The Nationals are very high on right-hander Nathan Karns after his breakthrough 2012 season.
Karns was named the organization's minor league Pitcher of the Year after going a combined 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA over 24 games, 18 of those starts. Karns fired 148 strikeouts, two complete games and only 47 walks between low Single-A Hagerstown and high Single-A Potomac.
He won seven of his final nine outings to end the season, with a 1.84 ERA and 68 strikeouts. In his last 10 games, Karns struck out 10 or more hitters three times and recorded at least seven strikeouts in five of those outings.
Karns is a strong pitcher from Texas Tech, standing 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs., and was a 12th round selection in 2009.
He has battled through injuries that limited his 2011 campaign after sitting out 2010 following labrum surgery.
His resurgence and the promise he has shown with outstanding performances on the hill have given him the No. 5 position in Baseball America's top 10 list of Nationals prospects.
Baseball America national writer Aaron Fitt said Karns' 2012 season was an unforgettable jump for the just-turned 25-year old.
"No doubt," Fitt said. "A guy who kind of really came out of nowhere. He had been a prospect years ago, beginning his career at N.C. State. Later, he transferred to Texas Tech. He has had the prospect pedigree. We had him as a top prospect in the Texas collegiate league. Again, injuries kind of derailed his career.
"This year, he put it all together. It is a pretty special story. Numbers are really good. His velocity was fantastic. He has a plus fastball and a hard, downward curveball which became his second plus pitch. I think his change-up projects as an average pitch. He can be a legitimate, innings-eating kind of a starter."
Karns also told me he would like to work on adding one or two other pitches this offseason.
With those outrageous numbers at Single-A, Karns will head to Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, filling a key role as the Nats rebuild their pitching in the minors after major trades for Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span.
This is all good news for Karns and the Nationals, as I have written before in this space how Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart has been a master at refining change-ups for their top prospects. I would expect the same to happen for Karns after Menhart gets a chance to work with him for an extended period of the season.