September 17, 2014

Nationals Prospects Spotlight: Will Taylor leapfrog Goodwin as “centerfielder of the future”?

The Washington Nationals have long been searching for their perfect center fielder. In the beginning, we saw Brad Wilkerson and a litany of fleet-footed, but contact-challenged, little guys (think Nook Logan, Brandon Watson, Endy Chavez and the rest) come and go. We were told Lastings Milledge was the answer, until we found out he couldn’t see the ball from center until it got above the top of the stadium.

For the past two seasons, Denard Span has been tracking everything down in center, but his questionable on-base skills and ineptitude against left-handed pitching have left much to be desired.

While Span has helmed the spot, the Nats have been, somewhat quietly, bringing up two candidates in the minor leagues that could challenge for that spot in the not-too-distant future. The team has a $9 million option for next season with Span and while it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Nats exercise that option, it would also not be surprising to see Span challenged and eventually bumped out of the spot before that option year was up.

Let’s look at the candidates:

Brian Goodwin: Goodwin was the Nats third pick in the first round of the 2011 MLB amateur draft. The 34th overall pick out of Miami-Dade College, Goodwin, 6’0″, 200 lbs., was a five-tool athlete many envisioned at the top of an MLB batting order. Goodwin possesses an elite eye and exercises terrific plate discipline. He’s a rare minor league hitter that controls his at bats, instead of letting the pitcher dictate.  He has very good speed and good pop, and plays a mean centerfield with great range and a good throwing arm.

The knock on Goodwin thus far in his minor league career is making consistent contact. He owns a .255/.367/.409 slash line in 276 minor league games, but this season at AAA Syracuse, at age 23, he’s hit just .208/.359/.287, with just 10 extra base hits in 223 plate appearances. His elite eye has allowed him to walk 41 times in those appearances and he’s cut down on his K%, but the lack of contact and power this season is disconcerting. Despite his speed, he’s run just six times this year and converted on all but one attempt.

Goodwin has a history of starting slowly once promoted, only to turn it around in the second half, so that will bear watching as this season develops.

Michael Taylor: Taylor was a sixth round pick in the 2009 draft from Westminster Academy in Ft. Lauderdale. He was drafted as a shortstop but was very quickly moved to the outfield after his first season in rookie ball. Taylor was always more of a project than a natural baseball player. Taylor was a gifted multi-sport athlete in high school and the Nats worked hard with him in the low minors to transition him to the outfield. Through that hard work, he’s become one of the top defenders in all of the minor leagues.

The question with Taylor has always been the bat. In three minor league seasons, Taylor never OBP’d higher than .318 until last season for Potomac, when he hit .263/.340/.426 with 10 homers and 87 RBIs. He also had a spectacular year on the basepaths, stealing on 51 of 58 attempts. This season, the 6’3″, 215 lbs. 23-year-old has really put it together at AA Harrisburg. Through 52 games, he’s hitting .325/.405/.629 and leads the Eastern League with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs, while going 14-for-16 on stolen base attempts.

Taylor has never come close to matching this type of success in professional baseball, so we’ll have to monitor him in the summer months to see if he wilts.

It’s not hard to compare the seasons both players are having and wonder if Goodwin is stalling while Taylor is starting to blossom. Goodwin has the pedigree with his first round status and rankings on “top prospects” lists. But Taylor is slowly coming into his own. If he really has “figured it out” at the plate, with his elite defensive skills he could really push Goodwin on the prospect depth chart and challenge for a spot in D.C. before the more celebrated Goodwin.

Washington Nationals’ Minor League and Prospect Report for Week Ending May 11th

Syracuse Chiefs, AAA International League, 19-17

Brian Goodwin: The last time we checked in with Goodwin, his season wasn’t starting off as well as he might have hoped. Recently, however, he’s turned things around. He’s picked up seven hits in his last 10 games including a 2-for-4 effort on Sunday afternoon. In the same stretch, he’s 2-for-2 on stolen base attempts. It’s his first season at triple-A and it looks as though he’s getting used to things in Syracuse.

Michael Gonzalez: Formerly of the Nationals’ bullpen, Gonzalez has pitched well in five appearances out of the Chiefs’ bullpen. In 5.2 innings of work, he’s given up just three hits while striking out six and, most importantly, has yet to give a run.

Johnatan Solano: The former backup catcher for the Nationals, Solano is tearing it up at triple-A this year. He leads the team in average (.298) and homers (5). He’s picked up at least one hit in eight of the team’s last 10 games including two homers. On the year, he’s knocked in 19 RBI.

