Nathan Karns, 25, just snuck onto ESPN.com's Keith Law's Top 100 Prospect list this past winter. The '09 12th Round pick out of Texas Tech signed a $225,000 signing bonus but underwent shoulder surgery in 2010 so he didn't pitch in the Washington Nationals' system until 2011 when he posted a 2.28 ERA in 55.1 IP as a 23-year-old in the Gulf Coast and New York/Penn leagues. In 2012, of course, Karns earned the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year award after an (11-4) season at Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. The right-hander had (3-0) record with a 2.03 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 21 walks (4.26 BB/9) and 61 Ks (12.38 K/9) in 44.1 IP with the P-Nats and an (8-4) record with a 2.26 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 26 BB (3.27 BB/9) and 87 Ks (10.93 K/9) in 77.1 IP for the Suns.
ESPN's Mr. Law praised Karns' mid-90's fastball and low-to-mid-80's curve, saying both pitches were around a 70 on the 20-80 scout's scale. MLB.com's scouts ranked Karns 14th on the Nationals' prospect list, writing that the right-hander had, "... an above-average fastball that can touch plus at times," while, "His curve is plus, a true out pitch." MLB.com's scouts described the Nats' prospect as, "... both a strikeout and groundout machine," whose command continued to improve as he worked back from the shoulder surgery. Before he got the call on Monday, with the Nats making it official this afternoon, Karns had a (4-2) record with a 4.60 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 18 walks (3.60 BB/9) and 55 Ks (11.0 K/9) in 45.0 IP at Double-A Harrisburg.
Karns was the second-highest ranked pitcher on Baseball America's Top 10 Prospect list after the 2012 campaign behind only 2012 1st Round pick Lucas Giolito. He was placed on the Nats' 40-Man roster this winter to protect him from selection in the Rule 5 Draft and impressed with the Nationals in Spring Training.
As Davey Johnson told reporters after announcing Karns would start tonight, the Nats considered Karns a pitcher at the top of the list among the prospects and minor leaguers who could potentially help the big league team this season. "He was in the top three if something happened to one of our starters," the manager said. Assuming it will be a one and done outing since Johnson said Ross Detwiler was expected to be available for his next scheduled turn in the rotation, it will be a good chance for the Nationals to get a look at what Karns can do against a hard-hitting Baltimore Orioles' lineup that has a Major League-best .284 AVG, the fourth-highest OBP (.344), top SLG (.467) and fourth-highest BABIP (.312) vs RHP so far in 2013.
"It will be a good test to find out," what he's got Johnson said. No pressure, Nathan.
• Nationals' Lineup For Tonight's Game vs Baltimore:
#Nationals lineup vs. BAL: Span 8, Lombardozzi 4, Zimmerman 5, LaRoche 3, Desmond 6, Moore 7, Bernadina 9, Suzuki 2, Karns 1— Nationals PR (@NationalsPR) May 28, 2013
Sounds like Karns will be sent back down after tonight's game, regardless of outcome. Reliever Erik Davis the likely callup.— Mark Zuckerman (@ZuckermanCSN) May 28, 2013
Rizzo says the Nats want to see where Ross Detwiler is at before they make a decision on what happens to Karns after tonight.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) May 28, 2013