With the upcoming season right around the corner, there is one question plaguing the minds of all Washington Nationals fans since last year's disappointing outfield performance. Will 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper be on the Opening Day lineup card? The number one prospect in the baseball has generated incredible hype and speculation surrounding his debut in the major leagues. Because of that anticipation, many people have overlooked the other young outfield prospects that the Nationals have in their system.
The top outfield prospects behind Harper in the Nationals organization each show promise as possible MLB players in the future.
(Rankings Key: Keith Law/Baseball America/MLB.com)
1) Brian Goodwin (#5/#5/#9)
The newest addition on this list, Goodwin was drafted 34th overall in the 2011 June Amateur draft from Miami Dade College, where he spent his sophomore year. In 47 games at Miami, he maintained a .382 batting average along with a .492 on base percentage, stealing 16 bases and accumulating 37 RBIs. As a freshman at the University of North Carolina, he was named a Louisville Freshman All-American after batting .291 with a .409 on base percentage attributed to an outstanding 45 walks in 60 games. As the only outfielder to be ranked in all three lists and the highest on-base percentage by far, he has the potential to be the Nationals leadoff hitter of the future could fill a well-documented hole in center field, though it wouldn’t be immediate.
2) Michael Taylor (#10/NR/#5)
Despite initially being unranked in Baseball America’s annual Top 10 ranking, Taylor cracked the BA list after they reevaluated the farm system following the trade for Gio Gonzalez, which sent 3 of their top 10 prospects from that list. Taylor was also selected as the best defensive outfielder as well as the best athlete (even over Bryce Harper) in the Nationals organization by Baseball America. The 20-year-old was picked in the 6th round of the 2009 June Amateur Draft and played the entire 2011 season in Low-A Hagerstown where he put up a modest .253/.310/.432 slash line in 126 games. He hit 26 doubles, 7 triples, and 13 homeruns. He had a .974 fielding percentage with 9 assists and only 5 errors, with the majority of that time in center field. Before the addition of Goodwin, Taylor was the prime candidate for center field in a few years after some more development. Now he must fight to prove his worth.
3) Destin Hood (#4/NR/#8)
Getting mixed reactions from all three lists, Destin Hood is an unknown to most. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 June Amateur Draft, Hood had put together an unimpressive minor league career leading up to Single-A Potomac last season. In his first full season in High-A ball, he started to put it together. He stole 21 bases, 16 more than he did in a full season in Hagerstown and hit 13 homeruns, 8 more than he did in Hagerstown. He also decreased his number of strikeouts and increased his number of walks by 25, reflected in his .364 on base percentage. His defense was impressive in 105 games in right field, commiting just one error leading to a .996 fielding percentage. If Hood continues to improve as he progresses through the minors, he could fight for a position in the majors.
4) Eury Perez (NR/NR/#7)
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007, Perez is the most experienced with four years of minor league service. Last season, he played in Potomac, where he hit .283 with a .319 on base percentage. Perez’s claim to fame is his incredible speed. The young outfielder is among the best young base runners in the Nationals system, stealing a combined 109 bases in 131 games in Hagerstown and 119 games in Potomac. This speed can also be seen in his defense in center field. He covers a lot of ground that most cannot, while committing minimal errors. Despite being being left off two of the three Top 10 lists, Perez still is in the hunt for a major league position because of his incredible speed that leads to both impressive offensive and defensive stats.
None of these players have developed enough to take the reins now, and if they can’t prove their worth soon, they may lose their chance. Jayson Werth still has 6 years and more than $100 million left on his contract, and Bryce Harper will likely be in the majors by next season. If GM Mike Rizzo is able to land a young, MLB-ready center fielder via trade or free agency soon, these outfield prospects will quickly become trade bait for the Nationals organization.
Although it may be unlikely that any of these four players will ever wear a Nationals uniform, fans can hope that one day, one of these young players will successfully grow from the Nationals farm system.