Unlike the previous two prospects on this list, our 8th prospect, right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns, had his prospect stock initially damaged by injuries and poor performance, but a run a recent health and strong pitching has shot him up the rankings. Karns’ placement was not as controversial as some others, as he placed on all four lists, but his placement ranged from 5th to 10th.
As a top high school prospect, he was drafted in the tenth round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, but elected not to sign and instead went on to Texas Tech University. After three years there, the Nationals drafted him in the 12th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He was 21 when he was drafted, but would not make his professional debut for two more years, in 2011, as he and the Nationals medical staff worked together to heal his torn right labrum. He finally debuted in 2011, but pitched only 55.1 innings as the club eased him back into a routine. He made 13 starts between rookie ball and short-season Low A, with a 2.28 ERA, including zero runs allowed in all five of his starts in the rookie league, and a 9.6 K/9. But despite his stats, a 23-year-old who had yet to pitch in full-season ball was not given much consideration, and Karns appeared on no top prospect lists. He proved the doubters wrong in his breakout 2012 season.
In 2012, Karns threw 116 innings, again as a part of a club-imposed limit, making 18 starts and six relief appearances between A and High A. Overall, he had a 2.17 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, and a 11.5 K/9. His 148 strikeouts were the most in the organization, and his exploits earned him the Nationals Pitcher of the Year Award, given annually to the best Nats-affiliated pitcher in the minor leagues. As pundits and fans alike noticed his health and ability, he shot up the rankings, as Baseball America considered him the Nats’ 8th best prospect, and ESPN’s Keith Law rated him the 99th best prospect in baseball (Insider only link).
Verdict: Karns may be old for his level, but he certainly seems to have talent. If he can stay healthy, which is still a big “if”, and keep up his level of production in AA next year, Karns will be among the game’s best prospects for 2014. With continued success, he could be a #3 starter in the majors, or even better.