Washington Nationals: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Aaron Fitt

Washington Nationals: Chat

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.

Moderator: Aaron Fitt will chat about the Nationals farm system beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.

    JAYPERS (IL): Just how confident are you that Strasburg won't be the latest in the somewhat dubious history of previous #1 draft picks having lasting success in the Majors?

Aaron Fitt: Hello all, let's get right to it. I don't see how history of other players has any effect whatsoever on Strasburg — I think that track record you refer to is mere trivia. This guy is as close to a can't-miss prospect as you'll ever see. What difference does it make that Paul Wilson never panned out or that Brien Taylor got in an unfortunate bar fight? That has no bearing on Strasburg.

    Ben (Leland Grove): On your personal top prospects list, would Strasburg rank above Heyward as # 1 overall? Why or why not?

Aaron Fitt: Yes. I can't shake the feeling that Heyward's proneness to injuries could nag him for a while. Also, as rare a talent as Heyward is, I think it's even more difficult to find a true No. 1 starter — a Sabathia or a Halladay or a Santana — than it is to find an all-star corner outfielder. Strasburg has true No. 1 potential.

    Harry (DC): Did Eury Perez come close to the Top 10? What's the consensus opinion of him?

Aaron Fitt: Perez did come close — he actually wound up at No. 11 (as a reminder, you can find our writeups on the Nos. 11-30 prospects in our 2010 Prospect Handbook, due out this winter). I think he's a very exciting prospect. I love his speed, his defensive skills in center field, and his knack for hitting. But I also think it's prudent to exercise some caution with a 19-year-old in the GCL with no real track record prior to this year (though it's worth mentioning that he was good in the DSL the last two years). Let's see what he does at some higher levels before buying in completely. Still, he wouldn't have come close to the top 10 if he weren't an exciting prospect.

    JAYPERS (IL): Was his health the biggest reason for Marrero tumbling five spots down the list this year? What other reasons contributed to his fall?

Aaron Fitt: He actually only fell three spots — Marrero was No. 1 in 2008 but he was No. 3 last year. The biggest reasons he fell were that other guys jumped ahead of him. Marrero still hasn't made the most of his talent, whereas Espinosa, Desmond and Norris had very good developmental years. I still believe in Marrero's bat though — we must remember that he is still just 21.

    Alex C (Atlanta): Will JP Ramirez develop enough power to become a starting caliber major leaguer?

Aaron Fitt: I have my doubts. I'm actually down on Ramirez quite a bit this year. He has bat speed and nice swing mechanics, so I could see him developing 15-homer power, maybe a bit more (but not a lot more, because he's not very big and his swing plane is rather flat). But he's just such a one-dimensional player — his only tool really is his bat, and his approach needs a lot of work. He's going to have to hit a ton to hold down an everyday left field job, because he's going to be a below-average defender who doesn't run and has a weak arm.

    Paul (Washington DC): Did AJ Morris get consideration for this list? What's your assessment of him?

Aaron Fitt: Morris did get some consideration — I like him quite a bit. He has excellent fastball command and plenty of movement, he has an average slider, and he's a great competitor. But he also is just now learning to throw a changeup (it has some promise), he's not very physical and his stuff is far from overpowering. Some Nats officials think he winds up in middle relief down the road, although I think he does have a chance to be a back-end starter. The Nationals just have a glut of back-end starters and middle relievers, but very few impact arms. Certainly, pitching is the deepest area of the system, but is it really that hard to find No. 5 starters and middle relievers? I'd rather take my chances that Destin Hood or Michael Burgess, for instance, can figure it all out and become a power-hitting corner bat. Those guys at least have significant impact potential, even if they're far from safe bets.

    Henry (DC): Besides Strasburg and Storen, which 2009 draftees made your Top 30, and who was the closest to the Top 10?

Aaron Fitt: Jeff Kobernus, of course, came in at No. 7. I'm a big Kobernus fan, and I was aggressive with his ranking despite his lack of pro track record. He's got a great line-drive swing, he's going to hit, he's a great athlete and a plus runner. It's just a nice package. As mentioned, Morris also made the top 30, but only one other 2009 draftee made the list, and I bet you'll be shocked at who it is: Danny Rosenbaum, a lefty from Xavier. He had a strong debut (albeit in the GCL against much younger competition), and the Nationals expect him to fly through the system. Looks like another late-round steal from the Northeast/Midwest, ala Lannan and Stammen.

