You may have heard of the last big name Nationals players to graduate from the Arizona Fall League, their names are Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Bryce Harper (2011). While none of this year’s crop will likely match the 12 100+ MPH pitches Strasburg threw in one start, or the .333/.400/.634 slash line that Harper posted over the brief AFL season, they’re still a fairly talented bunch. Nationals’ management announced last month that they will send eight players to the fall league: Outfielders Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza, third baseman Matt Skole, catcher Adrien Nieto, lefthanders Matt Purke and Sammy Solis, and righties Robert Benincasa and Richie Mirowski.
Brian Goodwin – Ranked as the #44 overall prospect in baseball coming into the season, Goodwin is the top position prospect in the Nationals System. Goodwin can generate moderate power with lightning fast bat speed, but his feet are even quicker. He’s a plus runner who will have no trouble covering ground in center, possibly playing with enough range and arm to win a gold glove down the line. The problem for Goodwin is making contact as the 22 year old struck out 122 times in AA, leading to a .252 average. Seeing as he was drafted just last year, he may have been rushed and just needs more seasoning. The Arizona Fall League could serve as an opportunity to prove that he’s better than his numbers indicate.
Steven Souza – Souza may not have the first round pedigree that Goodwin does, but, unlike his Harrisburg Senator counterpart, he has proved himself statistically. He tore apart AA as a 24 year old this season, hitting .300/.396/.557 with fifteen home runs over 81 games. Health is Souza’s primary obstacle as he was sidelined for almost of this season with a shoulder injury, and has failed to reach 100 games in three out of his five seasons in full season ball. The AFL may allow the oft-injured Souza to make up for lost time.
Matt Skole – Also looking to use the AFL to make up missed games is third baseman Matt Skole, who missed all but two AA games this past year after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. This could have been a pivotal year for the 24 year old Skole, who wasn’t beloved for his tools but managed to win the 2012 Nationals’ Minor League Player of The Year Award thanks to his 27 home runs and 99 walks in A+ Potomac. He will return to try to salvage some portion of his season in the AFL, before likely reporting to AA again to start 2014.
Adrien Nieto – Prior to this season, Nieto was just another prep draft pick who didn’t pan out. He had already had five professional seasons under his belt, but hadn’t performed particularly well in any of them. He finally broke out this year with a .373 OBP and 11 home runs in 110 games for A+ Potomac. He’ll be eligible for the Rule V Draft this offseason if the Nationals don’t add him to the 40 man roster, so GM Mike Rizzo could use his AFL performance to make the final roster decision.
Matt Purke – The Nationals immense collection of young starting pitching overshadows just how good Purke is. Sure, his 3.80 ERA between A and A+ ball isn’t spectacular, but he can miss bats, as evidenced by 8.2 SO/9. He has all the makings of a quality starter – lefthandedness, a plus fastball, plus slider, and above average change – but will likely find himself pitching out of the pen because of injury concerns. The Nationals were only able to snag Purke, who did not sign as the 14th overall pick in 2009 and subsequently went 16-0 as a college freshman, in the third round in 2011 because he had missed most of his sophomore season with shoulder bursitis. Purke then lasted only nationals starts in 2012 before the nationals shut him down over shoulder concerns. Still, his raw stuff could allow him to be a dynamite closer in the majors, perhaps even one reminiscent of Billy Wagner.
Sammy Solis – Injuries have been just as much a problem for for Solis as they have been for Purke. The 24 year old start was ranked by MLB.com as the 84th overall prospect in baseball going into 2012 before Tommy John Surgery forced to him miss a year and a half. He finally returned this summer, and was fairly succesful, putting up a 3.43 ERA in 57.2 A+ innings, although at 25 he is certainly too old for that league. The AFL should be a good audition for Solis, who looks to regain prospect status and a 40 man roster spot. If he plays well but the Nationals refuse to add him to their 40 man, he could be one of the top names taken in the Rule V Draft this December.
Robert Benincasa – Robert Benincasa is nothing short of your prototypical relief prospect. He only throws a couple pitches, but he throws them well, dominating hitters with a devasting fastball/slider combination. He’s been able to use his plus stuff to miss numerous bats, posting an 11.3 SO/9 between A and A+ leagues in 2013. Benincasa has more command than most minor league relievers, issuing only 14 walks in 51 innings this season, making him a good candidate to rise through to the majors fairly quickly.
Richie Mirowski – A 45th round pick, the odds have always been stacked against Mirowski. Nevertheless, the 24 year old righthander has been succesful at every level, finishing this year in AA, and posting a 1.83 ERA across multiple levels. His peripherals leave little to be desired as he put up a overall 5.87 K:BB ratio, and a 7.25 ratio in AA. Mirowski’s greatest obstacle is his raw stuff, as his 89 MPH is not going to impress any scouts. Still, if he has a good performance in the AFL, he’s likely to receive a spring training invite and could use his stellar numbers to force his way into the majors by next september.