed desire to net Strasburg the largest contract in draft history, and he signed just minutes before the Aug. 17 deadline for a record $15.1 million major league deal, including an unprecedented $7.5 million bonus.

Strengths: Strasburg is a once-in-a-generation talent. His plus-plus fastball sits in the mid- to upper 90s and the Nationals have seen him hit 102 mph. His breaking ball rates as a second plus-plus offering, a power 81-84 mph curveball that he can throw for strikes or use as a chase pitch. Even when he doesn't stay on top of it, it's a tough pitch, becoming more of a hard slider. He also flashes a plus changeup, though he seldom needed the pitch to dominate in college. Strasburg has excellent control with all of his pitches, and he also has very advanced command within the strike zone. He's athletic, physical and durable, and he earns raves for his makeup both on and off the field.

Weaknesses: The only thing Strasburg doesn't have is pro experience. The general consensus is that there are no red flags in his delivery, as his arm action is fairly loose and he uses his legs well. But it should be noted that there are some within the organization who are concerned that he eventually could break down because he locks out his elbow on his follow through, putting torque on his shoulder. Still, even those with reservations say they wouldn't tinker with his mechanics.

The Future: Strasburg got his first taste of pro ball in the Arizona Fall League, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings and topping out at 98 mph in his first outing. He figures to compete for a job in the major league rotation in spring training, and he might never throw a pitch in the minors, though Washington might also choose to ease him into pro ball with an assignment to Double-A or Triple-A. He projects as a true No. 1 starter and a Cy Young Award winner, and anything less will be a disappointment.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
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: Norris ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2008 and the No. 4 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2009, when he led the circuit in walks (90) and on-base percentage (.413). Two days before he was scheduled to leave instructional league for the Arizona Fall League, Norris broke the hamate bone in his hand while fouling a ball off, sidelining him for the rest of the winter.

Strengths: Norris has a strong, compact swing and the ability to make consistent, hard contact to all fields. He has a mature, patient offensive approach, excellent pitch recognition and advanced strike-zone awareness. He has above-average power to the pull side and also good power the other way. Behind the plate, he has good agility and blocking skills, solid-average arm strength and a quick release, helping him throw out 36 percent of basestealers last season.

Weaknesses: The Nationals kept him in the Sally League all year to improve his receiving skills, and he led SAL catchers with 18 errors and 28 passed balls. Converted from third base as high school senior, heÕs still working on his setup, specifically keeping his hands back and his knees out of the way. He sometimes loses focus on his defense.

The Future: Norris projects as an above-average offensive player in the big leagues, and if he can become an average defender, he can be an all-star. He should be fully healthy for spring training and will start 2010 at high Class A Potomac.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hagerstown (Lo A) .286 .413 .513 437 78 125 30 0 23 84 90 116 6
3.  Drew Storen, rhp   Born: Aug. 11, 1987B-T: B-RHt: 6-2Wt: 180
 Drafted: Stanford, 2009, (1st round)Signed by: Ryan Fox
Drew StorenBackground: The son of former XM Radio host Mark Patrick, Storen racked up 15 saves in two seasons as Stanford's closer. The Nationals took him with the 10th overall pick in June, compensation for failing to sign 2008 first-rounder Aaron Crow, and signed him for a below-slot $1.6 million bonus as a draft-eligible sophomore. He zoomed to Double-A in his pro debut, then continued to dominate in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Storen's aggressive mentality and power repertoire are perfect for the late innings. He attacks hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97, and he complements it with a pair of hard breaking balls. Some evaluators like his slider better, and others prefer his curve, but both have good depth. He also worked on a changeup in the AFL. He pounds the strike zone and doesn't get rattled easily.

Weaknesses: Storen's fastball is rather straight and he can be homer-prone when he leaves it up in the zone. Baserunners tended to get good jumps against him during his debut, so the Nationals worked with him on quickening his times to the plate. He already has cut his time from 1.4 seconds to about 1.25, showing good aptitude for adjustments.

The Future: Storen is on the fast track and figures to reach the majors by 2010, perhaps as soon as Opening Day. He profiles as a closer or setup man, and he could be finishing games for Washington by the end of the season.
2009 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Hagerstown (Lo A) 0 1 3.68 11 0 0 0 15 11 2 0 26 .193
Potomac (Hi A) 1 0 1.80 7 0 0 2 10 7 0 2 11 .206
Harrisburg (AA) 1 0 0.00 10 0 0 9 12 4 0 6 12 .077
4.  Ian Desmond, ss   Born: Sept. 20, 1985B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Sarasota, Fla., 2004 (3rd round)Signed by: Russ Bove
Ian DesmondBackground: Though Desmond never had hit better than .264 at any minor league stop heading into 2009, Nats officials still believed he was close to taking off. After missing nearly two months early in the season following surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left hand, Desmond rewarded their faith by hitting .330 in the minors, then getting 10 hits in his first 17 at-bats following a September callup.

