As the season reaches its ceremonial halfway point, it’s a good time to take a look at the minor leagues and re-evaluate the team’s prospect situation. At the beginning of the season we often see several lists come out from various publications that rank each team’s top prospects, however we seldom see this list updated halfway through the year.
A lot has changed since March, and it’s important for us to know the state of Washington’s minor league system as it will come into play during the trade deadline as well as the late season call-ups. For this list we have removed players such as Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos who have lost their rookie status. I have also held off on including players who were drafted by the team this June, because while Anthony Rendon is a super prospect, it’s not a done deal until he signs a contract with the team.
1. Bryce Harper - .320/.422/.544, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 20 SB
Harper has cruised through the minor leagues thus far, easily handling 72 games at low Single-A Hagerstown before recently earning a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg earlier this month. The 18-year-old has shown all five tools in game play so far this season, and according to most scouts, Harper still projects to rate as an 80 in power on a 40-80 scouting scale. The question at this point isn’t if he is the best prospect on the Nationals, but whether he is the best in baseball. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has an interesting comparison to him and fellow top prospect Mike Trout.
2. Brad Peacock – 10-2, 2.01 ERA, 129 SO, 98.2 IP
Peacock snuck in as the Nats 10th best pre-season prospect according to Baseball America, by midseason, the publication had him ranked within the top 50 in all of baseball. The 23-year-old has been simply outstanding at Double-A Harrisburg this season. His 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings is one of the top in the organization, and his just 23 walks mean he’s one of the best pure pitchers in the organization. Few saw this coming last season after he combined to post a 4.50 ERA in 25 MiLB starts in 2010, but with his recent promotion to Triple-A, it’s certainly possible we could see Peacock make his MLB debut in 2011.
3. A.J. Cole - 2-4, 2.87 ERA, 57 K in 47 IP
In 2010 the Nationals gave Cole the highest ever signing bonus for a fourth-round draft pick. That was because they viewed the 6-5, 18-year-old right hander as having first round talent, and from what we’ve seen so far, they were probably right. For a player with less high-level baseball experience than Bryce Harper, Cole has excelled in his first nine starts in Hagerstown. His natural frame as well as his high strike out rate are a good indication that he has what it takes to be a big time talent in this league, it will only take a matter of time.
4. Tom Milone – 7-5, 3.15 ERA, 107 K, 103.0 IP, 15.29 K/BB
A lot of analysts are still low on Milone despite the unbelievable numbers he has posted in Triple-A Syracuse so far this season. Initial knocks on the 24-year-old left hander said that he didn’t strike out enough batters, that he was destine to become a pitcher in the mold of John Lannan. Since then he has improved his strikeout rate dramatically, peaking at 9.3 K/9 this season. Now some question whether he can be as successful at the MLB level because he doesn’t throw very hard consistently. However given his numbers, I’m going to give the lefty the benefit of the doubt. Baseball Prospectus says his comparables are Andy Pettite and Mark Mulder, and if he can improve his fastball by one or two miles per hour, I could see him being a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starting pitcher.
5. Sammy Solis – 4-1, 3.54 ERA, 50 K in 53.1 IP
Solis was the Nationals second round pick behind Bryce Harper last season. The San Diego –left-hander has had a very solid professional debut in 2011. In nine starts between Hagerstown and Potomac, Solis has been effective against both right and left-handers. At 22-years-of-age and with a good deal of college experience under his be,t he is likely still playing under his talent level in high Single-A right now. It will be interesting to see how he does if he earns a late season promotion to Harrisburg this summer.
6. Chris Marrero - .301/.373/.433 9 HR, 46 RBI
Marrero has continued his slow march toward the Major Leagues this season as he has put together another marginally improved season at yet another level. The former first round pick has now played six minor league seasons, and while he has taken no gigantic step in any of them, he has improved gradually in all of them. Now with a .300 batting average in Triple-A, the player the Nats signed as a 17-year-old may be ready to make the Major Leagues at 23. Unfortunately, for a first baseman, Marrero’s .433 slugging percentage will not cut it for any team at the Major League level, and despite many people expecting his power hitting ability to rise of the next few seasons, his development in that area has completely stalled. Right now it seems like he could be a major leaguer, but its hard to see super huge upside.
7. Derek Norris - .197/.360/.426 12 HR, 28 RBI
Norris has long been considered one of the Nationals top prospects. His natural raw power and his great patience have excited scouts across the country, especially when evaluators consider his young age. However injuries have slowed the slugging catcher over the past few years, and the backstop that used to hit in the .270s and .280s has seen his batting average fall below .200 this season. He is still getting on base well, and has hit his fair share of home runs, but without the ability to his for average consistently, Norris could be stuck in Harrisburg for a long time. The good news is he’s still young, but the bad news is his performance is failing to match his potential.
8. Stephen Lombardozzi – .319/.365/.446, 4 HR, 20 SB
Some prospects are made purely on potential, others are made purely on head-scratching performance, Lombardozzi is the latter. The undersized second baseman does not carry much pop in his bat, but his ability to hit for average and get on base at all levels could earn him a big league promotion in the next several years, especially if Ian Desmond does not pan out.
9. Robbie Ray – 2-1, 1.76 ERA, 61K in 61 IP
Ray, like Cole, was drafted by the Nationals and given above slot money to not go to college. In 12 starts so far, it looks like he made the right decision. The left-hander has thrown smoke on the mound and has limited opponents to just a 1.76 ERA in over 60 innings pitched. His strikeout rate has stayed consistent at 9.0 K/9, and he appears ready to take on the next level of competition.
10. Eury Perez - .282/.310/.332, 1 HR, 26 SB
Perez, 21, has seemed to stall in Single-A Potomac. After a promising stint in Hagerstown last year in which he hit .299/.345/.381 with 64 stolen bases, his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage have all dropped. He’s still young, but the Dominican speedster needs to continue to get on base to have any chance as a MLB speedster.