A Look Back at Baseball America’s 2012 #1 Farm System In Baseball: The Washington Nationals

An elite farm system can quickly turn a bottom dweller into a force, as we saw when the Nationals #1 minor league system in 2012 turned them from pretenders to contenders.
Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals
Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages

For a team that is rebuilding, through the pain and misery, you always look for a silver lining. Right now, that is the farm system. As many of my colleagues have written about, guys like James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, and Cade Cavalli are all creating a lot of excitement, with CJ Abrams and MacKenzie Gore already proving they can play at the major league level. The lack of depth is a major concern, but there is at least a solid potential base for the future of the Nationals franchise.

From 2012-2019, our Nats assembled a record of 730-566 for a .563 winning percentage, making the playoff 5 times and capping off their widely successful 2010s with a World Series win in 2019. This run was built by key free agent acquisitions like Jayson Werth, Max Scherzer, and Adam LaRoche, and great trades by acquiring Gio Gonzalez and Trea Turner. Along with those successful moves, we were also aided by a pre-lottery draft system, with the result of being a bottom dweller allowing us to draft franchise-shifting players like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon.

In 2012, after finishing in last place in the NL East 5 out of 7 years from 2005-2011, the Nationals entered the season with the best farm system according to Baseball America. As the suffering of being a Nationals fan has risen again after the 2019 season, let’s look back on some of Washington’s biggest prospects in 2012 and how their careers shaped out.

RHP Brad Peacock

Brad Peacock
Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies / Drew Hallowell/GettyImages

Known for his big arm, Peacock was the prime prospect shipped to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, flying up prospect rankings after being drafted by the Nationals in 2006 in the 41st round. Peacock ended up pitching in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game and peaked at the 42nd best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America.

After making his debut in Washington in 2011 and being traded to Oakland, Peacock was traded once again to the Houston Astros for Jed Lowrie, pitching in the majors there from 2013 to 2020 bouncing between a starter and relief role. Peacock has a career 4.11 ERA in 560 innings from 2011, 2013-2021 with the Nats, Astros, and Red Sox, and is currently a free agent.

Catcher Derek Norris

Derek Norris
Houston Astros v Washington Nationals / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Norris was also included in the Gio Gonzalez deal, known for his raw power for the catching position, and ability to get on base. He was drafted by the Nats in the 4th round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of high school, where he was named the Kansas Player of the Year from 2006-2007. Norris peaked at the 38th best prospect according to Baseball America in 2010 and was the 2nd best Nationals prospect in 2012 before the trade.

Norris was the Athletics primary catcher in 2013 and 2014, making the All-Star game in 2014 before being shipped to San Diego. Norris had a shaky glove, known for being easy to steal on, and could never hit after the 2014 season. He ended his career with a slash line of .230/.304/.380, hitting 63 home runs in 610 career games with the Athletics, Padres, and Rays. He was acquired by Washington once again in 2016 from the Padres and was slated to be the starting catcher before we signed Matt Wieters and Norris was released. Norris is now retired.

RHP A.J. Cole

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

In my opinion, A.J. Cole is the worst starting pitcher in Nationals history. Cole was the final major piece shipped off to Oakland for Gio Gonzalez, and Cole was thought of so highly in the organization that Rizzo re-acquired him in 2013 in the Michael Morse to Seattle trade. Cole was a top prospect in the 2010 draft but told teams he was going to college. However, he instead signed with the Nationals after being drafted in the 4th round where they gave him a 2 million dollar sign bonus, a record for a 4th rounder at the time.

Cole never put it together at the Major League level, but he bounced around for a while after a horrible start to his career in Washington. Cole relied on deception, but had shaky command, and never found success as a starter or a reliever. In total, he threw 205 1/3 major league innings from 2015-2021 with the Nats, Yankees, Indians, and Blue Jays, with a 4.51 ERA. He is currently a free agent in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball after being released last season.

