Category Archives: Minor Leagues

The NE Top 30 Nats’ Prospects List: 10-1

Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would use some early posts here at Nate EXPOSed by publishing my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects.  On Saturday, I posted prospects number 20-11.  Today, we get down to the really big guns as it is numbers 10-1 (forgive me missing my promised posting date of yesterday.  I’m still getting used to working with WordPress).  Feel free to argue with me, or agree with me if you will, in the comments.

10.  Taylor Hill, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (6th Round) 2011; Age 25.

There was a time not all that long ago when a young starting pitcher who put up the kind numbers Hill did early in the season at AAA would have found himself called up to DC with a chance to immediately become a rotation mainstay for a depleted Nats team for whom good starting pitching was a rare commodity.  For Hill in 2014, however, all starting the year 9-2 and having a scorching month of May ERA of 0.95 in 38 innings got him (other than being named to the International League All Star team) was a brief cup of coffee in the Nats’ bullpen that amounted to 2 appearances and 4.1 innings pitched.  Hill didn’t even get a September call up to the big club, likely because the Nats wanted to protect his arm.  With the Nats’ rotation already five deep going into next year, and with Blake Treinen, A.J. Cole and possibly still Taylor Jordan ahead of Hill on the starting pitching depth chart, don’t be surprised if this young pitcher ends up being part of a trade this coming offseason.

9.  Sammy Solis, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2010; Age 26.

Solis’s Nats’ career has been one of extreme frustration, as injuries, including the dreaded Tommy John surgery in 2012, have significantly held him back.  During this past offseason, however, things were looking up as despite being a career starter Solis was being mentioned as a potential lefty bullpen arm for the big club in 2014.  Another injury delayed the start to his season, and he was just getting going when he was shut down yet again in early June with what was described as elbow discomfort.  Solis would not again return to the mound.  Though his career minor league ERA is excellent at 3.32, it unfortunately reflects only 178.2 innings pitched in five seasons as a starting pitcher.  Solis will be 27 next year, and he must finally get healthy if he is ever going to be a contributor at the MLB level.

8.  Brian Goodwin, CF; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (1st Round) 2011; Age 23.

Among the Nats’ elite prospects going into the 2014 season, no player saw his stock sink faster than Goodwin.  Part of that amazing 2011 draft haul that also brought Anthony Rendon, pitcher Alex Meyer (traded for Denard Span) and Matt Purke to the organization, Goodwin was tagged from day one as the team’s centerfielder of the future.  Goodwin started off very well in 2012, showing both speed and power while getting bumped up from Low A Hagerstown to AA Harrisburg at the tender young age of 21.  Though he regressed some last year playing a full season at AA, he retained his top prospect status.  This season, however, the bottom fell out as Goodwin slashed only .212/.342/.328 at AAA Syracuse.  Even worse, he managed only 4 home runs and 6 stolen bases in 81 games before being shut down with a mysterious injury in early July.  In the meantime, Michael Taylor leapfrogged past Goodwin on the CF depth chart, and is now considered the heir apparent to Denard Span, likely in 2016.  Where this leaves Goodwin will depend on his production (or lack thereof) next season.

7.  Erick Fedde, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Injured; How Acquired: Draft (1st Round) 2014; Age 21.

GM Mike Rizzo’s latest injury gambit was using the Nats’ top 2014 draft pick on Fedde the very same week the pitcher went under the knife for Tommy John surgery.  Once again, as with Anthony Rendon, Luke Giolito and Matt Purke, it was a matter of getting a player lower in the draft than he would have otherwise been picked and hoping he can overcome his injury.  Fedde will likely return to action in the middle of next season and be brought along slowly for his first couple of years.  Assuming all goes well, that would put him on track to join the big club’s rotation circa 2018 or so.

6.  Wilmer Difo; IF; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2010; Age 22.

Difo was without a doubt the biggest surprise in the organization in 2014.  A former graduate of the DSL, prior to this year Difo looked like a typical light-hitting, slick-fielding middle infielder.  His HIGHEST previous annual home run and RBI totals had been 4 and 21 respectively.  So how did it go for Difo in 2014?  Well, all he managed to do was win the South Atlantic League MVP award while hitting 14 home runs, driving in 90, scoring 91 runs and stealing 49 bases.  Additionally, his OPS of .831 was nearly 130 points higher than his previous career high.  Splitting his time nearly equally between shortstop and second base, Difo instantly vaulted to the top of the heap of Nats middle infield prospects.  Now all he has to do is go out next year and prove this season wasn’t a fluke.

