Results tagged ‘ Nathan Karns ’
Before Monday night’s Nationals-Mets tilt in Port St. Lucie – the second between the two clubs in the same location in just over 48 hours – skipper Davey Johnson mused aloud that teams with good Minor League depth often posted strong Spring Training records. If the game itself was any indication, Johnson, who relishes the opportunity to see such players in person, must have liked what he saw.
Led by a bevy of rising stars, the Nationals impressed at the plate and on the mound as they notched their first Grapefruit League win, by a 6-4 final.
The logic behind Johnson’s reasoning stemmed from the heavy innings that non-regulars log during the Grapefruit League season, and never was that circumstance more on display for the Nats. With a starting nine featuring just one 2012 Opening Day roster member in Steve Lombardozzi (plus Gio Gonzalez pitching), Washington’s youngsters peppered New York pitchers all around Tradition Field to the tune of 17 hits in a victory that was never as close as the final score indicated.
Outfielder Eury Perez leaned on his strongest tool – his speed – to accumulate a trio of infield singles and a stolen base, scoring from first on a double in the third and from second on a single in the fourth. Anthony Rendon, vying for a home run for the second straight day, was robbed of a longball at the center field fence, but later lined a seed the opposite way for a single. Eight of the nine starters pitched in hits, with Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole demolishing a double to the wall in right-center in his first at-bat.
On the mound, Skole’s counterpart Nathan Karns – Washington’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year – turned in perhaps the most noteworthy performance. Following two hitless innings from Gonzalez in his first spring start, Karns fanned Ike Davis, Mike Baxter and top Mets prospect Travis d’Arnaud, allowing only a David Wright flare single over two scoreless innings.
“He’s got a great future,” said Johnson of Karns, whom he saw live in game action for the first time Monday night. “He had an explosive fastball, threw first pitch strikes. Very impressive for the young man.”
Karns overthrew a couple of curveballs early, but settled in and spun a beauty to put away d’Arnaud. He attributed the early inconsistency on the pressure of facing Major Leaguers for the first time.
“Yeah, I was a little nervous in the ‘pen, I’m not going to lie,” Karns said of the experience, but he took Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty’s advice between innings. “Breathe, breathe. I guess I was a little red in the face, a little sweaty.”
Karns’ stuff played just fine, his fastball sitting 93-96 with great life. When asked if that was a normal velocity range, he was non-committal, but referenced his offseason conditioning program.
“I was around there last year,” he said of his fastball velocity. “This year I felt like I did a lot in the offseason to strengthen my lower body, give me some more endurance. So if I get a couple more ticks on the radar, that’s a bonus.”
One veteran in the clubhouse within earshot took notice.
“A couple more ticks?” interrupted Ryan Mattheus, who earned the save with a scoreless ninth, incredulously from the corner of the clubhouse. “What do you want, to throw 105?”
The radar gun at Tradition Field actually misfired and flashed 143 miles-per-hour after one high fastball out of the 25-year-old’s right hand.
“Yeah, I can say I threw 143,” Karns said nonchalantly.
It’ll be a story for the grandkids.
The Nationals hit the road again Tuesday afternoon, where they will face the division-rival Braves for the first time this spring at 1:05 p.m. in Lake Buena Vista.
2/23 @ New York (NL) – L, 5-3
2/24 vs. Miami – T, 2-2
2/25 @ New York (NL) – W, 6-4
Earlier today, Baseball America unveiled its annual Top 10 Prospect List for the Washington Nationals heading into the 2013 season. There has been a lot of movement since last season, with only four of last year’s prospects returning to the list. The reason for this is two-fold: some names, like Bryce Harper and Steve Lombardozzi, have become fixtures at the Major League level, while others have been traded in deals for the likes of Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span, making the Nationals imminently more competitive in the present. In both senses, the farm system has done its job. But that hardly means it is now bereft of top-level talent.
The complete list, along with more information on each player, is listed below. We have already covered a good number of the prospects in our Down on the Farm reports this past season, and will pick up the rest during the 2013 campaign.
