Bryce Harper Tops List in The Nats Blog’s Prospect Big Board

big_board_image1. Bryce Harper, C/OF – There really isn’t much more to be said about Harper that hasn’t been said already. By Monday evening at midnight Eastern Time, Nats’ fans will know whether or not they have added their second franchise-changing prospect in as many years. While significantly farther away from major league readiness, Harper projects to have comparable effect on the major league level, particularly since he is a position player who will see the field on a daily basis. Assuming he signs, his career at catcher is likely over so that the franchise can preserve his health in order to maximize his prodigious offensive abilities. Though most fans are well aware, his numbers are worth repeating. In his lone college season, Harper hit an absurd .443/.526/.987 with 31 home runs in just 228 at bats. He walked nearly as many times as he struck out (39 BB/43 Ks), and stole 20 bases in 24 attempts. In short, the kid is a stud, the total package, and it would behoove the Nationals to do anything and everything in their power to sign the rising star.

2. Yunesky Maya, RHP – Maya is major league ready now and looks to contribute with the Nationals sooner rather than later. The 28 year-old signee from Cuba joins the Nationals after a very successful stint in the Cuban National Series, where he went 13-4 with a 2.22 ERA and seven complete games in garnering their equivalent of the Cy Young Award. The Nationals obviously think very highly of Maya, signing him to a four year, $8 million contract, and he quickly backed it up by going three innings without allowing a hit in his minor league debut. With a rash of injuries and incompetence plaguing the major league staff, it appears likely that Maya will quickly climb the minor league ranks.

3. Derek Norris, C – Although Norris’ struggles this year have been well-documented (the young backstop has endured everything from a broken wrist to a pitch to the head), he remains a top prospect for the Nationals. The second offensive-minded catcher on this list, Norris – like Harper – seems poised for a position change ultimately. The presence of Ivan Rodriguez, coupled with the acquisition of Wilson Ramos, apparently solves Washington’s need at catcher, but Norris’ bat is and will remain his meal ticket. Though he is currently hitting just .221 and slugging only .387, Norris is still getting on base at a very high rate (.406) and is just one year removed from .286/.413/.513 with 23 home runs. His injuries this year, combined with his banner 2009 campaign, make it far too early to discount the player Baseball America ranked the 38th overall prospect entering the 2010 season.

4. Wilson Ramos, C – The third catcher on this list is the first that projects to play that position at the major league level. Ramos, who joined the Nationals from the Minnesota Twins in the Matt Capps deal, is adequate at the plate (he hit .317/.339/.496 in 2009, though those numbers have fallen to .246/.286/.366 this year), but his defense is quite impressive. In 2008, 2009, and so far in 2010, the 23 year-old Ramos has thrown out 43, 42, and 51 percent of potential base stealers. With the opportunity to learn from Ivan Rodriguez, Baseball America’s 58th overall prospect could find himself out of Joe Mauer‘s shadow and splitting time with Pudge come 2011.

5. Danny Espinosa, SS – Espinosa has been one of the Nationals best, tenured minor leaguers this year. In earning his second consecutive trip to the MLB Future’s Game, the 23 year-old shortstop has hit .264/.333/.475 with 21 home runs and 23 stolen bases. Long known for his defense, Espinosa has impressed with his bat and shown the potential to be more than just a slick-fielding middle infielder. Though long viewed below Ian Desmond as a prospect, the fact that Espinosa’s bat has quickly caught up to his glove shows that he has significant major league potential.

6. Chris Marrero, 1B – The Nationals’ 2006 first round draft pick (15th overall), Marrero continues to toil in the minor leagues. In his first full year of Double-A ball, Marrero is hitting .285/.347/.437, quite respectable considering they are nearly identical to his numbers in 2009 when he spent a majority of the season in High-A.  Although he has yet to display in full force the power that made him such a highly-touted amateur, Marrero is still just 22 years old and by no means finished as a prospect – it just appears that his ceiling is more limited than initially projected.

7. AJ Cole, RHP – Cole, the Nationals fourth round pick in the 2010 draft, is an extremely high potential arm. The University of Miami commitment has shown a low to mid-90s fastball which he couples with a hard, high70s breaking ball. The long, lanky right-hander from Oviedo High School fell to the fourth round despite a first-round grade because of concerns regarding his monetary demands; however, it appeared that the Nats adequately addressed that concern. Washington reportedly signed Cole to a $2 million deal, a contract that would be a record for a fourth rounder. That said, Bill Ladson just announced that those negotiations may have reached an impasse. Either way, Cole is a very talented raw prospect with high boom or bust potential for whichever franchise he ultimately signs with.

