While other pitchers garnered more accolades and attention, first round pick Alex Meyer and above-slot phenom Matt Purke for example, another pitcher at Low Class A Hagerstown has outperformed them — Nathan Karns, 12th round draft pick in 2009 from Texas Tech University.
Karns, 24, is a big (6’4″, 230 lbs.) young man with the classic power pitcher frame Mike Rizzo loves. The right-hander throws a hard, sinking fastball that can reach 93 m.p.h. and a biting curveball with 12-6 breaking action.
Karns missed the entire 2010 season with an arm injury, but rebounded nicely in 2011 with 59 strikeouts in 46 innings for the Nationals’ Gulf Coast Rookie League team and its farm club in Auburn.
Now with Hagerstown and fully healed, he is flourishing. In 11 games, including five starts, Karns is 3-0, with 61 strikeouts in 44.1 innings pitched, a strikeout rate of 12.38. His WHIP is 0.99, with a 2.03 ERA. Opponents are hitting a paltry .148 against his power stuff.
In his last game, Karns pitched six shutout innings against the Delmarva Shorebirds, giving up three hits and three walks, with four strikeouts. His previous game, he pitched seven innings, giving up one run and fanning 10.
Karns only weakness so far is a tendency toward wildness. His walk rate is 4.26, with 21 free passes so far. Other than that, he has become another promising arm in the Washington farm system, with more pitching talent expected to arrive in the upcoming amateur draft.
Outlook for 2012: If he remains healthy and continues to pitch well, Karns is likely to get promoted to Potomac in July. His progression through the Nationals’ system should leave him in Harrisburg by the end of the 2013 season.
Chances to Play for the Nationals in 2012: None. The earliest Karns projects to play for Washington is 2014. The question is – will he arrive as a high ceiling #4 or #5 starter or as another power-armed member of the Nationals’ bullpen.