Every month we will update our Federal Reserve Prospects Big Board. These updates will serve as a power ranking system for Nationals prospects, based onoverall play and potential. This edition includes games through June 8 and should give a more representative sample than the early season rankings released after the month of April.
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP – Wow. What more can you say? The 21 year-old righty made his major league debut last night, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates. Strasburg surrendered just four hits and two runs in seven innings, striking out 14 and walking none. After one game, Strasburg has a 1-0 record, 2.57 ERA, and 0.57 WHIP. His phenomenal start was not an anomaly but merely a continuation of the tremendous performance he displayed in 11 starts between Harrisburg and Syracuse, in which he posted a 7-2 record with a 1.30 ERA and 0.795 WHIP. Believe the hype ladies and gentlemen – Strasburg is here to stay.
2. Drew Storen, RHP – Flying under the radar relative to his more ballyhooed counterpart from the 2009 draft, Storen has been similarly impressive in his first 10 major league appearances since his promotion to the big club on May 16. After yielding just two earned runs in 16.2 innings between Harrisburg and Syracuse, Storen is 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in Washington. Opponents have hit just .188 against him and have yet to homer in his 9.1 innings pitched. With a glimpse of Strasburg last night, Nationals fans hope they have seen their new ace and (soon to be) closer tandem for years to come.
3. Derek Norris, C – Norris has endured a very difficult season to date. After finally returning from surgery to repair a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist, Norris was hit in the head by a pitch, causing him to miss more time. Injuries aside, Norris seems to be slowly rounding into form. The Nationals’ top position playing prospect is batting .250 with a .413 on base percentage, but his power has yet to resurface (one home run in 72 at bats). We will certainly give him the benefit of the doubt though, as injuries can easily disrupt a player’s rhythm and confidence. At this point, Norris still appears to be the future behind the plate in Washington, as first overall pick Bryce Harper was introduced as an outfielder and seems destined to remain there in order to most quickly reach the majors.
4. Danny Espinosa, SS – In the wake of becoming the first National to participate in the All-Star Futures Game last year, Espinosa has struggled to live up to the correspondingly high expectations. Through 49 games at Harrisburg, Espinosa is hitting .230/.327/.382, although he is 12-15 in stolen base attempts. Known more for his glove than his bat, the slick fielder has already made ten errors this season. These difficulties, coupled with the emergence of Ian Desmond, complicate the picture for Espinosa. Perhaps he could move to second base at some point to become Desmond’s double play mate, but at this point his offense needs to drastically improve in order for him to become anything more than an average major league middle infielder.
5. Chris Marrero, 1B – Marrero has faced consistently high expectations ever since being selected 15th overall by the Nationals in the 2006 MLB Draft, and many see him as a disappointment. Though it appears that he will never be the star, power-hitting centerpiece of an offense that many predicted, Marrero seems to be settling into a solid – if unspectacular – offensive tier. The righty is hitting .282/.329/.449 on the season with eight home runs – consistent with his averages from the two previous seasons. Ultimately it will be crucial for Marrero to cut down on his strikeouts (48) and improve his on base percentage to make the majors, but that task seems far more manageable if he can shed the enormous expectations and simply play baseball.
6. Michael Burgess, OF – Burgess appears to be continuing on the path to improving his contact rate at the plate. The lifetime .258 hitter is batting a full 20 points higher on the season, though his power remains somewhat diminished. Unfortunately Burgess still has a propensity to strike out (49 in 223 at bats), but he continues to walk at a decent rate (30 in 57 games) which translates to a respectable .369 on base percentage. He also has 16 doubles in 62 hits, but the book on Burgess remains the same – his progression depends on the maturation of his bat and whether or not he can successfully reconcile his strokes for both power and average.
7. Aaron Thompson, LHP – Thompson is the biggest question mark on this list. The talented former first round pick has had a very difficult season. In 11 starts in Double-A, Thompson was 2-8 with a 6.87 ERA, a 1.686 WHIP, and opponents batted .336 against him. In his lone start at Triple-A Syracuse, Thompson went five innings and gave up just one run; however, he returned to Harrisburg shortly thereafter. He clearly has talent, as the Marlins saw fit to take him 22nd overall in 2005 and the Nationals swapped him straight-up for Nick Johnson, but something is clearly missing both with regard to the discrepancy between his Double-A and Triple-A performance.
