Down on the Farm: Checking in on the Washington Nationals’ top-5 prospects

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Jun 19, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross (41) throws to the Pitsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit:

Brad Mills

-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5: Joe Ross

We start off our countdown with Joe Ross—the Nationals’ No. 5 overall prospect, according to MLB.com.

While Ross isn’t at the top of our list, he’s definitely one of the most exciting young talents to keep an eye on in the Nationals’ farm system. And unlike most of the prospects on this list, we’ve already seen Ross perform at the big league level this season. Because of injuries to Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals called up Ross earlier than anyone expected. And despite the fact that Ross had never pitched above Triple-A, he proved that he’s more than capable of succeeding at the highest level the game has to offer.

In three starts for the Nationals this season, Ross is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 23 strikeouts. He boasts a WHIP of 1.03 in 20 1/3 innings of work this season and has been as dominant as anyone in his brief time with the big league rotation.

When he hasn’t been pitching in the big leagues this season, Ross has been even more dominant in the Nationals’ minor league system. The right-hander is 4-3 with a 2.79 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 71 combined innings between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse.

Perhaps one of the things that makes Nationals’ fans feel so good about Ross is the fact that the team sacrificed very little to get him. The Nationals acquired Ross from the Padres as part of last winter’s 11-player, three team trade that sent the team’s former No. 5 prospect, Steven Souza Jr., to the Rays. The focus of that trade for the Nationals was the acquisition of shortstop prospect Trea Turner, but as we’ve seen this season, the fact that they also got Ross in the deal could have a major impact on the team’s future.

For Ross, things have changed significantly since his professional career began with the Padres.

The Padres drafted Ross with the 25th overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player draft. The right-hander struggled during his first few years in the minors but really made strides in 2014, earning a promotion to Double-A San Antonio.

In 2014—which, up until this season had been the best season of his professional career—Ross went 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA and a career-high 106 strikeouts over 121 2/3 innings with Class A Fort Wayne and San Antonio. While he was certainly good with the Padres, he has stepped his game up to a whole new level this season with the Nationals.

Ross has already made an impact for the Nationals at the big league level this season, and he continues to tear it up in the minor leagues. He’s back in the minors now, but he’ll likely be back with the big league club at some point this season.

If he weren’t shaping out to be such a fast-climber, Ross would probably be near the top of this list next season. But based on how quickly he’s progressed with the Nationals in 2015, there’s a good chance he’ll be in the big leagues for good before he has time to make his way closer to the top of the Nationals’ minor league hierarchy.

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