Rays Acquire Nate Karns
Jose Lobaton, Felipe Rivero, and Drew Vettleson have been traded to the Washington Nationals for right-handed pitcher Nate Karns.
Karns is a 6’3″ right-handed pitcher that was drafted in the 12th round of the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech University. The 26 year old pitcher was ranked as the ninth best prospect in the Nationals organization by Baseball America after fully recovering from a labrum injury shortly after being drafted. He has worked as a starting pitcher throughout most of his minor league career and last season, struck out 155 while allowing 109 hits in 133 innings of work in the Double-A Eastern League. Those are the kind of numbers one would expect from an older prospect at that level who has two pitches rated as plus or plus-plus pitches by scouts. Despite the impressive numbers, Karns does come with flaws.
Over the summer, Zack Mortimer of the BaseballProspectus prospect team (now with the St. Louis Cardinals) scouted Karns. Mortimer graded Karn’s fastball as a 60 and the curveball as a 70 on the 20-80 scale. The fastball was clocked in the 91-96 range with good movement but below average command. While his delivery is rather clean and simple, the report mentions a stiff front side which is evident in the animated gif below and that leads to elevating pitches.
The curveball is a knuckle curve, which is the preferred grip of other Rays pitchers such as David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore. It is more of a 12-6 curve that has a sharp downward break and he had success with the pitch in his limited time at the major league level last season. He lacks an offspeed pitch, but it is easier to teach an effective changeup than it is an effective breaking ball. Karns will most likely spend a good portion of this season in Durham working with experienced pitching coach Neil Allen, who will indoctrinate him on the organizational philosophy on the changeup and work with him as he did with the “pheee-nom” Chris Archer.
Paul Sporer and Doug Thorburn in their just-released 2014 Starting Pitching Guide had this to say about Karns:
Karns used a strong Double-A effort to earn his major league debut. He gives the Nats yet another viable arm on hand should they need reinforcements. It’s kind of ridiculous for them to have baseball’s best rotation and such a deep bench. Karns is probably a fourth-starter at peak, but he has a pair of plus pitches with the fastball and curveball
Karns, along with the recent return from the San Diego Padres, adds to the available depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues for the team. The work on the changeup will ultimately determine whether Karns has a future in the rotation or the bullpen, but acquiring a pitcher with two plus pitches for a reserve catcher is a nice coo.
It should be noted that the Nationals tried signing Jose Molina to fill their backup catcher role, though he ultimately chose to re-sign with the Rays.