Harrisburg Senators, AA Eastern League, 11-23

Destin Hood: Hood began the year at Triple-A, but was moved down to Harrisburg after just 11 games. In 19 games with the Senators, he’s thrived. He’s averaging .329 with a double, homer and 5 RBI in Double-A ball. In his last 10 games, he’s got 10 hits including a 3-for-4 night on May 8. On the base paths, he’s a perfect 6-for-6 on stolen base attempts.

Matt Grace: Left-handed reliever Matt Grace has proven to be a solid arm out of the bullpen for the Senators. In 19.1 innings of work spanning 11 appearances, Grace has given up 17 hits and 5 runs (3 earned) all while striking out 17. The Nationals were hurting for left-handers in their big league bullpen, but they’ve got several good ones, like Grace, coming through the system.

Matt Skole: It’s been a couple weeks since we checked in with one of the brightest young stars in the Nationals’ system, but things haven’t gotten much better for Skole as the year’s progressed. He’s shown some spark at times, but his average still hovers at .189 and he hit his first homer of the season on Saturday. This is Skole’s first full year at Double-A, so hopefully he still working through some growing pains.

Potomac Nationals, High-Class A Carolina League, 19-14

Ronald Pena: Starting right-hander Ronald Pena is a pitcher on the rebound for the single-A P-Nats. After giving up 13 runs combined in his first three starts, he’s settled in as of late. In his most recent start on May 7, he lasted a season-long six innings and gave up just two runs on four hits. While Potomac lost the game, it’s encouraging to see some life in Pena’s stuff on the mound.

Brandon Miller: Statistically, it’s been an odd start to the month of May for outfielder Brandon Miller. While he’s batting just .146, he’s got a hit in six of the team’s 10 games this month. While he hasn’t gotten multiple hits in a game, his one hit is usually a productive swing. This month, Miller has hit a double, three homers and has eight RBI.

Cole Leonida: Catcher Cole Leonida is having a solid season. Averaging a start every 3-5 days, he’s making his moments in the spotlight count. In 12 games this year, Leonida is batting .270 with six doubles, two homers and five RBI. His OPS of .995 leads the team, as well.

Hagerstown Suns, Low-Class A South Atlantic League, 27-8

Lucas Giolito: Giolito has made the report before, but his most recent start on Sunday afternoon has earned him the right to be mentioned. In his seventh start of the season, Giolito threw six scoreless innings of a game that went just seven innings due to it being part of a double-header. In the start, he gave up just one hit, one walk and struck out seven. His ERA drops to 2.51, his opponents batting average drops to .186 and he’s now struck out 36 batters this season.

Craig Manuel: Catcher Craig Manuel is averaging a start every 3-4 days for the Suns and is doing well when he gets his opportunities. His average is hovering at .300 and has picked up a hit in all but one of his last 10 games. Currently, he’s on a five-game hitting streak after hitting a double on Sunday evening.

Jake Walsh: Closer Jake Walsh has been a reliable pitcher out of the bullpen for Hagerstown. In 15 innings spanning 10 games, he’s given up just three runs (two in one game) and seven hits. On top of that, he’s also struck out 16 batters. After pitching two scoreless innings on Sunday evening, the left-hander has dropped his season ERA to 1.80.

Washington Nationals’ Minor League and Prospect Report for Week Ending April 27

Syracuse Chiefs, AAA International League, 10-13

Brian Goodwin: In the Chiefs past 10 games, Goodwin has batted just .216. One of the fastest men in the clubs’ system, he’s stolen just two bags all season long. In the past 10 games, the 23-year old has 5 RBI, a triple and two doubles. This is his first season at triple-A, so it may take some time to adjust to the elevated level of play.

Ryan Mattheus: Once an important member of the Nationals’ bullpen, the right-handed Mattheus is off to a rough start in Syracuse. Through nine outings, he’s amassed a 5.40 ERA and opponents are hitting .275 against him.

Jhonatan Solano: If not for Sandy Leon, Solano would be the backup behind home plate. In triple-A, his season is off to a solid start. Through 54 at-bats spanning 15 games, Solano is hitting .333 with a .537 slugging percentage. He’s hit five doubles, two homers and 11 RBI.

Harrisburg Senators, AA Eastern League, 5-16

Destin Hood: In his second full season with the Senators, the outfielder leads the team with a .329 batting average. In the past 10 games, he’s collected at least one hit in six of them. On the season, Hood has stolen six bases, scored nine runs and has collected 5 RBI.

