October 25, 2014

World Series or Bust–Washington Nationals 2013 Roundtable Part V: Prospect Watch

With opening day right around the corner, each day until then District Sports Page’s Nats staff will take a look at one of the biggest issues concerning your 2013 Washington Nationals. We borrowed a quote for the title of the series from Nats manager Davey Johnson’s Spring Training proclamation that he expects a “World Series or Bust” in Natstown this season.

We’ve also invited the other credentialed blogs to chip in with their answers. Then on Opening Day, look for the results to the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association Preseason Survey, where we polled The Natosphere on various topics related to the Nats, as we have for the last several seasons.

Participants:

Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief, District Sports Page
Alyssa Wolice, Staff Writer, District Sports Page
Ted Starkey, Contributor to DSP, author and Editor at SBNation.com
Ryan Kelley, DSP Prospects Writer and founder of BaseballNewshound.com
Patrick Reddington, Editor, Federal Baseball
Joe Drugan, Managing Editor, The Nats Blog
Tom Bridge, Editor, WeLoveDC.com

Part I: Grading the Offseason
Part II: What do you expect from Bryce Harper?
Part III: What aspect of the Nats has you most excited for the coming season?

Part IV: What aspect of the Nats has you most concerned?

Part V: Which prospect are you most looking forward to following this summer?

Dave: It will be extremely difficult for any rookie to have an impact on the Nationals this season. The everyday lineup and even the bench and bullpen are all set in stone. The Nats biggest prospect is 2011 No. 6 overall pick Anthony Rendon. He crushed everything in spring training and is fully recovered from the fractured ankle that limited him to 43 games last season (.233/.363/.489) across four levels of minor leagues. But it would take probably two injuries to infielders before Rendon would be called up. The Nats obviously want the 22-year-old to play every day and they won’t bring him to the bigs to fill a utility roll. He will play third base and shortstop this year for AA-Harrisburg to start with, but where he plays in the bigs is anyone’s guess with Ryan Zimmerman entrenched at third just entering the prime of his career, All_Star Ian Desmond at short, Danny Espinosa at second and a more-than-capable Steve Lombardozzi filling the utility roll.

Brian Goodwin is a close second. Advertised as a five-tool player when GM Mike Rizzo took him with a sandwich pick in the 2011 draft, he’s mostly lived up to the billing. He blends power, speed, defensive prowess and strong base-running skills with a strong understanding of fundamentals and baseball acumen. At the plate, he controls the at bat, not the pitcher, which is an elite skill for lower-level minor leaguers who are prone to hack at anything resembling a strike. He’s going to be good — very soon.

Alyssa: As much as I’d like to dream up something other than the obvious answer, it’s obvious for a reason. Anthony Rendon hit .375 in big league camp and added four home runs, four doubles, seven runs and 11 RBI to his totals this spring before getting sent down to the minors. There were no signs of his once-bothersome ankle injury and, with the experience he’ll gain at Double-A Harrisburg, he could stand as a mighty addition anywhere in the infield should the need open up down the line.

Just for a second, let your mind wander and picture a Nationals’ starting lineup with Bryce Harper in left and Anthony Rendon in your infield… then try to tell me you aren’t excited by the thought. Don’t get me wrong, the Nats have several prospects worth following, but that isn’t a reason to feel shame for jumping on the Rendon wagon.

Ted: Rendon had a strong showing in camp, and certainly will be one of the players to watch to see if he makes the jump to the big leagues later in the year. But he has some to learn down in the minors and unlike previous years, the Nats have the luxury to let these prospects develop.

Ryan: I’m excited to see how Nats prospects Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Christian Garcia, Zach Walters and Sammy Solis can make an impact. I believe both Goodwin and Garcia could be future All-Stars. And, I’m eager for Destin Hood and Michael Taylor to finally take a step forward and proving their tools are real.

But I’m most looking forward to watching Anthony Rendon, hands down. In my opinion, Rendon is one of the top-five prospects in the game, and reminds me of a young Edgardo Alfonzo. His injury history worries me, and that’s part of the reason he reminds me of Alfonzo. But, he’s also the smartest prospect I’ve seen in a long time, and paired with his insanely-perfect swing and Major League glove, he profiles as an annual All-Star.

He has the beautiful swing and power to hit .300 with 20-plus homeruns, the batting eye to get on base at a .380 clip and the defensive skills to be an above-average defender at third, second or first. After watching him tear apart pitching this spring, I’m confident that he’ll push Espinosa for playing time by May, and will be the team’s first choice if Zim or LaRoche go down.

Walters showed me a lot this spring too, and I think he’ll come up this season as a glove-first, switch-hitting back-up—especially if Chad Tracy or Lombo don’t produce. I’m also a firm believer that Christian Garcia is one of the best young relievers when healthy—his groundball rates and K/9 rates suggest he’s a future closer.

I want to see Brian Goodwin make his MLB debut this summer. He’s closer than most give him credit for, and I believe he’s one of the top-10 hitting prospects in the game. He has a beautiful left-handed swing, an extraordinary batting eye for his age, and the plus speed and athleticism to be a complete centerfielder. He still has plenty to figure-out, but I believe he’ll be pushing Denard Span very soon.

Finally, I want to see how Solis rebounds from elbow surgery. He was a favorite of mine when healthy, and I believe he could be the team’s answer for lefty relief later in the year. His stuff isn’t jaw-dropping, but he commands a low 90’s fastball with precision, and his slider and changeup are both MLB-caliber. He’s also a very smart pitcher, the kind that can succeed in an array of roles for a long time. The key for him will be adding more flexibility and athleticism to his delivery, which gets very stiff and top-heavy.

Patrick:  I’m really interested to watch the Matt Purke story play out. The left-hander was a first round talent the Nationals took a big gamble on, giving him first round money after taking him in the third round in 2011 following an injury-plagued sophomore season in college. The Nats saw him then as a quick-to-the-majors-type arm and for the first time this season he’ll be healthy. He finally had surgery on his shoulder last year and he’ll be pitching without pain (hopefully) for the first time in two-three years. The thing that really caught my attention this week was Davey Johnson saying that Purke was likely to start the season at Double-A. He’s 22, had two strong seasons at TCU, putting up great numbers even when dealing with shoulder issues in his second year and he’s made just three starts at Low-A Hagerstown in the Nats’ system, but they’re planning starting him at Harrisburg? That would seem to mean they still have high hopes for and a high opinion of him.

Purke is part of the next wave of arms coming up along with Sammy Solis and Nathan Karns, and they’ll all likely be in Double-A along with Anthony Rendon, Matt Skole, Rick Hague and others who should give the Senators a strong defensive infield behind their top pitching prospects. I really want to see how quickly Purke adapts to the challenge of pitching against Double-A competition and get a good idea of just how good he really is now that he’s healthy.
Joe: I know it’s the cliché answer here, but Anthony Rendon. Rendon showed in Spring Training why, if he can stay healthy, he will be a dominating force at the MLB level. The health will obviously be the biggest concern with him, as he’s shown a propensity for injury, but his potential is sky high. I look forward to taking a trip to Harrisburg this season to see him start up, and maybe we’ll even see him at Nationals Park at some point in 2013.

Tom: A lot of guys & gals are going to say Rendon here – they’re not wrong – but I’m really psyched to see what Nate Karns can do this year. He’s my choice for a September call up.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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