WASHINGTON -- In the opinion of Nationals director of player development Doug Harris, outfielder Billy Burns stood out as a player who has made tremendous strides in the Minor Leagues this year.
Harris called the switch-hitting Burns a game-changer with his legs. Burns can do more than just steal bases. He hit a combined .323 with 37 RBIs, 93 runs scored, a .429 on-base percentage and 69 stolen bases.
Burns may have stepped ahead of top prospect Brian Goodwin as far as being Washington's leadoff hitter of the future. Burns could start next season with Triple-A Syracuse.
"This year, he certainly put himself in a good position," Harris said. "He has an elite skill set with the speed element. Where it goes, we shall see."
Harris is also impressed with infielder Zach Walters, who is a candidate to be a September callup. Walters was a disappointment during the first two months of the season, but with the help of Triple-A hitting coach Troy Gingrich, Walters was one of the best power hitters for Syracuse, hitting 29 home runs and driving in 76 runs.
"Troy did a good job tweaking Zack's approach, and you have seen the power blossom," Harris said. "Twenty-nine home runs, high number of doubles and he really has a better understanding of who he is and what he has to do to be successful every night."
Harris also said second baseman Danny Espinosa is showing signs of improvement at the plate. In his last 10 games, in fact, Espinosa is 12-for-44 (.273) with seven RBIs.
"He probably had some days where he was trying to find his approach, trying to find out what has worked for him," Harris said. "He has settled in nicely and has had some multiple-hit games. It looks like he is starting to get it going."
The Nationals have not decided if Espinosa will be a September callup. One baseball source familiar with Espinosa said on Thursday that Espinosa will "probably not" play for the Nats during the month of September.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.