Playing "Guess Along With John" on the Nats Top 20 Prospects

In addition to my regular tour through FB, Nats Insider and other outposts on teh interNats, I am a fan of John Sickels' site. I've learned a lot about minor leagues from his comments and those of other posters there. As I was looking up Destin Hood for a comment in another thread I found Sickels' assessment of how the Nats Top 20 prospects (as identified last winter) did in the 2011 season. Note that the assessment was done on August 3, so it doesn't quite reflect the players' final stats on the season. The bottom line was that it was generally a good year. The Nats' preseason top 20 prospects and John Sickels' assessment of their 2011 performance:

1) Bryce Harper, OF, Grade A: Hit .318/.423/.554 with 14 homers, 19 steals, 44 walks and 61 strikeouts for Low-A Hagerstown at age 18. Promoted to Double-A, struggled at first but hot lately, hitting .238/.303/.325 with eight walks, 16 strikeouts in 80 at-bats.  .297/.357/.486 in last 10 games. Amazing talent.


2) Derek Norris, C, Grade B+:  Hitting .207/.365/.423 with 55 walks, 75 strikeouts, 13 homers for Double-A Harrisburg. Hitting for power with high walk rate, as expected, but batting average is too low to be acceptable. Has thrown out 40% of runners but passed ball rate has more than doubled from last year.

3) Danny Espinosa, INF, Grade B:  Hitting .226/.314/.421 with 17 homers, 12 steals, 36 walks, 107 strikeouts in 390 at-bats for Washington. I think he'll get better.

4) Sammy Solis, LHP, Grade B:  3.69 ERA with 68/21 K/BB in 71 innings for Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, 73 hits. Throwing strikes as expected, picking up some grounders, doing OK.

5) A.J. Cole, RHP, Grade B:   3.47 ERA with 67/13 K/BB in 57 innings for Hagerstown, 53 hits. Very solid performance, no complaints, command has been sharp.

6) Wilson Ramos, C, Grade B-: Hitting .248/.324/.415 with nine  homers, 29 walks, 49 strikeouts in 258 at-bats for the Nationals. I bet the Twins would like to have him back.

7) Robbie Ray, LHP, Grade B-:  1.91 ERA with a 76/30 K/BB in 71 innings, 48 hits for Hagerstown. Could stand to lower the walk rate but otherwise very impressive.

8) Michael Burgess, OF, Grade C+: Traded to Cubs in Tom Gorzellany deal. Hitting .223/.324/.412 with 14 homers, 51 walks, 91 strikeouts in 345 at-bats for High-A Daytona. Still has the power and patience, but other skills have not developed as hoped.

9) Eury Perez, OF, Grade C+: Hitting .271/.306/.312 with 16 walks, 45 strikeouts, 32 steals in 317 at-bats for High-A Potomac. Good speed, but lack of walks and zero power suppress his stock.

10) Rich Hague, SS, Grade C+: Season ended after four games for Potomac with a shoulder injury.

11) Cole Kimball, RHP, Grade C+: Threw 14 shutout innings for Triple-A Syracuse, then 14 innings for the Nationals with three runs but an 11/11 K/BB. Out with rotator cuff surgery.

12) J.P. Ramirez, OF, Grade C+: Very disappointing, hitting .225/.277/.3445 with 21 walks, 57 strikeouts in 307 at-bats for Potomac.

13) Chris Marrero, 1B, Grade C+:  Hitting .309/.381/.449 with 11 homers, 47 walks, 81 strikeouts in 408 at-bats for Syracuse. A good year, but questions still remains: will he hit for enough power to play first base?

14) Steve Lombardozzi, 2B, Grade C+: Hitting a combined .310/.360/.437 with seven homers, 28 walks, 63 strikeouts, 22 steals in 435 at-bats for Harrisburg and Syracuse. Extremely reliable, has made just two errors this year. Deserves a major league trial.

15) Brad Meyers, RHP, Grade C+: 3.46 ERA with 93/11 K/BB in 107 innings combined at three levels, 115 hits. K/BB in Triple-A is 51/11 in 64 innings. Outstanding control.

16) Brad Peacock, RHP, Grade C+: Breakthrough guy, 2.01 ERA with 129/23 K/BB in 99 innings for Harrisburg, 62 hits. Command has slipped some since promotion to Triple-A, 19/12 K/BB in 20 innings, 4.43 ERA but just 12 hits. Always had strong stuff, just needed to refine it. Stock way up.

17) A.J. Morris, RHP, Grade C+: Traded to Cubs. Injured all year.

18) Tyler Moore, 1B, Grade C:  .274/.313/.538 with 24 homers, 20 walks, 108 strikeouts in 409 at-bats for Harrisburg. You have to like the power, but I remain suspicious about his plate discipline.