Matt Skole: Possibly the most powerful bat in the Nationals’ farm system, Skole is off to a rather slow start. In 74 at bats, he’s hitting .149 with a slugging percentage of .189. He has hit three doubles and 6 RBI, but is still waiting on his first long ball. Last year, an early season injury saw his season cut short; so it’s important to stay patient with him as he returns to action.

A.J. Cole: One of the brightest young arms in the system, Cole got off to good start, but has hit some tough times in recent outings. He started off 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, but went 0-1 in his next two games and gave up 17 hits and five runs collectively.

Potomac Nationals, High-Class A Carolina League, 14-8

Tony Renda: Before a quad injury sent him to the disabled list on April 11, second baseman Tony Renda got off to quite a start for Potomac. He put together a slash line of .375/.400/.438 with two doubles and eight RBI. On the base paths, he found success stealing three bags and scoring eight runs.

Bryan Harper: Bryce’s older brother, Bryan Harper has been pitching well out of the bullpen for Potomac. In 9.1 innings of relief work, Harper has given up just one earned run while striking out seven. The left-hander has been rather versatile as he’s been a solid option for 1-2 innings of work.

Brian Dupra: Another young arm available out of the bullpen, right-hander Brian Dupra has been just as solid as Harper. Over 17 innings of long-relief spanning five games, he’s allowed just one run across the plate and opponents are batting just .177 against him. He’s struck out 23 while walking just one.

Hagerstown Suns, Low-Class A South Atlantic League, 18-5

Wilmer Difo: Difo has spent time bouncing around the lower ranks of the Nationals’ farm system, but he’s beginning to bear the fruits of that hard work. In 22 games this season with the Suns, he’s batting .313 with eight doubles, two triples and 17 RBI. On top of that, he’s stolen nine bases and has at least three hits in three of his last five games.

Lucas Giolito: The Nationals’ first round pick in 2012, Lucas Giolito is off to a solid start in his first full season of action (last year he missed due to Tommy John Surgery). In five starts, he’s 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA. He’s struck out 24 batters and opponents are hitting just .192 against him.

Drew Ward: Difo’s biggest competition for most valuable player through the early part of the season, Drew Ward is off to just as good a start, if not better. Through 61 at bats, Ward is batting .311 with a slugging percentage of .508. The third baseman has hit four doubles, a triple, two homers and 21 RBI. He’s currently on an eight game hitting streak, as well.

Washington Nationals 2014 Top 25 Prospects: No. 2 Brian Goodwin

In this series, District Sports Page has provide detailed scouting reports on our list of Top 25 Washington Nationals prospects. You can find our overview with the entire list here. We will now move into even further detailed reports for our Top 10.

Here’s our scouting reports on prospects Nos. 21-15, prospects Nos. 16-20 and Nos. 11-16.

And so far in the Top 10:

No. 10 Eury Perez
No. 9 Jake Johansen
No. 8 Sammy Solis
No. 7 Michael Taylor
No. 6 Zach Walters
No. 5 Steven Souza
No. 4 Drew Ward
No. 3 A.J. Cole

Now without further ado, here is prospect No. 2, outfielder Brian Goodwin.

2. Brian Goodwin
Bats: Left, Throws: Right
Height: 6′ 0″, Weight: 200 lb.
Born: November 2, 1990 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, US (Age 23)
Draft: First Round (34th overall), 2011

Hitting Ability Raw Power Power Frequency Plate Discipline Speed Base Running Fielding Range Arm Strength Arm Accuracy Overall Future Potential
45/60 45/50 40/45 55/60 70/70 40/50 45/55 55/60 60/60 40/50 All-Star

Goodwin is fresh off of his second outstanding showing in the Arizona Fall League in two years. After wrapping 11 extra-base hits in his first stint there following the 2012 season (ranking him fifth best on the circuit) and making the AFL all-star team, Goodwin hit an impressive .296/.333/.444 in his second go round this winter. He also made another appearance in the Rising Stars game, though he didn’t take home the game’s MVP honors like he did in 2012.

By now, Goodwin is pretty well established atop the Nationals organization’s prospect ranks. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in the spotlight and has performed well against advanced competition. His lukewarm performance during the regular season has largely kept him from earning wider acclaim though, and he doesn’t often get included in blue-chip prospect conversation alongside outfielders like George Springer and Billy Hamilton despite showing comparable talent. His resume and his potential insist he deserves more enthusiasm about his future. He has the tools and the baseball acumen to be an All-Star, and a closer look at his play suggests he’s well on the path to realize that potential.

