by Tyler Radecki, Staff Writer
While the Nats gear up for their Opening Day matchup with the Chicago Cubs, the team’s minor league teams are also getting ready for their seasons to get underway this week. Here’s a look at some hitters and pitchers to keep an eye on this season:
Syracuse Chiefs (AAA)
Hitters: There are two very interesting prospects to watch in Syracuse this season, and one of them is a familiar name: outfielder Bryce Harper. The other may not be as familiar, though based on his last few seasons, maybe he should be – first baseman Tyler Moore. Harper needs no introduction, as he’s the best prospect in the system and could only be in AAA a few short months. The development to keep an eye on is his defense – he’ll be primarily playing center field, which will be a new and, hopefully, successful position for him.
The 25-year-old Moore has one tool that has carried him up this far: his power. He hit 31 home runs and 43 doubles in 2010 and hit 31 home runs and 35 doubles last season in AA. The power is very real, but his discipline is a work in progress (139 strikeouts last season, just a .314 OBP). He’ll need to hit higher than .270 if he doesn’t walk more at the plate. Other notables: OF Corey Brown.
Pitchers: While John Lannan is starting the year in AAA, we know what he can do and I expect him to pitch well until he’s called upon in D.C. There are two other prospects I’m keeping an eye on, and they’re both relieves: Ryan Perry and Josh Wilkie. Perry was acquired for Collin Balester in the offseason and the former first-round pick has some major league experience. He’s a little erratic (24 walks in 37 major league innings last year), but he has good stuff and should see some time in Washington before the season’s over; he’s only 25, so there’s still some room to grow there.
Wilkie, 27, has succeeded at every level of the Nats’ minor league system, but just hasn’t gotten a shot with the big club yet. He’s pitched two full seasons in Syracuse now, posting a 2.79 ERA combined. Other notables: RP Zech Zinicola.
Harrisburg Senators (AA)
Hitters: There’s not as much prospect potential in Harrisburg this season as in years past, but the two hitters I’m interested in the most are outfielders Destin Hood and Eury Perez. Hood broke out last season in Potomac, hitting .276/.364/.445 with 29 doubles, five triples, 13 home runs, 83 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He just turned 22 this week and projects as a multi-tool outfielder with good speed, defense and power. A September call-up is probably too optimistic for him this season, but it’s not out of the question that he could get a chance in Syracuse if he continues to improve.
Perez is a different story – he had a relatively poor 2011 after an extremely encouraging beginning to his minor league career. His OPS dropped by almost 100 points, as he hit just .283 and only had 12 extra-base hits all season. He, like Hood, turns 22 this season and still is a good prospect, but he needs to walk and/or hit for more power to get back in the picture as a long-term option in center field. Other notables: 2B Jeff Kobernus, C Sandy Leon.
Pitchers: The pitching staff in Harrisburg is not flush with prospects this season to start off (the injury to Sammy Solis really hurts here) and the best one is Daniel Rosenbaum, who continued his solid minor league career last season by posting a 2.59 ERA in 19 starts in Potomac before getting called up to Harrisburg and pitching even better in six starts (2.29 ERA, .190 average against). He’s turning 25 after this season, so I imagine the organization may accelerate his schedule if he pitches well and we could see him in Syracuse midway through the season. He’s not an overpowering pitcher by any means, but he gets tons of ground balls and gives up very few home runs. Other notables: RP Marcos Frias.
Potomac Nationals (A+)
Hitters: The biggest name here is 2011 first-round pick Anthony Rendon. Not only am I excited to see him hit, I’m excited to see where and how he plays defense. The team says he’ll start at third base and they’ll figure it out from there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him moved around across the infield over the course of the year. Assuming he hits well, I think we’ll see him finish the year in AA and possibly get a September call-up. If he’s as good as advertised, the team may have another elite hitter waiting in the wings.
The other prospect I really like is outfielder Michael Taylor, who isn’t officially on the Potomac roster yet but will be here. The 20-year-old switched to outfield last season and hit .253/.310/.432, which obviously doesn’t look that impressive, but he started off the season terribly and then changed his approach and put up good numbers in the second half. He’s extremely athletic and the team is very high on him. Other Notables: INF Zach Walters.
Pitchers: Had A.J. Cole not been traded to Oakland, I’d imagine he’d start the season here. He’s gone, but there is some pretty good talent coming up anyways: starters Matt Purke and Robbie Ray. Purke, a lefty from TCU, dropped in last year’s draft because of shoulder concerns and found himself in the hands of the Nats in the third round. Purke was National Freshman of the Year in 2010 and was widely considered one of the top players in college before his bout with bursitis his sophomore year. He’ll be starting the season on the disabled list with Ray, sticking in extended spring training to build strength.
Last season, Ray pitched extremely well in Hagerstown, surprising, I think, even his biggest supporters. In 20 starts, he posted a 3.13 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 89 innings. He was consistently good all season long, and the 20-year-old shows a lot of promise. Other notables: RP Josh Smoker.
Hagerstown Suns (A-)
Hitters: Hagerstown will be an interesting team to watch all season. There’s no Harper here to steal all the attention like last year, but I like a few hitters, notably 3B Matthew Skole and OF Brian Goodwin, who was the team’s supplemental first round pick in 2011. Skole hit .290/.382/.438 in 72 games with short-season Auburn last season, and figures to be an accelerated prospect given his age (he turns 23 this season). He’s got great discipline (42 walks to 52 strikeouts) and solid power, but he isn’t the best defender, and that could hurt him (not to mention he’s blocked at 3B by Rendon in Potomac).
Goodwin is a little more unknown, coming from Miami Dade Community College. He’s listed everywhere in the team’s top 10 prospects, some even having him as high as third in the system, behind Rendon and Harper. He flashed potential five-tool talent during his college career. Goodwin is a left-handed hitting outfielder that the Nats hope can stick in center field. He has plus speed to go with a patient approach at the plate. Other notables: C Adrian Nieto.
Pitchers: There’s a handful of guys to like on Hagerstown’s staff this year: 2011 draft picks Alex Meyer and Kylin Turnbull and relatively unknown Dominican pitcher Wirkin Estevez. Meyer and Turnbull both bring in a lot of hype, especially Meyer, who dazzled as a college pitcher at Kentucky. Estevez, though, is someone I’m really interested in because he’s still just 20 years old and has shown some good talent so far and pitched well in Auburn last year (7.35 K/9, 4.01 ERA and 3.11 FIP).
Make no mistake, though: Meyer is the big name on the staff and brings the most hype and expectation with his first-round selection. He has an upper-90s fastball and what some scouts called the best slider in last year’s draft. Turnbull’s size – 6-foot-5, 205 pounds – is ideal and the Nats thought highly enough of him to give the fourth-round-pick more than a $100,000 signing bonus. Other Notables: SP Christian Meza.