8. J.P. Ramirez, OF - At last look, Ramirez’s 2010 season was off to a rough start. Since that time, the 20 year-old lefty has turned his year around. The Nationals’ 15th round pick in 2008 has shown the hitting prowess that spurred Tulane University to offer him a scholarship, batting .292/.341/.475 with 26 doubles and 14 home runs. His strikeout to walk ratio is still perilously close to 4:1; however, the young outfielder has a world of potential and ample time to capitalize on it.

9. Michael Burgess, OF - Burgess, like Marrero, has yet to live up to the enormous hype with which he entered the Nationals’ organization. The powerful but compact lefthander has seen incremental increases in his batting average and on base percentage over the last two years. Unfortunately, these improvements have come at the expense of at least a portion of the power for which he was long known. Burgess’ home run total fell from 24 in 2008 to 19 in 2009 and currently sit at just 12 so far in 2010. His long term value as a prospect has, in large part, been comprised by his inability to reconcile his batting average and home run power.

10. Destin Hood, OF - Hood’s story has been told many times. The Mobile, Alabama product declined an offer to play wide receiver at the state’s flagship football program and, in the process, passed up the opportunity to share in the Crimson Tide’s 2010 BCS Championship. Instead, Hood opted for the life of bus rides and motels associated with minor league baseball. A physical specimen, Hood has had some difficulty translating his astounding athletic gifts into baseball production. In a full year of A ball, Hood is batting .289/.336/.394; however, it seems imperative that his baseball skills catch up to his physical abilities. Despite above average speed, Hood has been caught stealing more often than he has stolen bases. Despite ample raw power, Hood has hit just five home runs. For such a young (20), athletic talent, it is far too early to dismiss him as a prospect. With that in mind, Hood needs to make a concerted effort to ensure that his baseball skills and productivity soon come into line with his boundless physical gifts.

11. Sammy Solis, LHP - Solis, the 51st pick in the 2010 draft, is an extremely talented and projectable pitcher. The San Diego product with the high 80s to low 90s fastball was highly-touted coming out of high school but fell a little bit since due to concerns stemming from a back injury he sustained in his sophomore year. He has three pitches falling anywhere from average to above average on the grading scale and projects to be a back of the rotation starter.

12. Aaron Thompson, LHP – Thompson, the former 2005 first round pick of the Florida Marlins, has not enjoyed much success since changing organizations. Swapped straight up for Nick Johnson at the 2009 trade deadline, neither has been particularly productive for their new clubs. Thompson has continued to struggle, going just 5-11 with a 5.67 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 23 starts. It seems like the end of the line may be near – talent and promise, without production, are worth little.

13. Rick Hague, SS - The 83rd overall pick in the 2010 draft, Hague was a very accomplished player at baseball powerhouse Rice University. In what was his final collegiate season, Hague hit .340/.407/.591 with 15 home runs, 20 doubles, and 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts. The former Owl shortstop also displays above average arm strength to go with sound footwork and range. Moreover, while playing with Team USA in the summer of 2009, Hague tied for the team lead with a .371 average and added seven doubles, three home runs, 16 runs batted in, and seven stolen bases; Thus, while it remains to be seen how he will play against professional competition day in and day out, Hague enters the Nationals’ organization as, by all accounts, a solid prospect.

14. Tom Milone, LHP – Milone is, by all accounts, unspectacular. His fastball sits in the 84-87mph range, his off-speed stuff is not viewed as top notch, and he has been described as very hittable. Regardless of his perceived shortcomings, Milone just keeps winning and, along the way, refuses to walk batters. In 23 starts at Double-A Harrisburg in 2010, Milone is 9-5 with a 2.95 ERA, very good numbers for anyone. At the same time, Milone has walked just 21 batters while striking out 123 in 131.1 innings. Though he is apparently overlooked by most scouts and projected as a back of the rotation starter at best, Milone may find himself close to that role sooner than anyone anticipated.

15. Eury Perez, OF - The second National to make the Future’s Game (albeit for the World Team), Perez has not shared the same success as his American Team counterpart Espinosa. The right-handed outfielder is hitting a decent .270, but his .321 on base percentage and .347 slugging percentage leave something to be desired. He is an impressive 43 for 52 on stolen base attempts this season, but to have a major league future he needs to get on base at a significantly higher rate.

On the outside looking in – RHP Brad Meyers, LHP Daniel Rosenbaum, LHP Jack McGeary, C Adrian Nieto, 2B Jeff Kobernus