While the Nationals reveled in the fact that Baseball America ranked their farm system as No. 1 in Major League Baseball prior to the Gio Gonzalez trade, ESPN's prospect wiz Keith Law has ranked their system as the 21st best in baseball in its current form. Here is what Law had to say:
"This was potentially a top-10 system before the Gio Gonzalez trade, no worse than top 15. But after dealing A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock and Derek Norris -- probably three of the Nats' top 10 guys before the Gio swap -- this system lacks depth."
That's a little simplistic if you ask me. Yes the Nationals traded four prospects in order to acquire an ace level pitcher in Gio Gonzalez. However, it was a trade that I think few people in our Nations capital regret. Gonzalez is 26, and he has an established MLB track record, something that no one they gave up could claim. I think as spectators, we tend to put a ton of value in the supposed potential of players, instead of placing importance in their actual on the field results at the highest level.
Brad Peacock, for instance, seemed to be a really exciting young starting pitcher. He had dominated the minor leagues in 2011 after what was generally a mediocre career previously. He's in a perfect position to have a strong rookie season in 2012, but in reality there's just no way of knowing if and how well he can make that transition. Even the best prospects who have dominated Triple-A just cant seem to get over the hump to be the same producers they were once making it to the show. This is one of the hardest things to project in baseball, and nobody has perfected it. Gonzalez on the other hand has already proved that he has the ability to get it done among the best pitchers in baseball.
A.J. Cole probably has the mot upside of any player in this deal but at 19 and never having pitched at any level above A ball, he is still very raw and very far away. There's just no guarantee that he will ever even get to the majors and if he will still be effective by the time that opportunity arises.
The same goes for Derek Norris. The slugging catcher has long been considered the club's top hitting prospect, but despite his great performance in low A-ball at the age of 20 he has progressed slowly and has seen his prospect status dinked as a result of injuries. He could still end up being a major slugger for the Athletics, but he's probably three or four years away, especially if he stays a catcher.
Tom Milone was an enigma, for his entire career, and the odds of him maintaining that status consistently at the MLB level were low. As much as we all wanted to root for the 25-year-old, the bottom line is that there are only so many pitchers who can make it work with the type of stuff he has. While he became a masterful pitcher during his time in the minor league's with Washington, the odds of him being able to turn himself into a Greg Maddux or a Zach Greinke are relatively low. He was able to fool single, double, and triple-a players over the past several years...but MLB hitters are a different breed.
I really think Law may have overreached by placing them as low as 21, even after losing those four solid players. You have to remember that while they lost them, they did add Anthony Rendon (arguably the best hitter out of the draft last year), Brian Goodwin, Alex Meyer, and Matt Purke. It was an incredibly draft class that probably has the best upside of any draft haul the Nats have ever had. Meyer and Purke both have question marks above their head, but they also legitimately have ace level talent. Goodwin has top level athleticism and could be a starter some day.
On top of their new acquisitions, Sammy Solis, Destin Hood, and Steve Lombardozzi all raised their prospect status after great performances in the minor leagues last year. So yes, on the surface that Nats traded away a lot in the minor leagues this offseason, but they also gained so so so much.
I feel that a lot of people see Bryce Harper at the top of our system and just tend to gloss over the rest and say something a long the lines of, "well it's strong at the top but there's no depth." While that may be easy to say, and may have been true when Strasburg was the top prospect on the team, I think there is still tons of depth in this system. To be fair, a good portion of that depth is still at least another year away from contributing in Washington. But I think that this time next year our farm system will look way stronger than it did before the Gio trade.