The Nationals prospect list took a mild hit this week with the announcement that left-hander Matt Purke has been released by the team. Purke had been a part of the organization’s top 10 in prospects since his arrival from the 2011 draft, but shoulder and elbow injuries derailed his opportunity to excel with the Nationals.
But the Nationals’ top 10 prospects are still chocked full of potential, especially with the addition of a few new names that had just arrived from last year’s draft.
So we will focus this particular top 10 series on the Baseball Prospectus version of the best available players in the Nationals minor league system.
No. 10: infielder Wilmer Difo
There has been a lot written about Difo. He accelerated up our charts last season when he was ranked as one of the top three prospects in the organization based on his overall body strength, pound for pound.
The 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic hit an impressive .315 in 136 games for low Single-A Hagerstown this season. Difo smacked 31 doubles, seven triples and 14 homers while racking up 90 RBIs. He also swiped a stunning 49 bases and scored 91 runs, representing a critical part of the Suns offense.
Chris Mellen, co-director of the Baseball Prospectus prospect team, says Difo has the tools you like to see in a player that can advance, and can play a couple of different positions around the infield.
“He’s intriguing,” Mellen said. “He’s interesting. He’s a middle infielder. Plays both shortstop and second base, split his time between the two positions. From a scouting perspective, better fit at second.”
Mellen breaks down his reasoning from the Baseball Prospectus scouting as to why the young infielder is trending toward second base.
“Not quite as natural as you could physically see from a shortstop,” Mellen said. “Could he potentially continue to play there up through the ranks more? Yes. But as you look at the profile, maybe as a major league profile, it would be more like a shortstop in a pinch. Also, defensively there’s potential that he could play third base.”
The Nationals have also played their top talent in the outfield. Mellen believes they could give that responsibility to Difo to see how his strength and speed plays beyond second base.
“He could add that to his skill set as well. He can work well in the field, maybe even in the outfield,” Mellen said. “So that is why when I wrote him up, I kind of stressed that utility type profile with him at the floor.”
Mellen bases part of his analysis of Difo on where the Nationals have played the Dominican native this past season.
“I think he is more second base-oriented when all is said and done,” Mellen continued. “I don’t think short-term, long-term shortstop. I argue thinking (to) the fact that they’re playing him at both positions, (so) they see it themselves that eventually that’s probably the best fit for him.”
Regardless of what position Difo ends up playing long-term for the Nationals, he has earned the right to be listed as one the organization’s top 10 players.
Now he will (most assuredly) begin the season with high Single-A Potomac and get a chance to step up against Carolina League competition. Keep an eye on the spots he plays in the infield this season as he continues to gain experience and the opportunity to showcase high-end talent.
Photo by Matt Stahley