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Jonathan Mayo

Great catches in catchers highlight Nats' Top 10

Great catches in catchers highlight Nats' Top 10

Great catches in catchers highlight Nats' Top 10
The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at the top 10 prospects from each farm system, with only those who maintain rookie status entering 2011 being eligible.

With all the talk about Bryce Harper, it'd be easy to think that the Nationals have no farm system beyond last June's No. 1 overall pick. That would, as it turns out, be far from the truth.

Washington has been very active -- and not just with the high first-round picks -- in building what had indeed once been a moribund pipeline. The Nats' Top 10 prospect list below reflects that improvement.

The list includes two of the better catching prospects in baseball, one ready to help now, one a couple of steps away. The one at the top is Wilson Ramos, acquired from the Twins in the Matt Capps deal last July. Ramos has been doing everything he can to prepare for the time when he's asked to spend a lot of time behind the plate in Washington.

"I'm very excited to be with this team," Ramos said. "I play a lot. ... I'm working on my defense, and I'm working on calling a game. I'm learning more about the pitchers. I want to know more about the pitchers, because if I get a chance to stay with the team, I have to know everything -- how they would like to throw and everything."

The other is Derek Norris, a 2007 draftee, who also learned much about his craft in big league camp this spring and can't wait to put it to use in the Minors.

"I learned a lot, especially on the defense side," said Norris, who should start the year in Double-A. "There were a lot of veteran guys around here who taught me a lot. I'm looking forward to taking what they showed me toward the season and see how it pans out behind the plate compared to last year. They gave me a lot of tips and pointers for my game. I think it will be a tremendous complement for my game behind the plate."

The rest of the Top 10 list includes a middle infielder ready for full-time duty in Washington, a pair of outfielders with intriguing tools, a first baseman with power potential and a trio of arms with Major League potential.

But beyond the one-time catcher who's now an outfielder and seen by many as the face of the farm system, it's the two backstops who stand out. Considering that general managers, farm directors and scouting directors always say that you can never have enough catching, it's a nice problem to have for the future of the organization.

Nationals' Top 10 Prospects

1. Bryce Harper, OF: What else is there to say, really, at this point about the No. 3 overall prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 list (and No. 2 among outfielders)? Harper held his own in the Arizona Fall League and received more rave reviews during his time in big league camp. Now it's time for last year's No. 1 overall Draft pick to officially start his pro career with Class A Hagerstown. That's where he'll begin 2011, but where will he end the year?

2. A.J. Cole, RHP: Cole slid to the fourth round in last June's Draft partially because of a slightly rough senior season at Oviedo (Fla.) High School, but mostly because of his price tag. The Nats met the price and were thrilled to get the projectable right-hander into their system. He has a fastball, curve and even a little feel for a changeup. He should add velocity as he matures, and he has a good delivery. He could join Harper on the Hagerstown roster.

3. Danny Espinosa, 2B/SS: Long Beach State shortstops tend to know how to play the game, and Espinosa is no different. He might not be Troy Tulowitzki or Evan Longoria, but he has an interesting power-speed combination at the plate, and he was one of three Minor Leaguers to go 20-20 in 2010. He has the skills to be a good shortstop, but he'll slide to second (he came in at No. 5 on the list of second-base prospects) to play alongside Ian Desmond for a pretty good and young double-play combination.

4. Ramos, C: Seventh on the top 10 list of catching prospects, Ramos has a chance to be one of the better all-around catchers in the National League in the near future. He's a terrific receiver, with a strong arm. He has good power potential at the plate and will tap into it even more as he becomes more selective. Ivan Rodriguez might be the Opening Day starter, but don't be surprised if the torch of the No. 1 catcher is passed along at some point soon.

WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
Rank Player ETA
1. Bryce Harper 2013
2. A.J. Cole 2013
3. Danny Espinosa 2011
4. Wilson Ramos 2011
5. Derek Norris 2012
6. Sammy Solis 2012
7. Eury Perez 2013
8. Chris Marrero 2012
9. Destin Hood 2013
10. Cole Kimball 2011

5. Norris, C: After having a big year in his first taste of full-season ball, in 2009, Norris didn't put up the same numbers with a move to the Carolina League a year ago. Injuries played a part in that, and he did show the power stroke that had impressed people when he went to the Arizona Fall League. Ranked 10th on the list of top 10 catching prospects, Norris is an on-base machine, almost to his detriment. He has a good arm behind the plate, and he's continuing to work on the other aspects of catching. He should move up to Double-A Harrisburg this season.

6. Sammy Solis, LHP: The 2010 second-round Draft pick has a chance to be a fast-rising starter in the system. The San Diego product has a good three-pitch mix, with a plus changeup and impeccable command of his fastball. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League, which might serve as a good stepping stone to his first full season. A future middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater, Solis has the advanced stuff to potentially start the year with Class A Advanced Potomac.

7. Eury Perez, OF: Perez's 64 steals were the second most in the Minor Leagues, but as great as his speed is, that's not all he is. He's a very good defender and has a strong arm from center field. He improved tremendously with the bat in the second half of last year, learning the nuances of being a leadoff hitter and showing that he not only is fast, he knows how to use his speed efficiently on the basepaths. He'll move up to Potomac in 2011.

8. Chris Marrero, 1B: It's been a slow climb for the 2006 first-round Draft pick, but after a solid Double-A season, he was added to the 40-man roster and had a strong showing in big league camp this spring. He has plenty of raw power that he's still learning to tap into. He's a below-average first baseman, though he's worked hard to become acceptable. A good showing in winter ball might have been a good springboard for the 22-year-old, as he'll move up to Triple-A Syracuse this season.

9. Destin Hood, OF: The 2008 second-rounder was a two-sport standout in high school who has come a long way in honing his baseball skills. Hood made his full-season debut in 2010 and showed improved overall hitting skills. He can run and has raw power, but he hasn't really learned to tap into either. He's become a better outfielder as well. It may take him a while to be a complete product, but it looks like he's ready to make the next step up to Potomac this season.

10. Cole Kimball, RHP: A 2009 move to the bullpen has been just the right thing for the power-throwing right-hander. It all came together in 2010, when he had a 2.17 ERA across two levels, saved 18 games, struck out 11.6 per nine innings and held hitters to a .182 average, all before completely dominating hitters in the Arizona Fall League. Added to the 40-man roster this offseason, Kimball will start the season with Triple-A Syracuse.

Under the Radar

Tyler Moore, 1B: The 16th-round pick in 2008 was OK in his first full season, then was named Carolina League MVP in 2010, mostly the result of a .346/.404/.716 second half that saw him hit 22 homers and drive in 71. (He hit 31 and drove in 111 on the year.) A big test is looming with the move up to Double-A in 2011.

Michael Taylor, OF: The sixth-rounder from 2009 was drafted as a shortstop, but he moved to center field during instructional league play last fall. He went from being a below-average shortstop to an above-average outfielder. He has a ton of range and is already showing good instincts defensively. Added strength has helped his offensive game, though that's still a work in progress. He has a ton of ceiling, though he's a ways away.

Predictions

Hitter of the Year: Harper
Come on, you thought there'd be another choice? He'll come as close as one could to living up to the ridiculous hype.

Pitcher of the Year: Solis
It's an all-2010-Draft award landscape for the Nats. Solis will start the year in Potomac and end in Harrisburg, all the while leading the system in ERA and strikeouts.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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