Recently, 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. We started last week, looking at two players at time, and it continues.
RHP Nathan Karns, 25
The ascension of Karns onto the Nationals’ best prospects list is a shining example of all facets of the organization. The scouting department spotted him and drafted him out of Texas Tech in the 12th round of the 2009 draft, the player development and medical departments worked with him, nursed him back to health after a labrum injury in his throwing shoulder and subsequent surgery, and built him into top form. Despite being drafted three years ago, he didn’t really pitch in the minors until 2011 and now he stands as the recipient of the Nationals’ Pitcher of the Year award for his 2012 season.
“Very happy for Nathan,” said Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris. “He really had not pitched prior to 2011. He worked his tail off and showed us what he is capable of.”
Karns, a big 6-foot-5 starter, finished last season 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA and 148 strikeouts, both best in the Nationals system. After being promoted to Class A Potomac in June, he went 8-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 13 starts. In all, he walked 47 batters in 116 innings and opponents hit .174 against him. He started 18 games across Class A Hagerstown and Potomac, appearing in six games as a reliever.
Karns has a “well above average” fastball, his standout pitch, Harris said. He has a downhill plane on his fastball, which can hit 96 to 97 mph. He can throw his breaking ball, a curveball, for strikes and is progressing with his change-up. After his season ended, Karns said he hoped to add another pitch to his repertoire in the offseason.
Last season, Karns was shut down after reaching his innings limit (
71 2/3116 innings), part of the Nationals’ organizational philosophy to limit a large jump in innings for young pitchers, especially given his injury history. Next season, the reins will come off and Karns will have the chance to show that he can stay healthy for a full campaign and perform.
He could continue in Potomac next season or jump to Class AA Harrisburg. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft last month, but the Nationals protected him by placing him on the 40-man roster, believing in his potential and work ethic. As a major leaguer, however, his path isn’t yet determined. He has seen most of his time in the minors as a starter but could morph into a reliever, if needed.
“I think he’s got a chance to do either,” Harris said. “As he developed last year, he showed a feel for a third pitch.”
(Ideally, Christian Garcia would be the second Nationals pitcher on our examination of the prospects because of his talent and ceiling, but for these purposes we consider him a major leaguer. He is, at least, a major league reliever for the Nationals next season who will compete for a starting job in spring training.)
OF Eury Perez, 22
Perez has been around for a few years and yet, he’s still only 22. After spending six seasons in the Nationals’ system in the minors, Perez had his best season yet. The Dominican native was more mature on and off the field, made strides in learning English and took his work more seriously than ever before, and his overall growth was the main reason he made the final jump to Harrisburg and AAA Syracuse during the season and earned that elusive September call-up to the majors for his debut.
“We’re proud of what he accomplished and he’s proud,” Harris said. “He has a better understanding of what he needs to do to develop and to get ready for a game.”
Though Perez made strides as a hitter last season, his defense saw perhaps the largest improvements. He learned how to control the outfield, better position himself for hitters before each pitch, challenged hitters and took away their holes, Harris said. Perez can play all three outfield positions, but likely projects as a center fielder because of his size, speed, range and arm.
Perez’s biggest asset is his speed on the bases, the primary reason he was called up in September. Perez, who is generously listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds, stole 51 bases last season, caught only 15 times. Over the past three seasons in the minors, he has stolen 160 bases in 203 attempts. In 13 games with the Nationals, he nabbed three without being caught.
As hitter, Perez worked to hit line drives to the opposite field and not chase bad balls, and hit a combined .314/.344/.705 in 569 plate appearances across Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse. He doesn’t walk enough (16 walks last season) and that is a point of improvement for a player that can be a leadoff hitter. Perez will likely continue his development in Syracuse next season, as the Nationals feel he still needs a little bit more seasoning before he is ready for the majors.
The Nationals’ wish for Perez next season?
“Continuing to mature as a hitter,” Harris said. “He really did a nice job showing maturity as a hitter late in the year and understanding who he is.”
WEDNESDAY: Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin
THURSDAY: Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole