With today's edition of roster predictions, we're going to talk about the position players on the Washington Nationals' 40-man roster that will end up on a minor league roster next year. This list is going to be the shortest of our series, so stay tuned in the near future for the pitchers edition of "To The Minors." Here we go.
It shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone, but Bryce Harper will start the 2012 season in the minor leagues. Not only that, Harper will go right back to Double-A Harrisburg, where he ended the 2011 regular season. Harper's line at the Double-A level was nothing to write home about at .256/.329/.395, so a bit more time at the mid-level minors will help Harper hone in on his seemingly endless skill sets. To update on his Arizona Fall League stats, after an 0 for 13 start, Harper has reached base at least once in his last 4 games. His numbers are still low, but that's a marked improvement. There is an outside chance that Harper may make the Nationals with the September call-ups in 2012, but that's an outside possibility. The Nats position in the standings at that point will do a lot to fuel that decision.
Anthony Rendon earned himself a major league deal after being picked 6th overall in the 2011 Amateur Draft. The most recent top Nationals draft pick is fighting shoulder and ankle injuries that he sustained in college at Rice, but Rendon has the potential to be a major impact. At the moment, Rendon is playing in the instructional league rather than the Arizona Fall League with Harper in order to try and rehab him properly and prepare him for Spring Training. There's no way he's ready to start the in the majors next season, though, so one of his options will be used at that point.
Corey Brown came to the Nats with Henry Rodriguez in the trade for Josh Willingham this past offseason. At the time, many were outraged that GM Mike Rizzo would not re-sign Adam Dunn and let Willingham go. Turns out, maybe Rizzo knew what he was doing. Willingham had a great year in Oakland with 29 home runs, 98 RBI, and an .810 OPS, but Henry Rodriguez looks like he might be the perfect fit for the Nats bullpen. What about the other piece of that trade, though? Brown had a stellar line with Oakland's Double-A affiliate in 2010 (.320/.415/.502), but everything else has been mediocre. He struggled at Triple-A Syracuse in 2011, hitting just .235 with a .326 OBP. He stole just 4 bases and was caught stealing 7 times. Not exactly the speedy CF with a high OBP the Nats are looking for out there. It's just one year, but it means he won't have a shot at the Opening Day roster next season.
The utilityman extraordinare Brian Bixler will likely see the Syracuse level again to start the 2012 season, though there is an outside chance that he could make the 25-man roster. Bixler can play literally any position on the field (he played 6 different positions in the majors this past season), which gives him huge value as a utility player, but his numbers just do not translate to someone who can make an impact as a pinch hitter. In Syracuse during the 2011 campaign, Bixler put up huge numbers, a .314 average and a .846 OPS, which included an OBP closer to .450 than .400. However, that didn't translate to his chances in the bigs this season. I think Bixler will probably start in Syracuse this April, but it remains likely that he's the first call-up as soon as the Nationals position player ends up on the DL during the season. His versatility makes him valuable in the field, even if his bat is a bit cold. If he can make his stats from Syracuse translate into the majors, he'd be an extremely valuable bench player that might end up getting traded because of his value and a lack of a permanent position for him on the team.
There you have it: the 4 players that are destined for the Nationals farm to start the season. Stay tuned for the pitchers edition of To The Minors soon.