Washington Nationals: Top 10 Prospects

General Manager: Mike Rizzo
Farm Director: Doug Harris
Scouting Director: Kris Kline

FanGraphs’ Top 10 Prospects:
(2009 Draft Picks/International Signees Not Included*)

The depth is still lacking in the Nationals system, but the good news is that the club is starting to collect some prospects with higher ceilings, led (of course) by Stephen Strasburg. Fellow ’09 draft pick Drew Storen is another pitcher to keep an eye on, as he could be in Washington by mid-season.

1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, College*
DOB: July 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2009 1st round – San Diego State University
MLB ETA: Mid-2010 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 92-98 mph fastball, plus curveball, change-up

Yes, I am stepping away from my self-imposed restriction of not ranking 2009 draft picks. I’m sure you can understand why with Strasburg, who is by far the best prospect in the entire system, if not all of baseball. Statistically-speaking, there is little to go on with the big right-hander. He made his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League and allowed 15 hits in 19.0 innings, while punching out 23 and walking seven. He also produced a crazy number of ground-ball outs. Of the five starts that he made, he allowed more than one run just once (eight in 2.2 innings). There is some thought that Strasburg could step right into the Nationals rotation at the beginning of 2010, but he’s likely due for some minor-league seasoning in double-A.

2. Derek Norris, C, Low-A
DOB: February 1989 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 4th round – Kansas HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Norris had a breakout season and is now one of the best catching prospects in all of baseball. Playing in low-A ball, the right-handed catcher hit .286/.413/.513 in 437 at-bats. His triple-slash line was aided by a .342 BABIP, which is rather high for a catcher – but Norris has better legs than most at his position (as seen by his 29 stolen bases attempts in two seasons). He showed excellent power with an ISO rate of .227, which helps justify (to a degree) the 26.5% strikeout rate. Norris showed exceptional patience at the plate with a walk rate of 16.7%. Defensively, he threw out 36% of base-stealers, but he allowed 28 passed balls.

3. Ian Desmond, SS, Majors
DOB: September 1985 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2004 3rd round – Florida HS
MLB ETA: Now 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 2

It’s taken Desmond a few years to navigate the minor-league waters but he appears ready to assume the full-time shortstop gig for the Nationals. The club is confident in the young infielder to the point where it is planning to move veteran Cristian Guzman to second base. Desmond began the year in double-A and hit .306/.372/.494 in 170 at-bats. He showed good power with an ISO rate of .188 but his strikeout rate was a tad high at 23.5%. That rate came down to 17.4% in 178 triple-A at-bats, but his power diminished to an ISO rate of .107. Overall, Desmond stole 21 bases in 26 attempts. Promoted to the Majors, he hit .280/.318/.561 in 82 at-bats. The 24-year-old shortstop should produce at a league-averag clip in 2010, at the very least.

4. Danny Espinosa, SS, High-A
DOB: April 1987 Bats: S Throws: R
Signed: 2008 3rd round – Long Beach State University
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

If Desmond’s development suddenly goes south, the organization also has Espinosa waiting in the wings. He looks quite different than the player of the same name at Long Beach State University, who never topped more than seven homers (in 210 at-bats) and was considered a line-drive hitter. Taking to the wood, though, has been good for Espinosa. His aggressive approach has remain consistent, though, and he has produced a high strikeout rate in pro ball (27.2%) and he did not hit for much average in ’09 with a triple-slash line of .264/.375/.460 in 474 high-A at-bats. With 29 steals in 40 tries, Espinosa could develop into a 20-20 threat if his power output (.196 ISO, 18 homers) is for real. He’s beginning to look a little bit like Toronto’s Aaron Hill, but with more speed. Defensively, Espinosa has a strong arm and solid range at shortstop.

5. Chris Marrero, 1B, Double-A
DOB: July 1988 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2006 1st round – Florida HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

It’s been a long, slow climb through the system for this former No. 1 draft pick. Marrero was stuck in high-A ball for three seasons but he finally received a taste of double-A (23 games) in ’09. At the lower level, he hit .287/.360/.464 in 414 at-bats. He has yet to show consistent power and his ISO rate was .176 before it dropped to .120 with his promotion. His strikeout rate (23.4%) and walk rate (9.0%) both remained almost identical despite the move. Marrero is a below-average fielder at first base so he needs to tap into his raw power more consistently if he’s going to be an everyday player at the MLB level. Just 21, he’ll return to double-A for the 2010 season.

