After getting the top hitting prospect in the class and paying over slot for high talent, the Nationals 2011 draft was praised by most around baseball. They helped stock their farm system so much it was rated as the best in the game back in February. The groups best players, however, have got off to a rough start as two of their top three picks sit out with injuries. Overall though the class has shaped up well nine months since being drafted and some of the lesser names have emerged as names to keep an eye one in the future.Here is a look at their top picks from last year:Anthony Rendon, IF - 1st round, 6th pickRendon suffered a small fracture in his left ankle in the second week of April while playing at Class-A Potomac. It continues a long injury history for the young infielder who was only able to DH his last year in college because of a bum shoulder. Rendon wont miss the entire season, but getting helped off the field early in his first season was a huge setback to his development.Alex Meyer, RHP - 1st round, 23rd pickMeyer is the only top four pick of the Nationals 2011 class to be playing in the minors and currently healthy. The 69 flame-thrower out of Kentucky has made six starts for the Hagerstown Suns and has three consecutive solid outings. He has allowed just five earned runs in his last 16.2 innings and holds a 4.28 ERA on the season. His worst start came in his second outing when he allowed five runs in the first inning on April 12, but since Meyer has settled down and is second on the Suns with 33 strikeouts in 27.1 innings.Brian Goodwin, OF - CA, 34th pickGoodwin hasnt played in game since leaving one with a quad injury on April 9. The outfielder continues to recover, but had two home runs and eight RBI in just five games with the Hagerstown Suns. The Nats have high hopes for Goodwin to potentially slot in center field some day and hope he can get back on track soon.Matt Purke, LHP - 3rd round, 96th pickPurke is not injured right now but continues to work at extended Spring Training. He is expected to open with the Potomac Nationals and should be there relatively soon according to Mike Rizzo. Rizzo still has him down south to limit his innings this year as Purke has an injury history with his left throwing shoulder.Kylin Turnbull, LHP - 4th round, 127th pickTurnbull is the highest selected player from this class the Nationals have at the Class A Shortseason Auburn Doubledays. The pitcher has had trouble so far with a 5.12 ERA through his first four starts. He has allowed 22 hits and 11 earned runs in just 19.1 innings pitched.Matthew Skole, 3B - 5th round, 157th pickA big bat out of Georgia Tech, Skole has been the most pleasant surprise thus far out of the 2011 class. Skole leads the South Atlantic League with 34 RBI and 28 walks. His five home runs and .955 OPS are also both tops on the Hagerstown Suns. He is well on track to be a SAL All-Star and probably won't be with the Suns long into the summer.Taylor Hill, RHP - 6th round, 187th pickHill is also finding early success at Class-A Hagerstown with the starting rotations best ERA at 2.88. He is 3-2 on the year and has allowed just one home run and three walks in 25.0 innings pitched.Brian Dupra, RHP - 7th round, 217th pickDupra one of Hagerstowns other young starters and has kept an impressive 3.20 ERA in six starts this season. He has, in fact, allowed one run or less in four of those six starts and has yet to give up a home run. In his last three outings he has allowed only one earned run and just seven hits in total.Gregory Holt, RHP - 8th round, 247th pickHagerstown has used Holt in seven relief appearances so far and he has produced mixed results. He holds a 4.40 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched but has given up only one run in his last three games. He has improved on his ten appearances with Hagerstown from last season and seems to be getting better consistently.
Though they’re still fighting for home field advantage in next week’s division series, the Nationals understand they’re in a strange part of their season.
Sure, playoff seeding is plenty important. These last regular season games count, et cetera et cetera. But Washington already clinched the NL East title, and already knows its playoff opponent is going to be the Los Angeles Dodgers. So it’s not a surprise that players are willing to admit how difficult it can be to keep their foot on the gas pedal these days.
“Once you win the division, there’s that exhale, that sigh of relief,” said Jayson Werth after Friday night’s 7-4 loss to the Miami Marlins.”..You kind of let off the throttle a little bit.”
And when a team takes that approach, health becomes the top priority. It’s a mindset that was on full display Friday night when Werth was removed from the game in the seventh inning as a precaution due to back and side tightness.
