A Minor Review of 2013: Nationals

There is always a bit of a lull between the end of the minor league playoffs in September and the start of the annual top prospects lists in early November. Because of that gap, I’m breathing new life into an old feature that I wrote for the site in FanGraphs’ infancy back in 2008 and 2009.

The series ‘A Minor Review of 2013’ will look back on some of the major happenings in each MLB organization since the beginning of April as a primer for the upcoming FanGraphs Top 10+5 prospects lists. This series will run throughout September and October. I hope you enjoy the series and are eagerly anticipating the start of ‘Prospect List Season.’

The player listed in the sleeper section was featured in a pre-season series that looked at one fringe prospect in each organization that was expected to take a big step forward during 2013, chosen by myself, a scout or a front office talent evaluator.

The Graduate: Anthony Rendon, 2B: The Nationals’ top draft pick from 2011, Rendon’s arrival in the Majors was delayed by persistent trips to the disabled list for a litany of reasons. The infielder stayed relatively healthy this season and appeared in more than 130 games. Unfortunately, among second basemen with more than 350 plate appearances, Rendon finished 19th in WAR and his offensive contributions were below replacement level. He’ll look for a big boost in his sophomore season.

The Riser: Nate Karns, RHP: Karns has made significant improvements over the past two seasons and he appears far more likely to stick as a starter at the big league level — good news for an organization with limited pitching depth. If he realizes his full potential and continues to see improved fastball command, he could settle into a No. 3 or 4 starter role — perhaps as early as 2014.

The Tumbler: Matt Skole, 3B: Skole’s loss in value is tied solely to an injury that caused him to appear in just two games this season. He’ll open the 2014 season at the age of 24 with just two games of experience above A-ball thanks to his serious elbow injury. As well, the move across the diamond from third to first base (where the injury occurred) at the beginning of the ’13 season puts more pressure on the continued development of his bat.

The 2013 Draft Pick: Drew Ward, OF: The 18-year-old Ward had an outstanding pro debut at the plate while hitting for average with gap power. He also posted an on-base average of more than .400, which is outstanding for such an inexperienced hitter. The left-handed hitter has work to do against southpaws but he’s created a solid foundation for the future.

The Sleeper: Steve Souza, OF: Souza’s first five pro seasons were nondescript but things began to click in 2012 and his success continued into ’13. The outfielder has hit for an average of more than .300 with above-average pop each of the past two seasons and smart base running allowed him to steal 20 bases this season. The 24-year-old Souza will head to the Arizona Fall League to continue building on the momentum he’s created.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

14 Responses to “A Minor Review of 2013: Nationals”

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  1. binqasim says:

    what about taylor jordan who jumped from AA to MLB and did better than Karns? thanks!

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  2. Jason Swick says:

    Very tough on Rendon. He stayed completely healthy this year. He had a wRC+ of 100, which means that he hit at league average not replacement level something only half the teams in MLB could boast. The second basemen that hit worse than him: Schumaker, Philips, Uggla, Beckham, Weeks, Altuve, and Ackley. Also for a guy who hadn’t played 2nd base since this year he was able to post a 6.6 UZR/150 with very good range is significant.

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    • maguro says:

      Right. And since WAR is a counting stat it’s deceptive to say that a guy who got less than 400 plate appearances was 19th. I would say that guy who put in 1.5 WAR in 2/3 of a season had pretty solid rookie year. Weird analysis all the way around.

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  3. Todd Boss says:

    Completely agree with above comments related to the post’s criticisms of both Karns and Rendon.

    Karns failed in his 4 MLB starts; he got battered around, he gave up FIVE homers in 12 innings and had a 7.50 ERA. Meanwhile Jordan posted a 3.66 ERA in 9 starts and started the year in High-A. How is Jordan not “the riser” in this system?

    Meanwhile, I’d like to see a list of rookies who changed positions and who posted a 99 OPS+. I’d re-phrase the sentence in here to read “Despite being a rookie with limited minor league time due to injuries, Rendon was 19th in WAR for his position and posted postitive UZR/150 values at a position he was learning on the fly.” Clearly this was harsh on Rendon’s contributions this year.

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  4. Will says:

    I liked advanced stats like the next guy, but Rendon’s a great example where you need to watch the player, frequently (and not too many people do, thanks MASN/Angelos!) and compare what you see to the stats. WAR can’t or doesn’t capture Rendon’s approach at the plate and the maturity he showed over the course of his first full season of pro ball. He also demonstrated the ability to adjust late in the season when pitchers figured him out by the all-star break. In very few at bats did he look lost – he made good contact often and often had productive outs. There was that prolonged slump he had where pitchers figured him out and he had to make adjustments. But he battled and worked through it. He’s got a great swing and is a pure hitter about whom I’m very excited.

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  5. Other Will says:

    One more bit of perspective re: Rendon (hardly an egregious statement by the author, but since no response to the other posters figured I’d add my 2 cents): of those with the same 350 PA, wRC+ was right in the middle, while of those 28 w/ 700+ innings @ 2nd, was 7th in UZR/150.

    Bottom line, a very nice debut, and yeah, totally agree that since he was up to stay, he had a tough July before adjusting back (and the splits show it).

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  6. David says:

    Agree with the others, this is some of the weakest analysis I’ve ever seen on Fangraphs. It’s simply not backed up at all.

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  7. Bubbly D says:

    [crickets from the author]

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  8. Ed says:

    Okay, I’m confused. How does Rendon, with an offensive WAR of 1.1 per this site, have an offensive contribution “below replacement level”? Below major league average, perhaps, but below replacement level? I always thought that zero represented the dividing line for replacement level.

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  9. Melissa says:

    I have to agree that Jordan was the riser this year.

    Also, Drew Ward plays third base, not outfield.

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  10. pdowdy83 says:

    This write up definitely seems to be missing the mark. Taylor Jordan jumped from High A to AA then all the way to the big leagues where he was an above average starting pitcher in his 9 starts posting an FIP and xFIP that suggest his ERA wasn’t a fluke. Karns flopped in his breif stint in the bigs, looking far more like a reliever with his repitoire than a “3-4 starter”.

    Rendon also posted positive contributions defensively, offensively and baserunning and was worth 1.5 WAR in less than 100 games. How is that “below replacement level”? If you project his numbers out to a full year he would have been in roughly in the 2.5 WAR range which for a rookie who changed positions when coming to the major leagues is pretty solid. His ceiling is obviously much higher than that but it was by no means a disappointment.

    Drew Ward, as someone else stated, played on 3B and was drafted as a 3B. Not sure where the OF thing came from.

    I also find it odd that Souza going to the AFL gets a mention but there is no mention of Skole playing there. Skole may have only 2 games of experience above A+ but this is his second AFL stint which should count for some higher level experience. Skole posted a nice .944 OPS in the AFL last year.

    This was a VERY disappointing write up.

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  11. Marc Hulet's Non-Functioning Brain says:

    Horrible, horrible analysis.

    Also missed by the author and all the commenters was the fact that Rendon had a 25.5 LD% which was the 11th best overall in the NL (min 350 PA). Factor in his ground ball rate and even Marc might be able to see how extremely unlucky his .307 BABIP was …

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  12. John C. says:

    Still no response from the author; apparently he agrees with the criticism and concedes the substantive points raised by the commenters. Given the combination of insufficient research, lack of awareness of the players in the organization and outright errors I am not surprised that the author has elected to quit the field rather than defend the piece.

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