PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: U.S. Futures All-Star Brad Peacock #18 of the Washington Nationals throws a pitch against the world team during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Baseball America's updated rankings a few weeks back had two Washington Nationals' prospects in the top 50. 2010 no. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper was BA's no.1 prospect overall in baseball after a half-season in the Nats' system in which he's produced 17 doubles, 14 HR's and a .320/.422/.544 slash line in 76 games and 321 plate appearances, most of which took place at Low-A Hagerstown. Joining Harper on Baseball American's list was Brad Peacock, 23, an '06 41st Round pick who was moved from Double to Triple-A this week after appearing at the XM All-Star Futures Game along with Harper last Sunday following a first-half at Harrisburg in which the right-hander was (10-2) in 16 games and 13 starts with 129 K's (11.77 K/9) and just 23 walks (2.10 BB/9) in 98.2 IP...
Bryce Harper was atop ESPN.com's Keith Law's updated rankings when he released them this afternoon, but it wasn't Peacock joining Harper as one of two Nats' prospects in the Top 50. It was 2010 4th Round pick A.J. Cole. The Nationals signed Cole, a projected 1st Round talent who fell to 116th overall over signability concerns to a well-above-slot $2M dollar bonus and had him pitching in Class-A Hagerstown by May straight out of high school. The 19-year-old, 6'4'' right-hander is (2-4) in 10 games, 9 starts and 47.0 IP, in which he's walked 10 (1.91 BB/9) and struck out 57 (10.91 K/9). "Going pro may have been the best decision of Cole's life," Mr. Law writes, "as he's been more focused and aggressive and is commanding the fastball better than he did in high school."
The Nationals also announced the signings of four more 2011 Draft picks this afternoon, raising the total number of picks signed since the June Draft to 22 of 51. 6'3'' right-hander Taylor Hill, the Nats' 6th round pick out of Vanderbilt, is the second-highest selection to sign so far, behind only 5th Round pick Matt Skole, a third baseman out of Georgia Tech.
Greg Holt, a 6'2'' right-hander out of the University of North Carolina, Washington's 8th round pick, right-hander Dixon Anderson, the Nats' 9th round pick out UC Berkeley and left-handed pitcher Nicholas Lee, a 6'1'' lefty out of Weatherford College in Texas, and the Nationals' 18th round selection, also signed. And in case anyone missed the tweets this weekend, both the Washington Times' Amanda Comak (@acomak) and CSN Washington/NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) spotted 2011 3rd Round pick Matt Purke at Nats Park last Friday, where he, "enjoyed [Friday's] game with GM Mike Rizzo from the owners seats [and] was in the clubhouse postgame as well," as Ms. Comak reported.
Can Purke be this year's A.J. Cole? A first-round talent stolen in the third/fourth round. Cole's signability issues had more to do with a committment to the University of Miami. Purke, coming off an impressive freshman year at TCU after he was drafted by the Rangers and didn't sign in 2009, suffered from shoulder issues throughout the 2011 season and fell to the 3rd Round after he'd entered the season a pretty-sure thing 1st Rounder. The Nationals, however, have outspent the rest of baseball on draft bonuses in each of the last two seasons and they're freed from the burden of having to pay a no.1 overall pick this year as they did in each of the last two drafts, though they may have to pay the no. 6 overall pick, Anthony Rendon like a no.1 to get him signed.
After last year's draft, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo credited the continued progress in rebuilding the Nationals' system to the organization's commitment to spending on the draft. "Obviously that was a huge point of emphasis for us, and I think at least the last two or three drafts have been extremely important for us and impactful for us," Rizzo said, adding that in his opinion, the growth of the Nats' system, "...goes hand-in-hand with Kris Klein becoming the scouting director [and] Roy Clark becoming Assistant GM, these guys are baseball aficionados, they know the game, they know the draft game very well, and it's a unique skill set that they have and it's no coincidence that when those guys were brought in that we've taken off."
The Nats' signed 25 of their top 26 picks last season, and they already have 22 of 51 signed so far from this Draft. They have the best prospect in baseball and two pitchers on the way up that have made the top 50 prospect lists of two of the more respected names in scouting. In Rizzo We Trust?
• Here's the list of signed 2011 Draft picks: