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Top 10 Prospects: The Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals
2010 MLB Record: 69-93 (5th in the NL East)
Minor League Power Ranking: 18th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Bryce Harper C/OF
Acquired: 2010 1st round (Las Vegas JC)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: Arizona Fall League
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 7.0

Notes: In his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League, Harper hit .343/.410/.629 in nine games (35 at-bats). He showed some patience with four walks but also whiffed 11 times. It’s an encouraging start to his pro career. In the AFL, Harper was getting out on his front foot and that was throwing off his timing and balance. He’s definitely going to have to learn to stay back on off-speed pitches as he moves up the ladder. Against lesser pitching he can simply rely on his raw power and bat speed to compensate. If I’m going to nitpick, I might level out his shoulders a bit to help his swing plane. Drafted as a high school-aged catcher, his bat projects to play at any position on the diamond and he’s expected to play the outfield in pro ball. Harper is expected to move through the minors quickly, but that could be about three years as top prep hitters usually need about four full seasons in the minors. He’s spent a year in junior college but Harper is the same age as a high school player.

2. Derek Norris, C
Acquired: 2007 4th round (Kansas HS)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: Norris, 21, had a breakout season in low-A ball in ’09 but injuries slowed his follow-up effort in 2010. At high-A, he hit .235/.419/.419 in 298 at-bats. His ISO rate dropped from .227 to .185 but he continued to show a strong understanding of the strikeout zone and an ability to get on-base at a desirable clip. Norris had a walk rate of 22.3 BB%, which was almost 8% higher than any other hitter in the league (250+ at-bats). Norris’ power output comes with a trade-off, striking out at a clip of 31.5%. If that keeps up, he’ll likely struggle to hit for average at the MLB level, but he should still spend a lot of time on-base. Norris has a quiet stance with no moving parts, keeping his feet close together. He looks focused on the pitcher and watches the ball into the catcher’s glove. Norris projects to be an offensive-minded starting catcher but his defense is actually pretty good. He threw out more than 50% of base runners but needs to sharpen his receiving and game-calling skills.

3. A.J. Cole, RHP
Acquired: 2010 4th round (Florida HS)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Short-season
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Cole was swayed away from the University of Miami by a $2 million pro contract. His repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, solid curveball, and a changeup. Cole pitched just one inning during his pro debut but could open 2011 in low-A ball if he has a strong spring. He is rail thin and his delivery has some effort to it so the organization will want to be cautious with this talented arm. He throws with a three-quarter arm angle and has a long stride. He has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter but Cole also has a long way to go.

4. Danny Espinosa, SS/2B
Acquired: 2008 3rd round (Long Beach State U)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA/AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Espinosa has a simple stance and approach at the plate. He has some movement in his bat but he has his hands in a good position to put a solid swing on the ball, which helps him generate good pop despite a modest build. Espinosa will likely hit 10-15 homers in the Majors but he could flirt with some 20-homer seasons unless he adjusts his approach to be a No. 2 hitter. He may not hit for a high average because he strikes out a lot (24.4 K% in AA) but he does get on base a fair bit, too. Along with some pop, Espinosa offers some stolen base ability and could nab 10-15 in a full big league season. On defense, he flashes a solid glove and a strong arm. He could end up at either second base or shortstop.

5. Sammy Solis, LHP
Acquired: 2010 2nd round (U of San Diego)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: A-
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.5

Notes: Solis looks like a big, strong innings-eater at 6’5” 230 lbs. There are some health concerns with the southpaw, though, as he’s struggled with back problems. His repertoire is average and his heater sits 88-92 mph. Solis also flashes a plus changeup and good curveball. He’s a strike thrower and could move quickly through the lower levels of the minors. Solis pitches with a low-three-quarter or side-arm delivery. He has a nice, smooth arm action with little effort. He pitched just four regular season innings after signing his first pro contract but he could start out the season in high-A ball.

6. Wilson Ramos, C
Acquired: 2004 non-drafted free agent (Venezuela)
Pro Experience: 6 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: The Twins organization was able to deal Ramos to the Nationals thanks to the presence of All-Star Joe Mauer behind the dish. The young catcher had a solid season in 2010 and caught some attention with a solid MLB debut. He’s always maintained a solid batting average in the minors but he was also aided by high BABIPs – something that rarely happens with slow-footed catchers at the MLB level. His overly-aggressive approach (4.1 BB% in AAA for the Twins) will also hurt his ability to maintain a respectable triple-slash line. Ramos possesses line-drive power right now but could grow into 15-20 homer power with regular playing time. He has a level stance and shows a nice line-drive swing. He has power but doesn’t try to hit home runs. He has some bat speed and can really turn on the inside pitch. Defensively, Ramos has a strong arm that allows him to throw out a lot of base runners, and he also has good receiving skills.

7. Eury Perez, OF
Acquired: 2007 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A-
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Perez, 20, has posted solid numbers in North America over the past two seasons. He hit .381/.443/.503 in ’09 and .298/.344/.380 in ’10. His batting averages have been helped by strong BABIPS: .418 and .355. Unlike Ramos, Perez possesses plus speed that will help him maintain strong BABIP rates in the Majors. The outfielder doesn’t walk enough (4.7 BB%) and strikes out too much (16.9 K%) but he stole 64 bases in 77 attempts. He’s raw and still has a lot of work to do but he could end up as an impact hitter if he can sharpen his approach; right now he’s pretty much a hollow singles hitter with speed. Despite hitting from the right side, Perez gets out of the box quickly. On bunts, he almost looks like he’s running before the ball makes contact with the bat. He does lean out over the plate a little too much at times and could benefit from standing a little taller. He’s a strong defender, who good develop into a plus fielder.

8. Yunesky Maya, RHP
Acquired: 2010 non-drafted free agent (Cuba)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: R/A+/AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 29
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Maya, 29, is a little old for a typical rookie but he was a highly-touted Cuban hurler prior to signing with the Nationals. The right-hander may not have been in tip-top shape when he pitched 26.0 innings in the Majors and posted a strikeout rate of just 4.15 K/9 and FIP of 5.16. Maya followed up a disappointing showing in Majors with a strong winter league performance. In the Dominican, the right-hander gave up just 27 hits 41.0 innings and showed outstanding ground-ball rates. He also had solid control. Maya has a pretty classic three-quarter delivery. He could develop into a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the Nats with a solid four-pitch mix and average fastball.

9. Brad Peacock, RHP
Acquired: 2006 41st round (Florida HS)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Peacock, who turns 23 soon, shows good heat with a fastball in the 92-96 mph range. He also has a nice breaking ball and a developing changeup. His heater is a little straight and he works up in the strike zone too often, which could hurt him in the Majors. He may be better suited to the bullpen, but he’s still young – and was a two-way player in high school – so he has projection left as a starting pitcher prospect. In 2010, Peacock spent the majority of the season in high-A where he missed a lot of bats (10.28 K/9) with good control (2.18 BB/9). His FIP sat at 3.14. If he doesn’t settle into the starting rotation, he could end up as a solid set-up man. Peacock has a lower three-quarter delivery and short-arms the ball. There is some effort in his delivery, which could speed up the transition to the bullpen.

10. J.P. Ramirez, OF
Acquired: 2008 15th round (Texas HS0
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A-
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Ramirez is a favorite of mine for his hitting ability, and there won’t be many people who rank him this high. The left-handed hitter batted .296/.341/.470 in 506 at-bats. His power improved from ’09 as his ISO rate jumped from .142 to .174. With some maturity as a hitter, his line-drive power should develop into 20+ homer power. Ramirez does need to show a little more patience at the plate as his walk rate has sat at 4.5 BB% each of the past two seasons but he doesn’t strike out that much (16.4 K%) for a potential power hitter. His ticket to the Majors is definitely tied to his bat. He’s not a speedy player by any means, which hampers him on the base paths and in the field. His arm is also average-at-best and he’ll be limited to left field.