The Nats didn’t make any real big moves this weekend, but they did make a couple of moves that are very good ones. They traded two vets with expiring contracts for some minor leaguers. Don’t get me wrong, both Jerry Hairston and Jason Marquis provided some value to this team. Marquis had a WAR of 0.8, putting him just above your average replacement player. But his 3.95 ERA and 8-5 record looked nice, and he did eat up 120.2 innings. Hairston played all over the field, infield and outfield, while posting a 102 OPS+, good for 6th best on the team. But neither guy was going to earn the Nats a draft pick after this season, and there’s no reason to think keeping them would give Washington a better chance to re-sign them, if the team was so inclined.
In exchange for the 35 year old utility man, the Nationals picked up Erik Komatsu, a 23 year old outfielder, from the Milwaukee Brewers. While this wasn’t a Wilson Ramos level fleecing, the Nats certainly got a potential major leaguer in exchange for someone who probably wouldn’t have been around in 2012. Komatsu is a lefty who has played a good amount of center field. If he can stick there, and there are some doubts, he has real potential. He is hitting .294/.393/.416 in AA right now, and that OBP has to catch your eye. He’s quick, although his SB percentage of 70% in the minors indicates he’s not a great basestealer, just a somewhat fast guy.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus listed him as the Brewers #14 prospect this year, calling him a potential bench outfielder. But that was before another great season of OBP-ness. After the trade, he said that Komatsu proved himself this year after his 2010 breakout, has shown excellent ability to walk and keep his strikeouts down. Goldstein brings up his lack of CF ability, though, saying he CAN play there but probably not full time. But he asserts “What he can do is hit right-handed pitching, run well, and play all three outfield positions, which should lead to a long career as a second division starter or fourth outfielder in the big leagues.”
Baseball America says that “Komatsu’s best attribute is his plate discipline, which is among the best in the minors. He’s collected more walks than strikeouts this year, showing the ability to work deep counts and lay off pitches outside the zone. His quick, line-drive swing and advanced approach at the plate help him hit for a high average and get on base at a strong clip.” As with BP, BA questions his ability to play center field and his power to play the outfield. They only count his speed as a little bit above average, which will hurt his CF range.
Even if he ends up as “nothing more” than a bench player, this is a great pickup in exchange for Hairston – someone who can draw a walk and play anywhere in the outfield. And if he keeps hitting for average walking, regardless of the rest, this guy could find his way into the lineup.
The Marquis deal might be even better for the Nats, even if they got someone less likely to make the majors. In return for a guy who won’t be on the team next year, and wouldn’t earn them draft picks if he went free agent, they got Zach Walters, a 21 year old shortstop. Walters is hitting .302/.377/.485 in high-A this year, indicating an ability to get on base and hit for power in his second professional season. While he is a shortstop, Goldstein says that he might not have the range to play SS, and projects more as a 2B or 3B.
Baseball America has more to say, indicating that nothing stands out per se… except the fact that he has been a strong all around hitter. They like his switch hitting ability, and indicate the he projects to have a good batting average. They go on to say “His other tools project to be fringe-average, at best, at the major league level. Walters’ baserunning instincts trump his raw speed, and he might not have the range or arm strength to handle shortstop on a regular bases. However, if he can stay up the middle at second base, then his line-drive, gap power won’t be an issue. He has all the hallmarks of a future utility player.” Again, this is not a blockbuster, but he is another player that is projected to be a major leaguer down the road.
These are good deals for the players they traded. Either of these guys could contribute significantly to a Nats franchise that has perennially suffered from the lack of anything worthwhile on the bench. And while a stumble could spell the end of their prospect-hoods, a slight improvement from either of these guys could give them the ability to be starters in the majors some day. A pretty good haul, for two expiring veteran contracts.