“We can't afford to lose anybody else,” manager Dusty Baker said. “So we decided that, it was wet, on the chilly side, and I decided I couldn't take a chance on him being injured too.”
Werth said that team trainers ruled out a strain or a pull, and that he’d be surprised if he wasn’t in the lineup on Saturday afternoon.
Still, any injury the Nats suffer this time of the year feels magnified, especially given the last week: Bryce Harper jammed his left thumb, Wilson Ramos tore his ACL and Daniel Murphy was shut down until the playoffs with a glute strain. Not to mention that Stephen Strasburg will likely miss the club’s entire October run.
“The biggest thing is right now is to get everybody healthy for the postseason,” Stephen Drew said. “I think that's key. We got some guys out and hopefully we'll be ready for the playoffs.”
So while every team says it’d like to head into the postseason firing on all cylinders, the Nats’ case shows that it’s not always realistic. Bottling up momentum and carrying into the biggest games of the year is the ideal, of course. But sometimes heading into the tournament with all your horses in tact works too — seeding be damned.
“Obviously home field advantage is important to us, and we want that,” Werth said. “But at the same time, we also feel like we’ve done our job a little bit. So there’s a balance there.....you don’t want to do something where you can put yourself in jeopardy, where you can really get hurt.”
Postgame analysis of the Nats' 7-4 loss over the Miami Marlins on Friday night at Nationals Park.
How it happened: If the Nationals want to sew up home field advantage in their first playoff series, they still have more work to do — and only have two more games to do it.
The Nats were unable to help their cause Friday night, falling to the Marlins 7-4 in a rain-soaked affair that began nearly two hours after its scheduled start time.
While the offense couldn’t come through late, it was starter A.J. Cole that put the Nats in a bind in this one. The 24-year-old rookie right hander forcing Dusty Baker to go to his bullpen early after yielding four runs (two earned) on six hits in just three innings of work.
But all it took was one inning for the Nats to even things up. Anthony Rendon and Stephen Drew opened the fourth with back-to-back solo home runs, and RBI hits by Jose Lobaton and Trea Turner make it 4-4 heading into the fifth.
The bullpen subsequently cracked, however, yielding a runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to give the Marlins a 7-4 edge. The offense couldn’t mount a late rally, and that was all she wrote.
What it means: The magic number for home field advantage in the NLDS remains at two. As of this post, the Dodgers have yet to complete their game against the Giants, so there’s still a chance it could fall to one by Saturday morning.
Rendon reaches homer milestone: With his fourth-inning solo shot, Rendon became the latest Nats hitter join the 20 home run club. In fact, the Nats tied the 1965 and 2003 Braves as the only National League clubs with six players with 20-plus long balls in a season. (Interestingly enough, the Cardinals mathed that feat the Nats later in night after a Matt Holliday home run.)
But back to Rendon: For all the talk that the Nats offense sans Wilson Ramos will suffer, remember that Rendon has been one of the team’s best hitters since the All-Star break. Since then, he’s notched 11 homers, 20 doubles and 51 RBI. In other words, he’s fully returned to his ‘Tony Two-Bags’ form of 2014.
More accolades for Turner: D.C.’s favorite rookie had another one of his patented performances Friday night, going 2-for-3 with an RBI single, a triple and two stolen bases. He became the fourth player in MLB history to notch 10 home runs and 30 steals in less than 100 games, joining Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds and current Nats first base coach Davey Lopes. Since the break, he leads the team in both extra-base hits and steals. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Harper struggles: In his first game back since injuring his left thumb, Bryce Harper looked looked very much like a hitter trying to regain his timing at the plate. In four at-bats, he struck out four times — three of them swinging. It’s just one game, of course, but he and the Nats are quickly running out of time to rev up for October.
Up next: The Nats will continue their quest to gain home field advantage in the middle game of this three-game set. Washington will send Tanner Roark (15-10, 2.86 ERA) to the hill to oppose Marlins lefty Wei-Yin Chen (5-4, 5.02 ERA).