1. Anthony Rendon – INF | Last Year: 2
Considered by many to be the top bat in the 2011 Draft, the Nats snagged Rendon with the sixth overall pick. After dealing with an early-season injury, the Rice University product rebounded for a strong season, moving quickly through the system and finishing in the Arizona Fall League.
2. Lucas Giolito – RHP | Last Year: N/A
Taken with the 16th overall selection, the Nationals went for upside with Giolito, who showcased some of the best raw talent of any hurler in his draft class. Though he missed the end of his senior year of high school with an injury and has since had offseason surgery, Mike Rizzo and company are very high on the young pitcher, as are industry insiders like ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.
3. Brian Goodwin – OF | Last Year: 5
Another fast riser through the system, Goodwin crushed the South Atlantic League in the first half of his inaugural pro campaign to earn a two-level promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. He joined Rendon in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game, where he homered as part of a 2-for-5 performance.
4. Matt Skole – INF | Last Year: 21
Skole opened eyes in his first full professional season. The Georgia Tech product clobbered 27 home runs in just 101 games at Low-A Hagerstown to earn South Atlantic League player of the year, even with a late-season promotion to Potomac. He showed tremendous patience, batting a combined .291/.426/.559, collecting 99 walks and 104 RBI. But despite the impressive display of power and run production, the biggest accolades for Skole within the organization came from as a result of his huge strides forward on defense at third base. That earned him Nationals Minor League Player of the Year honors.
5. Nathan Karns – RHP | Last Year: N/A
The highest mover from last year’s list (from being unranked in a group that runs 30 deep), Karns improved upon an encouraging 2011 season by lowering his walk rate and increasing his strikeouts, yielding tremendous results. He fanned 148 batters in just 116.0 innings, winning 11 games over two levels en route to the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
6. Christian Garcia – RHP | Last Year: N/A
It seems that on every team, every year, there is a surprise Minor Leaguer who breaks out and makes the big leagues as a September call-up. Garcia was that surprise this year, though his talent was well documented. Fully recovered from a second Tommy John surgery, the righty flashed a high-90s fastball and devastating slider to a 0.86 ERA with 66 strikeouts in just 52.1 innings across Double-A and Triple-A. He impressed enough in his debut to earn a spot on the playoff roster, and will likely have an impact as a member of the Nationals pitching staff.
7. Eury Perez – OF | Last Year: 22
A September call-up like Garcia, Perez was primarily used as a pinch-runner in the Majors in 2012, where the Nationals took advantage of his blazing speed. He actually posted better numbers in Triple-A than at Double-A last season, combining for a .314/.344/.361 line and 51 steals between three stops in the minors. Perez will still be just 22 on Opening Day, and will be in Major League camp come Spring Training.
8. Sammy Solis – LHP | Last Year: 8
Taken by the Nationals in the second round out of the University of San Diego back in 2010, Solis missed the 2012 season due to injury. Washington has high hopes for the lefty, who is on track to be fully healthy by spring after posting an 8-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in 17 A-ball starts back in 2011.
9. Matt Purke – LHP | Last Year: 7
A third-round selection out of TCU in 2011, Purke made just three starts at Hagerstown this year before being shut down. The 6’4”, 205-pound lefty pitched well in the Arizona Fall League in 2011 and got some time against Major Leaguers in Spring Training this past season. With at least two plus pitches, Purke will be worth keeping an eye on this year.
10. Zach Walters – INF | Last Year: 19
Walters was the return chip from the Jason Marquis trade in 2011 and has proven to be a consistent, heady player as he has moved through the system. With his athletic, strong body and a plus arm, he’s a switch-hitter whose solid defense profiles across the infield. He reached Triple-A by the end of 2012 and, at just 23 years of age, seems to have a bright future ahead.
Before we get too deep into our next Down on the Farm report, let’s explain the significance of the recent roster designation of a couple players. Both Erik Davis as well as Nathan Karns, who we profiled last week, were added to the Nationals 40-man Roster, guaranteeing them an invitation to Major League Spring Training in February. In the meantime, though, the moves had a more immediate purpose: they protected the two players from potentially being snagged away by another club in the Rule 5 Draft, an annual ritual which took place Thursday morning in Nashville.