The Nationals snagged Goodwin in the supplemental first-round of the 2012 draft, and handed him a whopping $3 million bonus, one of the largest figures in the franchise’s rich history of wallet-busting drafts. After hitting a robust .324/.438/.542 and pushing his way up double-A Harrisburg in his first summer, and at the ripe old age of 21, Goodwin managed to look like a steal. Unfortunately, he’s since stalled a bit. He hit a much more modest .223/.306/.373 at Harrisburg to end 2012, before improving to a productive (though uninspiring) .252/.355/.407 last year.

While his numbers aren’t what you’d expect from a premium prospect, consider this: Goodwin only turned 23 in November, and 2013 was just his first full, healthy season in pro baseball. He also plays in the large-park-laden/power-sapping Eastern League, where the average player is two years his elder. In spite of all that, he still managed to post an above-average 115 wRC+ while getting good reviews for his defense at all three outfield positions.

Goodwin hasn’t been overmatched by the older, more seasoned pitching he’s faced in double-A and in the AFL.He did belt 11 triples and 40 total extra-base hits in 122 games and posted an impressive .355 on-base percentage last year against some of the best arms in the minors. His .355 OBP and .155 ISO are actually in the top 10 percent for his age group in AA, and his offense should become even more impressive considering the difficulty Harrisburg‘s ballpark poses to young hitters.

The majority of Goodwin’s trouble lays in his work against left-handed pitchers. Goodwin posted a .624 OPS vs southpaws in 2013, and has a .686 mark in his career. Against righties on the other hand, he’s raked like an All-STar, posting an .822 OPS last year and an .850 career mark. His platoon split isn’t too startling, though, as many young left-handed hitters struggle with large platoon splits as they face such a high concentration of quality southpaws in the pro’s (after seeing so few with quality stuff in amateur ball). And generally, left-handed hitters tend to have larger splits anyway. Goodwin has barely faced two full seasons of pro left-handed pitching, so there’s plenty of reason to believe that he’ll tighten it up with more experience. And even if he doesn’t, he still has the hitting prowess and on-base skills to be a quality semi-regular player.

Goodwin is essentially a six-tool player–with a nice hit tool, power, speed, defense, arm strength and solid plate discipline. His clean, fluid left-handed swing looks graceful in the box, and he generates above-average bat speed seemingly effortlessly. He’s lightning quick with the bat, able to keep his hands in and barrel premium stuff inside. When he’s seeing the ball well, he’ll wait on off-speed stuff and use his quick swipe to slash the ball the other way with authority. Against lefties, he has trouble in this area as he’s very prone to pulling off same-side breaking pitches.

Goodwin gets on-base with the best of them, and has the hit tool to continue to post high on-base percentages in the Big Leagues. His weakness against offspeed combined with his willingness to work deep counts will always lead to high strikeout totals, but he’s a tough out and shows the plus plate discipline to set the table at the top of a lineup. He also has solid home-run power, showing it off to his pull side and taking premium heat out of big ballparks. His swing generates backspin and loft, and he hits far more line drives and hard fly balls than most players with his speed. His homerun power will probably always come to his pull-side, but he laces line-drives to all fields and can punish pitches on the outside.

Goodwin has clocked 6.5-second sixty-yard dash times, which equates to elite-level speed. He’s not an effective base stealer yet, but his wheels–combined with his solid arm and great body control–make him a quality center fielder. His defensive chops are lesser than fellow Nationals outfield prospect Michael Taylor’s, but he’s a more polished all-around player and is the likelier pick as the Nationals center fielder of the future. On the basepaths, his foot speed gives him an extra gear and he’s very smooth rounding the bases. He’s adept at going first-to-third and first-to-home, and he’s able to stretching his own hits in the gap for an extra base. Similar to Denard Span and Bernie Williams, he should be a very valuable baserunner and fielder despite not having the stolen base totals that other guys with top-of-the-scale speed have. His defensive value is shaping up along the same lines. He’s not quite instinctual enough in either department to dominate, but he should almost certainly provide above-average value in both categories.

The general feeling among scouts when it comes to Goodwin is that he can do a whole lot more than he’s shown thus far, he just needs to put in the extra hours. Goodwin’s five-tool package still gives him sky-high potential. Few prospects are blessed with his outstanding baseball athleticism–the kind of skill-set that works perfectly on the diamond. But potential is potential.  He’s displaying some unsettling red flags in the box and in the field, dimming his star power. His 2014 season will be an important year for him, and he’ll need to take a step forward to show he’s the real deal, and not just a tease. First and foremost, Goodwin needs to figure out more advanced left-handed pitching to continue to profile as a plus hitter, and that means he needs to commit himself to improving his pitch selection. Too round his game as a future top-of-the-order catalyst and an asset in the outfield, he also needs polish his base running and fielding reads.