5.  Austin Voth, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2013; Age 22.

Voth (rhymes with “both”) was the fastest riser among Nats’ prospects in 2014, leaping from Low A Hagerstown (where he was a mid-season All Star) to AA Harrisburg with just 6 starts at High A Potomac in between.  In his first five Potomac starts, Voth allowed an incredible 1 single run in 33 innings while striking out 36 batters and walking only 5.  I was lucky enough to catch one of those starts live, and I must say he was really popping the ol’ catcher’s mitt with his pitches.  Unfortunately, Voth was overmatched once he reached Harrisburg–or maybe it was the bad atmosphere on a club in the middle of a truly wretched season that did him in–and his ERA ballooned to over 6.00 in his last five starts of the season.  Still, his dominance at both Low and High A ball at a relatively young age combined with his high strikeout rates are reasons to be optimistic that Voth could be a future piece of the big club’s rotation.

4.  Steve Souza, OF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2007; Age 25.

It’s been a long, hard road to the majors for Souza, one that included a PED suspension and once leaving his minor league team after an argument with the manager.  There was also a lot of underachievement for the former 3rd round pick until things finally started to come together in 2013.  Then in 2014 came the explosion–an amazing 1.022 OPS at AAA Syracuse (more than 100 points higher than the next highest International League batting title qualifier) coupled with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases that made him the overwhelming choice for league MVP.  Souza’s stat totals might have been even more impressive, but he got called up twice to Washington as an injury replacement, and the second time he injured himself running into the outfield wall while trying to make a catch.  Unfortunately for Souza, the Nats’ outfield will likely have no open slots next year, and at age 26 to start the new season he deserves a shot at being a starter.  That chance may come if GM Mike Rizzo decides to trade him for the right deal in the offseason.  Otherwise, a spot as the Nats’ fourth outfielder next year seems virtually assured.

3.  Michael Taylor, CF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (6th Round) 2009; Age 23.

For several years, the Nats have been waiting for Taylor’s production to catch up with his outstanding raw ability.  As it turned out, 2014 was the year he would put it all together.  Already known for being a top notch defender, Taylor went 20+ (home runs)-30+ (stolen bases) playing mostly at Harrisburg before getting his first taste of the big leagues and hitting his first big league homer in August.  One of two Nats selected for the MLB All Star Future’s Game in 2014, Taylor’s overall minor league slash line was a robust .304/.390/.526.  If there is any knock on his game, it’s his high strikeout rate (144 in 493 PAs), but if he can keep hitting home runs and stealing bases at the major league level, he could eventually be the CF version of Ian Desmond.  Expect Denard Span’s contract option to be picked up in 2015, but expect the Nats to be looking at Taylor as Span’s potential successor beyond next season.

2.  A.J. Cole, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (4th Round) 2010/Trade 2012; Age 22.

Oakland’s Billy Beane is generally considered one of the best GM’s in baseball, but Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo might just have gotten the better of Mr. Moneyball in two trades involving A.J. Cole.  Cole was initially shipped off to Oakland as part of the deal that brought Gio Gonzalez to DC.  But then, after Cole had a disappointing 2012 minor league season, Beane sent Cole back to the Nats along with fireballer Blake Treinen and lefty Ian Krol (later part of the Doug Fister trade) in a three way deal that cost the Nats exactly one year of popular slugger Mike Morse’s services.  At any rate, since returning to the Nats’ organization, Cole has steadily marched up the minor league chain and with his excellent combined numbers at Harrisburg and Syracuse this year (13-3, 3.16 ERA, 111 Ks in 134 IPs), is knocking on the door asking for admission to the big club’s rotation.  With that rotation apparently set again in 2015, Cole will likely have to bide his time at Syracuse, likely to be used as the team’s 6th starter in anticipation of getting his big chance in 2016.

