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 recently, looking at two players at time, and it continues.
LHP Sammy Solis, 24
The Nationals had high hopes for Solis when they drafted him in the second round in 2010 out the University of San Diego and handed him a $1 million signing bonus. In 2011, despite a late start, he punched up a 3.26 ERA and went 8-3 for Class A Hagerstown and Class A Potomac. The 6-foot-5 left-hander, who could hit 96 mph on his fastball and had two other good pitches, was seen as a quick-to-the-majors type pitcher, someone slated to potentially join the rotation as soon as 2013.
But Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in March, after elbow soreness flared up again during 2012 spring training, has set him back.
“During spring training we’ll get him cranked up,” said Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris. “He went through a throwing program in instructional league. His body is in great shape right now. He took advantage of the time on his hands, and his body looks good.”
Solis was a likely candidate to begin last season at Class AA Harrisburg after 96 2/3 innings in Class A in 2011. But after the injury, the Nationals are focused on building Solis back up incrementally to pre-injury form. They hope he will be pitching again in games next season, with an innings limit in mind. It seems possible that Solis won’t see live game action until later in the season.
Before his injury, the Nationals coveted Solis because, as a left-hander, he was a hard-thrower with a lively fastball. He has an advanced feel for his change-up and throws a power curveball. In addition to building Solis’ arm back, the Nationals hope he will continue to develop his feel for all three pitches.
But, for now, the expectations for Solis have been, rightfully so, tempered because of his injury. It’s worth keeping an eye on him and his progress next season, as his continued rehabilitation and development will be important for the future of the Nationals rotation.
LHP Matt Purke, 22
Purke, much like Solis, was seen by the Nationals as a quick riser to the majors, an “extreme talent” at the time of his signing, in the words of General Manager Mike Rizzo. Purke, like fellow prospects of the coveted 2011 draft class that included Brian Goodwin, Anthony Rendon and Alex Meyer, was seen as a potential first-round selection had it not been for his shoulder injury at Texas Christian. Instead, the Nationals picked him in the third round and handed him a major league contract for four years worth roughly $4 million because they still believed he was an elite talent.
Purke, again like Solis, was slowed, however, by injury. His left throwing shoulder required surgery this summer, needing a clean-up. The 6-foot-4 pitcher made his professional debut in late May, after building up his arm strength in extended spring training in Viera, Fla., and after only 15 1/3 innings (or three starts), he was placed on the disabled list and worked to strengthen his shoulder.
Before the Nationals drafted Purke, they watched him pitch in Houston, then brought him to Nationals Park to administer a physical, which convinced them that his shoulder is fit and healthy. He even allowed the Nationals to inject into his shoulder for an arthrogram MRI exam. Once he joined the Nationals minor leagues, they took a slow and incremental approach with Purke and his shoulder.
Purke is expected to participate in the upcoming spring training, his future still dependent on his recovery from his shoulder setbacks. Pre-injury, Purke had a good mid-90’s fastball with deception, a slurvy breaking ball and a developing change-up. But for now, the expectations of Purke should be relative to his small body of work so far.
“I don’t think we can say we have seen Matthew for who he is just yet,” Harris said.
The Nationals’ goals for him next season?
“Getting out there every fifth day and learning the routine and build up,” Harris said.
WEDNESDAY: Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin
THURSDAY: Lucas Giolito, Matt Skole
MONDAY: Nathan Karns, Eury Perez