Goodwin is a possible all-star and the Nationals believe he’s their center fielder of the future. He’s right at the doorstep of the big leagues, and if he can take that final step forward at the plate, he’ll be a supremely valuable Ray Lankford-type center fielder with .350+ OBP’s to go with 15+ home run pop, plenty of extra-base hits and reliable defense.

Washington Nationals Top 25 Prospects Overview

For the Washington Nationals, the flip-side of  a decade-long losing streak is their extraordinarily talented, affordable roster. Their poor records came at the perfect time, just as baseball scouting was expanding and implementing new analytics methods to assess performance, and the big league draft was still unfettered by a hard-slotting system. As a result, their savvy front office accumulated a bevy of high draft picks and used them to rake in a gluttonous share of the baseball’s best athletes.

The Nationals were able to heist the franchise talents of Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Lucas Giolito, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman, along with a bounty of other blue-chip prospects. The injection of young, affordable star-power led them to put together the franchise’s best stretch over the past three years, and they managed to snap a 31-year playoff drought in 2012.

Despite a step back in Major League production in 2013, the Nationals are still looking stronger than ever heading into the 2014 season. Healthy and more polished versions of Strasburg and Harper lead a stacked 25-man roster that is looking almost unbeatable following the addition of Doug Fister and the maturation of Anthony Rendon.

The franchise’s farm system isn’t what it was a couple of years ago. Naturally, promoting so many stud prospects to the Major Leagues and competing with homegrown talent comes with a price. Over the past few seasons, the club’s farm system has graduated starting pitchers Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark, gifted relievers like Storen,  Stammen and Ian Krol (now with the Tigers), as well as a long list of position players that includes Harper, Zimmerman, Rendon, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Derek Norris (with the Athletics). Two thirds of their projected opening day roster is comprised of homegrown players, or former prospects that spent their final seasons in the Nationals farm system.

Additionally, the cost of winning has dropped the club’s annual draft slot to the back of the line, and has forced the front office to play for the short term. They’ve traded away blue-chip prospects like Alex Meyer, Derek Norris and Robert Ray for short-run contributions, and have also parted ways with sure-fire contributors like Nate Karns, Tommy Milone, David Freitas and Steve Lombardozzi.

So, the Nationals don’t have the prospect starpower they normally do. A couple of years ago, they had the best system in the minors. Now, though they’re still strong, they’ve faded to the middle of the pack.

The Nationals savvy amateur scouting, particularly out West, has helped Mike Rizzo maintain a competitive farm system in spite of the organizations determination to put a winning roster on the field annually.

The farm system lacks balance. It doesn’t have a stand-out prospect at the upper levels at the moment, and the losses of Nate Karns, Alex Meyer and Robbie Ray have depleted a lot of their pitching depth.  Their lack of left-handedness was also exacerbated by the Doug Fister trade, which sent the extremely underrated Robbie Ray to Detroit along with Ian Krol–who’s poised to be an elite-level left-handed setup man. To get a southpaw in the bullpen finally — a void that killed their bullpen effectiveness last year as opposing managers were able to stack their lineups with lefty sluggers — the front office had to deal Billy Burns to Oakland for Jerry Blevins. While Burns isn’t a star, the little speedster looks like a superb fourth outfielder and pinch runner.

On the bright side, the lower levels of the system do sport many of the game’s most gifted athletes. 2013 first-round pick Lucas Giolito, now recovered from Tommy John surgery, is an elite-level arm when healthy, and has the stuff, intangibles and command to be an ace in a few years. Brian Goodwin, Harrisburg’s center fielder in 2013, has gotten stuck in double-A over the past two years after rising quickly through single-A ball. Though Goodwin’s five-tool profile pretty much makes him a sure bet to be a valuable player in the MLB.

The Nats didn’t have a first-round pick last June, but still made the most of their resources by grabbing a pair of high-ceiling stars from cowboy country. Former Dallas Baptist right-hander Jake Johansen largely flew under the radar in college, but his mid 90′s fastball and NFL tight end frame bless him with intriguing upside. And farmboy Drew Ward, taken in the third round last year, profiles as a left-handed version of Nolan Arenado.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll post detailed scouting reports on the players that made District Sports Page’s list of Top 25 Prospects in the Nationals organization. Below, though, are the names of the Nats’ top prospects to watch this season.

