Every month we will update our Federal Reserve Prospects Big Board. These updates will serve as a power ranking system for Nationals prospects, based on overall play and potential. While the season is only 20-25 games in for these players, we did our best to make assessments based on the small sample size (in later months this will be less of a problem).
Major changes in this edition from our initial Big Board include Ian Desmond being removed from the list (he is now officially a rookie), and Josh Smoker falling out of the Top 15.
1. Stephen Strasburg - Strasburg has done nothing to remove him from this spot as he has absolutely dominated Double-A pitching. In four starts he has three wins, a 0.52 ERA, and 23 strikeouts in 17.1 innings. While Washington sent him back to the minors after a stellar spring so he could work on pitching with runners on, he hasn’t had a chance as he’s allowed only 10 base runners this season. Nevertheless, Strasburg is right on schedule to get his promotion to Syracuse within the next few days, and eventually his call up to Washington in late May.
2. Drew Storen - Storen had nothing left to prove at the Double – A level, which is exactly why he earned his promotion to Syracuse yesterday. In 35 appearances as a professional, Storen has shut down batters with a 1.75 ERA and by averaging 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Triple-A will serve as a new challenge, but it’s one he should easily be able to handle. Storen moves up one spot on this list because he has taken the next step to helping the big league club, where Norris has been stalled with injuries.
3. Derek Norris – Norris has only appeared in one game this season with Potomac. Complications with his hamate bone, the same injury Ian Desmond had last year, are causing him to miss valuable time in the minors and could push his eventual major league debut even farther into the future. Norris still has the best bat in the system, but will have to work on his defense and game calling behind the plate when he returns from injury.
4. Aaron Thompson - Thompson also earned a promotion to Syracuse this week after dominating his Double-A opponents. Thompson, who was acquired in the Nick Johnson trade, throws hard for a lefty and brings a strong sinker-changeup combo. In his first start at Triple-A last week he pitched seven innings to earn the win against Phillies prospect Phillipe Aumont. At only 23-years-old, Thompson may very well find himself in a Nationals uniform before this season is over, and may compete to join the likes of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, and Marquis in the 2011 rotation.
5. Danny Espinosa - Espinosa was also injured for the first two weeks of the minor league season, but showed he did not lose a step upon his return hitting .303 with an .844 OPS. Espinosa is solid in both his offensive and defensive play. He also has incredible patience at the plate. Last year he was second in the Carolina league in walks and this year, through 11 games, already has eight. Espinosa struggles to get hits when he is behind in the count and gets thrown out more than one would like on the basepaths. There is also the question of where he will play if he makes it to Washington given the emergence of Ian Desmond at the shortstop position.
6. Michael Burgess- Burgess has traditionally been a three outcome (BB, extra base hit, K) type of guy throughout his career, but he adjusted his swing over the winter in hopes of decreasing his strike outs and making more contact. While he started the season off hot, he has cooled down recently and reverted to his old ways (.266 BA, 16 SO). The power has been missing so far, as he hit his first home run of the season last night, but he is still taking walks (12 this season). He has struggled throughout his career against lefties (.231 BA vs LHP), but is 7 for 21 against them in 2010. His defense profiles well in RF (good range, good arm), but he will have to improve his hitting if he ever wants a shot at the big leagues.
7. Chris Marrero - Marrero is slipping down the back end of this list and it’s not because there are other prospects climbing their way up. Still in Double-A, the 21-year-old has seemingly lost grip of his biggest tool, his ability to rake. As a bumbling first basemen/outfielder, Marrero’s prospect status lies soley in his ability to mash baseballs; however, through 20 games this season he is only hitting .254/.316/.394 with two homers and 11 RBI. Again, he is only 21, but at this point he is moving in the wrong direction.
8. Destin Hood - Perhaps the sting of missing out on a college football national championship was exactly what Destin Hood needed to kick it in gear. Hood signed with the Nationals, foregoing a football scholarship at the University of Alabama. After struggling in his first season and a half as a pro, Hood is on a tear in his first 21 games batting .368/.385/.483 with a homer and five doubles. If he continues to hit for a high average and improves on his defense, he should see a promotion soon.
9. Bradley Myers - Myers has yet to pitch in 2010 due to some muscle spasms before the season started…he should be back in a week or two.
10. JP Ramirez- The Nationals gave Ramirez big money as a 15th round pick in 2008, but they knew that’s what it would take to keep him from going to college (besides they saved a bunch on not signing Aaron Crow!). Some questioned his ability at the major league level because of his smaller stature, but Ramirez was considered one of the best pure hitters in the draft. Ramirez struggled in 2009 but has seemingly found his stroke early on this year. In 20 games he is hitting .284/.356/.862 with three homers and 19 RBI. Only 20-years-old, Ramirez could catapult up this list if he continues to develop down in Hagerstown.
11. Jeff Kobernus- The Nationals second round draft pick was off to a good start in Hagerstown before getting hurt. In 14 games the second baseman was batting .309/.338/.338. Basically, he was hitting a lot of singles and not walking very much. He battled injuries last season as well.
12. Eury Perez - Only 19-years-old, Perez embarked on his fourth professional season with high expectations. Last season in 205 plate appearances the outfielder batted an eye-oppening .381/.443/.503 with 16 stolen bases in rookie ball for the Gulf Coast Nationals. Entering 2010 in Hagerstown, Perez has had trouble finding his bat, hitting only .232/.284/.261, leaving many to wonder if perhaps his outstanding performance in the Gulf Coast League last season was only because he was more advanced than his competition.
13. Adrian Nieto - Nieto, a 5th round pick in 2008, has been splitting the starts at catcher with Sandy Leon so far this year in Hagerstown. After having a disappointing season last year in the GCL, he has gotten off to a hot start hitting .348/.500/.348 for the Suns. The switch hitting Nieto has a very good batting eye, but has yet to display any power. His defense behind the plate is above average and he has a very good arm. Like Ramirez, at age 20, he still has a lot of room for growth.
14. Jack McGeary - After initially splitting time between taking classes at Stanford and training with the Nationals in Florida, McGeary decided to take the plunge in 2009 to play professional baseball full time. McGeary, who was one of the top prep pitchers in the nation when he signed with Washington, struggled in his pro debut. In 26 starts between A-Ball and the New York Penn League the lefty posted a 5.54 ERA with only 89 strikeouts to 86 walks. While he isn’t all the way back, the 21-year-old has posted a 4.29 ERA in four starts with Hagerstown this season. He still has the potential, the Nationals just need him to learn how to pitch and throw strikes.
15. Tom Milone - The left-handed Milone does not have overpowering stuff but is a pitcher who has great control and command of the strike zone. For his minor league career, he has a WHIP of 1.19 and BB/9 of 1.96. He already has 20 strikeouts through 4 games this season, after getting only 103 in 25 games last season, though he has also walked 6. He is reminiscent of another Nationals left-hander, John Lannan, in the sense that when he is on point he fools batters and pitches to contact, but when he is off of his game he is very hittable. This is reflected in the fact that he has had two very good outings and he has had two outings where he was knocked around. He profiles as a back of the rotation type.