For those not well versed in this process, allow us to explain how the process works, and why it can be a very big decision. The Rule 5 Draft stands in contrast to the Rule 4 Draft, which takes place in June and is more commonly referred to as the First-Year Player Draft. It is a process in which any Minor League player who was 18 years or younger when drafted who has accumulated four years of service time (or 19 and up at time of selection with three years service) becomes eligible to be taken by other teams. However, that team must keep said player in the Major Leagues for the entire season to follow, or else the player is returned to his original team. Due to that requirement, in the last 60 years, a range of just three to 24 players has been taken per year.
So why does all of this matter? Well, both Davis and Karns are Rule 5 eligible, so the Nationals added them to the 40-man Roster in order to protect them. That means they are safely in the farm system for another year, and each could be called up to the Major Leagues at any time without making a 40-man roster move. For Karns, who topped out at High-A last year, that possibility may seem more remote for the 2013 season. But for the 26 year-old Davis, who put up impressive numbers at Double-A in 2012, it could mean much more.
We spoke recently with Harrisburg Senators Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Terry Byrom, who shed some light on the skill set Davis brings to the diamond. A former starter who throws downhill with a great off-speed pitch and a solid curveball, he has drawn some comparison to current Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard. But Byrom had another member of the Washington bullpen in mind.
“I would say at this point that he and Christian Garcia are very similar,” he explained. “Garcia probably has better stuff, but I’m not sure I would say it’s a lot better. Erik’s stuff is good enough to play in the big leagues, absolutely, no doubt about it. He could make that roster out of Spring Training.”
Those are likely reassuring words for Davis, who saw Garcia’s ascent first-hand, both as a teammate and a roommate at various stops in the minors. And with Washington still sorting out its final bullpen spots for 2013, Byrom’s projection is not such a stretch. Given the organization’s track record of converting starters into quality relief arms once they reach higher levels of the Minor Leagues (see: Clippard, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke), there is no reason to believe Davis couldn’t follow the same path.
“I think that’s something that the Nationals have been incredibly successful at,” said Byrom, who has seen many of those pitchers make their way through Harrisburg. Especially the Minor League (instructors), they do a really good job of migrating guys from starting roles.”
Once a promising starting prospect in the Padres organization, Davis won 16 games for Low-A Fort Wayne back in 2008, and owns a career Minor League record of 45-24. The former 13th-round selection out of Stanford was acquired prior to the 2011 campaign for infielder Alberto Gonzalez, and ran into his first trouble as a starter, going just 5-12 between two levels of Washington’s farm system.
After that disappointing 2011 season, Davis moved to the ‘pen and rebounded with a very strong 2012 campaign. In 40 relief appearances with Double-A Harrisburg, Davis went 7-3 with five saves and a 2.52 ERA (18 ER/64.1 IP), striking out 69 while walking just 18 and stranding 20 of 25 inherited runners. He was promoted to Triple-A Syracuse for a short stint in August, but might have put up his most impressive showing in the Dominican Republic this fall. Pitching for Los Gigantes del Cibao, Davis went 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA, holding opponents to a .149 batting average while fanning 19 in 19.0 innings pitched. Davis credited a greater comfort in his second season with the Nationals as a reason for his improved numbers.
“When you go into a new system, obviously it’s a good thing because they traded for you, so that means they want you,” he explained. “But it’s tough not to put extra pressure on yourself to go out and do more than you’re capable of.”
Given a second chance to make a first impression, Davis has made the most of it. And despite a longer road than he may have initially expected, pitching in the Major Leagues is as close a reality as it has ever been before.
“I have the same goal with the Nationals that I did with the Padres,” he said. “I still haven’t really accomplished that goal of getting there and staying there.”
Byrom believes Davis’ continued improvement is certainly possible given his talent, and explained that if the pitcher can maintain his big league work ethic in 2013, it could very well lead to big league results.
“If he chooses to put the time and effort into it, I think that Erik Davis is going to be a guy that pitches for a long time in the bullpen in the Major Leagues.”
