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Arizona Fall League Preview: Nationals' Prospects In The AFL

The Washington Nationals have two of their top left-handed pitching prospects, two right-handed relievers, their 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, two highly-regarded outfielders and an up-and-coming catcher in the Arizona Fall League this season. Play starts today...

Al Messerschmidt

Starting Pitchers: In his third professional season after the Washington Nationals drafted him in the 3rd Round of the 2011 Draft, and the first after he underwent shoulder surgery to finally clear up the issues which had plagued him since his sophomore season at TCU, Matt Purke pitched at two levels of the Nats' organization in 2013.

At Class-A Hagerstown, the 22-going-on-23-year-old left-hander was (1-1) in six starts with a 2.48 ERA, a 2.54 FIP, seven walks (2.17 BB/9) and 41 Ks (12.72 K/9) in 29 IP in which he surrendered three home runs (0.93 HR/9).

"With Sam Solis and A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray. These guys are all pitching very well if not dominating at high levels of the minor leagues at a very, very young age." - Mike Rizzo on Nats' pitching depth on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.

Purke then moved up to High-A Potomac, where he was (5-3) with a 4.43 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 18 walks (2.66 BB/9) and 41 Ks (6.05 K/9) in 61 IP in which he gave up another three home runs (0.44 HR/9). Because of the surgery, which removed bursa sacs and cleaned up scar tissue in his shoulder, Purke didn't pitch competitively until late May. His season will continue in Arizona where he and seven other Nationals' prospects start play in the Arizona Fall League today.

Purke was part of the contingent of prospects Washington sent to the AFL in 2011. Joining him on the roster of the Scottsdale Scorpions that fall was 2010 2nd Round pick Sammy Solis. The 25-year-old Solis, taken 51st overall with the Nats' second pick after Bryce Harper in the '10 Draft, had Tommy John surgery in the winter of 2011/12. Solis returned to competitive action with the Potomac Nationals this past May. In 13 games, 12 starts and 57 2/3 IP this season, the 6'5'' left-hander was (2-1) with a 3.43 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 40 Ks (6.24 K/9), 19 walks (2.97 BB/9) and 3 HRs (0.47 HR/9) allowed.

Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo mentioned Solis as part of the next wave of arms coming up through the system in a recent interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. when he was asked about pitching depth in the organization. "We've got guys in the minor leagues that are on the cusp and are ready to come," Rizzo told hosts Holden Kushner and Bill Rohland, "with Sam Solis and A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray. These guys are all pitching very well if not dominating at high levels of the minor leagues at a very, very young age."

"Matt Purke is one of our real bright guys that we have coming in the future. His velocity is creeping back up there..." - Nats' GM Mike Rizzo on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. in July

Relievers: The other two pitchers joining Purke and Solis in Arizona on the roster of the Mesa Solar Sox are right-handers Robert Benincasa and Richie Mirowski. Benincasa, 23, was drafted out of Florida State University in the 7th Round of the 2012 Draft. After starting his pro career in the NY/Penn League after signing last summer, the reliever split his 2013 campaign between Hagerstown and Potomac.

With the Suns, Benincasa had 10 saves in 20 appearances with a 2.57 ERA and a 2.30 FIP, striking out 30 (12.86 K/9) and walking five (2.14 BB/9) in 21 IP. With the P-Nats, the righty had a 3.30 ERA and a 2.80 FIP in 25 games and 30 IP over which he earned 17 saves, walked nine (2.70 BB/9) and struck out 34 (10.20 K/9).

Mirowski, a 24-year-old, 2011 45th Round pick out of Oklahoma Baptist University, was (8-3) with six saves, a 1.50 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 11 walks (2.06 BB/9) and 59 Ks (11.06 K/9) in 48 IP at High-A Potomac before moving to Double-A Harrisburg, where the 6'2'' right-hander was (2-0) with one save, a 2.61 ERA, 1.12 FIP, four walks (1.74 BB/9) and 29 Ks (12.63 K/9) in 20 2/3 IP.

Outfielders: Also at Double-A with the Senators this season were outfielders Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza. Goodwin, 22, one of the Nats' three 2011 1st Round picks (along w/ Anthony Rendon and RHP Alex Meyer, who was dealt to the Twins and starts against the Solar Sox today), had a .252/.355/.407 line with 19 doubles, 11 triples, 10 HRs and 19 stolen bases in 122 games and 531 plate appearances for the Senators this season. Souza, 24, an '07 3rd Round pick out of Cascade High School in Everett, Washington, spent the majority of his seventh season in the Nats' system at Double-A, where he had a .300/.396/.557 line, 23 doubles and 15 HRs in 77 games and 323 PAs.

"He can play third and first. Showed me good command of the strike zone and he's got some pop and I like his approach, I like everything about him..." - Davey Johnson on MLB Network Radio on Matt Skole

IF/C: When Mike Rizzo spoke about the catching depth in the organization last spring, the Nationals' GM said he was confident that both Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon could play at the major league level. After the season 23-year-old, '08 5th Round pick Adrian Nieto put together with the Potomac Nationals this year, he'll likely show up on some lists of the Nats' top prospects this winter, giving the organization depth behind the plate again after they've dealt away top catching prospects in the past few years. In 110 games and 452 PAs with the P-Nats in 2013, the backstop had a .285/.373/.449 line with 29 doubles and 11 HRs, but he also managed to throw out 42 of 126 would-be basestealers (33 CS%) while putting up a .991 fld% on the year. Having traded Derek Norris and David Freitas, both to Oakland in separate deals in 2011, the Nationals still have admirable catching depth in the system. (BTW: Freitas is on the Solar Sox too.)

Nationals' 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole is the final position player Washington is sending to Arizona. Skole, 24, a 2011 5th Round pick out of Georgia Tech, played just two games this season before suffering a torn UCL in his left (non-throwing) elbow on a defensive play at first base. In 2012, the 6'4'', right-handed throwing, left-handed hitting slugger had a combined .291/.426/.559 line between Hagerstown and Potomac, collecting 28 doubles and 27 HRs in 119 games and 524 PAs. Skole told's Byron Kerr recently that he's over the injury and eager to get back to playing.

The Nationals' prospects and the rest of the Mesa Solar Sox play the first game on the AFL schedule at 12:35 PM MST (3:35 PM EDT) this afternoon...

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