    Alex C (Atlanta): Is there any hope for Josh Smoker? It was good to see him actually pitching effectively (and at all) this year, even if just in rookie ball.

Aaron Fitt: You know, he actually showed some encouraging signs in instructional league after a very disappointing season. He started the year pitching in the 80-82 range with his fastball, but he gradually crept up during the summer and touched 88 in instructs. That doesn't sound like much — and frankly I'm still not hopping back on the bandwagon — but it's something. Maybe his shoulder will eventually return to full strength; if it does, he could re-establish himself as a prospect, because he does have good feel for pitching, a good curveball and a much-improved change.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, thoughts on Michael Taylor and Roberto Perez from this year's draft?

Aaron Fitt: Both were drafted as shortstops, but neither projects as a shortstop. Taylor is the better of the two — he's big and projectable with a short, compact swing, and as he develops power he could be a good fit at third base or a corner outfield spot. Unfortunately, his progress was slowed when he tore some ligaments in his thumb when he put his hand on the ground during shuttle drills shortly after signing. He did take some live BP in instructs and should be fine for the spring. Perez is the nephew of Dickie Thon, and he's a baseball rat. He does not have the quickness or infield actions to stick at short or at third, but he has some bat speed, and he could have a bright future if he can move behind the plate. But supposedly he is resistant to the idea.

    Tobias Funke (California): What happened to Adrian nieto??

Aaron Fitt: He really had a rotten year. He was sidetracked in the first half by a pulled hamstring, and his swing mechanics were just a mess once he got healthy and started playing in the GCL. He has always been able to hit, so the Nationals were very disappointed by his offensive regression — his mechanics have changed significantly since his high school days, and not for the better. He also became a passive hitter this year — he just wasn't himself. And he must improve his conditioning. It will be critical for Nieto to reset and start fresh in 2010.

    Ray (DC): I couldn't help but notice that Strasburg and Storen are the only pitchers on the Top 10 this year. Which arm came the closest to the list, and are the Nats going after more pitchers in the near future?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, and the number of hitters on this top 10 list has nothing to do with the Nats being particularly "strong" with hitters. On the contrary, this system is extremely thin in position players, and I think this list drops off dramatically after the top six or so (I do believe in Kobernus, but a player with his lack of pro track record really shouldn't be No. 7 in a good system). The problem is, Washington just doesn't have power arms after Strasburg and Storen. Juan Jaime's got a great arm, but he's still basically just a one-pitch guy, and he probably projects as a middle reliever, and only if he can improve his breaking ball. Brad Meyers had a phenomenal year, but he's a back-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues, and I think his durability will always be a bit of a question mark. Luis Atilano has a nice sinker and a good changeup, but again, he's a back of the rotation starter at best — and that's only if he can develop a more consistent breaking ball. The closest pitcher to the top 10 is Aaron Thompson (No. 12), but he's far from overpowering — he sits at 90-91. Again, you're looking at a back-end starter with Thompson.

    Gob Bluth (California): How close was JR Higley to making the top 30?

Aaron Fitt: He is in the top 30 this year — the top 15, in fact. There are people in the Nats organization who like Higley even more than Destin Hood. He does sound like a potential premium defender in center or right, and he has a chance for a very well-rounded skill set. I just don't think he's every going to hit for a lot of power, and his hit tool is far from a sure thing also.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, is there a deep sleeper you really like here?

Aaron Fitt: "Really like" is probably too strong, but I do think Brad Peacock is intriguing. He flashes three slightly above-average pitches at times, and he's athletic and has a nice smooth arm action. He just needs to be a little more aggressive and refine his command, but I have the feeling he might be just around the corner from taking off.

    Gerald (MD): Is it merely a coincidence that the list from our nation's capital went live on this site on Veteran's Day?

Aaron Fitt: In fact, it is a coincidence. But let's take a moment to thank our veterans and all of our active-duty soldiers for all they've given to our country.