LHP Robbie Ray

Aug 23, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) pitches to
Aug 23, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) pitches to / Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Ray never appeared in a Nationals uniform and was traded similarly to the others I already listed, shipped to the Tigers as the key piece in the Doug Fister deal. Ray was committed to going to college for Arkansas, but the Nationals lured him to sign by giving him a 4th-round signing bonus as a 12th-round pick. Ray flashed potential but struggled in the minors, before taking off in 2013 after making mechanical adjustments, overemphasizing turning his hips, similar to the windup he uses today.

Ray is a strikeout machine but still struggled with consistency. When Ray puts it all together though, we know how dominant he can be. Ray overall has had an up-and-down career, with a 3.96 ERA in 1228 career innings so far. Ray strikes out an elite 11 batters per 9 innings, but also walks 3.8 per 9. He led the American League in strikeouts (248), ERA (2.84), starts (32), innings (193 1/3), WHIP (1.045), and ERA+ (157) in his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2021 with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ray has pitched for the Tigers, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, and Mariners, and now is a Giant on a 5-year 115 million-dollar deal he originally signed with the Mariners.

OF Michael A. Taylor

Michael A. Taylor
Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages

World Series Champion Michael A. Taylor. Taylor was a 6th-round pick by the Nationals in 2009 as a shortstop out of high school, before struggling as an infielder defensively and moving to center field in 2010. Michael A struggled with the bat as well early on but steadily improved throughout the minors, becoming a real prospect in 2012 and a solidified top 5 Nationals prospect in 2013.

With his upward traction and big-time tools, many thought Michael A could develop into an all-star, but we know he never lived up to his full potential. He was a fan favorite and will always be one in Washington, but he struggled every chance he got to start, before becoming a backup towards the tail end of his career in Washington. Over 969 career games, Taylor has a slash line of .239/.294/.389, with a career OPS+ of 83. He is a valuable player and will continue to be one as long as his glove is elite, playing with with the Nationals, Royals, and Twins, and is currently a free agent but will most likely find a home very soon.

RHP Alex Meyer

Alex Meyer, Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin
Alex Meyer (left), Anthony Rendon (middle), Brian Goodwin (right) / Greg Fiume/GettyImages

Meyer was also another National's top prospect regularly appearing in the top 5 behind Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper, but once again never appeared in an MLB game as a National. Meyer was the 23rd overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, appearing as the 83rd best prospect according to MLB.com ahead of the 2012 season. He got off to a great start to his minor league career, being selected for the 2012 futures game, before getting traded to Minnesota before the 2013 season for Denard Span.

Meyer continued to impress and peaked as the 45th best prospect in baseball before the 2014 season by Baseball America and was again named to the futures game that year. Meyer’s career then fell off a cliff in 2015, and was converted to a reliever in the minors before being converted back to a starter, and then back to a reliever again. Meyer was traded to the Angels in 2016, and put together a decent season as a starter in 2017, with a 3.74 ERA in 13 starts. Meyer would never pitch in the majors again and retired due to injury in 2019. Meyer had a career 4.63 ERA in 95 1/3 career innings with the Twins and Angels from 2015-2017. He is now a varsity baseball coach and teacher for his alma mater high school, Greensburg, in Indiana.

OF Brian Goodwin

Brian Goodwin
Tampa Bay Rays v. Washington Nationals / Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/GettyImages

Goodwin was a top Nationals prospect after being selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, ranking as the 5th best Nationals prospect before the 2012 season. He was quickly promoted to Double-A after tearing up the lower minor league ranks, and struggled but was ranked as the 3rd best Nationals prospect before 2013 and the 52nd-best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Goodwin continued to show flashes of his athleticism but never took the next step before being called up in 2016.

Goodwin put together a great season as the Nationals' fourth outfielder and pinch hitter in 2017, hitting .251 with a .313 on-base percentage and .498 slugging percentage in 74 games with 13 home runs. Goodwin then struggled in 2018 with injuries and inconsistency before being traded to the Royals. Goodwin bounced around the majors for a few years being a replacement-level player, spending time with the Nats, Royals, Angels, Reds, and White Sox from 2016-2021, slashing .244/.318/.440 in 429 career games. He is currently a member of the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

LHP Sammy Solís

Sammy Solis
St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

I was always a big fan of Solís. Sammy was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft and impressed in the Arizona Fall league after a good college career, but he tore his UCL and had Tommy John surgery missing the 2012 season. MLB.com still had him ranked as the 86th-best prospect in baseball, with Solis having good strikeout numbers and a big left arm.