1. Luke Giolito, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (1st Round) 2012; Age 20.

No Nats’ rookie pitcher will ever come close to having the kind of hype Stephen Strasburg had before ever throwing a big league pitch, but by the time he is ready for The Show a couple of years from now Luke Giolito may just come close.  The triple-digit throwing Giolito was, like Strasburg, set to be a near consensus overall number one draft choice when he injured his elbow his senior year of high school.  Tumbling all the way down to the Nats with the 16th pick, GM Mike Rizzo took a risk that Giolito wouldn’t opt to go to college and that his elbow was salvageable.  Though he ended up needing Tommy John surgery after throwing only two professional innings, Giolito has bounced back strong.  Despite being held to an innings limit of just 98 this year, he still won the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher award courtesy of a stellar 10-2 record, a 2.20 ERA and racking up 110 strikeouts.  With his surgery now more than two years behind him, expect Giolito to move quickly up the Nats’ chain, and possibly join Strasburg in the rotation by 2016 where if he continues to dominate, he’ll give the Nats one heck of a one-two punch.

The NE Nats’ Top 30 Prospects List: 20-11

Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would start some of the initial posts here at Nats EXPOSed by publishing my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects.  Yesterday, I posted prospects number 30-21.  Today, it is numbers 20-11.  Feel free to argue with me, or agree with me if you will, in the comments.

20.  Felipe Rivero, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Trade 2014; Age 22.

After being part of the trade last offseason in which the Nats acquired backup catcher Jose Lobaton from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for hurler Nate Karns, Rivero has taken the injured Matt Purke’s place as the organization’s top lefty starting pitcher prospect despite missing half the year due to injury himself.  For Rivero, it wasn’t so much the pedestrian overall numbers he put up for the Harrisburg Senators (2-7, 4.12 ERA) but how he finished the year, giving up only one earned run in his last three starts, that provides some hope that he may still develop into a serviceable major league starting pitcher.

19.  Reynaldo Lopez, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2012; Age 20.

Another “graduate” of the Nats’ Dominican Summer League team (or the D-Nats, as I call them), Lopez came out of nowhere this season to challenge top Nats’ prospect Luke Giolito as the best pitcher on a very good Hagerstown squad.  Coming off an injury that cost him most of his first stateside campaign in 2013, Lopez started late this season but quickly made up for it, going 7-3 in 16 starts split between Auburn and Hagerstown while posting a blistering cumulative ERA of 1.08 and WHIP of 0.816.  As with any player who makes a huge sudden jump in his level of performance, however, Lopez will have to prove that he isn’t just a one season wonder.  If he shows next season that he really does have the right stuff, he’ll be yet another great young arm added to a organization that’s already well stacked with them.

18.  Nick Pivetta, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (4th Round) 2013; Age 21.

With top prospect Luke Giolito on a tight post-Tommy John surgery innings limit, and Reynaldo Lopez not joining the team until late in the season, Nick Pivetta was the horse of the 2014 Hagerstown staff both in terms of stature (6′ 5″, 220 lbs) and innings pitched (132.1, not counting the playoffs).  Neither Pivetta’s ERA (4.22) nor his strikeout rate (6.7 per 9 innings) really jump out at you, but being able to handle such a heavy workload at a fairly young age certainly tags him as a potential future lower in the rotation innings eater at the MLB level.

17.  Matt Grace, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (8th Round) 2010; Age 25.

A failed starter, Grace could be next season’s left-handed version of Aaron Barrett, the rookie reliever who makes the team out of Spring Training and ends up becoming a bullpen mainstay.  After making good progress in 2013 in his first full year in the pen, Grace had his breakout year in 2014, posting a sizzling combined ERA of 1.17 and WHIP of 1.104 in 77 combined innings at Harrisburg and Syracuse.   Even more important for a lefty reliever, left handed batters managed only a paltry .144 average and only 3 XBHs (all doubles) against him in 112 PAs.  That kind of dominance in the high minor leagues is what gets a player his shot at making The Show.

16.  Jeff Kobernus, IF-OF; Highest 2014 Level: Washington; How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2009; Age 26.

Kobernus is currently enjoying his second September callup with the Nats thanks to his good speed and his ability to play both infield and outfield.  In a way, he resembles a poor man’s Steve Lombardozzi.  Both came up through the system as second basemen, both hit the ball well (but not for power) and showed good base stealing ability in the minors (Kobernus has actually been better in that latter category) and both were turned into “super-utility” type players as they reached the major leagues.  The difference is that while Lombardozzi was a “surprise” as a 19th rounder to make the bigs, as a 2nd rounder more might have been expected of Kobernus.  With one more minor league option remaining, Syracuse seems to be Kobernus’s likely destination again to start next season.