Strengths: If Desmond's bat continues to develop, he has a chance for average or better tools across the board. His quick hands and strong forearms generate plus bat speed and average power, and he has done a good job shortening his swing and becoming more patient at the plate. At shortstop, he has good range and a 65 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale. He is live-bodied and athletic, and he plays with plenty of energy. He has average speed and is a smart baserunner.

Weaknesses: Desmond is capable of making spectacular plays, but he must improve his concentration to cut down on errors on routine plays. He's not a finished product at the plate and still chases pitches out of the zone at times.

The Future: Desmond will compete for a big league middle-infield job in spring training, but he figures to open the year back at Triple-A Syracuse.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Harrisburg (AA) .306 .372 .494 170 29 52 12 1 6 18 16 40 13
Syracuse (AAA) .354 .428 .461 178 25 63 12 2 1 14 20 31 8
Washington .280 .318 .561 82 9 23 7 2 4 12 5 14 1
5.  Danny Espinosa, ss   Born: April 25, 1987B-T: B-RHt: 6-0Wt: 190
 Drafted: Long Beach State, 2008 (3rd round)Signed by: Mark Baca
Danny EspinosaBackground: Espinosa is the latest shortstop prospect from Long Beach State, following Bobby Crosby, Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria. After signing for an above-slot bonus of $525,000 as a third-round pick, he had a strong pro debut in 2008, then skipped a level last season and continued to produce in high Class A.

Strengths: Espinosa is a gamer with excellent instincts and solid tools across the board. He stands out most for his defense, with good range, sure hands and an above-average arm. He's a good athlete with excellent body control and agility and solid-average speed. Offensively, he's a switch-hitter who can drive the ball from both sides of the plate, though his OPS was .133 points higher while batting lefthanded in 2009.

Weaknesses: Espinosa has some length and leverage in his swing, which helps him hit for average power but also leads to strikeouts. He tends to get caught on his front foot and could drive the ball more consistently if he learned to stay back and use his legs more.

The Future: Questions still linger about how Espinosa's bat will play at higher levels, and he will get a chance to address them at Double-A Harrisburg in 2010. Even if he doesn't hit for average, he should do enough things well to eventually earn a job as an everyday big leaguer. Espinosa and Ian Desmond look like Washington's double-play combination of the future.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Potomac (Hi A) .264 .375 .460 474 90 125 31 4 18 72 74 129 29
6.  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: No. 1 on this list two years ago, Marrero had his march through the system sidetracked when he broke his fibula and tore ligaments in his right ankle sliding into home plate in 2008. He returned to high Class A for a third straight season in 2009, and he made strides offensively and defensively to earn a mid-August promotion to Double-A. He got off to a torrid start in the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Marrero's best tool is his plus-plus raw power to all fields, though he's still learning to tap into it. He arrived at spring training in the best shape of his life and worked hard to shorten his bat path and get himself into good hitting position. He did a good job using the middle of the field, and he could be an average or better hitter as he matures.

Weaknesses: Despite Washington's efforts to improve his stride at the plate, Marrero still has a tendency to step in the bucket, making him vulnerable to offspeed stuff away. He is big and long-levered, so his swing always will have some holes. Marrero lacks athleticism and speed and is a below-average defender at first base, though he's working at improving his agility, hands and ability to pick balls out of the dirt.

The Future: Marrero will return to Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2010, and if all goes well he could break into the big leagues by 2012. His bat will have to carry him, but he has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order power hitter.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Potomac (Hi A) .287 .360 .464 414 58 119 21 2 16 65 42 97 2
Harrisburg (AA) .267 .345 .387 75 9 20 6 0 1 11 8 18 0
7.  Jeff Kobernus, 2b   Born: June 30, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 210
 Drafted: California, 2009 (2nd round)Signed by: Ryan Fox
Jeff KobernusBackground: The son of a former Athletics minor leaguer of the same name, Kobernus was a three-year starter at California, playing mostly third base his first two seasons before moving to second as a junior. After signing for $705,500 as a second-round pick in June, he had his pro debut cut short after 10 games by an old knee injury that required minor surgery. The Nationals expected him to be fully healthy by the middle of the fall.

Strengths: Versatile and athletic, Kobernus has a well-rounded game. He makes consistent contact with a line-drive, gap-to-gap swing, and he has an advanced offensive approach. He has above-average speed and outstanding baserunning instincts, helping him rack up 44 steals in three years at Cal. His hands, feet and arm all work well at second base, and he has a chance to be a plus defender there, or at third base if Washington desired. He's a baseball rat with a good work ethic.

