It was roughly one year ago when Baseball America deemed the Nationals' farm system as the sport's preeminent assemblage of talent. For Mike Rizzo and his team of scouts and instructors, who for years had worked to rebuild a tattered system, it was the highest praise possible.
Today, Baseball America unveiled its top 10 list of Nationals prospects for 2013, a list that's not nearly as deep in talent as last year's was, certainly nowhere close to retaining the crown as the best farm system in baseball.
The Nationals aren't to blame for this drop-off. There are two perfectly good reasons for it: 1) Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore are now established big leaguers and no longer considered prospects, and 2) a host of top prospects has since been traded away to acquire more established big leaguers who are helping this franchise win now instead down the road.
Indeed, four prospects who ranked high on the list last season have since been dealt: Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris and Tommy Milone to the Athletics for 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez, and Alex Meyer to the Twins last month for Denard Span.
It also didn't help that two pitchers from last year's top 10 list (Matt Purke, Sammy Solis) had surgery in 2012 and saw their stocks fall.
Which isn't to say there isn't still some elite talent in the organization.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon, the club's top-ranked prospect this year, remains one of the best pure hitters in the minors, one who shouldn't need much more seasoning (provided he can stay healthy himself after missing all but 43 games with a broken ankle).
Center fielder Brian Goodwin, meanwhile, turned heads in his first full professional season, especially in the Arizona Fall League, an ranked two spots behind Rendon on the top 10 list.
Who else cracked that list? Though he needed Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a pitch in a minor-league game, right-hander Lucas Giolito (the Nats' first-round pick last summer) was deemed the organization's No. 2 prospect. Solis (8th) and Purke (9th) made it as well, each young hurler trying to prove he's healthy entering spring training.
Matt Skole, the organization's player of the year, earned the No. 4 ranking after a 27-homer season at low-Class A Hagerstown. Right-hander Nate Karns, the organization's pitcher of the year after going a combined 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA at both Class A affiliates, was next at No. 5.
Others in the top 10: right-hander Christian Garcia (6th), outfielder Eury Perez (7th) and infielder Zach Walters (10th).
Put it all together, and few would still refer to this as one of baseball's best farm systems. But few would argue the trade-off wasn't worth it.
After years spent trying to build a farm system that could produce players capable of winning at the big-league level, the Nationals finally have a winning big-league team. And, thus, less need to dip into their farm system for talent.