    Burke (Columbus, OH): Thanks for the chat Aaron. Can Michael Burgess figure it out this year in AA?

Aaron Fitt: I still don't think he's every going to hit for average, but some Nats officials insist he's making progress cutting down his swing, and that he could become a good hitter if he can just learn to lay off breaking balls in the dirt. We'll see.

    Ryan (14th and K St.): What are your thoughts on Chris Marrero? It seems as though he has gone from overrated a bit as a prospect to a bit underrated now.

Aaron Fitt: Well, I would argue that he's always been and still remains properly rated, but I suppose I'm the one doing the rating so I might be biased. You have to remember context — when Marrero was the No. 1 prospect in this system two years ago, there really wasn't anyone else deserving of the spot (Detwiler? Balester? Burgess? McGeary? Clearly, all were flawed.). Now he's No. 6 because there are players who are worthy of the spots in front of him. Marrero has a promising bat, but the fact is he's never produced power numbers commensurate with his raw power potential, and he's locked to first base (where he's a below-average defender). He had a nice little year in Potomac, but it was far from a great year.

    Burke (Columbus, OH): Aaron, I'm a big fan of your college work and I'm happy to see you on the pro side for this chat. Is it me, or does the projected 2013 lineup for Washington actually look pretty decent? It's not just Strasburg either. Morris, Zimmerman, Detwiler, Storen.... Is this organization finally going in the right direction?

Aaron Fitt: Thanks Burke — I'm still doing college stuff, of course, but this is my sixth year doing the Nats. It's nice to mix things up a bit during the fall. I actually had a hard time assembling that 2013 lineup. The infield seems OK (you could go either way with Desmond and Espinosa in the middle infield, but I gave the shortstop nod to Desmond because he's got a little more defensive upside, and hopefully he'll be more consistent as he gains experience), and there are some quality arms on that staff, but that outfield demonstrates just how little help is on the way for the big league outfield. Obviously, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham won't actually be patrolling the corners in Washington in 2013 — I feel pretty safe saying that. But to answer your overarching question, I think this organization is going in the right direction. Having a competent GM is a nice start. Having a cornerstone piece in the rotation makes a big difference also.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): What is the future for Pat Lehman? Is he a legitimate prospect? His numbers were outstanding in 2 stops and his walk ratio was ridiculous. Does he throw hard enough to be a factor with the big club down the road?

Aaron Fitt: Pat Lehman is a nice sleeper — in fact, I got an e-mail today from a mid-Atlantic scout saying that he thinks Lehman was a nice senior sign who will be better in pro ball than he was in college, and I know other scouts who have liked him for a couple of years. Some guys are like that (see: Atwood, Will and Mandel, Jeff). Lehman is physical, he has a good delivery, an average fastball with good command, and he'll show an average slider. His changeup is a work in progress, and that pitch is probably the key to his development. If he gets that third pitch, he could be a back-of-the-rotation workhorse.

    Dave (Pensacola, FL): Is 2006 AFLAC all american Paul Demny a legit prospect? It looks like he had a rough season in the Sally League as a 19 year old, though he did strike out more than a batter an inning.

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, it was an up-and-down season for Demny, but the strikeout rate is very encouraging, I think. Demny also has one of the better arms in this system — he's a big ol' Texas boy with a fastball that reaches 94-95 and a slider that flashes average at times. He's raw though — he's a boom or bust guy. His arm action and delivery are inconsistent, and his command has a long way to go.

    Doug (McLean, VA): Where would Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler be ranked on the Nats prospect list if they had not edged past the maximum MLB innings threshold?

Aaron Fitt: Both would definitely be ahead of Kobernus, and quite possibly ahead of Desmond or Storen. So when you consider that this system graduated those guys to the majors this year, and they probably both would still have been in the minors in an organization with a better major league team, that paints a rosier picture of the young talent in this system. If you added Detwiler and Zimmermann to this top 10, it would look an awful lot better.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): Was Wilkie close to the top 10? Thought he might be in there. Had a nice year. Is he only projected as a middle reliever? Is that why?

