The Washington Nationals have an intriguing farm system. A few of the players on this list have serious top-tier potential but the others are a combination of lower-ceiling players who are just about ready for the majors, guys who have tremendous risk to them or guys who have had significant injuries. Doing research for this article, I’ve found that, while there is likely to be some issues with who shows up where on the list, the top three to five are probably the same everywhere.
I’d like to thank Luke Jett from our FanSided sister site, District on Deck, for providing the list. Of course, it was the second list he provided. The first came before one of the Nationals’ top prospects Robbie Ray was traded to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal. This is what he came up with afterwards. As we’ve done before, I’ll write my own comments and let you see what Luke had to say below. I’ve added an “editorial choice” to the list because I felt that there was one glaring omission that our wise readers would immediately notify us about. So no, we haven’t neglected him.
Triple-A: Syracuse Chiefs (International League)
Double-A: Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League)
High-A: Potomac Nationals (Carolina League)
Class-A: Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League)
Short-Season A: Auburn Doubledays (New York-Penn League)
Complex-Rookie: GCL Nationals (Gulf Coast League)
Jeff Kobernus – 2B
Date of Birth: June 30, 1988
Height/Weight: 6’2″/210 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round of the 2009 draft
Analysis: Kobernus got his first taste of the majors in 2013, getting a mid-season callup and another one in September but has preserved his rookie status. Kobernus is one of the fringe-major-league type players that I mentioned but should still get some consideration due to the fact that he’s going to be a useful big league player. While he doesn’t have much power, his speed, his glove, his contact ability and his strike zone control all look to be fairly good with the speed and glove topping the list of tools.
2014 Prognosis: Look for Kobernus to be shuttled back and forth to the major league squad from Triple-A.
Zach Walters – SS
Date of Birth: September 5, 1989
Height/Weight: 6’2″/220 lbs
Acquired: Traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to Washington for Jason Marquis on July 30, 2011; originally drafted by Arizona in 9th round of the 2010 draft
Analysis: Zach Walters earns credit for being major league ready, having made his big league debut in 2013 for the Nationals. He had a huge explosion in power in 2013, going from 12 home runs in 484 plate appearances (over three levels) in 2012 to 29 home runs in 521 plate appearances in Triple-A Syracuse in 2013. Interestingly, that uptick in power didn’t come at the expense of too many other attributes. He had a lower strikeout rate in 2013 (although it’s still very high) than he did in about 100 Triple-A at bats in 2012 and his walk rate only fell about 1% overall. While scouts love his defense, especially his arm, Walters isn’t going to walk a lot and much of his value is going to come from his power. If that proves to be a fluke, he’ll end up as a light-hitting utility infielder.
Luke says: “Playing in AAA Syracuse last season, Walters posted a .253 average and a solid .803 OPS. He got a cup of coffee at the big league level last season, playing eight games and hit .375. With Lombardozzi gone to Detroit, Walters, who can play three infield spots, can be a utility guy off the bench for Washington.”
2014 Prognosis: Walters makes the Nationals as a utility man. If he hits like he did last year in Syracuse, he may get more playing time than most think.
Christian Garcia – RHP
Date of Birth: August 24, 1985
Height/Weight: 6’5″/230 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent with the Nationals on July 21, 2011; originally drafted by the New York Yankees in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft.
|2013||27||3 Teams||3 Lgs||AAA-AA-A-||WSN||1||1||.500||2.70||11||4||2||13.1||10||6||4||0||8||16||0||1||1.350||6.8||0.0||5.4||10.8||2.00|
Analysis: Yes, Garcia is 28 years old and I was very seriously considering omitting him from this list. However, Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com is still counting Garcia as one of the team’s top prospects so that’s good enough for me. Garcia’s been around forever but has fought through two Tommy John surgeries and his career has truly taken off with the Nationals, making his big league debut in 2012 before spending much of 2013 injured. He has three quality pitches but just fringe-average control so it’s unlikely that his role going forward will be as a starter (particularly with the arm problems he’s had).
Luke says: “Garcia, who missed a bunch of time in 2013 due to injury, posted a very quality 2.70 ERA for three different affiliates in 13.1 innings. Garcia also has been said to have the best changeup in Washington’s system.”
2014 Prognosis: It looks like Garcia has a good chance to make the Nats out of Spring Training.
Pedro Severino – C
Date of Birth: July 20, 1993
Height/Weight: 6’1″/180 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2011; $55,000 signing bonus
Analysis: Young Dominican catcher Severino may not look like a big prospect but if you look at what he did with the bat and the glove and the age and level at which he’s done it, there definitely might be something there. One of the most impressive numbers you’ll see is his 40% caught stealing percentage which, for a 19/20 year old in his first year of full-season ball, is pretty impressive. Another thing to note is that Severino is getting rave reports about his work ethic and his ability to learn English, which is a big boost for him to lead the pitching staff.
