Can a 'Perfect' Roster Get Even Better?
No team has done a better job building a home-made contender than the Washington Nationals. Unlike many franchises that throw all-in for a win-now season or two, cashing in and cashing out prospects and veterans as the winds dictate, the Nats have used prudence and caution to build a solid foundation of core players that should keep the club in contention for most of the next decade.
All of this happened after the team was taken from Jeff Loria, who now owns the Marlins. We leave it up to our readers, who surely know what's happened to the Marlins lately, to draw their own conclusions about Mr Loria's value to baseball as a whole.
The Nationals, meanwhile, have flourished, with home-grown players at almost every position. They also benefitted from some very fortunate timing, as their two last-place finishes this decade happened in exactly the right seasons to give them number one draft picks they could spend on Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the two biggest phenoms baseball has seen this decade.
The Nats have surrounded those two mega-players with a gallery of strong hitters and ace arms, mainly young players from their farm system (or from other good systems, such as Oakland's, via shrewd trading). After building a near-perfect roster last season, the Nats saw their World Series hopes dashed by a single bullpen collapse that coincided with a very hot Cardinal streak. For 2013, it's probably no coincidence that Washington has added backup arms to the bullpen. With no other substantial changes (Denard Span replaces Mike Morse, essentially, and Dan Haren provides veteran rotation help), the team should be in the thick of the playoffs again.
Longer-term, it very much looks like the team will be able to look to its own farm for reloading and restocking in the future. While they're unlikely to be making any more #1 overall selections for awhile, management has always been good about drafting in the lower rounds, too, so we expect the farm to remain strong.
The Nats had so much offense ready for 2013 that they essentially dumped the hard-hitting Michael Morse to make room for the rest of the team, and that problem is likely to come up again in the next season. Third-baseman (?) Anthony Rendon is the team's best hitting prospect, and he's pretty much ready for MLB right now. He's never played a game in the field anywhere other than third base for the Nats.
Speaking of hard-hitting prospects with no extrapositional experience to help them get un-blocked in the system, the Nationals' next best hitter is also a third baseman: Georgia native Matt Skole slashed .314/.355/.486 at high-A Potomac last year, making it clear that he is also very much on the way. How the Nationals handle the fast-rising Rendon and Skole will be an interesting story to follow. Any of Rendon, Skole or even Zimmerman could be traded or moved to another position (Rendon to second? Skole to first?) and the Nats would still have two great players at a premium position. It's not a bad problem to have, all things considered.
Pitching-wise, the Nationals are stacked in future talent, so much so that once again the question of how they'll all be shoehorned into MLB comes up. The answer, of course, is that some of these fine prospects will almost certainly be used in mid-season trades to help the MLB ballclub wherever it's lacking. But we still expect at least some of these arms to end up in Washington, as they're just too good to lose: AJ Cole, Lucas Giolito, Matt Purke, Christian Garcia and Nathan Karns are all among the game's best pitching prospects. And should the bullpen become a weak point any time in the next couple of years, future closer Rob Wort isn't far off, either.
In summary, the Nationals remain a glittering example of a well-run MLB franchise. Managed with baseball savvy and built with small-market instincts, the Nats have manufactured a powerful engine for long-term contention, and there's no sign of derailment in the future, either. They're a model that a couple of dozen other teams should be following.
Here's a quick look at some of the talent that's coming-soon to the Nationals roster.
The usual disclaimer: Scouting Book's Prospect Rankings change very often, to reflect the latest and most promising prospects and situations. These listings recalculate every day as we include new input, correct errors (thanks for letting us know, helpful readers) and adjust to evolving MLB situations. For more information on our system, read this blog posting.
Previously: Top Mariners Prospects, Top Astros Prospects, Top Angels Prospects, Top A's Prospects, Top Rangers Prospects, Top Blue Jays Prospects, Top Yankees Prospects, Top Orioles Prospects, Top Rays Prospects, Top Red Sox Prospects, Top Twins Prospects, Top Royals Prospects, Top Indians Prospects, Top White Sox Prospects, Top Tigers Prospects, Top Giants Prospects, Top Dodgers Prospects, Top Diamondbacks Prospects, Top Padres Prospects, Top Rockies Prospects, Top Reds Prospects, Top Cubs Prospects, Top Cardinals Prospects, Top Pirates Prospects, Top Brewers Prospects, Top Mets Prospects, Top Braves Prospects, Top Phillies Prospects
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