1. Bryce Harper, C/OF – Despite a rough professional debut in which he struck out in his only two at bats, Harper remains at the top of the list. Like any player who spent two months or so away from organized baseball, significant rust was to be expected (particularly for one with such high expectations at just 17 years old). The fact is that Harper remains preternaturally gifted with prodigious power and, quite honestly, his ceiling is far greater than that of any prospect in the organization. There is a considerable learning curve associated with the transition from junior college baseball to the professional ranks and, let’s remember, he was the number one overall pick for good reason. It will be a treat to watch Harper ply his trade in what will be his first full season of professional ball next year, regardless of the position he ultimately plays.
2. Danny Espinosa, SS – From two-time MLB Future’s Game alumnus to major league regular, it appears that Espinosa has completed his journey to the big league and is there to stay. After hitting .295/.349/.463 in 24 games at AAA Syracuse, the Nationals rewarded him with a call-up to the major league club. Espinosa burst onto the scene with nine hits in his first 18 at bats, including three doubles and three home runs. Moved to second base to accommodate Ian Desmond, Espinosa came down to Earth by the end of the year, finishing with six homers and a .214/.277/.447 line. However, as his offense declined, his renowned defense remained solid. Espinosa committed just one error during his Nationals’ tenure and his performance should give both the front office and managerial staffs pause as to whether or not he belongs as second or shortstop full-time.
3. Derek Norris, C – This has undoubtedly been a rough year for Norris. After his extensive successes in 2009, myriad injuries impeded his adjusted to High-A Potomac. Though his batting average and slugging percentage dropped 51 and 94 points from last year’s totals, Norris still managed to get on base at an impressive .419 clip. He remains a work in progress behind the plate (though he did throw out 51% of attempted base stealers); however, his calling card is and will continue to be his bat. It’s only fair to withhold judgment on Norris until he is healthy for another full year and has a chance to redeem himself in 2011.
4. Wilson Ramos, C – The change of scenery seems to have been extremely welcome for the 23 year-old Ramos. Batting just .241/.280/.345 when acquired from Minnesota, Ramos raised those numbers to .316/.341/.494 in 20 games with Syracuse and was rewarded with a September call-up. In 15 games, Ramos hit a solid .269 and slugged .404, but his on base percentage dipped back below .300. As has been previously written, Ramos is known for his defensive prowess but is not expected to be an offensive liability. As his plate discipline improves at the major league level (and a larger sample size is available), Ramos should be a solid every day catcher.
5. AJ Cole, RHP – Cole’s climb in this addition of the big board has everything to do with potential. With the initial question of whether or not he would choose to sign with the Nationals or attend the University of Miami behind him, Cole joined many other young Nationals in the fall instructional league. Listed at 6-5, 190 pounds, Cole displays a low to mid-90s fastball along with a power breaking ball that hovers around 80 mph, while his changeup is admittedly a work in progress. Once he puts in the time and effort required to mature both physically and mentally, Cole could find himself a part of a promising Nationals rotation.
6. Yunesky Maya, RHP – Maya received somewhat of a rude awakening in his formal introduction to major league baseball. In five starts, Maya was 0-3 with a 5.88 ERA and a 1.577 WHIP. Like all players from foreign professional leagues, Maya must quickly acclimate himself to the greater talent and consistency characteristic of our national pastime. Unfortunately, his impressive numbers in the Cuban National Series are of no value any longer and he must again prove himself on the field of play. His past successes are cause for promise; however, at age 29, Maya must show that he can compete at the major league level sooner rather than later.
7. Michael Burgess, OF - Burgess’s 2010 season was a significant and crucial improvement over his past professional performances. The young outfielder’s numbers rose across the board, climbing from a 2009 line of .235/.325/.410 to .265/.357/.465 in 2010, all while managing just one fewer home run than the previous season. Not only did his season statistics show marked improvement, but also his numbers in a 21 game Double-A stint were better than his final 2010 totals. In 21 games at Harrisburg, Burgess hit .284/.391/.649 with five doubles and six home runs in a mere 74 at bats. While he still has some growing to do, Burgess finally appears headed in the right direction.