Luke says: “Severino, a catcher, spent 2013 in A Hagerstown. He hit .241 in 84 games while driving in 45. He is only 20, so he is very young and is tabbed as the best defensive catcher in the system, which is very impressive.”
2014 Prognosis: Severino will likely be in Potomac for 2014. I’ve said it before but the general consensus is that it takes young catchers a little bit longer than other players to develop their hitting so the fact that he’s been able to hold his own offensively so far bodes well for future development.
Aaron Barrett – RHP
Date of Birth: January 2, 1988
Height/Weight: 6’4″/215 lbs
Acquired: 9th round of the 2010 draft
Analysis: With a ceiling as a seventh-inning reliever (or thereabouts), Barrett has moved slowly through his minor league career due to some struggles in his first two seasons in Rookie ball and Short-Season A. Things started to come together in 2012 when he powered through both Class-A levels, striking out over 12 batters per nine innings and finding his control with his 94-mph fastball and very good slider. He did the same in 2013 in Double-A and is probably a short distance from the majors, with his 26th birthday looming this week (Happy Birthday from Grading on the Curve!).
Luke says: “Out of the bullpen for AA Harrisburg, Barrett was extremely effective. He compiled a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings, while striking out 69 and posting a 1.09 WHIP. Barrett is considered to have the best slider in the Nationals’ system.”
2014 Prognosis: While he’s a little bit off the big league club’s radar, a good Spring Training and a good start in Triple-A Syracuse could put Barrett firmly on the Nationals’ map.
Matt Purke – LHP
Date of Birth: July 17, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’4″/205 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round of the 2011 draft
|2013||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-A||WSN||6||4||.600||3.80||18||18||90.0||92||45||38||6||25||82||5||1||10||1.300||9.2||0.6||2.5||8.2||3.28|
Analysis: Purke might be getting a little long in the tooth to be in High-A Potomac but he’s also had major injury troubles culminating with offseason shoulder surgery after 2012. He was outstanding to start the season in Hagerstown but just ok in Potomac but the biggest concern could be the huge drop in strikeouts from one level to the other. The strikeout rate didn’t rebound when he faced high-caliber competition in the Arizona Fall League, rising about 2% to 17.9% which is still not nearly at elite levels. Scouts still like his fastball and slider which show above-average potential with a developing changeup but his injury history and the big fall off in strikeouts make me a little wary.
Luke says: “Purke finished the year with High A Potomac, where he posted a 4.43 ERA in 61 innings with the club. He also participated in the AFL, as he finished with a 3.91 ERA in 23 innings.”
2014 Prognosis: Purke will probably be pushed to Double-A in 2014 to see what he can handle.May 28, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals staring pitcher Nathan Karns (57) throws during the second inning against the Balitimore Orioles at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Eury Perez – OF
Date of Birth: May 30, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’/180 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2007
Analysis: Perez had his best minor league season of his career in 2013 at Triple-A but the reason it was the best was mainly because the extra pop that he’s started to show, posting his best ISO of his career since Rookie ball in 2009. The improved power didn’t come at the expense of his contact ability, demonstrated by the .300 average and very good 14.8% strikeout rate. One of the fastest guys in the organization, Perez needs to get on base more. His walk rate is fairly anemic, sitting between 3% and 5% for his entire minor league career.
Luke says: “Perez spent 2013 in Syracuse and also got a cup of coffee at the major league level. He hit .300 with a .758 OPS in 96 games in AAA.”
2014 Prognosis: It’s a tough call for Perez, who has shown some solid skills in Triple-A and who has already had two brief stints in the majors. He could be a fourth outfielder with speed off the bench for the big league club but he will probably go back to Syracuse for more seasoning and to work on taking more walks.
Steven Souza – OF
Date of Birth: April 24, 1989
Height/Weight: 6’3″/220 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round of the 2007 draft
|2013||24||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-Rk||WSN||81||338||283||57||84||24||1||15||46||22||6||44||80||.297||.396||.548||.944|
Analysis: Souza is showing some big improvements over the past two seasons, recovering very nicely from a poor start to his professional career. Between 2007 and 2011, Souza never hit above .237 despite taking a lot of walks. His struggles culminated in a 2010 suspension for drug use; he was caught using Concerta, a banned stimulant used to tread ADHD. 2011 wasn’t better for him: he was sent home after a big argument with his manager at Potomac in June. Coming back (after soul searching and some apologies) in 2012, Souza pounded pitching in A-ball and was much more patient posting OBPs in the high .300s. Slowed by an injury in 2013, Souza still had almost a .400 OBP and 15 home runs in just 323 plate appearances.
