I'm going to start my review of the Nationals top prospects with the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs.
Background: I considered hitters that played roughly one-third of the time or more, this allowed me to consider players who were promoted multiple times during the season. With regards to pitchers, I focused on SPs who started roughly 10% of the games or more; and RPs who appeared in roughly 20% of the games or more. Players will only appear in one top prospect list though I may comment on guys who made an impact (be it positive or negative) at other levels.
Top 5 Zephyrs Hitting Prospects
- Brandon Watson OF - The 23 year old finished 355/400/419 in 88 games in New Orleans. His appearance at #1 is more a function of the fact that the Nationals lack major league prospects at the Triple-A level. I have written about Watson before. His 355 BA was buoyed almost entirely by singles (113/132 hits) and he does not draw a large number of walks (28BB in 372AB). He also needs to become more selective stealing bases as 31/44 is not the greatest SB %. If Watson can continue to hit the ball on the ground, learn to take a walk and use his speed, I believe he has the ability to be a serviceable leadoff hitting CF.
- Brendan Harris 2B/3B - The 25 year old had a respectable 270/329/417 in 127 games in New Orleans shifting between 2B and 3B. Harris has adequate power (including the only PH HR for the Nats this year) for a 2B, not so much as a 3B. His performance at 3B is not necessarily important as Ryan Zimmerman is the future there. He showed some ability of knowing the strike zone (40BB/77K). His biggest hurdle will be getting the Nationals front office to notice him. He apparently doesn't give them the impression that he is capable of handling 2B defensively in the majors. The Nationals are sending him back to the Arizona Fall League (302/358/469 in 2003) where he will be playing for Nats bench coach, Eddy Rodriguez. Hopefully, he'll have the opportunity to assume a role similar to Jamey Carroll in 2006.
- Rick Short IF - The 32-year old Short is hardly what anyone would call a prospect but the numbers he put up at New Orleans (383/456/569) are hard to ignore. Short showed moderate power (11HR), amazing strike zone control (46BB/27K), and flirted with 400 through mid-August. His storybook season had its ups (RBI single in his first major league AB, HRs off of Dontrelle Willis and John Smoltz) and its downs (demoted back to New Orleans immediately after his first hit and most depressing, separating his shoulder on a play at 2B when Frank Robinson finally gave him his shot). Assuming his recovery from shoulder surgery goes well, Short needs strong consideration for Carlos Baerga's PH/utility IF spot in 2006.
- Tyrell Godwin OF - I'm stretching the definition of prospect for the 26-year old Rule 5 draft pick from the Blue Jays. He has a similar skill set to Brandon Watson (321/387/443) with a little bit more power (9HR) and a little less speed (22/34). I'm not sure where he fits in the Nationals' future plans as he is ideally a #4 or 5 OF which is a position the Nationals are already well-stocked.
- Matt Cepicky OF - I'm once again sticking with the very loose definition of prospect with the 27-year old Cepicky. The LH OF had fairly average numbers in New Orleans (269/347/477) but failed to produce in his limited exposure in Washington. His season ended with a knee injury in New Orleans.
Top 2 Zephyrs Pitching Prospects (In all good conscience, I can only come up with 2 legitimate pitching prospects in New Orleans)
- Jay Bergmann RP - The 24-year old Bergmann had a breakout season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A New Orleans. In a combined 74IP, Bergmann excelled with a 1.11 WHIP, 2.19ERA, 9.2K/9IP and 3.5BB/9IP. He showed the ability to both pitch in middle relief as well as closing out the occasional game. With Luis Ayala recovering from elbow surgery (bone spurs), Bergmann should be on the short list of RPs competing for a spot in the 2006 Nats bullpen.
- Travis Hughes RP - The 27-year old Hughes was claimed off of waivers from the Texas Rangers. The hard-throwing RH RP made 52 appearances (59.2IP) for New Orleans with a 1.21 WHIP, 3.02 ERA, 11K/9IP, and 3.8BB/9IP. Hughes is yet another RHP option for the 2006 Nationals bullpen. Whoever the GM is should take note and realize that there are choices in-house for relief pitching and focus available dollars on SPs.
Special Mention: Chris Schroder SP, the 27-year old Schroder was selected for one the 6 available spots in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). I cannot really understand why as his numbers between Harrisburg and New Orleans were terrible, 1.46 WHIP, 6.26 ERA, 2.0 HR/9IP, and 5.1 BB/9IP. The only positive was his 11.2 K/9IP. My only guess is the Nationals are going to try him out as a SP and will use the AFL to see if he has the endurance and ability.