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Nationals' Next Wave: Can Nats' Prospect A.J. Cole Make It Up In 2014?

Minor League Ball's John Sickels wrote today that he thinks Washington Nationals' prospect A.J. Cole might be on a path that leads him to the majors at some point in 2014... Do the Nats have enough depth in the system to go with what they have next season in terms of pitching?


"With the depth that we have in our young starting pitching, we could certainly fill from within," Washington Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters including's Mark Zuckerman two weeks back Arizona when asked if the Nats would be in the market for pitching this winter. "I don’t think it’s a necessity to go outside the organization, either in the free agent market or in the trade market."

"We've got guys in the minor leagues that are on the cusp and are ready to come... with Sam Solis and A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray." - Nats' GM Mike Rizzo on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.

Assuming Ross Detwiler's healthy and able to stay on the mound after a lost season in 2012, and the Nationals don't bring in a veteran starter, the battle for the fifth spot in the rotation would likely be between Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark. Both right-handers made their major league debuts in 2013.

Jordan, a 24-year-old, 2009 9th Round pick in his first full year back following Tommy John surgery, made six starts for the Potomac Nationals to start the 2013 campaign, going (2-1) with a 1.24 ERA, a 2.46 FIP, one home run (0.25 HR/9), six walks (1.49 BB/9) and 29 Ks (7.18 K/9) in 36 1/3 IP. At Double-A Harrisburg, before he was called up to make his debut, Jordan was (7-0) record with a 0.83 ERA, a 2.39 FIP, nine walks (1.50 BB/9) and 43 Ks (7.17 K/9) in 54 IP for the Senators in which no one took a pitch out of the park.

In nine starts with Washington, Jordan posted a 3.66 ERA and a 3.49 FIP, walked 11 (1.92 BB/9) and struck out 29 (5.05 K/9) in 51 2/3 IP over which he gave up just three home runs (0.52 HR/9).

Tanner Roark, 26, was (9-3) with two saves, a 3.15 ERA, a 3.00 FIP, 20 walks (1.70 BB/9) and 84 Ks (7.15 K/9) in 33 games, 11 starts and 105 2/3 IP at Triple-A Syracuse before he was called up to make his MLB debut. With the Nats, Roark finished (7-1) with a 1.51 ERA, a 2.41 FIP, 11 walks (1.84 BB/9) and 40 Ks (6.71 K/9) in 53 2/3 IP.

"We've seen the emergence of Taylor Jordan," the Nats' GM told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Bill Rohland in September. "We've seen the emergence of Tanner Roark. We've got guys in the minor leagues that are on the cusp and are ready to come... with Sam Solis and A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray."

Solis, 25, the 51st pick of the 2010 Draft, threw 57 2/3 innings for the Potomac Nationals in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. The 6'5'' lefty was (2-1) with a 3.43 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 19 walks (2.97 BB/9) and 3 HRs (0.47 HR/9) allowed in 13 games and 12 starts in which he had 40 Ks (6.24 K/9).

Robbie Ray, 22, split his 2013 campaign between Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. A 2010 12th Round pick out of high school in Tennessee, Ray, in his fourth major league season, had a (6-3) record with a 3.11 ERA and a 3.82 FIP in 16 starts and 84 IP with the P-Nats, walking 41 (4.39 BB/9) and striking out 100 (10.71 K/9) before joining the Senators.

In his first 11 starts and 58 IP at Double-A, Ray was (5-2) with a 3.72 ERA, a 3.42 FIP, 21 walks (3.26 BB/9) and 60 Ks (9.31 K/9).

"... particularly sharp late in the year. A big league trial sometime in 2014 is possible." - Minor League Ball's John Sickels on A.J. Cole

A.J. Cole, who'll turn 22 in January, bounced back from a rough 2012 season in the Oakland A's system after being traded back to the Nationals this winter. The 2010 4th Round pick was dealt to the Athletics in the Gio Gonzalez deal and reacquired from Oakland in the three-team trade that sent Mike Morse to Seattle. At Potomac, Cole was (6-3) with a 4.25 ERA, a 3.54 FIP, 23 walks (2.13 BB/9) and 102 Ks (9.43 K/9) in 18 starts and 97 1/3 IP.

Cole moved up to Double-A for the first time and made seven starts with Harrisburg to end the season, over which he was (4-2) with a 2.18 ERA, a 2.56 FIP, 10 walks (1.99 BB/9) and 49 Ks (9.73 K/9) in 45 1/3 IP. Cole was the only one of the three prospects Rizzo mentioned as part of the next wave who made Minor League Ball's John Sickels' Top 50 Pitching Prospects list at the start of the 2013 campaign.

The Nats' GM is not alone in thinking Cole could have an impact at the major league level in 2014. In their review of their preseason Top 50 list today, Mr. Sickels' predicted Cole, who represented the Nationals in the All-Star Futures Game this season, might pitch for the Nats at some point next season:

46) A.J. Cole, RHP, Nationals: Went 10-5, 3.60 with 151/33 K/BB in 143 innings between High-A and Double-A, 127 hits, particularly sharp late in the year. A big league trial sometime in 2014 is possible.

Do the Nationals have the depth to fill in the rotation without help from outside the organization? Do the Nationals have the pitching depth to make another deal as Rizzo said late this season he thought they finally did once again? Any of the three: Solis; Cole or Ray seem a more likely candidate to make the jump next season? Should Nate Karns be considered a contender for a spot on the Opening Day roster? Anyone else in the organization getting looked over?

• Check out the rest of Minor League Ball's Review of Pre-Season Top 50 Pitching Prospects for 2013:

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