15.  Tony Renda, 2B; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2012; Age 23.

What is it about the Nats and how they keep drafting natural second basemen who hit around .300 every year in the minors (.307), can steal some bases (19) but have virtually no power (zero home runs).  First it was Steve Lombardozzi, then Jeff Kobernus and now the latest such player is Tony Renda.  I actually have a soft spot for Renda.  Standing a mere 5’8″ and weighing in at 180 lbs soaking wet, when he plays (I saw him at Potomac) he looks like someone’s kid brother was allowed out onto the field.  Nevertheless, Renda DOES show good on base skills, and is what they call a “grinder” out in the field, so a future as an MLB utility player does not seem out of the question.

14.  Pedro Severino, C; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: IFA 2011; Age 20.

Catcher is one position in which the Nats’ system is loaded with prospects.  Scouts have been raving about Severino’s defensive prowess ever since he arrived stateside last year from the D-Nats.  All Severino needed, it was said, was for his bat to develop.  Well, there were signs this season that it is doing just that.  At the tender young age of 20 playing at Potomac (fun fact: when Bryce Harper played some rehab games in Woodbridge this year, Severino was the only P-Nat player younger than him), Severino bashed 9 homers and got his OPS over .700 for the first time in his career.  He still has two or three more development years ahead of him before he’ll become MLB-ready, but don’t be surprised if Severino eventually sets himself up as Wilson Ramos’s potential successor.

13. Jackson Reetz, C; Highest 2014 Level: Gulf Coast Nationals (Rookie); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2014; Age 18.

High schooler Reetz was the Nats’ highest position player draftee in 2014, and he rewarded their confidence in him by putting up a .276/.429/.368 slash line for the organization’s Gulf Coast team (or the G-Nats, if you will).  It’s that amazing OBP that really jumps out.  Though among the youngest players in U.S. professional baseball this year, Reetz’s command of the strike zone was such that he almost had more walks (26) than strikeouts (30).  He even added six stolen bases to his stats, showing surprising agility on the base paths for a catcher.  Granted, he plays a position that takes many years to learn properly (which is why the Nats never seriously considered keeping Bryce Harper behind the dish after drafting him), but Reetz looks like he will be fun to watch as he moves up through the system in the coming years.

12. Drew Ward, 3B; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A): How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2013; Age 19.

Right now, Ward probably projects as the best pure hitter in the lower portion of the Nats’ minor league system.  Though still listed as a third basemen, scouts have said the his poor range will eventually necessitate a move across the diamond to first base.  Should that happen, it will be a question of whether Ward can hit well enough to play every day at the MLB level.  The last similarly talented high school draftee the Nats’ had such hopes for was Chris Marrero, who ultimately couldn’t hit well enough to stick with the big club.  Ward is off to a good start, however.  His .269/.341/.413 slash line with 10 dingers and 73 RBIs represents strong progress for a 19-year old already playing in full season A ball.

11.  Matt Skole, 1B; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA, playoffs only): How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2011; Age 24.

Speaking of hard-hitting former third basemen who made the switch across the diamond, we have the example of Matt Skole, who set the world on fire by bashing 27 round-trippers at Hagerstown in 2012 and collecting more than 100 RBIs between there and a short end-of-season stint at Potomac.  Then Skole was bizarrely sidelined for nearly all of 2013 after being that rare position player needing Tommy John surgery.  Unfortunately, he did not come back strong in 2014, putting up a relatively modest .241/.352/.399 slash line during Harrisburg’s trash fire of a season and collecting only 14 deep flies in the process.  The Nats did think enough of Skole to promote him to AAA Syracuse for the playoffs (after starting Syracuse first baseman Tyler Moore was called up to the big club), but that doesn’t obscure the fact that he had a disappointing season and that bouncing back next year will be critical if he hopes to get a crack at The Show someday.