8. Chris Marrero, 1B – After struggling in a 23 game appearance in Double-A last season, Marrero adjusted nicely to the competition this year. In his first full season of Double-A ball, Marrero hit a very respectable .294/.350/.450 with 18 home runs. While his numbers have been relatively consistent since the Nationals selected him 15th overall in 2006 (save for an anomalously poor 2008), Marrero has maintained his performance through multiple promotions and against increasingly greater competition. Though his path up the minors has been somewhat slow and deliberate, Marrero is still just 22 and could still become a productive big leaguer.
9. J.P. Ramirez, OF - Ramirez’s 2010 campaign was not without its highs and lows; however, he finished the year with a very nice .296/.341/.470 line. While he is still striking out far more often than he walks (83:25), the young outfielder has shown a solid offensive progression. Known for his bat coming out of high school, Ramirez reversed his struggles of 2009 in short-season Vermont (.264/.306/.407) and, with continued development, could prove to be a factor in the Nationals’ future.
10. Rick Hague, SS - After a ho-hum start in ten games with the Gulf Coast Nationals, Hague performed far more in line with expectations. Coming from a major college program like Rice, Hague was expected to hit the ground running and did not disappoint. His relatively brief introduction to Single-A baseball was far more encouraging as Hague hit at a .327/.386/.522 clip. With 20 errors in just 174 chances, the Nationals would certainly like to see his defense improve. That said, Hague remains a solid, if unspectacular, prospect. The true test will be come when he is promoted to a level more on par with or above his collegiate competition.
11. Eury Perez, OF - Perez struggled through the first half of the season but came on very strong in the second half. Hitting as low as .270/.321/.347 in mid-August, Perez finished the season at .299/.345/.381, a solid line considering the initial whole he had dug for himself. While he will never be mistaken for a power hitter, Perez must continue to recognize and emphasize his strengths. A talented base stealer, Perez was 64-77 in stolen base attempts, good for an impressive 83 percent rate of success. As such, Perez needs to work on his plate discipline (74/23 K/BB ration) so that he can take advantage of his baserunning talents.
12. Sammy Solis, LHP - Solis performed quite well in very limited duty for Hagerstown. In two starts, Solis threw four innings and allowed just two hits, yielding neither a walk nor a run. Though the sample size is obviously far too small, the former San Diego Torrero appears polished and farther along in his development as a highly drafted college pitcher should. His history of back injuries remains something to be monitored but it has yet to rear its ugly head during his brief time as a professional. Solis’s ceiling is relatively low at the major league level (back of the rotation starter), but his bust potential is far lower as well. Expect to see him climb the system.
13. Destin Hood, OF - Hood has been consistent, if unimpressive, this year. A .285/.333/.388 line will not wow anyone, particularly at the Single-A level, but his youth and potential keep him on this list. His physical gifts are plentiful as he cuts an imposing figure at 6’1, 225 pounds, and at just 20 years old he is still young enough to make the necessary strides. That said, 2011 may be a pivotal season for Hood. His statistics show that he is far for major league ready; however, they may warrant a promotion to Double-A. As his level of competition increases and his approach to the game matures, it is crucial for Hood that he continues to bring his baseball skills closer in line with his athletic ability.
14. Tom Milone, LHP – Milone’s 2010 season was eerily similar to 2009 and equally impressive. He finished the year with a 12-5 record yet again and lowered his ERA and WHIP slightly to 2.85 and 1.17, respectively. One major change is his K/BB ratio. He struck out 106 batters and walked 36 in 151.1 innings in 2009, and in 2010 he improved to 155 strikeouts against just 23 walks in 158 innings pitched. While he seems pretty pedestrian on the mound with an 84-87 mph fastball and unspectacular off-speed stuff, his numbers speak for themselves. If he continues to perform at this level, the Nationals will be hard pressed to keep him in the minors.
15. Adrian Sanchez, INF - Sanchez had a very nice 2010 season. In 54 games between the Gulf Coast Nationals and Single-A Hagerstown, Sanchez hit .350/.365/.453. Looking deeper though, the Venezuelan infielder still has some growing to do. While he lit the GCL on fire with a .378/.395/.538 line, his numbers dropped precipitously after his promotion, all the way to .317/.330/.356. Moreover, his K/BB rate was very poor at both levels as he combined for 33 strikeouts against just two walks. Sanchez clearly has potential at the plate but it seems evident that his plate discipline and contact rate need work.
On the outside looking in – RHP Brad Meyers, LHP Daniel Rosenbaum, 1B Tyler Moore, 2B Stephen Lombardozzi, 1B Justin Bloxom