The Washington Nationals have an intriguing farm system. A few of the players on this list have serious top-tier potential but the others are a combination of lower-ceiling players who are just about ready for the majors, guys who have tremendous risk to them or guys who have had significant injuries. Doing research for this article, I’ve found that, while there is likely to be some issues with who shows up where on the list, the top three to five are probably the same everywhere.
I’d like to thank Luke Jett from our FanSided sister site, District on Deck, for providing the list. Of course, it was the second list he provided. The first came before one of the Nationals’ top prospects Robbie Ray was traded to Detroit in the Doug Fister deal. This is what he came up with afterwards. As we’ve done before, I’ll write my own comments and let you see what Luke had to say below. I’ve added an “editorial choice” to the list because I felt that there was one glaring omission that our wise readers would immediately notify us about. So no, we haven’t neglected him.
Triple-A: Syracuse Chiefs (International League)
Double-A: Harrisburg Senators (Eastern League)
High-A: Potomac Nationals (Carolina League)
Class-A: Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League)
Short-Season A: Auburn Doubledays (New York-Penn League)
Complex-Rookie: GCL Nationals (Gulf Coast League)
Jeff Kobernus – 2B
Date of Birth: June 30, 1988
Height/Weight: 6’2″/210 lbs
Acquired: 2nd round of the 2009 draft
Analysis: Kobernus got his first taste of the majors in 2013, getting a mid-season callup and another one in September but has preserved his rookie status. Kobernus is one of the fringe-major-league type players that I mentioned but should still get some consideration due to the fact that he’s going to be a useful big league player. While he doesn’t have much power, his speed, his glove, his contact ability and his strike zone control all look to be fairly good with the speed and glove topping the list of tools.
2014 Prognosis: Look for Kobernus to be shuttled back and forth to the major league squad from Triple-A.
Zach Walters – SS
Date of Birth: September 5, 1989
Height/Weight: 6’2″/220 lbs
Acquired: Traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks to Washington for Jason Marquis on July 30, 2011; originally drafted by Arizona in 9th round of the 2010 draft
Analysis: Zach Walters earns credit for being major league ready, having made his big league debut in 2013 for the Nationals. He had a huge explosion in power in 2013, going from 12 home runs in 484 plate appearances (over three levels) in 2012 to 29 home runs in 521 plate appearances in Triple-A Syracuse in 2013. Interestingly, that uptick in power didn’t come at the expense of too many other attributes. He had a lower strikeout rate in 2013 (although it’s still very high) than he did in about 100 Triple-A at bats in 2012 and his walk rate only fell about 1% overall. While scouts love his defense, especially his arm, Walters isn’t going to walk a lot and much of his value is going to come from his power. If that proves to be a fluke, he’ll end up as a light-hitting utility infielder.
Luke says: “Playing in AAA Syracuse last season, Walters posted a .253 average and a solid .803 OPS. He got a cup of coffee at the big league level last season, playing eight games and hit .375. With Lombardozzi gone to Detroit, Walters, who can play three infield spots, can be a utility guy off the bench for Washington.”
2014 Prognosis: Walters makes the Nationals as a utility man. If he hits like he did last year in Syracuse, he may get more playing time than most think.
Christian Garcia – RHP
Date of Birth: August 24, 1985
Height/Weight: 6’5″/230 lbs
Acquired: Signed as a free agent with the Nationals on July 21, 2011; originally drafted by the New York Yankees in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft.
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Analysis: Yes, Garcia is 28 years old and I was very seriously considering omitting him from this list. However, Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com is still counting Garcia as one of the team’s top prospects so that’s good enough for me. Garcia’s been around forever but has fought through two Tommy John surgeries and his career has truly taken off with the Nationals, making his big league debut in 2012 before spending much of 2013 injured. He has three quality pitches but just fringe-average control so it’s unlikely that his role going forward will be as a starter (particularly with the arm problems he’s had).
Luke says: “Garcia, who missed a bunch of time in 2013 due to injury, posted a very quality 2.70 ERA for three different affiliates in 13.1 innings. Garcia also has been said to have the best changeup in Washington’s system.”
2014 Prognosis: It looks like Garcia has a good chance to make the Nats out of Spring Training.
Pedro Severino – C
Date of Birth: July 20, 1993
Height/Weight: 6’1″/180 lbs
Acquired: International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2011; $55,000 signing bonus
Analysis: Young Dominican catcher Severino may not look like a big prospect but if you look at what he did with the bat and the glove and the age and level at which he’s done it, there definitely might be something there. One of the most impressive numbers you’ll see is his 40% caught stealing percentage which, for a 19/20 year old in his first year of full-season ball, is pretty impressive. Another thing to note is that Severino is getting rave reports about his work ethic and his ability to learn English, which is a big boost for him to lead the pitching staff.
Luke says: “Severino, a catcher, spent 2013 in A Hagerstown. He hit .241 in 84 games while driving in 45. He is only 20, so he is very young and is tabbed as the best defensive catcher in the system, which is very impressive.”
2014 Prognosis: Severino will likely be in Potomac for 2014. I’ve said it before but the general consensus is that it takes young catchers a little bit longer than other players to develop their hitting so the fact that he’s been able to hold his own offensively so far bodes well for future development.
Aaron Barrett – RHP
Date of Birth: January 2, 1988
Height/Weight: 6’4″/215 lbs
Acquired: 9th round of the 2010 draft
Analysis: With a ceiling as a seventh-inning reliever (or thereabouts), Barrett has moved slowly through his minor league career due to some struggles in his first two seasons in Rookie ball and Short-Season A. Things started to come together in 2012 when he powered through both Class-A levels, striking out over 12 batters per nine innings and finding his control with his 94-mph fastball and very good slider. He did the same in 2013 in Double-A and is probably a short distance from the majors, with his 26th birthday looming this week (Happy Birthday from Grading on the Curve!).
Luke says: “Out of the bullpen for AA Harrisburg, Barrett was extremely effective. He compiled a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings, while striking out 69 and posting a 1.09 WHIP. Barrett is considered to have the best slider in the Nationals’ system.”
2014 Prognosis: While he’s a little bit off the big league club’s radar, a good Spring Training and a good start in Triple-A Syracuse could put Barrett firmly on the Nationals’ map.
Matt Purke – LHP
Date of Birth: July 17, 1990
Height/Weight: 6’4″/205 lbs
Acquired: 3rd round of the 2011 draft
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Analysis: Purke might be getting a little long in the tooth to be in High-A Potomac but he’s also had major injury troubles culminating with offseason shoulder surgery after 2012. He was outstanding to start the season in Hagerstown but just ok in Potomac but the biggest concern could be the huge drop in strikeouts from one level to the other. The strikeout rate didn’t rebound when he faced high-caliber competition in the Arizona Fall League, rising about 2% to 17.9% which is still not nearly at elite levels. Scouts still like his fastball and slider which show above-average potential with a developing changeup but his injury history and the big fall off in strikeouts make me a little wary.
Luke says: “Purke finished the year with High A Potomac, where he posted a 4.43 ERA in 61 innings with the club. He also participated in the AFL, as he finished with a 3.91 ERA in 23 innings.”
2014 Prognosis: Purke will probably be pushed to Double-A in 2014 to see what he can handle.