Top 25 Prospects

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP

13. Blake Treinen, RHP

2. Brian Goodwin, OF

14. Austin Voth, RHP

Robert Ray, LHP

15. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP

3. AJ Cole, RHP

16. Tony Renda, 2B

Nate Karns, RHP

17. Felipe Rivero, LHP

4. Drew Ward, 3B

18. Christian Garcia, RHP

5. Steven Souza, OF

19. Sandy Leon, C

6. Zach Walters, SS

20. Drew Vettleson, OF

7. Michael Taylor, OF

Adrian Nieto, C, 

8. Sammy Solis, LHP

21. Cody Gunter, 3B

9. Jake Johansen, RHP

22. Nick Pivetta, RHP

10. Eury Perez, OF

23. Rafael Bautista, OF

11. Matt Skole, 3B

24. Brett Mooneyham, LHP

12. Matt Purke, LHP

25. Pedro Severino, C

Billy Burns, OF 

Honorable Mention: Dixon Anderson, Aaron Barrett, Cutter Dykstra, Randy Encarnacion, David Napoli, Travis Ott, Raudy Read, Danny Rosenbaum, Hector Silvestre, Maximo Valerio

________________________

Ryan Kelley is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He’s a web application developer by day and an aspiring sports journalist living in the D.C. area. He has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has past experience working within Minor League Baseball and for Team USA. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in scouting prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. A life-long ballplayer himself, he enjoys hitting home runs with his writing and scouting reports. You can follow him on Twitter @BBNewsHound and @Ryan_S_Kelley.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview, Part II: The Outfield

Jayson Werth high-fives Bryce Harper after gunning out Greg Dobbs in the ninth inning. - Miami Marlins v. Washington Nationals, 9/7/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Health and self-preservation are key for the Nats outfield this season. (Stock photo Sept. 2012, Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

Josie’s on a vacation far away…

THE OUTFIELD

Jayson Werth, RF: Werth was a stealth candidate for MVP last season, and actually ended up 13th on the postseason award ballot. The .318/.398/.532 line he posted at age 34 had everything to do with that. Werth enjoyed one of his finest seasons in the bigs, despite missing 33 games due to injury, which has to be expected from the guy at this point in his career. There’s no way he’ll every live up to the immense contract he signed to come to D.C., but when he’s been in the lineup the past two seasons he’s outdone what could have reasonably been expected of him. How long does that production continue? His defense is already slipping greatly and he has four more seasons to his contract, so it becomes an important question as Werth enters the twilight of his solid career.

Denard Span, CF: Trivia: He’s the only player in Major League history by the name of Denard. Or Span. Anyway, Span rescued his season with a torrid seven weeks at the end of the season, which was along the lines of what GM Mike Rizzo expected when he traded pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Twins for him. Span bottomed out on Aug. 16 at .258/.310/.353, nowhere near what’s necessary in the top spot in the batting order. For the next 39 games, he hit .338/.375/.459, instrumental in the Nats late resurgence. It was too little, too late to save the Nats playoff aspirations, but the Nats have to get more near his career line (.283/.351/.387) on a more consistent basis to make this offense work.

Bryce Harper, LF: Bam Bam put up a .274/.368/.486 line his sophomore season at the age of 20. That’s at once hard to comprehend and easy to overlook. He’s doing remarkable things at such an early age. Unfortunately, he’s his own worst enemy right now with his “balls to the wall” approach at defense. At some point, self-preservation has to take hold. No manager or coach wants to tell Harper to slow down, but he needs to stay on the field – and healthy – to fulfill his promise. After crashing into the wall at Dodgers Stadium in May, he played all season on a knee that required surgery at the conclusion of the season, under the radar while many weren’t paying attention to baseball. He needs to figure out lefties (.214/.327/.321/ in 158 PAs) and breaking balls, but the talent is there. He just needs to stay on the field.

Nate McLouth, OF: Last season was the first time since 2009 McLouth played more than 90 games at the Major League level. His resurgence for the Orioles is nothing short of astounding, considering the trajectory his career was taking. In ’10 and ’11 with Atlanta he hit .190 and .228 with 10 homers combined. His first 34 games with Pittsburgh in ’12 were no better: .140/.210/.175, leading to his release. He rediscovered himself in Baltimore, hitting .26/.342/.435 and .258/.329/.399 the past two years. Now 32, McLouth will see plenty of at bats with the injury-prone Nats outfield and as a late inning pinch-hitter. By default, he becomes the leader of the Goon Squad.