Luke says: “The 24 year old Souza spent 2013 in AA Harrisburg where he had a very productive season. He hit .300 with a .953 OPS in only 77 games. Souza also clubbed 15 home runs and drove in 44. He also spent time at the Arizona Fall League in October, where he hit .357 in 42 at bats.”
2014 Prognosis: Souza’s resurrection doesn’t appear to be a fluke. With outstanding numbers in Double-A last year, he’ll probably move to Triple-A to be one step closer to taking his resurgence to a whole new level.
Nate Karns – RHP
Date of Birth: November 25, 1987
Height/Weight: 6’3″/230 lbs
Acquired: 12th round of the 2009 draft
Analysis: Another player whose career got off to a slow start due to injuries, Karns didn’t actually make his professional debut until 2011, despite being drafted in 2009. Scouts love Karns’s stuff with a very good, heavy fastball that sits around 93 mph (but could hit as high as 96 out of the bullpen) and an above-average curveball. He throws a changeup that is probably going to be fringey at the major league level.
Luke says: “Karns pitched this season at AA Harrisburg, but did get a cup of coffee at the major league level, where he made three starts. He will be in the bullpen mix for the Nationals in 2014.”
2014 Prognosis: Karns could very well make the bullpen out of spring training, but if he starts in Triple-A, that wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Jake Johansen – RHP
Date of Birth: January 23, 1991
Height/Weight: 6’6″/235 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round of the 2013 draft
|2013||22||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A–A||WSN||1||3||.250||1.92||12||12||51.2||35||17||11||2||23||51||1||7||1.123||6.1||0.3||4.0||8.9||2.22|
Analysis: Johansen may be a very good potential arm but scouts think that his lack of any real solid offspeed offerings right now could result in a move to the bullpen which would result in a big drop in his prospect stock. Additionally, given his age and the fact that he was a college pitcher, Johansen seems to be one of the most raw college arms I’ve read about in a while. While the big Texan throws in the mid-to-high 90s, he has struggled with control and hasn’t really shown even average potential for his slider, curve or changeup. The Nationals love his slider and they have compared him to Josh Beckett which, if that type of comp holds true, would be a fantastic outcome for the Nats.
Luke says: “Johansen was the biggest jump on the list, as the 2013 second rounder moved up to A Hagerstown in 2013. He struggled there in two starts, but was good in Short Season Auburn, compiling a 1.06 ERA in ten games.”
2014 Prognosis: Johansen will probably start in Hagerstown.
Michael Taylor – OF
Date of Birth: March 26, 1991
Height/Weight: 6’4″/205 lbs
Acquired: 6th round of the 2009 draft
Analysis: Taylor really hasn’t been making a breakthrough yet but he still has some of the loudest tools in the organization. His 2013 numbers were solid and improved across the board. His outstanding speed allowed him to steal bases at a very high success rate while his burgeoning power came up with 57 extra-base hits. He also took walks at a 9.5% rate (tying a career high set in Rookie ball) and, while his 131 strikeouts are a lot, they actually represent a significant reduction in strikeout percentage from previous years. No one’s crying “bust” yet but at 23 for the 2014 season, he’s going to really have to take a step forward against better competition.
Luke says: “The biggest drop from the mid season list, Taylor played with High A Potomac in 2013. He is considered the best athlete and best defensive outfielder in the system, he hit .263 with a .767 OPS in 133 games.”
2014 Prognosis: Taylor will be tested in Double-A in 2014.July 17, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals first round draft pick Lucas Giolito in the dugout before a game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Sammy Solis – LHP
Date of Birth: August 10, 1988
Acquired: 2nd round 2010
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Analysis: Another player who is old for the level he’s been at, he’s also been slowed down by injuries. Solis was very impressive in the Arizona Fall League and had a slow build up on his arm, returning from 2012 Tommy John surgery. From the left side, his 91-93 mph fastball is at least average and he has a good curveball and solid changeup to go along with it.
Luke says: “Back to back lefties on the list, as Solis comes in outside the top five on this list. He finished last year with High A Potomac where he pitched in 13 games, compiling a 3.32 ERA in 57.2 innings. Solis pitched the most innings for Mesa in the AFL, posting a 2.17 ERA in 29 innings.”
