Last week, Baseball America released its top 10 ranking of the Nationals’ best prospects. We devised our own list here of the Nationals’ farm system, before the prospect bible announced its own, as a way for avid followers to learn a little more about each of the players: What are their skills, where do they stand in their development and when could they make it to the majors? We won’t rank the 10 players here, but we obviously start in a specific order. Beginning today, we will examine two prospects at a time.
INF Anthony Rendon, 22
The Nationals selected Rendon out of Rice with the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, and signed him to a major league contract worth $7.2 million over four years, with a team option for a fifth year. The Nationals believed then that he was a exceptional talent, not far from being ready for the big leagues. And they still do; he is their coveted top overall prospect, a sweet-hitting infielder who is nifty with his glove, too.
Rendon is known for his bat, propelled by his quick, easy wrist movement. He hit no lower than .327 in college. He hit .333 in 27 at-bats at Class A Potomac last season, then just as well in the lower rungs of the minors as he recovered from a broken ankle. He struggled in Class AA Harrisburg after his promotion there, hitting .162 in 68 at-bats. But in the Arizona Fall League, where he was sent to make up for the three months lost because of his April injury, Rendon shone. When healthy and in a groove, he was among the best prospects in the league, hitting .338/.436/.494 with with 10 doubles, one triple and 11 RBI in 77 at-bats.
And Rendon, listed at 6-foot, 195 pounds, can hit for some power, too. He hit six home runs in 160 plate minor league appearances last year. The Nationals believe there might be more pop there, it just hasn’t shown yet.
“He’s a very gifted young man,” said Nationals director of player development Doug Harris. “He’s blessed with very good hitting instincts. He’s got an instinctive hitter with advanced knowledge of the strike zone. He’s a gifted defender and with good hands.”
Rendon is also versatile on the diamond. He played second base in college, shortstop in high school but switched to third base once he reached the Nationals minor leagues. But the Nationals have a backlog of infielders and, if he is ready to play every day in a year or two, where would Rendon play alongside Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and whoever is manning first base?
“We’ve only had him play third base,” Harris said. “He’s got very good hands, good body control. If we decide down the road to expand that, those components give him the opportunity to do that.”
Rendon could likely begin next season in Harrisburg and, based on his progress, be promoted to Class AAA Syracuse. He just might be a September call-up, and perhaps ready for full-time duty in 2014. But for now, the Nationals feel Rendon needs playing time because his ankle injury limited him to only 43 games last season.
OF Brian Goodwin, 22
The same draft that yielded Rendon also gave the Nationals Goodwin. With the 34th pick of the 2011 draft, the Nationals picked a potential starting outfielder of the future, a speedy player who can play center field and can hit for average and power, and signed him for $3 million.
Goodwin began last season in Class A Hagerstown, where he hit .324/.438/.542 with nine home runs in 216 at-bats. By July, he was promoted to Harrisburg, by passing high-A ball in Potomac. The Nationals believed the Goodwin they saw in Hagerstown was ready to handle the more advanced pitching at Harrisburg.
“We moved him aggressively towards the middle of the season with the jump to Harrisburg,” Harris said. “He will show you parts of five tools on any given day. He can run, defense, hit and throw. And he has power. He has an advanced feel for the strike zone. He’s got a short, compact swing.”
At first, Goodwin, listed at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, struggled in Harrisburg. He finished hitting .223/.306/.373 with five home runs. In the Arizona Fall League, he showed flashes of his ability again, hitting only .238 in 80 at-bats but showing his power and speed by hitting three home runs, six doubles and two triples. It’s not exactly the statistics that drive the discussion of Goodwin’s development, but how he looks and performs in the field, and to the Nationals, he did well.
“We fully expected that learning curve to exist,” Harris said of Goodwin’s mid-season promotion to Harrisburg. “…. He has just an advanced feel for the strike zone and swing, that would adapt and he carried that into the fall league.”
At Hagerstown, he stole 15 bases and was caught only four times. In Harrisburg, however, he was caught three times in six attempts. Just like Rendon, and most every prospect, Goodwin’s room for improvement lies in playing time: he needs more of it.
He needs to “continue to refine all phases of (his game),” Harris said. “He made really nice strides defensively and on the bases; leads and jumps out there. Continue to get a bunch of at-bats.”
With the acquisition of Denard Span, the Nationals’ outfield composition of Bryce Harper-Jayson Werth-Span is set for at least the next two seasons. They hold a $9 million option for Span in 2015, and by then Goodwin will have another two seasons of the minor leagues and some major league call-up experience under his belt.