One year ago today, the Nationals possessed one of the deepest, most talented farm systems in baseball. At the top they had a generational talent in Bryce Harper. They brimmed with young, power pitchers like A.J. Cole and Alex Meyer. They had a catcher, infielder and starter ready to help at the major league level in Derek Norris, Steve Lombardozzi and Brad Peacock.
Prospect bible Baseball America released this year’s top 10 ranking of Nationals’ prospects today, and the list reflects the overhaul of their top minor league talent in only a year. Of the top 10 players from last year, two graduated from prospect status to the major leagues and four have been traded in deals that allowed the Nationals to acquire Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span.
In the past calendar year, starting with the December 2011 trade for Gonzalez, the Nationals morphed from a team slowly building a contender to a World Series favorite. The transition can be seen at the highest levels of their farm system.
Harper is now the reigning Rookie of the Year and, the Nationals hope, a fixture in the middle of their lineup for the next decade or two. In his place as the Nationals’ top prospect is third baseman Anthony Rendon, the sixth overall pick in 2011. A broken ankle limited Rendon to 43 games this season, but his impressive Arizona Fall League performance validated those who believe his sweet swing will soon be coming to a major league ballpark near you.
While Rendon could debut this season, the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America will take years. The Nationals drafted Lucas Giolito with the 16th overall pick this year knowing full well the 18-year-old may require Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged elbow ligament. They are willing to wait on a fastball that’s been clocked in triple digits and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s.
Outfielder Brian Goodwin moved up one place to third, meeting expectations as he reached Class AA Harrisburg and blazed through the Arizona Fall League. Both Matt Skole, a power-hitting third baseman, and Nathan Karns, a hard-throwing right-hander, far surpassed their reputations heading into 2012. They were named the Nationals’ minor league player and pitcher of the year, and their production catapulted them into the fourth and fifth spots.
Christian Garcia also crashed into the rankings after his dominant season and impressive September call-up. Garcia pitched big innings as a reliever down the stretch, but the Nationals are too tempted by his mid-90s fastball, biting curveball and vicious changeup to not let him work this spring training as a starter.
After he fell out of the Nationals’ top 10 list last year, Eury Perez returned to Baseball America’s rankings this year. Part of that had to do with the talent lost – Cole and Meyer would have ranked ahead of him. But part of that had to do with Perez’s strong season at Class AAA Syracuse. He received few chances in his September call-up, but when he did Perez played like be belonged.
Sammy Solis and Matt Purke come in at No. 8 and No. 9, and it’s fitting they are slotted together. Both are left-handed starters with big talent that could move quickly up the system if they can prove they’re healthy. Solis underwent Tommy John surgery at the outset of last spring training, and Purke made only three starts this season because of shoulder ailments that lingered from his college career. By virtue of signing a major league contract out of the 2011 draft, Purke is on the Nationals’ 40-man roster.
Rounding out the list is Zach Walters, the shortstop the Nationals acquired from the Diamondbacks for Jason Marquis at the 2011 trade deadline. This is a tough organization in which to be an infielder. As Lombardozzi found, Walters may eventually have to add outfield to his repertoire to contribute in the majors.
For more from Baseball America, including the informative and entertaining Best Tools, their Nationals’ prospect page is here. Here’s their full top 10:
1. Anthony Rendon, 3B
2. Lucas Giolito, SP
3. Brian Goodwin, OF
4. Matt Skole, 3B
5. Nathan Karns, SP
6. Christian Garcia, RP/SP
7. Eury Perez, OF
8. Sammy Solis, SP
9. Matt Purke, SP
10. Zach Walters, IF
And, as a contrast to hammer home just how much turnover they’ve had at the top, here’s how Baseball America ranked the Nationals’ top 10 last December:
1. Bryce Harper, OF
2. Anthony Rendon, 3B
3. Brad Peacock, SP
4. A.J. Cole, SP
5. Brian Goodwin, OF
6. Alex Meyer, SP
7. Matt Purke, SP
8. Sammy Solis, SP
9. Derek Norris, SP
10. Steve Lombardozzi, IF