19) Tom Milone, LHP, Grade C:  Amazing command, 120/10 K/BB in 117 innings, 110 hits for Syracuse with a 3.62 ERA. Just went on DL with "bicep tiredness." Unfortunate since rumors from Washington indicated he was about to be promoted.

20) Daniel Rosenbaum, LHP, Grade C: 2.59 ERA with 108/41 K/BB in 132 innings for Potomac, 113 hits, 1.62 GO/AO. No complaints here. Just promoted to Harrisburg.

Overall very positive, with Ramos and Espinosa leading the way. Not uniformly so: Derek Norris was a mixed bag. Rick Hague and Cole Kimball got hurt. So did A.J. Morris, but he did it for the Cubs as he was traded along with Michael Burgess, (who under performed - Rizzo points to head) for Tom Gorzelanny. J.P. Ramirez and Eury Perez also both under performed (unfortunately both outfielders, a need position). Still, fifteen of the 20 (75%) of the prospects stayed on track (Solis, Rosenbaum, Moore) or better. So, who will be on the Nationals' "Top 20" prospects going into 2012?

Two of last year's prospects (Espinosa & Ramos) graduated to the Nationals and won't be back; they aren't prospects any more, they are big leaguers. Morris and Burgess were traded. Four more (RHP Peacock, LHP Milone, 1b Marrero, IF Lombardozzi) got September callups but will still be considered prospects and should make it. The top minor leaguers from last year that didn't under perform are also likely to stay on the list unless pushed off by a better prospect - so add Harper, Norris, Solis, Cole, Ray, Meyers, Moore, and Rosenbaum. That's 12 of 20 slots. Who are the other eight slots? Given what will be fierce competition for top 20 slots, Eury Perez and J.P. Ramirez may have played their way out of the Top 20. It's too early to give up on them, but they will have some ground to make up. It's not clear where Hague and Kimball will stand after their injuries, either, so they are wild cards.

Other wild cards include OF Erik Komatsu (23yo picked up for Jerry Hairston, struggled at Harrisburg but did well at AA Huntsville, .294/.393/.416, rated as a C+ prospect for the Brewers last year although at the time of the trade Sickels rated him as a C), SS Zach Walters (21yo picked up for Jason Marquis, .300/.367/.457 combined low and high A ball,rated as a C prospect although at the time of the trade Sickels said he may have moved up to a C+; now in the AFL with Harper and Norris), OF Corey Brown (25yo, picked up too late last year for the 2011 Nationals preview, Sickels did identify him as a borderline B-/C+ prospect going into 2011 where Brown had three bad months at Syracuse and then a few good weeks to get him to a late season callup despite his.235/.326/.402), and IF/OF Matt Antonelli (26yo minor league free agent signing, former #1 (#17) pick and BA #50 minor league prospect who came back from injury to lead Syracuse in OPS with a .297/.393/.460). Since Antonelli is again a free agent I don't know whether he will get rated, but since he was with the Nationals most recently (and I like him) I'm including him.

Others "of note" identified by Sickels that didn't make last year's top 20 but may have done well enough to move up onto this year's list include C David Freitas (22yo, .288/.409/.450 at Hagerstown), OF Destin Hood (21yo, .276/.364/.445 at Potomac), RHP Taylor Jordan (22yo, 9-4 2.48 ERA 1.198 WHIP 6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 at Hagerstown), IF Blake Kelso (22yo, .293/.357/.365 at Hagerstown), SS Jason Martinson (22yo, .252/.360/.448 with 19 HRs at Hagerstown), OF Randolph Oduber (22yo, .301/.361/.407 at Hagerstown. Atahualpo Severino was also identified as "of note" and he did get a late season callup - but it's hard to see him as Top 20 material. Of this group, Freitas, Hood, Martinson and Oduber may well move up. Hood (along with Solis) was named to Baseball America's Top 20 Carolina League prospects.

Ah, but that doesn't include the Nats' highly touted 2011 draft class! Make room at least for the top four: Rendon, Purke, Meyer, and Goodwin.  And that's not counting 3b Matt Skole, the Nats' 5th round pick, who Baseball America named as the #13 NH/Penn League prospect. The 21yo Skole did was lead the league in doubles while posting a .290/.382/.438 in his first season of work. Now it's getting crowded.

Of those 30 players, my guess for Sickels' top 20 (in very approximate order): Harper, Peacock, Rendon, Cole, Purke, Meyer, Norris, Lombardozzi, Solis, Ray, Milone, Meyers, Freitas, Hood, Skole, Moore, Marrero, Walters, Goodwin and Antonelli. This means that Brown, Severino, Perez, Ramirez, Oduber, Jordan, Kelso, and the remaining members of the 2011 draft class will have to be "of note" ... for now. It likely will take at least a C+ to crack the top 20 this year; even with Ramos and Espinosa gone, this is still clearly a minor league system on the upswing.

So ... who's on your top 20 Nationals' prospect list? :-)

::Edited because I forgot to put Purke into my own list! I blame sleep deprivation::

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