Nationals 5×5 2012 Prospect Rankings

Four of the Nationals top five prospects were selected in last June’s amateur draft. That’s what happens when three top-10 prospects are traded to acquire the services of Gio Gonzalez. Of course, it helps that the four prospects cracking the top five have a lot of talent. Topping the prospect list is a guy you might have heard of, and he alone makes this list pretty special.

Nationals Top 5 Fantasy Prospects

1- Bryce Harper, OF

Everything you have heard about him is true. He has launched 1,000 foot home runs, and has the power capable of hitting 100 home runs in a season. Okay, so I may be exaggerating a bit. Harper is a special talent though, and one who lived up to the hype. Hype that was massive as the number one overall pick, and a former Sports Illustrated cover boy.

He has pure 80 power on the 20-to-80 scouting scale right now, as a 19 year old, that is unheard of. He’s not an all-or-nothing slugger either. He isn’t likely to contend for a batting title, but he should hit for a high enough average for it to be a fantasy asset. Despite being a large young man, 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he runs well and stole 26 bases in his professional debut. He’ll likely lose a step as he gets older, but in his early years, he could approach 20 steals in the bigs. He’s a generational talent, and one that most fantasy owners dream of owning in keeper and dynasty leagues.

2- Anthony Rendon, 3B

If given the choice between Harper and Rendon, or the top five prospects in another system, I’d probably take the Nationals duo over most top fives. Rendon was considered a favorite for the honors of being the number one player selected in the 2011 amateur draft, but slid to the Nationals at pick six largely because of health concerns. A strained shoulder kept Rendon from playing the field for the Rice Owls for the bulk of his junior season. Instead, he was slotted in the lineup as a designated hitter.

When his shoulder is completely healthy, Rendon does everything you look for a hitter to do. He has a plus hit tool, hits for plus power, and has pitch recognition skills to walk frequently. Rendon has yet to take a professional at-bat, but his advanced approach could help him move quickly through the minors. Ryan Zimmerman is currently entrenched at third base, but is only signed through 2013. The team would be crazy if they didn’t do everything in their power to sign him to a longterm extension. These things don’t always work out as the club hopes, so the door could open for Rendon to remain at his current position (one that he grades out as a plus defender at). It’s also possible the Nationals attempt to transition him to second base with the hope being both Rendon and Zimmerman can be a part of their future. Rendon suffered torn ligaments and a break to his ankle in consecutive seasons, 2009 and 2010. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus points out that could be a hindrance in making the position switch. Only time will tell. Regardless, his bat has a chance to rank amongst the best at third base or second base and warrants gambling on.

3- Brian Goodwin, OF

Goodwin was a sandwich round pick in the 2011 draft. He is ultra toolsy with five average or better tools. The highest graded of the bunch is his plus, to plus-plus speed tool. He’s not a slap singles hitter, and he projects to hit for 20 home runs or so if his raw power translates in games with a wooden bat. Goodwin also has a chance to hit for an average north of .270. If everything comes together, he’ll be a stat stuffer. The question is, will it? He’s raw, and has yet to take a professional at-bat. He’s got development to do, and needs time to do so. Temper expectations a bit until he shows some of these tools off in games.

4- Alex Meyer, SP

Meyers is a giant of a man, 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds. That has proven to be a blessing and a curse. He is an imposing figure that uses his large frame to pump out 94-97 mph fastballs that can touch triple digits on occasion. His large frame also leads to inconsistent mechanics and erratic control. His control was at its worst as a freshman and sophomore at the University of Kentucky. He made massive strides his junior year, which helped make him the 23rd overall pick in last June’s draft. Meyer backs his fastball with a slider that grades as a plus pitch when it’s on, but it is inconsistent. He’s also working on a change-up that shows promise but is lagging behind his fastball/slider combo. Ideally, he’ll demonstrate enough control, develop his change-up to the point of it being a quality offering, and be a work horse starter. If that doesn’t come to fruition, his power arsenal would play well at the back end of a bullpen.

