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 prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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