Scott Hairston, Corner OF: Hairston is the right-handed hitting Ying to McLouth’s Yang. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work on paper. But Hairston’s overall numbers last year (.191/.237/.414) and age (34) – not to mention his paltry .214/.259/.484 against LHPs, who he’s supposed to “mash” – signal the end is rapidly approaching the once versatile and useful player. It’s true, all 10 of Hairston’s homers last season came against lefties, but as his slash line indicates, it was literally all or nothing for Hairston. 10 of his 27 hits in 140 plate appearances against LHPs were home runs. Against righties? .097/.147/.276. Can this actually be the Nats primary right-handed bat off the bench? With a walk rate of 5 percent and contact rate of 72 percent, this a guy whose skills aren’t declining, they’ve just about evaporated.

Jeff Kobernus, Corner OF: Kobernus made his MLB debut last year at the age of 25, past prospect status. His tryout lasted 36 PAs and resulted in a .167/.306/.267 slash as he played all three outfield positions. Small sample caveats abound, as the converted second baseman held his own in Syracuse, hitting .318/.366/.388, all minor league career highs. You like to see a player whose numbers rise as he goes up the ladder. He’s had 40+ steals each of the past three seasons in the minors and folks love his work ethic. But there’s not a lot of room in the bigs for a right-handed hitting speedster without obvious elite skills and no pop, especially in the outfield.

Eury Perez, CF: Did you see the last sentence I wrote about Kobernus? It applies even more toward Perez. His stolen base numbers have plummeted as he’s risen through the ranks, from 64 to 51 to 23. He’s always made good contact, as his lifetime .305 average will attest to. But there’s no power, less willingness to walk, and he’s only an average defender despite his speed – though he has a decent arm. Perez is destined for pinch runner/Quad-A status.

Steven Souza, Corner OF: Souza was a third round pick in 2007 out of high school, so he’s been in the system for-e-ver, toiling first in anonymity, then infamously due to his PED suspension in 2010. But Souza has blossomed a little bit the past two seasons and put himself back on the radar of the big club. He has an interesting pop/speed combo (15 homers, 20 SBs in 323 PAs for Harrisburg in ’13) with good plate discipline (.396 OBP) and had a nice appearance in the Arizona Fall League in October. The 25-year-old could have a chance to impact the big roster yet.

Brian Goodwin, CF: Goodwin is the heir apparent to the center field position at Nats Park. The 34th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, Goodwin has an impressive arsenal of tools. He possess elite plate discipline, something that might actually hurt his counting numbers in the minor leagues, as he simply won’t expand his strike zone for inferior pitchers. When he does swing, he has a nice blend of pop to go along with squaring up on the ball. Goodwin is a fine defender in center, though his arm isn’t the greatest, and he’s still learning to use his speed on the bases (just 19 of 30 last season). He struggled at the start of last season in Double-A, but picked up as the season went on. There’s plenty of time for the 23-year old as Span plays in his walk year this season (barring Nats picking up Span’s $9M option for ’15).

Michael Taylor, OF: Scouts have been drooling over Taylor’s athleticism since being drafted in the sixth round of the ’09 draft. Unfortunately for Taylor, he’s never really been able to translate all that athletic ability into production on the baseball field. He’s still young (23 in March), so he’s got time to “put it together”, but in over 1600 minor league at bats, Taylor owns a .249/.319/.399 slash. He repeated High-A last season and tore it up on the base paths (51 of 60 on steals) and his slash went up a little bit across the board. Double-A this year will tell the story of whether he’s a baseball player or athlete.

Nationals send eight to Arizona Fall League

The Washington Nationals announced today the organization is sending eight players to participate in this year’s Arizona Fall League, the post-season showcase for MLB’s best young talent.

All eight players, plus one coach (hitting coach Tony Gingrich), will be members of the Mesa Solar Sox, who begin play Oct. 8.

Position players: OF Brian Goodwin, 1B Matt Skole, C Adrian Nieto and OF Steven Souza (taxi squad).

Pitchers: Sammy Solis and Matt Purke (starters), Rboert Benincasa and Richie Mirowski (relievers).

Goodwin, Skole, Souza and Mirowski all played with AA Harrisburg this season. Solis, Purke and Benincasa are rostered at High-A Potomac.

Goodwin, 22, was the 34th overall pick of the 2011 Amateur Draft and will make his second appearance at the AFL. He’s hitting .251/.350/.403 with 10 homers and 18 SBs this season in 115 games with Harrisburg.

