Only two months into this minor league season, I heard rave reviews from a couple of well placed sources about the progress of right-hander Nathan Karns.
Finally healthy, after recovering from shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the 2010 season, Karns rolled through the 2012 season and earned Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. He made a quick jump from low Single-A Hagerstown to high Single-A Potomac early in the season.
And the Nationals didn't just pick Karns because he had a great year. Opponents and coaches noticed, too.
It was no fluke. He was one of many prospects that his Suns manager noticed was having an outstanding season.
"Nathan Karns would probably be No. 1," Hagerstown manager Brian Daubach said of the difference-makers he had on his roster.
"Matt Skole was the Player of the Year and Jason Martinson had 100 runs and 100 RBIs total on two levels, which is rare in the minor leagues. But Nathan Karns, for a kid who hasn't pitched a whole lot, he started in our bullpen in pretty much a piggy-back situation, he took the bull by the horns."
Daubach got to see and watch his team go up against the best talent in the South Atlantic League, and the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Karns more than held his own.
"He was the best pitcher in our league, in my opinion, and that is saying a lot," Daubach said. "We had Dylan Bundy and Jose Fernandez. There were a lot of top, top prospects."
Daubach said opponents confirmed to him why Karns was so good.
"I am coaching third base and I talk to the third basemen quite a bit," Daubach recollected. "There were a lot of them that said that (Karns') breaking ball was the best they saw all year. For Nate to turn this season into what he has is a huge credit to him because he has been hurt quite a bit. That is a good sign not only for his future, but also the future of the Washington Nationals."
After being drafted in 2009 and missing 2010, Karns pitched only 13 games in 2011. In 2012, he burst onto the scene with 18 starts and 24 games, going 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 116 innings. He struck out 148 hitters and allowed only two homers the entire season.
During an amazing run from June 15 to Aug. 2, a span of nine starts, Karns went 8-0 with an 0.94 ERA (6 ER in 57.1 innings) with 65 strikeouts and only 14 walks.
The Nationals shut him down after those 116 innings because Karns had only 55 innings in 2011 and they didn't want to put that much stress on the shoulder. Karns confirmed the shoulder was great and he was anxious to get started in 2013. I would expect Karns to begin next season in Double-A Harrisburg.