2014 Prognosis: Full speed ahead for Solis who will get a taste of Double-A in 2014.
Matt Skole – 3B
Date of Birth: July 30, 1989
Height/Weight: 6’4″/220 lbs
Acquired: 5th round of the 2011 draft
Analysis: Skole is another member of the TJ club for the Washington Nationals organization. In a rare situation for a hitter, Skole lost the season thanks to a collision in his second game of the year. The hype was out on Skole, who was looking to build on a 2012 season in which he hit 27 home runs in A-ball.
Luke says: “Skole cracked the top ten mid-season and is all the way up to four on this list. He missed all but two games in 2013 due to Tommy John surgery. Skole is tabbed as the best power hitter in the system. He got some work at the AFL, where he struggled, only hitting .184 in 15 games but also posted an .804 OPS [thanks to five extra-base hits and a .375 OBP].”
2014 Prognosis: Skole will likely return to Harrisburg for at least half a season. If he excels, then he could see Syracuse by year’s end.
Brian Goodwin – OF
Date of Birth: November 2, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’1″/195 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (34th overall) of the 2011 draft
Analysis: Some scouts think that Goodwin is the best talent in the system and is certainly the best position player, getting ranked as the #70 prospect by Baseball America and the #52 prospect by MLB.com going in to 2013. Looking over Goodwin’s numbers for 2013, you can see where his talents are. He has speed, power and is developing a strong hitting skill as well at a higher level than many of the other (injury-prone) prospects in the Nationals’ system. While his numbers aren’t outstanding, if he can make better contact and strike out less, Goodwin’s average and OBP will shoot up making his other tools play up even more.
Luke says: “Goodwin spent last season with AA Harrisburg where he hit .252 with a .762 OPS. A down year for sure, but the AFL performance will help his confidence; he hit .296 in 81 at bats. Goodwin will be up in Washington at some point in 2014.”
2014 Prognosis: Triple-A Syracuse appears to be the call for Goodwin who will could be held in the minors all year for service time reasons.
A.J. Cole – RHP
Date of Birth: January 5, 1992
Height/Weight: 6’4″/180 lbs
Acquired: 4th round of the 2010 draft
|2013||21||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-AA||WSN||10||5||.667||3.60||25||25||142.2||127||63||57||15||33||1||151||4||1||7||1.121||8.0||0.9||2.1||9.5||4.58|
Analysis: Cole, a big righty, has been showing off what’s he’s got in 2013. Making it to Double-A wasn’t the biggest accomplishment; excelling and putting up numbers that were even better than his Fielding Independent Pitching numbers were like in Potomac was pretty impressive. While the ERA in in Potomac wasn’t pretty, his outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio and FIP of 3.54 were much better. Throwing in the mid-90s (sitting between 93 and 96 mph) with an impressive curve and solid changeup, Cole has what it takes to be a major league starter, as he showed in the MLB Futures Game this year.
Luke says: “Reacquired by the Nationals at the beginning of 2013, Cole made it all the way up to AA this season. He posted a 2.18 in seven games for AA Harrisburg and could possibly have an outside chance of making it to the majors sometime next season.”
2014 Prognosis: While he probably starts in Double-A Harrisburg, Cole could even finish in the major leagues next year.
Lucas Giolito – RHP
Date of Birth: July 14, 1994
Height/Weight: 6’6″/225 lbs
Acquired: 1st round (16th overall) of the 2012 draft
|2013||18||2 Teams||2 Lgs||Rk-A-||WSN||2||1||.667||1.96||11||11||36.2||28||9||8||1||14||39||2||5||1.145||6.9||0.2||3.4||9.6||2.79|
Analysis: Luke says: “Giolito, the Nationals’ 2012 first round pick, ended his season in Short Season Auburn. He posted a combined ERA of 1.96 in 11 games in 2013.” Luke is a man of few words but I’ll give you a few more. Having his Tommy John surgery in 2012, Giolito got it out of the way early and started on the comeback trail in 2013, making it to Short-Season A Auburn by the end of the year. Giolito has been able to hit 95 mph on the radar gun although some reports say that number goes even higher. With a fairly mature body already, Giolito probably won’t add too much oomph to his already strong heater. Scouts are in love with his curveball with has tremendous sharpness and movement already and he has a changeup that is getting closer to being a major-league average pitch. With excellent strikeout rates, improving control and three major league (almost) quality pitches, Giolito has the potential to be a true ace.
2014 Prognosis: Giolito will probably get a full-season assignment but won’t pitch a full slate of innings. If the Nats cut off his innings at about 75 in 2014, I wouldn’t be surprised.