5- Matt Purke, SP

Purke could shoot up this list, or plummet off it entirely. His future success lies in the hands of recovering his lost fastball velocity on his fastball, and the bite on his slider. The Rangers selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft, but were unable to sign him because Major League Baseball (which was in charge of the Rangers finances) would not allow the deal Purke and the club had in place. Instead, Purke ended up dominating college hitters as a member of the Texas Christian rotation. Purke missed time in his sophomore season because of shoulder bursitis, and even when he was on the hill, lacked the velocity he showcased pre-injury.

When healthy, his fastball dances at 92-96 mph. That type of velocity is tremendous from any pitcher, but downright scary from a southpaw. He also throws a sharp slider, and a change-up that is at least average. Last year, his fastball dipped in velocity, and that scared teams enough for Purke to fall to the third round of the draft. As a draft eligible sophomore, his leverage in negotiations probably didn’t help either. According to Aaron Fitt of Baseball America, his velocity was in the 89-93 mph range in instructional league before heading to the Arizona Fall League (where he got rocked). Goldstein said in his Purke write-up that his secondary offerings were flat at the AFL as well. None of that news is particularly encouraging, but he may have simply been rusty after a layoff from pitching. He’s a guy that should be monitored heavily during the spring.

Bonus- Dustin Hood, OF

Hood was a tough cut from this list. While not all bonus players in the 5×5 series will be the next prospect on that organization’s list, but Hood is. His raw tools began to actualize at the High-A level last year, where he hit 13 home runs and stole 21 bases with a .276/.364/.445 slash in 536 plate appearances. His 10.8 percent walk rate was excellent, and his 17.9 percent strikeout rate was equally impressive. Now that the light bulb has gone on, Hood could move through the system a bit quicker. He’ll open in Double-A, and has a chance to be a future 20/20 outfielder.

Top 5 in 2012

1- Bryce Harper, OF

The growing sentiment is that Harper could break camp with the Nationals. I’m not sure if that will be the case, but National League East rivals the Atlanta Braves were in a similar position with Jason Heyward in 2010, and they opted to start the season with him in right field. Harper demolished Arizona Fall League pitching hitting .333/.400/.634 and launching six home runs in 105 plate appearances. Even if he opens the year in the minors, the stay is likely to be a short one.

2- Tyler Moore, 1B

He has a few hurdles in front of him, but Moore will be knocking on the door of the majors when he opens at Triple-A. He has just one standout tool, but when it is power, you get some attention. He hit 31 bombs in Double-A, and had a high, but passable 24.8 percent strikeout rate. He doesn’t walk, and his average will drop from the .270 one he sported last year as he moves up the ladder. Moore won’t need to hit for much average with his plus-plus power, just enough to stick in the lineup and avoid stalling out at Triple-A. Adam LaRoche missed much of last year, but will return this year. Moore also has to surpass a prospect that reached the majors last year (more on this mystery prospect later).

3- Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

Lombardozzi is behind Danny Espinosa at second base. He has enough glove to serve in a super utility role akin to what Ryan Freel did back in his “heyday,” with the Reds. Spelling Zimmerman at third base, faking it at shortstop in relief of Ian Desmond, and occasionally standing in for Espinosa will give him a chance to show he’s capable of playing in the majors. That’s not the greatest endorsement handed out, but if either of the up the middle infielders go down, Lombardozzi would be in line to start. He has a career line of .299/.369/.411 and hit over .300 in stops at Double-A and Triple-A last year. He has only modest power, but plus speed enabled him to steal 30 bases in the minors in 2011. Lombardozzi could be an NL-only or deep mixed league infield option for stolen bases and a hollow batting average with regular playing time.

4- Chris Marrero, 1B

Marrero is the mystery first base prospect ahead of Moore in the first base pecking order. Like Moore, he’s behind LaRoche and will need another injury to him for a second look in the bigs. He doesn’t hit for enough power to be a starting fantasy first baseman, but his ability to hit for a high average, .300 483 Triple-A at-bats in 2011, could make him a stop gap at a corner infield position in large mixed leagues or NL-only formats.

5- Josh Smoker, RP

Smoker failed miserably as a starter. The floundering former first round pick got a new lease on life with a move to the bullpen. His walk rate was high, but a 95-98 mph fastball from a southpaw proved troublesome for High-A hitters. As a reliever he could move quickly, and the upper minors were bare, hence Smoker’s inclusion on this list.