The 2010 preseason 10 Prospects to Watch list features an even split of holdovers and newcomers, and is heavy in toolsy outfielders and middle-infield depth as well. And after a second 100-loss season, the Nats should add further to their stocks with the No. 1 overall pick this June.
Ian Desmond, SS
After being admittedly rushed back in 2006 following being a third-round pick in '04, Desmond fell off the radar for awhile before zooming back onto it big time in '09 and figures prominently in the infield mix for '10. He combined to hit .330 with 21 steals between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse before impressing on offense and defense in his big league debut, hitting .280 with four homers and 12 RBIs. He is the system's future at shortstop.
Rafael Martin, RHP
The Nats beat out teams such as the Yankees to sign the 25-year-old out of the Saraperos de Saltillo, a late add to big league camp after signing in February out of the Mexican League. Given the uncertainty and inconsistency of the club's bullpen picture, he could join it in a hurry. A late-inning setup guy with a fastball in the low 90s, Martin posted a 4.12 ERA last summer, striking out 65 batters in 63 1/3 innings and has a 3.81 ERA in three pro seasons.
Drew Storen, RHP
The polished and poised Stanford product, taken with the 10th overall pick, signed almost immediately and got right to work at Class A Hagerstown. By summer's end he'd cruised through three levels to combine for a 1.95 ERA and 11 saves, striking out 49 while walking just eight in 37 innings, and moved on to the Arizona Fall League, where his 0.66 ERA led the loop. A Draft-eligible sophomore when signed, he throws a fastball in the mid-90s, a slider and curve. He could beat fellow first-rounder Strasburg to the bigs.
Stephen Strasburg, RHP
What is there left to say about one of the top pitchers to enter the Draft? The Nationals need to make a decision on how they want to pace his rise through the system, but there is little doubt in most people's minds that he could pitch there right now on stuff alone. With a fastball in triple digits and two secondary pitches that are out pitches as well, his official pro debut in the Minors should be short-lived.
Under the Radar
Jack McGeary, LHP
Storen's ex-roommate and best friend at Stanford, and his roommate at Hagerstown this summer, the southpaw had a deal early in his career that allowed him to stay in school throughout the academic year and then pitch in the Nationals system as his summer break. This year he actually left school in time for the regular season and admittedly had his struggles in his first full campaign but the stuff is there, including the plus curveball. He posted a 6.79 ERA at Hagerstown and regrouped for a 4.31 mark at short-season Vermont.
Brad Meyers, LHP
The Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year was a fifth-round pick in 2007 out of Loyola-Marymount and seemed to come out of nowhere to lead all Minor League starters in ERA with a 1.72 mark between Advanced A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, allowing two or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 23 starts.
Eury Perez, OF
The 19-year-old dominated at the plate in the Gulf Coast League, leading the Minors with a .381 average and pacing his team to the league title as he also led the league with a .443 on-base average and 69 hits while ranking third with 16 steals. He played errorless ball in his stateside debut, showing off a plus arm.
We already addressed the status of the Nationals' two 2009 first-round picks, Strasburg and Storen, above. ... 2B Jeff Kobernus (2) is a Cal product who has had his early pro going slowed by knee trouble. A player with solid tools across the board, he hit .222 in 10 games at Vermont last year before being shut down. ... RHP Trevor Holder (3) was drafted out of Georgia and combined for a 6.97 ERA at three levels, finishing the summer at Potomac. ... RHP A.J. Morris (4), out of Kansas State was a Golden Spikes finalist, going 14-1 2.09 in college and then posting a 3.38 ERA between the Gulf Coast League and Hagerstown, striking out 40 and walking eight in 42 2/3 innings. ... RHP Dean Weaver (7), a teammate of Holder's, was Georgia's closer with a fastball which touches the mid 90s. He posted a 3.55 ERA in 10 games between the Gulf Coast League and Vermont after signing late. ... RHP Taylor Jordan (9), taken out of community college in Florida, limited Gulf Coast League hitters to a .194 average in 10 games. ... LHP Paul Applebee (10), from UC Riverside, walked just four batters in 33 1/3 innings between the Gulf Coast League and Vermont. ... The Nationals gave fans a local boy to root for in the person of RHP Pat Lehman (13), the Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year out of George Washington. Between Vermont and Hagerstown, he combined for a 1.97 ERA and limited hitters to a .202 average, walking just two while striking out 42 in 59 1.3 innings. ... OF Naoya Washiya (14), only the second Japanese player to be drafted, comes out of Junior College of the Desert in California and has great speed, going 12-for-12 in steals in the Gulf Coast League. ... LHP Evan Bronson (29), out of Trinity College in Texas, was 3-0 with an 0.55 ERA in 20 games at Vermont, limiting hitters to a .161 average and walking three while striking out 38 in 49 1/3 innings.
Hitter of the Year -- Danny Espinosa, SS
The third-rounder from 2008 out of Long Beach State comes off a Carolina League All-Star performance as he hit .264 with 18 homers, 72 RBIs and 29 steals at Potomac in 2009 in his first full season. He tied for fourth in the league in homers and led the loop with 90 runs. The switch-hitter should continue to perform as he moves up the ladder.
Pitcher of the Year -- Meyers
With the bigger names such as Strasburg, Storen and Thompson likely to see significant time in the big leagues this year, let's go with the defending Pitcher of the Year, a fifth-rounder out of Loyola Marymount who led the Minors with a 1.72 ERA last year between Potomac and Harrisburg. He allowed two or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 23 starts and limited hitters to a .224 average.