The NE Top 30 Nats’ Prospects: 30-21

Since the Washington Nationals have given us fans the blessing of an early and relatively drama free clinching of the NL East title, I thought I would use some early posts here at Nate EXPOSed to publish my list of the Top 30 Nats organizational prospects.  No, I’m not a professional or amateur scout or anything…just a fan who follows the Nats minor league system almost as closely as I do the big club.

Funny thing about baseball prospects lists, however–no matter who is responsible for assembling them they typically manage to be wrong more often then they are right.  Nobody, and I mean not even the Nats’ own scouting staff, had former 2008 25th round draft pick and Cristian Guzman trade throw-in Tanner Roark on their prospect radar prior to the 2013 season.  Yet as it now stands, Roark has had more success than any player who WAS on those lists at that time other than Anthony Rendon.

To be eligible for this list, a player must have finished the 2014 season with their “rookie” status intact, meaning that they have fewer than 130 MLB at bats or 50 innings pitched, or have been on the 25-man roster fewer than 45 days (which excludes September call ups).  As of this writing, MLB.com still lists Blake Treinen on its list of Top Nats’ prospects, while Treinen has pitched 46.1 innings so far for the big club with 10 games to go in the season.  I’m going to assume he reaches 50 by season’s end, and am thereby leaving him off of my own list.

And so, with all that in mind, below is the bottom third of my Top 30 list in reverse order (the second and third portions of the list will follow over the next two days).  Feel free to argue with my selections and/or analysis, or agree with me if you like, in the comments.

30.  Anderson Franco, IF; Highest 2014 Level: DSL Nationals (Rookie); How Acquired: IFA 2013; Age 16.

Franco was last year’s International Free Agent (IFA) “bonus baby,” the only non-U.S. player to whom the Nats gave a significant bonus to sign (though it was still less than $1 million, or less than 1/68th of what the White Sox gave to Cuban slugger Jose Abreu).  Nevertheless, Franco held his own as one of the youngest players in the Dominican Summer League, slashing .272/.346/.379 in 237 PAs, and hitting 4 home runs in a league not known for huge totals in that department.  In the field Franco split time between third base and shortstop, and it is unclear as to which position will ultimately become his primary position going forward.  Either way, assuming he develops into a MLB-quality player it will be four or five seasons before this youngster will be ready to play in DC.

29.  Daniel Rosenbaum, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Syracuse (AAA); How Acquired: Draft (22nd Round) 2009; Age 26.

For the first few seasons after he was drafted, Rosenbaum looked like he was going to follow in the footsteps of fellow soft-tossing lefty starters John Lannan and Tommy Milone by maximizing his limited natural talent and making it to the majors as a lower part of the rotation innings eater.  In 2011, Rosenbaum sparkled between Potomac and Harrisburg, throwing an impressive 171.1 combined innings with a 2.52 combined ERA.  Rosenbaum showed enough promise, in fact, that the Colorado Rockies plucked him away in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, only to return him at the end of spring training.  Since then, Rosenbaum’s career has been on a downward trajectory as his ERA has climbed each of the last two years while his already low strikeout rate has sunk even further.  In 2014, he bottomed out, making only four starts before being shelved with an injury for the rest of the season.  Rosenbaum has one more year with the organization before he becomes a six-year minor league free agent, so he’ll have to quickly prove he’s worthy of a 40-man roster spot next season–possibly as a future LOOGY reliever–or he’ll likely be moving on.

28.  Spencer Kieboom, C; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (5th Round) 2012; Age 23.

Kieboom came into the 2014 season something of a forgotten man, as injuries had limited him to four games last year.  He made his mark this season as an offense-first catcher who slashed .309/.352/.500 while bashing 9 home runs and driving in 61.  His .852 OPS led a Hagerstown lineup which was blessed with some pretty good offensive players, including South Atlantic League MVP Wilmer Difo (more about him later), who was a fellow South Atlantic League All Star.  The concern with Kieboom, as it is with many Nats’ prospects, is that he was quite a bit older than the league average player, and must replicate his batting success as he moves up the minor league chain.  Defensively, Kieboom was solid, committing only two errors all season while throwing out 40% of potential base stealers.