6. Michael Burgess, OF, High-A
DOB: October 1988 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2007 supplemental 1st round – Florida HS
MLB ETA: Mid-2012 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

A move from low-A in ’08 to high-A in ’09 saw Burgess’ OPS drop from .804 to .735. He also lost some pop in his bat as his ISO rate slipped from .219 to .175. Although his walk rates (9.9%) were almost identical and strikeout rate of 28.1% was actually an improvement over ’08’s 33.9%, Burgess’ numbers took a dive in part due to a .288 BABIP (down from .331 in ’08). The stocky outfielder hit .235/.325/.410 in 480 at-bats in ’09, and he’s going to continue to struggle to hit for a high average until he gets his strikeout rate under control. He attempted 20 steals and was caught eight times. Defensively, he has a very strong arm and is a good fielding right-fielder.

7. Bradley Meyers, RHP, Double-A
DOB: September 1985 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 5th round – Loyola Marymount University
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3
Repertoire: 89-93 mph fastball, slider, change-up

A little-known pitcher entering ’09, Meyers had a solid year and looks poised to help the Nationals club in 2010, if needed. The right-hander has good size for a pitcher and an average repertoire that plays up due to his good control (2.10 BB/9 in ’09). Meyers began the year in high-A and allowed 71 hits with a 2.72 FIP in 88.1 innings of work. He allowed just one home run thanks to a 51% ground-ball rate. Moved up to double-A, he posted a 2.76 FIP and gave up 40 hits in 48.0 innings. His strikeout rate also jumped from 6.62 to 8.06 K/9. Meyers allowed just two homers at the senior level, although his ground-ball rate dipped to 40%. Pitching depth remains a weakness in the organization, so Meyers could definitely see time in the Majors in 2010 if he continues to pitch well.

8. Aaron Thompson, LHP, Double-A
DOB: February 1987 Bats: L Throws: L
Signed: 2005 1st round – Texas HS (Florida)
MLB ETA: Mid-2011 40-Man Roster: Yes Options: 3
Repertoire: 88-91 fastball, plus change-up, curveball, slider

Thompson, like Meyers, does not have a huge ceiling but they both project as useful big-league arms. This former supplemental first round pick was obtained from Florida last season for first baseman Nick Johnson and he posted solid numbers after changing addresses. Thompson pitched 114.0 innings for the Marlins’ double-A squad and he allowed 121 hits, while posting a walk rate of 3.39 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 5.92 K/9. After the trade, the southpaw saw his rates improve to 3.03 BB/9 and 7.44 K/9. He also allowed 32 hits in 32.2 innings. Thompson clearly needs to find a way to cut down on the hits allowed and he’s been incredibly unlucky throughout his career when it comes to his LOB% rate, which was 65% in ’09.

9. Destin Hood, OF, Short-Season
DOB: April 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2008 2nd round – Alabama HS
MLB ETA: Late-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

A prep football star, the organization swayed Hood away from an Auburn University football scholarship with an above-slot contract in 2008. The outfielder remains raw but he continues to show flashes of developing into a solid baseball player. He hit well in a brief stint in rookie ball (.330/.388/.614 in 88 at-bats) before moving up to short-season ball, where his numbers dipped a bit. At the upper level, Hood hit .246/.302/.333 in 138 despite a .352 BABIP. His strikeout rate was a disturbingly-high 32.6% and he did not produce the power numbers (.087 ISO) to help justify such a large number. Hood does not have much speed, so he’s not a stolen-base threat and he’s very raw defensive. He should move up to low-A ball for the 2010 season.

10. Eury Perez, OF, Rookie
DOB: May 1990 Bats: R Throws: R
Signed: 2007 non-drafted international free agent (Dominican Republic)
MLB ETA: Late-2013 40-Man Roster: No Options: 3

Perez certainly does not have the pedigree of some of the other bigger-named (and bigger $$$) Latin signings in the past few years. With that said, he burst onto the baseball landscape with authority in ’09 by hitting .381/.443/.503 in 181 at-bats. The high slugging percentage is likely a figment of the small-sample size and level of competition, as Perez has a small frame and is built more for speed (16 steals in 24 tries) and his ISO rate was just .122. The outfielder showed a pretty good approach at the plate for his age, with a walk rate of 7.3% and a strikeout rate of just 11.0%. His high batting average, though, was the result of a crazy .418 BABIP. Because he has a pretty good idea at the plate, and he buys into the strengths of his game (59% ground-ball rate), Perez – although very raw – has the chance to develop into a solid top-of-the-order hitter.

Up Next: The AL/NL East Recap

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Richie Abernathy
Richie Abernathy

Destin Hood was signed to go to the University of Alabama, not Auburn.