The Arizona Fall League ended Saturday and for the Nationals prospects who played in title game, a 4-3 loss by the Salt River Rafters to the Peoria Javelinas, they will now get time off before spring training. For the players, especially those who missed time because of injury, it’s useful experience against many of the top prospects of rival teams. And against them, a few top Nationals minor leaguers continue to progress in their development and cement their statuses as top prospects.
The early word on Anthony Rendon, the Nationals top overall prospect, was that he was off to a slow start, a bit rusty. The 22-year-old, sixth-overall pick in the 2011 draft quickly broke out of it, finishing the fall season on a tear that carried into Saturday’s championship game in which he went 1-for-4 with a triple while hitting cleanup. He finished with a triple slash line of .338/.436/.494 with with 10 doubles, one triple and 11 RBI. He posted a .930 OPS, good for 11th in the league, in part because of his ability to draw walks: he walked 15 times while only striking out 14 times in 77 at-bats.
The time in Arizona was useful for Rendon, who had played only 43 minor league games until then. He is fully recovered from a partial fracture of his left ankle that sidelined him for nearly three months this season, and the plate appearances and playing experience he gained in the league were valuable for making up lost time. He struggled in Class AA Harrisburg, his final stop of the minor league season, hitting .162 in 21 games. But Rendon, according to Nationals and rival team evaluators, acquitted himself extremely well playing third base in the Arizona Fall League and made up for his slow start at the plate. And, for the moment, Rendon appears like the most likely National prospect to reach the majors this season, perhaps as a late season call-up.
Brian Goodwin, the Nationals’ top outfield prospect, struggled some, hitting .238 but with a .340 OBP and .475 slugging percentage while smacking 11 extra-base hits, including three home runs. He has an enticing combination of speed and power and ability to play center field — and whose development will be closely watched as a potential solution to the Nationals’ long-time search for a future leadoff hitter. Goodwin tripled in the championship game, but made a costly error by leaving third base too early when trying to tag up on a sacrifice fly that could have tied the game.
Like Goodwin, infielder Matt Skole, the Nationals’ minor league player of the year, showed his power in the Arizona league, hitting .305/.419/.525 with three home runs and a .944 OPS (eighth-best in the league). Some saw evaluators saw him profile better as a first baseman, and in the championship, Skole, who has mostly played third base, made some nifty moves at first base.
Reliever Cole Kimball was named the the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award winner, the same award Steve Lombardozzi claimed in 2010. Kimball, who has been on a slow and arduous rehab and return from rotator cuff surgery in June 2011, threw 15 innings during the AFL season, posting a 4.80 ERA while striking out a 10 batters. He still hasn;t fully returned to the pitcher he was in 2011, when he made his major league debut for the Nationals. If he is fully healthy next season and returns to form, he has a shot to be back in the majors because of his experience.