Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Washington Nationals

Syracuse? Not for long I don't think.... Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

I'm hoping to finish up the last of these posts prior to the end of Spring Training. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a couple players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a couple who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:

AL West: Los Angeles Angels | Oakland | Seattle | Texas

AL Central: Chicago White Sox | Cleveland | Detroit | Kansas City | Minnesota

AL East: Baltimore | Boston | New York Yankees | Tampa Bay | Toronto

NL East: Atlanta (3/23) | Miami (3/28) | New York (3/26) | Philadelphia (3/28) | Washington

NL Central: Chicago Cubs | Cincinnati | Houston | Milwaukee | Pittsburgh | St. Louis

NL West: Arizona | Colorado | Los Angeles Dodgers | San Diego | San Francisco

Prospects Traded Post-Review Of New Team (3/30)

The remaining reports will be coming out on the dates in parenthesis next to their names, so if there are specific prospects that you'd like to hear about from those organizations, please let me know in the comments and I will see what I can find out for you.

2011 Graduates

Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos

Overview

The Nationals system is headlined by one of the top prospects in the Majors right now with Bryce Harper. Despite trading 4 high-level prospects to acquire starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez, the farm system still has some solid prospects coming in the next few seasons, and was one of the deepest systems prior to that trade. Add that to a team that is already stocked with young talents like Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, and Stephen Strasburg, and you have the potential for the Nationals to be a contender very soon, potentially even this season.

Ready in 2012

Bryce Harper

He also falls in the "You Know the Name" category. Harper was just optioned down to AAA Syracuse on Sunday, but odds are that he will be back in Washington before he turns 20 at the end of the year. Harper was converted to the outfield after being drafted, and profiles as a potential first round fantasy draft pick in the very near future. The power is off the charts, to the point of being compared to other sluggers in the league like Mike Stanton. He will be playing center field primarily while in AAA, in the hopes of getting him acclimated to doing so while in Washington this season. Realistically, in half a season I could see Harper hit .260+ with 20+ HR this season. I would definitely take a flier on him in late rounds of shallow leagues if you can survive losing the bench spot for the first few months, but Harper will not likely be in Syracuse when the All Star break comes around. In his prime he could have 50 home run potential, and also the upside to hit for a very good batting average while doing so. Add in that he'll likely be able to provide double digit stolen bases, and you could be looking at a #1 overall pick in fantasy drafts of the future.

Should Be Ready by 2014

Anthony Rendon

The Nationals' top draft pick in 2011, Rendon was widely viewed at the start of the 2011 college season as the best player available in the draft. However, Rendon did not play the field very much in his last college season, due to a shoulder injury. However, he was a bit of a surprise to fall all the way to #6 overall, and the Nationals scooped up the talented Rendon. While there have been concerns about where Rendon will play long-term, especially now that current 3B Ryan Zimmerman has signed a contract extension, Rendon is considered athletic enough to make a transition to another infield position. The team even tried him at shortstop a bit this spring training. Kevin Goldstein rated him a 5-star prospect this offseason, and had this to say about Rendon:

Everything about Rendon's offensive game impresses. His plate discipline and pitch recognition is already major league-worthy, and his ultra-quick bat allows him to lace line drives all over the field and crush mistakes. He's a plus defender at third base with soft hands and a very good arm.

Realistically, Rendon will likely stay at 3B until he shows that either he cannot long-term or Ryan Zimmerman shows he will need to move to get his bat up to the Majors. Goldstein speculated that he would start the season at High-A, and possibly move up to AA before the end of the season. I'm inclined to agree with that assessment, as he will have a very good chance of overpowering pitchers down there. The biggest concern for Rendon remains his health long-term, as he seemed to have a number of injuries during his college career. Either way I would anticipate him forcing his way to the Majors by the end of 2013 at the latest, and once he is in the bigs could be a high batting average (.290+) provider with decent to solid power production (15-20 HR at least). If he ends up at a different position, it seems likely it would be either 2B or possibly LF, but I could also see the team moving Ryan Zimmerman to 1B in the coming years to make way for Rendon.