Solís continued to trend up in the minors but continued to deal with injuries, dealing with an elbow injury in 2014 before making his MLB debut the next year. Solís began the year in the minors in 2015 but ended up on the Major League roster and had a monster season with a 2.41 ERA in 41 innings, having good splits against both righties and lefties with 47 strikeouts and a 172 ERA+. Solis never put up numbers close to that again and struggled to stay healthy, with a career 4.51 ERA in 127 2/3 innings from 2015-2018 before being released after Spring Training in 2019. Solis is still throwing hoping for another chance, spending time in Mexico, and was a member of the Mexico 2020 Olympic Baseball Team.

3B/2B Anthony Rendon

Anthony Rendon
World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Now for the fun ones. Rendon was highly regarded in college and was flirting with the top pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, but fell to the Nationals at 6th overall due to a shoulder injury that limited him to mostly a DH his last year in college. Rendon’s minor league career also got off to a rocky start, suffering a bad ankle sprain to the same ankle he hurt in college. He was the 19th-ranked prospect by Baseball America ahead of the 2012 season and only played in 79 career minor league games before being called up by the Nats in 2013.

Rendon will always be remembered in Washington for his smooth swing at the plate and smooth glove at third, even beginning his career at 2nd base and filling in there when necessary over the next couple of seasons. Rendon got better every single year as a pro from 2016 to 2019, when he was finally healthy. Tony Two Bags had his best season during the World Series run in 2019, finishing third in MVP voting, with a slashline of .319/.412/.598 with an above-average glove at third. He led the league in doubles with 44 in 2018 and 2019 and finished his Nationals career with the World Series win, four years of receiving MVP votes, an all-star appearance, and two silver sluggers. Pretty good for a guy who does not care about baseball, but it's also obvious to say I am extremely glad we did not re-sign him with how has Angels tenure has gone.

OF Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
Bryce Harper Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Here he is. Although I am extremely reluctant to talk about Harper, it is undeniable he is on a hall-of-fame path, and he had a tremendous career in DC. The guy was born to play baseball. He was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, being one of the most highly touted prospects in MLB history. He was 17 years old when selected with the first overall pick, graduated high school early, and dominated junior college in a wooden bat league. Harper hit 31 home runs in 66 games with 98 RBIs, a .443 batting average, and a 1.513 OPS. Bryce was a catcher with a rocket for an arm and unbelievable pop, before being converted to an outfielder after being drafted.

Harper got off to a slow start in the minors, but quickly landed on his feet and showed why he was such a great talent. He had the arm, the speed, the hit, and the power tool, and was becoming a good fielder as well. He was promoted to the Majors in 2012 as a 19-year-old rookie, winning Rookie of the Year and later winning a unanimous MVP in 2015. He was an all-star in six out of seven seasons in Washington, hitting 184 home runs with a .900 OPS in 927 games. Bryce was a superstar in DC but it is not crazy to say he never unlocked his full potential before his career took off in Philadelphia. Bryce is, and will always be, one of the greatest Nationals of all time.

Other notable players rated highly in the system included: SS/2B Zach Walters, RHP Taylor Jordan, 2B/UTIL Steve Lombardozzi, 1B/LF Tyler Moore, and 1B Chris Marraro, and RHP Lucas Giolito was also drafted 16th overall in the 2012 draft that summer.

There are plenty of names in the highly rated 2012 Nationals system, netting us great players through trade that were integral parts of our success, and many players who made an impact on our team in winning seasons.

We can now only hope, and pray, our current system is capable of doing the same. Although extremely top heavy, I have faith in the young guns to bring us back to greatness.