Skole, 24, hit 27 homers in 2012 but has missed most of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, an injury sustained in a freak accident fielding a ball at first base. Nieto, 23, was lauded as a good handler of pitches when drafted by the Nats, but faced a 50-game PED suspension in 2011 which slowed his development. He’s hitting .289/.375/.455 with 11 homers in 106 games this season. Souza, 24, has struggled with shoulder issues his entire minor league career, but has put together a solid season in AA, hitting .285/.381/.545 in 70 games.

Solis, 25, is in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and is 2-0 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.226 WHIP in 12 games in High-A. He was the Nats second round pick in 2010. Purke, 23, has put up with lingering shoulder troubles from an injury in college, but has started 11 games for the P-Nats and has gone 5-4 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.429 WHIP. Benincasa, 22, has 15 saves in 23 games for Potomac and strikes out 10.3 per nine innings. Mirowski, 24, was 8-3 with six saves in 32 games with the P-Nats and 1-0 with a 2.73 ERA in 10 games with Harrisburg.

Washington Nationals Minor League Update for the Week of 4/21/13

Welcome back to District Sports Page’s weekly Minor League Update. Throughout the regular season we will continue to post up-to-date stats and brief scouting reports on the hottest and coldest prospects in the Nationals’ minor league system. We also will track the progress of top-rated players, and give injury and suspension updates.

So far this season, the Nationals’ minor league system has continued to be one of the most productive and exciting in pro baseball. Flashy young stars like Brian Goodwin and Anthony Rendon are off to loud starts, while an arms race of young pitchers has torn-through opposing lineups, resulting in heaps of strikeouts.

Things got even more interesting on Saturday though. The Nationals announced that they had promoted Rendon, who is widely considered one of the premier prospects in minors, to Washington to make his highly anticipated MLB debut. While the former  Dick Howser Award winner was originally slated to spend at least the first few months of the regular season in the minors at double-A Harrisburg, Ryan Zimmerman’s recent injury and Rendon’s hot-hitting apparently forced the front office’s hand. Regardless, this is yet another exciting development in a system full of exciting developments. Rendon follows a long line of homegrown stars on the Nats big-league roster, graduating after the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, Bryce Harper and others.

Though Rendon’s promotion has grabbed the attention of the Nats faithful, the club has plenty of other thrilling minor-league storylines. Here are a few of them–hot off the presses:

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Washington Nationals Minor League Update for the Week of 4/14/13

With full-season teams now in to the second-week of their 2013 campaigns, clubs are starting to get a feel for their minor-league talent. Many re-buidling big league teams are preparing to call-up their top prospects in just a couple of more weeks, when arbitration rules will fall in their favor. Contending clubs like the Nationals are less inclined to make front-page moves so early in the season, but they too are keeping an eye on their young’ins. They’re trying to get a read on what these players are worth in preparation for a mid-season trade, and they’re definitely looking for someone who can contribute in the event they need to to patch a hole internally.

The Nationals, who are now 8-5 with their win over the Marlins on Monday night, are very comfortable with their Major League roster. Outside of a few bullpen/bench tweaks they might be preparing to make–like adding an effective left-handed relief pitcher for instance–they probably aren’t going to replace one of their veteran big leaguers with any of their prized prospects just yet. Of course, things will change quickly if one of their stars suffers a serious injury.

As Mike Rizzo proved last season with Bryce Harper, he isn’t afraid to call-up one of his young stars when the club needs a boost. There’s an outside shot that top prospects like Anthony Rendon and Brian Goodwin could be in the Majors by mid-summer, while other promising minor leaguers like Danny Rosenbaum, Christian Garcia, Eury Perez and Zach Walters could contribute earlier.

Two weeks in to the 2013 season, here are some of the notable performances from the Washington Nationals minor league system:

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Washington Nationals Prospect Preview and Scouting Report: Brian Goodwin

Brian Goodwin
Center Field
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Height/Weight: 6’1″/200lbs
Comparable MLB Players: Ray Lankford, Grady SizemoreAndy Van Slyke, Michael Tucker

 Present  Future
 Hitting Ability  4  6
 Raw Power  5  6
 Power Frequency  4  6
 Plate Discipline  5  6
 Running Speed  7  7
 Baserunning  4  5
 Arm Strength  6  6
 Arm Accuracy  3  5
 Fielding  4  5
 Range  6  7
 Overall  5  6

[Read more...]

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