ESPN ranks Nationals No. 4 in latest "Future Power Rankings"

ESPN released its latest "Future Power Rankings" and the Nationals are ranked fourth out of the 30 major league teams. ESPN calls it a "detailed breakdown of the future of every major league franchise" by experts Jim Bowden, Keith Law and Buster Olney.

The No. 4 ranking is a jump from 2012 when the Nationals were locked in at No. 11.

Here is the link, but you will need a subscription to read the results.

The rankings are based on each team's strength in five areas: major leagues, minor leagues, finance, management and mobility.

The Nationals were rated No. 4 with a score of 67.0 out of 100, behind only the Cardinals (84.3), Rangers(77.4) and the Rays (68.1).

The Nationals scored 29 out of 30 for majors, 10 for minors, 20 for finance, 22 for management and 23 for mobility. The majors and minors sections carry full weight, while finance and management carried 2/3 of the weight and mobility 1/3.

The 67.0 score for the Nationals was also up from their 2012 score of 58.9.

Olney says the "Nats are the best team in baseball right now," but laments that Scott Boras clients Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper might not sign extensions early. Olney says Boras is known for the practice of not allowing his clients to sign before free agency contract extensions with their original clubs.

Former Nationals general manager Bowden chimes in that the Nats could get into trouble this season because they don't have much starting pitching depth in their system behind the big five of Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren.

I don't believe that is a major concern for these Nats. They do have Zach Duke, Craig Stammen and newly signed Chris Young as starter backups if needed. If Young can get close to the effectiveness he had while with the Padres, he could be a big offseason pickup. His 6-foot-10 frame will also be tough for hitters to adapt to after facing the Nats starters. Other options include Ryan Perry, who can spot start, and they still are thinking about stretching out Christian Garcia. But he has to get completely healthy first.

My concern is how well the bullpen will perform with its new look. Will the losses of Sean Burnett, long man Tom Gorzelanny and Michael Gonzalez cause major problems in 2013?

Middle relief will get the biggest spotlight, because Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Rafael Soriano look like the good fit to go in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Law, as he has said previously, believes the top five Nationals prospects match up with the rest of baseball, but says there is a big drop after that. Law has the Nats' top five prospects as Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito, A.J. Cole and Nathan Karns. The he has Matt Skole, Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matt Purke and Michael Taylor rounding out the top 10.

Even though we won't see much of Sammy Solis until later, he is a good prospect not mentioned enough. Taylor Jordan is also getting high praise and could have a big season. Eury Perez is not mentioned on this list and should be. The outfielders are moving along well. Chris Marrero is also off to a good start in camp.

The Nats may not have the "flashy" rest of the top 20 big-name prospect list to wow those outside the organization, but inside the organization, they believe they will field a very effective Double-A team, filled with players that may not be household names just yet.

There will be some players that will surprise that many don't talk about enough outside of the granite-enclosed Nationals nerve center, but those within the organization know who they are. Kind of like Tyler Moore, Matt Skole, Steve Lombardozzi, Nathan Karns and others did a season or two back to get where they are now.

If the future still shows Nats at No. 4, that is still not a bad place to be either.

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