27.  Brett Mooneyham, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2012; Age 24.

Mooneyham was one of the biggest disappointments in the Nats’ farm system in 2014.  After scorching the South Atlantic League to the tune of a 10-3 record with a 1.94 ERA in 17 starts at Hagerstown last year, the wheels fell off for Mooneyham after being promoted to Potomac this season.  How ugly was it?  A 7.36 ERA with a 2.121 WHIP ugly.  While control was always an issue for Mooneyham, his 35 walks against only 18 strikeouts in a mere 33 innings showed a ghastly lack of control.  Pushed back to Hagerstown in the 2nd half of the season, he recovered somewhat, but he’ll be 25 next season and his time as a prospect is already rapidly running out.

26.  Jake Johansen, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: Draft (2nd Round) 2013; Age 23.

Because the Nats lost their 1st round draft pick for 2013 by signing Rafael Soriano as a free agent (don’t get me started), Johansen was their de facto top pick last year.  Well, he sure didn’t pitch like it in his first full season in the minor leagues.  Like Mooneyham, Johansen is a hard thrower with control issues.  In just over 100 innings this season he managed to strike out a decent 89 batters, but that production came at the cost of 55 walks, which helped balloon his ERA up to 5.19.  By the second half of the year, he’d been moved to the bullpen, where his results were inexplicably even worse (6.38 ERA in 11 relief appearances vs. 4.92 as a starter).  Still, there’s too much raw talent there for the Nats to give up on Johansen too quickly.

25.  Erik Davis, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Injured; How Acquired: Trade 2011; Age: 27.

Acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade that sent infielder Alberto Gonzalez packing (boy, THERE is a name that dredges up bad memories for Nats fans), Davis converted to relief pitching and finally got his call to the show last year, throwing 8.2 innings in 10 appearances with a decent ERA of 3.12 and WHIP of 1.269.  Better yet, he struck out 12 batters, for a sizzling K/9 rate of 12.5 in an admittedly very small sample size.  Unfortunately, Davis was injured prior to this season and missed the whole year, and at age 28 going into next season may face the same unfortunate fate as Cole Kimball before him–another promising young reliever who got a brief cup of coffee with the Nats in his mid-20s a few years ago before injuries ultimately derailed his career.

24.  Robert Benincasa, RHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (7th Round) 2012; Age 23.

Many of any team’s top relief pitching prospects are usually failed starters.  Benincasa, on the other hand, has never started a game as a professional but nevertheless has been steadily moving up the ladder since the Nats picked him out of Florida State in 2012.  His year actually got off to a rocky start at Potomac with an ERA north of 5.00, but he settled down upon being promoted to AA Harrisburg, where he put up some pretty good numbers (3.10 ERA, 1.241 WHIP) for a team that had quite a dismal year.  Most importantly, his K/9 rate rebounded to above 9.0 (30 Ks in 29 IPs), which should keep him on track to someday surface with the big club as a middle reliever.

23.  Rafael Bautista, CF; Highest 2014 Level: Hagerstown (Low A); How Acquired: IFA 2012; Age: 21.

One of a slew of “graduates” from the Nats’ Dominican Summer League squad playing stateside in 2014, Bautista’s 69 steals led the entire organization.  Better yet, he got on base at a decent clip (.290 BA, .340 OBP) and even hit for a little power (20 doubles, 5 home runs), which was good enough for him to be named to the South Atlantic League All Star team.  In order to become a top prospect, however, Bautista will have to increase his walks rate going forward (only 33 BBs in 543 PAs) so that he can make the most of his speed on the base paths. Still, he’ll only be 22 next season and has a lot of time yet to develop as a hitter.

22.  Stephen Perez, SS; Highest 2014 Level: Potomac (High A); How Acquired: Draft (8th round) 2012, Age 23.

The switch-hitting Perez was a midseason Carolina League All Star for the Potomac Nationals and instantly became the top shortstop prospect in a system sorely lacking at that position.  Perez then tailed off a bit in the second half to finish with a slash line of .253/.364/.339.  Though he walked plenty as indicated by his high OBP, he only managed to hit two home runs all year and his speed (27 stolen bases) is decent but not spectacular for a player at this level of the minors.  Perez also committed 25 errors, and when I saw him play in person his range did not appear to be all that great.  Given that he is right now the same age that Ian Desmond was when he made his MLB debut, Perez looks to project more as a future utility player than as Desmond’s eventual replacement.

