ESPN’s prospect guru Keith Law listed his Top 100 Minor League prospects today, and 5 Nats made the list. For a shallow farm system (ranked 21st by Law), the fact that there are so many high end guys is good, and a little surprising. So let’s see who he put here, and why:

#17 Anthony Rendon

This one isn’t too surprising, most places list Rendon as the team’s best prospect. The fact that he’s top 20 in the minors is nice, and he would be higher for certain if he wasn’t so damn fragile. But Law like his swing and his ability to hit for doubles, even if he doesn’t see him as a big HR guy. Rendon is 22, and hit .233/.363./.489 throughout the minors last year, finishing up in AA. He dominated the other leagues, but wasn’t great in AA, so he’ll start 2013 in Harrisburg.

#44 Brian Goodwin

Goodwin has been moving up prospect lists over the last few seasons, but to be a top 50 prospect… that’s impressive. Heck, he wasn’t even on Law’s list last year. Goodwin was highly regarded back in college but several factors caused him to slip out of the first round, and out of elite prospect status. Law says he has “plus-plus speed, quick bat, and surprising power” and using the Mike Cameron comparison (speed, defense, power… and strikeouts) that we’ve already seen for Goodwin. Goodwin is 22 and hit .280/.384/.469 in A+ and AA last year. Like Rendon, he wasn’t so spectacular in AA to force the Nats to promote him, so expect him in Harrisburg this spring as well. Road trip, anyone?

#77 Lucas Giolito

There was a feeling when the Nats drafted him that he’d need surgery, and after throwing 2 innings in the minors this year, he underwent Tommy John surgery. So this ranking that Law gave him is with basically no professional experience. Law likes a couple of his pitches, touting a fastball “sitting 93-98 with a hammer curveball that he could manipulate to get more or less angle.” Law expects a healthy Giolito to be a top 20 prospect at least this time next year.

#89 A.J. Cole

The good news about Cole you probably know – the Nats really liked him, traded him and others for Gio, and managed to get him back. The bad news is that he had a bad 2012 (even in a hitters’ league it was bad) and he dropped from the #33 spot on Law’s list in 2012 all the way down to #89. It hard to tell by looking at his baseball reference page, but he actually started off in high-A, and was subsequently sent down to low-A, where he was great. He should be great in low-A, but at least it demonstrated there might not be something really wrong with him. Law did see differences in velocity in each league, and is a little worried about his delivery, from an effectiveness point of view, not from an injury one. As for the future “His ceiling is still extremely high, but 2012 was a huge setback, and his probability of reaching the ceiling of a top 20 pitcher in the league, is a lot lower than it seemed to be last winter.” Cole is 22 years old, and had a 3.70 ERA, with 133 K and 29 BB in 133 2/3 IP (the majority of the success coming in low-A). He’ll probably start 2013 in high-A.

#99 Nathan Karns

This one was a surprise to me. Yes, I’d seen that Karns had a great 2012, but without my eyes on the player (and any knowledge of scouting) it’s hard to identify prospects, especially ones who are 25 years old. But Karns had major shoulder issues that kept him from pitching at all for a few years, and 2012 was his first “full” season in the pros. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he was very effective with his curveball (Law referred to it as a “yellow hammer” which I had to look up – basically a 12-6 curve) so that “he could have two pitches that grade out at 70 on the 20-80 scale.” Health is the question mark with  Karns, rather than age. He saw real success in high-A last season, which means he might join Rendon and Goodwin in AA to start the season. Karns is 25 and had a 2.17 ERA, with 148 K and 47 BB in 116 IP  at the A and A+ levels last season.

By Charlie