Long-Term Prospects (Might Not Be Ready Until 2015 At Least)

Matt Purke

Purke is a pretty good example of how a bad season coupled with not signing when previously drafted can end up costing some money.(Granted, we're talking about a kid who still received a signing bonus of nearly $3 million, so let's not feel too sorry for him). Purke was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 draft by the Rangers, but an agreement was never reached. Purke went to TCU instead, and proceeded to struggle during his next draft-eligible season in 2011. Purke had come into the season considered to be a top-half of the first round draft pick, but his struggles coupled with injury concerns led him to fall all the way to the 3rd round, where the Nationals scooped him up. However, his long-term outlook is extremely cloudy at the moment due to injury and velocity concerns. From Marc Hulet of Fangraphs:

When he's on, though, he's a southpaw that possesses an above-average 90-95 mph fastball. He rounds out his repertoire with a good slider and changeup. Durability questions will continue to haunt Purke until (if?) he can string together a number of dominating starts.

Purke will look to regain the form that would have made him a top 10 draft pick this year, and I believe the Nationals will take it slow with Purke and get him into Low-A to start out the season. Hulet writes that he sees #2 upside out of Purke, but I would have to say that right now that is a long way away from showing itself. I want to see the performance before I pass too much judgment on Purke, but it is somewhat telling that he fell so far in the draft last season.

Brian Goodwin

Drafted in the supplemental first round out of Miami-Dade JC, Goodwin took a bit of an unusual path to the draft by transferring OUT of a division 1 program in North Carolina. However, it appears to have worked out for him at least somewhat as he ended up signing with the Nationals after just 1 year in Miami-Dade. George Utter ranked him 6th in the Nationals' system (pre-Gonzalez trade), and had this to say about him:

Decent speed, but not a burner with some power potential. A good defender, but some debate on if he stays in centerfield or settles into a corner outfield spot. Scouting reports suggest that he is raw with good tools, but needs to work on transferring weight too early in his swing.

The consensus on Goodwin seems to be that he is a very toolsy outfielder, but will need development time to determine if he can translate those tools into results as a professional. I would think he would start with Purke down in Low-A, but the team could challenge him and send him to High-A potentially as well.

Alex Meyer

The Nationals were able to get Meyer with the 23rd overall pick last year, a result of the White Sox signing Adam Dunn to a 4 year contract in the 2010-2011 offseason. Looks like this has the potential to work out nicely for them. Meyer was drafted out of the University of Kentucky, he did not debut professionally last season. It sounds more and more like Meyer was a high-risk, high-reward draft pick by the Nationals. Here's a bit of what John Sickels had to say about him after the season:

I respect his upside as a guy with two dominating pitches, but his command is still a work in progress, and such tall pitchers often struggle to keep their mechanics in line. Could be a superior starter, a closer, or a failure.

Guys who have plus velocity and a second solid pitch almost always end up getting up to the bigs at some point, although it may not be for very long. The Nationals can give him time to work on refining his command and keep him as a starting pitcher. However, it sounds more and more like he could be of fantasy value if he ends up in the pen, possibly as the heir apparent long-term to Drew Storen. Either way I think he'll be with Purke in Low-A to start the season, but could be in High-A by the end of this year.

Others to Watch:

Michael Taylor - This isn't the Michael Taylor who will likely be patrolling right field for the Sacramento Rivercats for parts of this season, but the one who played all of 2011 in the Sally League for the Nationals' affiliate in Hagerstown. While he struggled with his batting average (.253), he did provide a lot of counting statistics (13 HR, 68 RBI, 23 SB), and it sounds like he could really jump up prospect lists in the next year or two if he can really put all of his tools to work for him. Someone to watch, but I wouldn't get too excited yet.

Steve Lombardozzi - The son of a former Major League 2B, Lombardozzi received a brief call up at the end of the season last year and appeared in 13 games for the Nationals. Lombardozzi will likely see playing time this season as a utility type for the Nationals, and could provide a high batting average and a few counting stats (think less than 10 homers and less than 10 stolen bases over the span of a full season of at bats). Extremely deep league play if he ends up playing full time some how.

Chris Marrero - A 1B prospect, Marrero has shown a solid to above-average batting average along with some decent power at every stop in the minors. He was called up at the end of last season, but it remains to be seen where he fits into the long-term plans of the Nationals at this point. He is blocked currently by Adam LaRoche at 1B, and potentially also by Michael Morse if they decide to move him in should LaRoche not be ready for the season opener. In a full-season I could see 10-15 HR with a .275-.285 batting average, but would caution that he's not likely to be in Washington all year.

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