Weaknesses: Kobernus still is learning the subtleties of his relatively new position, refining his footwork, pivots and feeds. He has fringe-average power, though he can run into occasional homers and the Nationals believe he could hit as many as 15-20 per year.

The Future: Kobernus could move quickly through the system, starting with a likely assignment to low Class A Hagerstown in 2010. He profiles as a solid big league regular, perhaps as soon as 2012.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Vermont (SS) .220 .273 .244 41 8 9 1 0 0 2 2 5 4
8.  Justin Maxwell, of   Born: Nov. 5, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 235
 Drafted: Maryland, 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Alex Smith
Justin MaxwellBackground: The injury-prone Maxwell stayed healthy in 2009, when he scuffled through his first season in Triple-A. He also had three stints in the big leagues, going 0-for-16 in seven games in May but rebounding with a .306/.370/.551 line in September.

Strengths: A physical specimen with plus athleticism, Maxwell has above-average power potential and a patient offensive approach. Nats hitting coach Rick Eckstein and first-base coach Marquis Grissom got the idea to lower his hands to chest level after watching video of other long-levered sluggers like Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield, and the adjustment fueled Maxwell's September surge by getting him in a stronger position to drive the ball more consistently. He's a plus runner who stole 41 bases in 50 tries last season. He's also an above-average defender in center field with excellent range and instincts.

Weaknesses: Maxwell still must prove he can make consistent contact and hit in the majors over a full season. He also must become more aggressive against pitches away. He has a below-average arm. Injuries have marred four of his last six seasons, and he'll be 26 in 2010.

The Future: The Nationals will likely give Maxwell a chance to win a starting outfield job in spring training. If he hits, he can be a valuable four-tool player.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Syracuse (AAA) .242 .344 .396 384 68 93 10 5 13 42 54 136 35
Washington .247 .343 .449 89 13 22 4 1 4 9 12 32 6
9.  Michael Burgess, of   Born: Oct. 20, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Tampa, 2007 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Paul Tinnell
Michael BurgessBackground: Burgess comes from the same Hillsborough High (Tampa) program that spawned Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Elijah Dukes. He reached high Class A in his first full pro season in 2008 but struggled with the bat there last year.

Strengths: Burgess packs enormous strength into his thick, compact build, giving him plus-plus raw power. He has worked with a personal trainer to keep his weight in check, and he's very motivated to improve his game. His plus arm is very accurate, helping him lead the minors with 26 outfield assists in 2008. Fewer baserunners challenged him in 2009, but he still tied for fourth in the Carolina League with nine assists. He has become a solid overall defender in right field as well.

Weaknesses: Though the Nationals are encouraged that he's finally learning to shorten his swing and cut down his load, his progress hasn't been reflected in his numbers and he may never hit for average. He still chases a lot of breaking balls in the dirt, and his swing still has some length. He's a below-average runner.

The Future: At the least, Burgess should have a chance to be a power bat off the bench. Whether he ever reaches his potential as a slugger depends upon the development of his bat, which is far from a sure thing. Still just 21, he'll get a crack at Double-A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Potomac (Hi A) .235 .325 .410 480 63 113 23 2 19 71 54 135 12
10.  Destin Hood, of   Born: April 30, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 225
 Signed: HS—Mobile, Ala., 2008 (2nd round)Signed by: Eric Robinson
Destin HoodBackground: The Nationals knew Hood was a long-term project when they signed him away from an Alabama football scholarship for a $1.1 million bonus, and they were pleased with his development in 2009. He added muscle in the offseason and quickly hit his way to short-season Vermont, where he held his own against older competition.

Strengths: Physical and athletic, Hood stands out most for his lightning-quick hands, which should lead to above-average power as he matures. He showed a more balanced offensive approach in his second pro season, doing a better job staying back and driving balls to all fields, though most of his power is still to the pull side.

Weaknesses: Hood's strike-zone awareness and pitch recognition are still developing. He has some arm strength, but he's still learning basic throwing mechanics and exchanges, so his arm plays below average. He's a fringe-average runner who will be limited to left field, where he's currently a below-average defender. He could become average in time.

The Future: The Nationals are betting on Hood's bat. If he develops as they hope, he could be an average or better hitter with plus power and serviceable defensive skills, though he's a long way off yet. He'll get his first taste of low Class A in 2010.
2009 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Nationals (R) .330 .388 .614 88 18 29 10 3 3 24 8 19 3
Vermont (SS) .246 .302 .333 138 12 34 4 1 2 24 11 45 2

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Photo Credits: Bill Mitchell (Strasburg)
Rodger Wood (Storen, Espinosa, Marrero, Kobernus, Burgess)