Aaron Fitt: Not even close — he did not even make the top 30. There are some Nats people who think he'll be a big leaguer, and his changeup is the best in the system, a plus-plus offering. But bottom line, he's a 25-year-old righthander with a below-average fastball (87-90). I just don't think a righty can succeed in the big leagues as a middle reliever with that kind of a fastball.

    Rolf (Cambridge, Mass): Do the Nats take Bryce Harper with the number one overall next year, and match the pitcher of a generation with the hitter of a generation? As a Nats fan, I hope they don't pass on this once in a franchise opportunity!

Aaron Fitt: At this point, it's way too early to say, but for we have Harper atop our rankings for the 2010 draft right now, so you'd have to imagine he'd be the favorite for the No. 1 pick next year. I don't think the Nationals will be scared off by the pricetag — if they believe Harper is the best player next year, they will take him. Personally, I think there's a decent chance Harper has been overhyped; I have a feeling people could be disappointed by his performance in that wood-bat juco league this year. But Nathan Rode, who has seen Harper a whole lot more than I have, would surely disagree.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): Any hope still for Clint Everts? He seemed to pitch very well this year. Is his stuff still good enough to make it? He's still only 25. Any chance?

Aaron Fitt: Everts actually had a nice bounceback year — I do think there's hope for him as a big league bullpen guy. His fastball velocity was back up into the 89-92 range this year, his plus curveball is back, and he still has that good changeup. But he's a six-year free agent, and I have a feeling his shot at the big leagues will come in another organization.

    Alex C (Atlanta): Does Joel Guzman still have any upside left whatsoever? He's an old man in prospects years now, but he showed a couple signs of life during the year and struck out at an almost reasonable rate.

Aaron Fitt: I think that ship has sailed. I feel comfortable labeling Guzman a bust at this point.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): How long before we see Espinosa in the bigs? Is it just a wait until his bat is ready? You see him moving to second instead of Desmond? I would think if he's the better defender, Desmond would move, and Espinosa would stay at SS. How are the Nats viewing it? Do you think Espinosa will ever hit for a decent average?

Aaron Fitt: I think Espinosa's a more consistent defender, but I think Desmond has more range and arm strength, and I think Desmond has more of a chance to be a standout at short. Really, though you could go either way with those two — it's too early to tell which (if either) is the shortstop of the future. I don't ever think Espinosa will be a plus hitter, but he could be an average hitter — he does have quick hands and good bat speed. I think the more likely scenario, though, is that he will be a below-average but serviceable hitter, a .264 hitter with occasional pop like he was in the Carolina League this year.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): How do you think the injury will affect Norris power? A lot of times a hamate injury can take years to come back from and sap power and bat speed. What is the prognosis for Norris, and how long before we see him in the bigs?

Aaron Fitt: I don't know about years — I think six months to a year is more likely. So perhaps Norris' power numbers could take a hit next year, but I don't think the Nats are too worried about it. Plenty of guys recover from this much more quickly. As for a timetable for Norris to get to DC, it all depends on his defense — his bat is nearly big league-ready right now. I wouldn't be shocked to see him in the majors by the end of 2011, but 2012 seems safer.

    MJ (Valpo): Any chance that Norris gets moved to LF in the next year or two? If he's as good a hitter as everyone says, why not put him in a position where he can play 150+ games w/600 AB's or so? Plus, he seems like a skillet behind the plate. His arm would be perfect for LF. Is this an option? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: The Nationals believe he has a chance to be a big league catcher, and they're going to stick with him back there for the foreseeable future. A catcher with his offensive gifts would be very valuable indeed, an all-star caliber player. A left fielder with his offensive skills isn't much better than Josh Willingham. Nothing wrong with Josh Willingham, but he's a lot easier to come by than, say, Victor Martinez.

    Jesse (NC): Aaron, how could you rank Stephen Strasburg No. 1!? Unbelievable.

Aaron Fitt: I mean, he's never even thrown a pitch in the minors! Just another product of biased mainstream media hype...

    Jesse (NC): What gives with Jack McGeary's control issues? I'm guessing he ranked No. 11 or No. 12.