21.  Matt Purke, LHP; Highest 2014 Level: Harrisburg (AA); How Acquired: Draft (3rd Round) 2011; Age 23.

Nats fans are well aware of GM Mike Rizzo’s willingness to take a chance on injured players with talent, especially if he can obtain them for a relative bargain.  Sometimes, as with Anthony Rendon and Luke Giolito, it works out.  Then there is the contrary example of Purke, who was signed for 1st round money back in 2011 when teams could still vastly overpay for lower draft picks without being penalized, and was given a coveted 40-man roster spot in anticipation that he would get healthy and quickly join the Nats’ rotation as a hard throwing lefty.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out as expected.  Purke, who was injured his final year of college, causing his draft status to drop precipitously, has been hurt a couple of times as a professional, but no more disastrously than this year.  After posting a ghastly 8.04 ERA in just eight starts at Harrisburg, he was shut down for the season to have the dreaded Tommy John surgery.  Because he was placed on the 40-man roster right away, he’ll be out of options next season unless the Nats get a fourth option year for him.  Either way, it’s not certain he will even be able to pitch next season and given that he has yet to be truly effective as a professional his career is currently in jeopardy.

Nats DFA Eury Perez, Claim Twins’ SS Pedro Florimon Off Waivers

Eury

As a fan, one of the few disappointments about the Washington Nationals’ current player development process is that they have not been terribly active in the market for International Free Agents (IFAs).  They started out in the IFA arena by getting burned signing supposed 16-year old shortstop “Smiley” Gonzalez, nee Carlos Alvarez, out of the Dominican Republic back in 2006, only to later find out that rather being barely old enough to drive, he was actually nearly old enough to vote.  That particular blunder ultimately cost former GM Jim “Leatherpants” Bowden his job (hey, I didn’t say it was ALL bad), and may have made the organization a little gun shy.

In 2010, the Nats made their one “big” IFA move under the Mike Rizzo regime, signing Cuban defector Yunesky Maya to a 4 year/$8 million deal after missing out on the much higher priced (and far more talented) Cuban flamethrower, Adrolis Chapman.  Maya, fans were assured, could be another Livan Hernandez, and the Nats even brought Livan back into the fold around that same time, possibly in part to be a mentor for his fellow defector.  Unfortunately, Maya never worked out either.  Given several chances to crack the big squad, he posted an ugly 5.80 ERA in just 59 innings over parts of three seasons.  As his atrocious 1.576 WHIP would indicate, Maya did little more in his brief time than throw batting practice to the opposition.

Since then, the Nats have been pretty quiet on the IFA market.  They maintain a team in the Dominican Summer League (DSL) where they field Latin American signees–most of whom receive only small bonuses–hoping to find the proverbial needle in the haystack while other teams are putting out eight and nine figure financial commitments for the likes of instant All Stars Yu Darvish, Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka.

Of the recent Nats DSL “graduates” now playing stateside, Eury Perez has been the most accomplished.  Signed as a 17-year old in 2007, Perez sports what appears to an impressive .305 career minor league batting average to go along with 268 stolen bases while playing mostly centerfield in eight seasons.  Look more closely, however, and you’ll see a player without much power (20 HRs in those eight seasons) who rarely walks.  In other words, a light hitter whose lack of command of the strike zone will likely keep him from getting on base much at the MLB level, thereby negating his biggest weapon: his speed.  Indeed, after being called up each of the past two Septembers, Perez managed only two singles in 13 at bats.

At any rate, suddenly blessed with the emergence of a couple of superior young MLB-ready outfield prospects in Michael Taylor and Steve Souza, the Nats evidentially decided that despite only being 24-years old, former prospect Perez is now expendable.  This was not completely unexpected, as he would have been out of minor league options next year and would have had to make the major league roster out of spring training or be DFA’ed at that time.

Either way, some other team will almost certainly pick him up, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Perez play a few years elsewhere as a reserve, being used primarily as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement.  This is what happens when your team finally gets good–it’s your roster expendables who get plucked away rather than you being the one doing the scavenging.

As for Pedro Florimon, he was the Twins Opening Day shortstop this year, but got demoted after batting a horrific .092 in 33 games.  Since he’s already 27, with a career average of .204 in 624 at bats, Florimon represents little more than middle infield depth for an organization that currently lacks MLB-ready prospects in that area.