8. Destin Hood, OF – Despite cooling from his scorching start (21 games, .368/.385/.483), Hood has continued to play relatively solid ball, batting .282. His physical gifts are tremendous; however, Hood remains light-years away from his professional apex. Hood’s respectable average is countered by his .315 on base percentage and .359 slugging percentage. The most troubling statistic is his strikeouts – Hood has 63Ks in 220 at bats, compared to just 11 walks. Only 20 years old, Hood has plenty of time left to grow – good news because he needs a lot of refinement before he will be ready to play meaningful baseball.
9. Bradley Meyers, RHP – After returning from early season muscle spasms, Meyers has pitched quite well. In six starts at Harrisburg, Meyers is 1-0 with a 1.47 ERA and a sub-one WHIP. The right-hander has displayed good control, walking just seven batters in 30.2 innings and averaging more than one strikeout per inning, leading to opponents batting just .205 against him. He needs to sustain this performance, but these numbers suggest that a promotion could soon be in order.
10. J.P. Ramirez, OF – Ramirez, like many others on this list, is battling a slow start to the 2010 season. The diminutive lefty has a strikeout/walk ratio of nearly 4:1 and is not compensating with either power or average. In 55 games Ramirez has just four home runs is batting .259, not to mention his poor on base percentage (.315). The Nationals made a significant investment in the 2008 2nd Team Prep All-American, offering overall $1 million to convince the 15th round pick to sign a contract rather than uphold his verbal commitment to Tulane. It would be encouraging to see a turnaround sooner rather than later to help justify that expense.
11. Jeff Kobernus, 2B – Kobernus, the 50th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, has struggled this year while battling injuries. He has played only 15 games over the last month or so and is hitting just .242/.265/.281 on the year. That said, Kobernus was a prodigious college hitter at Berkeley and has major league pedigree (his father pitched parts of four seasons in the majors), thus one can expect him to improve once his health does so.
12. Eury Perez, OF – Previous concerns about Perez’s bat remain unabated. Despite posting a sparkling .381/.443/.503 in 47 games in the Gulf Coast League last year, it appears that the 20 year-old Perez still has quite a bit of growing to do. Through 55 games at Hagerstown, Perez is hitting just .249/.297/.291 and has 37 strikeouts to just 11 walks. The youngster can run though, with 22 stolen bases against only five times caught stealing. If Perez is going to be an effective professional ballplayer, it seems imperative that he embrace the role that a player of his abilities must fill – free-swinging must be replaced with high on base percentage in order to maximize his speed on the basepaths.
13. Adrian Nieto, C – Nieto, 20, has cooled off considerably. While still splitting time with Sandy Leon behind the plate, his offense has dropped from .348/.500/.348 at the time of last reporting to .227/.329/.273. Nieto continues to show no signs of power at the plate, notching just three extra base hits (all doubles) in 66 at bats. Moreover, his average has fallen precipitously and he has struck out nearly twice as many times as he has walked. Though it remains very early both in the season and in Nieto’s career, his last month is frustrating for all parties involved.
14. Jack McGeary, LHP – McGeary’s 2010 campaign has been one of peaks and valleys. The talented young lefthander alternated good and bad outings in the month of May, giving up one, six, zero, and three earned runs in five, three, five, and five innings pitched, respectively. On the season McGeary is 4-1 with a 4.62 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in eight starts for single-A Hagerstown. His positive outings suggest that the ability is there, but McGeary needs to put everything together and find some consistency on the mound in order to climb the minor league ranks.
15. Tom Milone, LHP – Milone has continued to acquit himself well on the mound. The former USC Trojan is 5-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 12 starts. Opponents are hitting relatively well against him (.276); however, Milone has walked less than one batter per start and his K/BB ratio is a robust 5:1. Except for two starts (April 27 and May 27) Milone has been extremely dependable and consistent, allowing as many as three earned runs just once. His ceiling remains limited, but the John Lannan comparisons seem stylistically accurate – an endgame any Nationals fan would gladly sign off on for the former 10th round pick.
Just missed the cut – Daniel Rosenbaum, LHP; Trevor Holder, RHP