Aaron Fitt: It all comes back to his delivery — he's way out of whack. He had a tendency this year to get too deep on the back side of his delivery, causing him to get under the ball and throw uphill instead of downhill. He also struggled to repeat his release point and stay in synch. He's just not the same guy he was in high school; one scout told me he has turned into a pretzel. From what I hear, he's spending this offseason trying to rediscover his true self. As for his ranking, he plummeted down into the 20s this year. Right now, his career path feels disturbingly like those of Colton Willems, Mike Hinckley, Clint Everts...

    Luke (Des Moines): Aaron, how close was A.J. Morris? What do you see in the former Kansas State hurler? Who do you like best out of the group of Morris, Bradley Meyers, Nathan Karns, and Luis Atilano?

Aaron Fitt: Meyers, Atilano and Morris are all right in a row in the top 30, but I suppose I'd take Meyers by a hair because he has the most complete repertoire. Karns isn't in this discussion — he's just a big arm strength guy who needs to develop a breaking ball and dramatically improve his command. He'll be a bullpen guy for sure, I suspect, whereas those others have a chance to start.

    Jesse (NC): Who is the system's second-best catcher - Adrian Nieto or Sandy Leon?

Aaron Fitt: Leon is the best defensive catcher in the system, and he made some progress offensively, but I don't think he'll ever hit enough to be a big leaguer. Nieto has at least shown offensive potential in the past, and he made some strides with his receiving this year. I'll take Nieto.

    Steve (Chicago): What do you think of Atahualpa Severino??? He was 10-0 with 15 saves last year. those were pretty good numbers

Aaron Fitt: I think he's got a chance to be a J.C. Romero type. He's undersized, but he can run it up to 94 and he'll show you a pretty good (if inconsistent) breaking ball. He's fearless and aggressive, and I think he could be a solid situational lefty in the big leagues. He did make the top 30 this year.

    Virgil Dahl (Waterloo, Iowa): Aaron; who has the greater upside, Drew Storen, or Daniel Schlereth of the DBacks? thanks

Aaron Fitt: Interesting... Schlereth gets a slight edge for being lefthanded, but Storen will be more durable, so I'll go with him. Both have back-of-the-bullpen upside — in fact, I'll bet you'll see Storen closing games for the Nats at some point in 2010.

    Loren Nodolf (Fillmore,CA): I am intersted in drafting Desmond or Espinosa in our strat league as a 2b. Which one will be the Nats regular of the future?

Aaron Fitt: I do think Desmond is a little safer, because he's already there. Remember, Espinosa was only in high Class A this year, and he only hit .264. There's still plenty of risk there. Desmond seems to have navigated most of his shark-infested waters already.

    Brian (Alexandria, VA): Baseball America had the Nationals organization ranked in the top 10 in 2008 (a big jump from the bottom in 2007) and then a big slide back to #21 overall entering the 2009 season. Two questions. First, was the 2008 ranking a bit over optimistic? Where do you see them entering 2010, improved from #21, about the same, or worse than #21?

Aaron Fitt: 1) Yes, the 2008 ranking was certainly over-optimistic. We expected a lot more from those lefties in that '08 draft class (Detwiler, Smoker, McGeary). Plus, at that point, Justin Maxwell was coming off a 25-homer, 25-steal season and looked close to being a quality big leaguer. Two years later, he's still right where he was then (No. 8 on the list), and he's 26. The Nats think he turned the corner this September when he lowered his hands in his stance, but let's face it, he doesn't ever seem likely to hit a lot in the majors. The point is, he looked a lot more attractive as a No. 8 prospect two years ago than he does now, but as it turns out, he wasn't such a strong No. 8 prospect in 2008 either. As for 2010, I think their ranking will improve — those talent rankings tend to be weighted more toward systems that have front-line impact talent. Strasburg, therefore, tips the scales significantly by himself, and Norris is the best offensive prospect they've had since Ryan Zimmerman. My guess is Washington comes in around No. 13-15, but that's just a wild guess — I'm not involved in the talent ranking discussions.

