I know it seems silly to criticize the team with the best record in the NL, but I thought the question was worth asking, given a couple things I read this week prospects related. Given the drain of prospects in the last 6 months (through the Gio Gonzalez trade and through graduation to the majors for several of the team’s better prospects), its safe to say that our cupboard is relatively thin right now. This point was highlighted to me by two recent online articles;
1. ESPN’s Keith Law posted a mid-season review of farm systems on the Rise or Fall (sorry, insider only), and stated the obvious about our system. His summary: Yes we got Lucas Giolito but it was essentially at the expense of any other high-end talent in the 2012 draft. And, a lot of our high-end guys are taking significant tumbles on boards due to lack of performance or injury (see later on for a look at our top 10 prospect performances).
2. Baseball America’s Jim Callis posted an updated Midseason top 50 prospects post 2012 draft and included where he’d put the top-end talents drafted (including international signees) in his weekly Ask BA feature on July 16th. Of note to me was the fact that Washington, even with the signing of the high-end Giolito, does not have a SINGLE player in his mid-season 50. Luckily for us, our NL East competition didn’t fare too much better, with a grand total of 5 players between our divisional rivals. This compared to teams like Seattle (5), Kansas City (4), and the rich-keep-getting-richer Rangers with 3 guys likely to become impact players within a year or two.
Why is this a concern if the team is in first place? Two primary reasons:
1. If you’re not going to matriculate your prospects and depend on them for production, then you need to utilize them in trade to acquire needed talent. There’s plenty of trade rumors right now mentioning the Nats desires for a starter to cover for Stephen Strasburg’s innings limit. But who are we going to trade to acquire said pitcher? I’d go as far as saying that there’s not one guy on our 2012 top 10 prospect list (not including Harper and Lombardozzi of course) who, at this point in 2012, could be the centerpiece of a marquee acquisition. Who is trading for our #1 prospect Anthony Rendon right now?
2. This team has a LOT of money committed to players over the coming years, and won’t be able to depend on hefty production from salary controlled guys forever. They will need a stream of up-and-coming players to offer cheap alternatives to free agents and players who have become too expensive. For example; in the year 2016 the team has $47M committed to just THREE players right now, before considering at least that much in arbitration for just Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Jordan Zimmermann. $47M is nearly the team’s payroll just a few years ago! Yes we will naturally grow payroll and revenues with success and the renegotiation of the MASN contract, but constructing a 25 man roster is about making choices. The last thing we want is to see this team become the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies; a bloated, old team with a ton of injuries and the 2nd highest payroll in the league at $175M, but mired in last place.
|Year||Nats Rank||Name, pos||Status|
|2011||1||Bryce Harper, of||In majors|
|2011||2||Derek Norris, c||Traded|
|2011||3||Danny Espinosa, ss/2b||In majors|
|2011||4||A.J. Cole, rhp||Traded|
|2011||5||Wilson Ramos, c||Out for Season (two knee surgeries)|
|2011||6||Sammy Solis, lhp||Out for Season (Tommy John)|
|2011||7||Cole Kimball, rhp||60-day DL (shoulder surgery)|
|2011||8||Eury Perez, of||.299/.325/.342 in AA Harrisburg in his 6th pro season|
|2011||9||Chris Marrero, 1b||60-day DL (torn hamstring)|
|2011||10||Brad Peacock, rhp||Traded|
That’s 2 guys who are starters in the Majors, 3 traded for Gonzalez, 4 guys on long term DL stints and Eury Perez with his meager .667 OPS in AA, in his 6th pro season. How about 2012’s list?
|Year||Nats Rank||Name, pos||Status|
|2012||1||Bryce Harper, OF||In majors|
|2012||2||Anthony Rendon, 3B||Out for Season (broken ankle, his 3rd major leg injury in 4 years)|
|2012||3||Brian Goodwin, OF||.324/.438/.542 in low-A. Stellar season so far|
|2012||4||Alex Meyer, RHP||7-4, 3.10 Era, 1.13 whip and 107/34 k/bb in 90IP in low-A Hagerstown. Just promoted|
|2012||5||Matt Purke, LHP||Long term DL (Shoulder concerns); hasn’t thrown in 5 weeks.|
|2012||6||Sammy Solis, LHP||Out for Season (Tommy John)|
|2012||7||Steve Lombardozzi, INF||In Majors|
|2012||8||Destin Hood, OF||.223/.296/.313 in AA Harrisburg, in his 5th pro season|
|2012||9||Chris Marrero, 1B||60-day DL (torn hamstring)|
|2012||10||Michael Taylor, OF||.225/.314/.333 in High-A Potomac in his 3rd pro season|
2012’s list includes 4 major injury concerns, two guys under-performing (Hood and Taylor), and two guys matriculated to the majors. The two players putting up good statistical seasons may come with astericks though; Alex Meyer was compiling his stats in low-A, going against guys 2-3 years younger than himself. His promotion to High-A was overdue and should be telling, to determine if his future lays as a dominant 12-6 starter or a high-leverage reliever. Brian Goodwin’s excellent season is a great sign of things to come … but again, in Low-A. I know he was a Juco signee, but he’s 21 now, turning 22 in November and is the same age as college juniors getting drafted now. If he continues to produce upon promotion to better competition, I’ll feel better.
Now, I know there’s guys in our system who are coming back from injuries (i.e. Nathan Karns), or who are putting up good numbers despite being lower draft picks (i.e. Matt Skole, Cameron Selik, Danny Rosenbaum), and we have some guys who we acquired through trades and who are having surprisingly good seasons in the minors (i.e., Zack Walters, Ryan Perry and Corey Brown) but are these kinds of players going to step up and either be a) next year’s top prospects or b) eventual productive major leaguers? I know we all love Rosenbaum for example, but most scouts think he’s a marginal prospect at best (and his lack of inclusion on our top 10 lists reinforces that notion).
This sudden lack of depth was one of the reasons I wasn’t the biggest fan of drafting Giolito. With the new draft rules and specific limits on bonuses, combined with the significant injury issues we’ve had with high end draftees Rendon and Purke in 2011’s draft, I thought the team should have gone the safer route. Yes I’m sure Mike Rizzo did a ton of due diligence and was confident in Giolito’s long term health. But missing on three first rounders (or in Purke’s case, a first round talent given a significant bonus and a 40-man deal) could lead to a significant hole in player development for this team right at a time a couple of years from now when they desperately need a MLB-minimum impact guy.