If you follow the Nationals Minor League system at all, the name Nathan Karns probably sounds familiar. Often the subject of our in-park Down on the Farm reports during the 2012 season, the tall right-hander worked his way from the bullpen to the starting rotation, then impressed enough to earn a mid-season promotion to a higher level, where he continued to succeed. When the dust had settled on his campaign, he was awarded the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award for his efforts.
As a result, Karns was one of two players (along with fellow hurler Erik Davis) that the Nationals added to the 40-man roster last week. We will get into more detail about the particulars of that designation next week in advance of the Rule V Draft, but suffice it to say that the organization has liked the early returns from Karns thus far in his professional career.
At 6’5”, 230 pounds, Karns has the big, projectable pitching body type that makes scouts drool. Originally drafted in 2009, Karns fell to the 12th round and got hurt before ever pitching as a professional, requiring labrum surgery in his throwing shoulder that cost him his entire 2010 season. As a result, he did not begin his journey into the professional ranks until 2011 at age 23, where he put up some silly numbers in Rookie Ball (two hits, six walks and 26 strikeouts in 18.2 scoreless innings pitched) and continued to find success despite some wildness following a promotion to Short-Season Auburn.
The Texas Tech product, who turned 25 earlier this week, expanded upon the success he found at the lower levels of the system in 2011, enough to earn Baseball America’s designation as the number 15 prospect in the Carolina League this season. This year, Karns amassed an 11-4 record and a 2.17 ERA (28 ER/116.0 IP) over 24 appearances (18 starts) between Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac. While many numbers pop off the stat sheet – anything from his 1.01 WHIP to his 148 strikeouts in just 116 innings – perhaps the most impressive one has been the Texan’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark. In 171.1 total innings as a professional, Karns has allowed just three home runs, or less than one for every 57 innings of work. Even Gio Gonzalez, who was the best qualifying starter in the Majors at limiting the longball, allowed nine in 199.1 innings, a rate more than two-and-a-half times as great as Karns.
The good news is that even areas of potential weakness improved this season for Karns. There were concerns about his control in college, where he averaged about 6.0 walks per nine innings over his last two years in Lubbock. The right-hander improved slightly in his first season as a pro (5.4 BB/9.0 IP), then lowered his walk rate to 3.6 – a 33 percent drop – this season. Factor in higher strikeout totals, and Karns made a significant jump from a modest 1.79 to a commendable 3.15 K/BB rate.
Karns’ strength lies in his best two pitches, a fastball that sits in the low 90s and can touch 96, complemented by a swing-and-miss, plus breaking ball which he will showcase at his next likely stop, Double-A Harrisburg. He will need to continue to develop his off-speed pitch there to give himself three plus pitches, the full arsenal to progress to the highest level of the game in a starting role.
The Nationals announced their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year Awards prior to Monday’s game against the Chicago Cubs, and the names should come as no surprise to those who follow the Washington farm system closely. Infielder Matt Skole – who tore up the South Atlantic League before a late-season promotion to Potomac – and right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, who largely did the same, took home the honors.
Skole was tremendous all season long, batting .292 with 28 doubles, a league-leading 27 home runs, 83 runs scored, 104 RBI and a .438 on-base percentage in just 118 games for Low-A Hagerstown while playing third base. After we profiled him here on Curly W Live, he went on to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award, despite his mid-August promotion to the Carolina League. He continued to show his abilities at the next level, posting a slash line of .324/.356/.500 including seven multi-hit performances in 17 games heading into Monday’s season finale.
Karns, meanwhile, posted an organizational-best 2.17 ERA and an 11-4 record in 24 games (18 starts) for the Suns and P-Nats. His promotion came earlier in the season, after just 11 games with Hagerstown, that saw him go 3-0 with a 2.26 mark. He continued to impress at Potomac, twice winning Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors. Karns led all Nationals farmhands with 148 strikeouts, and posted an eight-game winning streak over a nine-start span, logging a 0.94 ERA from June 15 to August 2.
Skole follows Tyler Moore (’10) and Steve Lombardozzi (’11) as a recipient of this award. Other notable former Minor League Pitchers of the Year include John Lannan (’07) and Jordan Zimmermann (’08). The pair will be honored for their accomplishments during an on-field ceremony prior to Friday’s 7:05 p.m. contest against Miami.