    Brian (Alexandria, VA): Was Trevor Holder as big an overdraft as he appeared to be? The Nationals seem to be alone in the view of him as middle of the rotation starting pitcher

Aaron Fitt: Yes. I thought that was a horrendous reach the instant the pick was announced, and let's just say his 9.26 ERA in the Carolina League did nothing to change my mind. I'm not putting too much stock in that — he was obviously fatigued — but he was an overdraft from the beginning. The Nationals insist that wasn't a budget pick, but let's be serious: he signed for less than half of slot, and the consensus had him as a 7th-10th rounder, at best.

    Brian (Alexandria, VA): Who do you view as the biggest potential sleeper from the Nationals 2009 draft class?

Aaron Fitt: Brandon King, a prep righty from West Virginia. The Nats love his makeup, and he's a big, physical kid with an aggressive approach — the entire package reminds some Nats folks of Joe Blanton.

    Leon (Orlando, FL): Is it time to write off Colton Willems?

Aaron Fitt: Sorry for the delay — I had to take a phone call. I'll take a couple more questions. I'm afraid it is time to write off Willems. It's a real shame, but his arm strength and mechanics aren't anywhere near where they used to be. That guy was simply electric in high school, and it's jarring to see what he has become.

    Dana (Alexandria, VA): The Nationals went high school heavy in the early part of their 2006 draft and it appears that only Chris Marrero is developing. Guys like Stephen King, Stephen Englund & Colton Willems have disappointed. Was it more a matter of poor scouting or bad player development?

Aaron Fitt: A little of both, but I tend to think the scale tilts toward the player-development side, especially with Willems.

    Todd Boss (Arlington, VA): Do you really see Maxwell as a prospect at this point? He's now 26, has never really impressed at the MLB level, and seems to be blocked by the sparkplug Nyger Morgan. I view Roger Bernadina as a better bet to be the 4th OF on this team in 2010.

Aaron Fitt: Will Venable was a productive rookie as a 26-year-old this year, and his pedigree and history is similar to Maxwell's. There is a big difference between the two: Venable's best tool is his bat, and that's a major question with Maxwell. But the Nationals are convinved Maxwell turned a corner in September — if it hadn't been for his late-season adjustments, there's no way he'd be in the top 10. If, however, you concede that there is a chance Maxwell has figured something out offensively, he is undoubtedly still a prospect. He is a big, physical athlete with plus power potential and plus speed and plus defensive skills (though a below-average arm). That's a nice package. I do think Bernadina fits better as a fourth outfielder, but Maxwell fits better as a potential starting outfielder if a spot opens up and he carries his progress over into the spring.

    Steve (Chicago): What about the two guys at Hagerstown who had sub 3.00 ERA's. Juan Jaime and Marcos Frias???

Aaron Fitt: Jaime is in the top 20 — he has serious arm strength. His fastball sits at 93-95 and touches 98. He would rank higher if he were more polished and had better secondary stuff, but you can't ignore the arm strength. Frias is much more polished, with pretty good command of a sinker/slider/changeup mix, but his stuff isn't great. Righthanders with high-80s fastballs and a lack of projectability face an uphill battle.

    Dave (Arlington, VA): "prudent to exercise some caution with a 19-year-old in the GCL with no real track record prior to this year" But how does that reconcile with putting Jeff Kobernus in the top 10 based on college #s and an extremely limited professional resume>

Aaron Fitt: Kobernus has produced in the Pac-10, which is a higher level of competition than the GCL. But also I'm talking about the scouting track record. At Cal, scouts have evaluated Kobernus for three years and have a very good idea who he is. Perez just burst onto the scene this summer — and the history of the GCL is littered with players who had huge seasons in complex leagues but never amounted to anything. I'm not saying that will happen with Perez — like I said before, I like his skill set quite a bit and I did rank him 11th — but I am saying it doesn't hurt to be a little cautious when ranking him. There will be plenty of time to make market corrections if he keeps this up in the next year or two. And for what it's worth, I was far more aggressive with my ranking of Perez than most Nationals officials I spoke with would have been. For them, he was a 20-30-range guy. By now, player-development people know better than to overreact to strong GCL seasons. But in a system with so little impact potential, I took a bit of a chance by running him up the list, based on performance as well as tools. OK folks, that's all I've got time for today. As always thanks for the great questions — I enjoyed this discussion, as usual. Until next year...