Nationals’ top prospects

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The Nationals‘ farm system, ranked No. 1 over the winter by Baseball America, fell to No. 12 when it was re-ranked in March in the wake of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Outside of outfielder Bryce Harper, there are more prospects at Single-A and Double-A this year than those who are near major league-ready.

Here’s a rundown of top prospects other than Harper to watch at each level. The minor league seasons open Thursday.

TRIPLE-A SYRACUSE

Tyler Moore, 1B:The Nationals‘ minor league player of the year in 2010, Moore has hit 31 homers in each of the past two seasons. The next step in his progression toward the majors is getting experience at the Triple-A level. Moore, who also will play some third base, was impressive during his time in major league camp, and you can count Nationals manager Davey Johnson as a fan. In a system where most of their top talent is a bit lower down, Moore is “knocking on the door to the big leagues,” one team official said. Another strong season from Moore could allow the Nationals to start seeing him as their first baseman of the near future.

Rafael Martin, RHP: A 27-year-old who never had played above Double-A normally wouldn’t scream “prospect,” but Martin’s journey hasn’t been a straight line. He was working construction in California five years ago before a Mexican League tryout led him to pro ball. He’s been with the Nationals just two seasons but has moved quickly. The closer for Harrisburg in 2011, Martin posted a 1.65 ERA in 43 2/3 innings with 54 strikeouts.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon (seen here), the sixth overall pick in 2011, and Matt Purke, taken in Round 3, are two of the Nationals' top prospects starting the season at Single-A Potomac.

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Third baseman Anthony Rendon (seen here), the sixth overall pick in 2011, ... more >

And the Nationals were pleased with his performance in the Arizona Fall League, the Mexican Winter League and in major league camp this spring.

DOUBLE-A HARRISBURG

Sandy Leon, C:The Nationals‘ catching depth has been a strength for several years, and having someone like Leon in the system made it easier for them to trade Derek Norris to Oakland last winter. Leon has stayed under the radar for a while, mostly because his top tools are defensive. Leon led the minor leagues in caught-stealing percentage the past two seasons, catching 53 percent of attempted base stealers in 2011 and 51 percent in 2010, and the Nationals‘ pitchers enjoy throwing to him.

Eury Perez, OF: Perez drew raves during his time in major league camp, with Johnson singling him out as one of the most improved players in the system in the past three years. A speedy center fielder, Perez is among a trio of top outfield prospects vying to become the Nationals‘ center fielder of the future. This will be a big season for his development as he’ll face better pitching and older players in Double-A. He’ll have to keep his average and on-base percentage up.

Destin Hood, OF: Hood joins Perez in the group of outfielders the Nationals will have a keen eye on. Hood, 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, was recruited by Alabama to play football and could have two national championship rings by now. Hood, who hit 30 doubles in 2010, saw his home runs surge from five in 2010 to 13 last season - and he still hit 29 doubles. Facing better pitching this season should be a good test.

SINGLE-A POTOMAC

Anthony Rendon, 3B:The Nationals‘ top pick in the 2011 draft seemed to impress everyone in major league camp, and he hasn’t stopped doing so since he was moved over to minor league camp. His swing was oft-talked about, and officials have lauded his fielding as well. “As advertised,” one official said. Part of a prospect-laden team at Single-A Potomac, Nationals fans won’t have to go far to see some of the organization’s best talent.

Matt Purke, LHP: Pitching coach Steve McCatty enjoyed the time he had to work with Purke, whose stuff did not disappoint. All of his pitches have impressive movement, and he spent a lot of his time in major league camp acting as a sponge with older players. He hasn’t been healthy for a long period since the 2010 season at TCU, so this season should be a strong indication of how quickly he will move through the system. He is expected to join Potomac after a stint at extended spring training.

Michael Taylor, OF:The Nationals converted Taylor from shortstop to center field and watched with pleasure as he flourished and his offensive numbers saw great improvement. Several major league players watched Taylor take batting practice this spring and came away impressed by the lanky outfielder’s pop. He’s just 21 and in his second season in the organization, but Taylor could find himself moving quickly if he gets off to a strong start at Potomac.

SINGLE-A HAGERSTOWN

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