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Pipeline Inbox: Weighing the Nats-Rays trade

Mayo discusses Karns, Lindor and more in answering fans' questions about prospects

It's Valentine's Day, and one of the few things we at MLB Pipeline love more than prospects is answering your questions about prospects.

We try not to over-romanticize the impact that prospects will make, but we have as much passion as you about following their progress. And take it to heart, if your question doesn't get answered in this edition of the Inbox, there's always next week.

With Nathan Karns going to the Rays system, do you see them keeping him as a starting pitcher, or is he more likely to contribute out of the bullpen in the foreseeable future? Would you consider him as part of the Rays' Top 10 overall prospects? And likewise, would you consider Felipe Rivero and Drew Vettleson in the Nationals' Top 10? Finally, who do you believe got the better of the swap?
-- J.P. S., Springfield, Ill.

Well, this is timely. The ink on the deal that sent Karns to the Rays for Jose Lobaton, Vettleson and Romero has barely dried, and we're already getting questions about it.

I've always liked Karns' arm strength and pure stuff, as have many others. After he got past labrum surgery, he's been very good and he made it to the big leagues last year with the Nationals. Karns has been a starter throughout his career, but because of his delivery, his command issues at times and power stuff, many have looked at him as a future reliever. The Rays' plan for now, though, is to keep him as a starter. With Jeremy Hellickson out following elbow surgery, some depth would be a good thing. I think it's still up in the air what Karns' long-term role will be, but it's good knowing he has the kind of arsenal that could work out of the bullpen. He's currently No. 8 among the Rays' Top 20 Prospects, and he'll get serious consideration as we work on their Top 20 for 2014.

On the other end, Rivero and Vettleson did not make the top 10 on the current Nats list. Their new list is also being worked on. Rivero won't be close, but Vettleson is in the conversation.

Who "won" this week's trade might be determined mostly by what Karns becomes. If he can be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter, then it'll be close. But considering Karns' injury history and the potential that he might end up in the bullpen, the fact that the Nationals got big league catching depth plus two Top 20 Prospects makes me want to give Washington the edge for now.

Will there be a Top 20 prospect list for each team? And also, how close were Phil Ervin and Jesse Winker to breaking the Top 100?
-- Will R., Savannah, Ga.

Shameless plug alert: Of course we will have Top 20 lists for each team. If you head over to Prospect Watch 2014 and click on the "20 By Team" tab, voila, you'll see a complete schedule of when each team's Top 20 will be revealed. Our version of March Madness begins on March 3 with the unveiling of three lists: the Braves, Marlins and Mets. Even better, the Top 20s will go up with Spring Training reports from each of the 30 camps.

The Reds' list, where you will find Ervin and Winker, doesn't come out until March 27, so you'll have to wait a bit. Neither is too far off in our judgment. In fact, Jim Callis had Winker in his initial individual Top 100; I had him just on the outside looking in. Both of us included Winker in blog posts about guys who belonged in the next set of prospects, guys who could very well reach the Top 100 as the year progresses. Ervin had a tremendous pro debut. If he picks up where he left off, the 2013 first-round Draft pick should move into more serious consideration in a hurry.

What's a big league comp and ETA for Corey Seager? It feels like he could make a huge leap in 2014.
-- Louie O., St. Cloud, Minn. (@LouieOpatz)

Seager, the Dodgers' first-round pick in the 2012 Draft, is coming off a very solid first full season of pro ball, performing extremely well in the Midwest League to earn a promotion up a level, all as a teenager. Yes, he struggled a bit in the California League, but that's not something to be overly concerned about. Seeing Seager as a guy who could make a huge leap this season certainly seems reasonable. He could put up some monster numbers in the California League and reach Double-A, all while being 20 most of the season. That could put the No. 35 overall prospect on our Top 100 in line for a big league debut in the second half of the 2015 season.

In terms of Major League comparisons, I have to admit, that's not a strength of mine. But it isn't a cop-out to stay within the family. Most see Seager as needing to move to third eventually, so the comparison to his older brother Kyle, with the Mariners, might make the most sense. Both are left-handed-hitting infielders. Corey is a bigger, more physical version of Kyle, with more potential with the bat.

When do you expect Francisco Lindor to make his debut at shortstop for the Indians?
-- Chris S., Akron, Ohio (@csparrow12)

Back-to-back ETA questions about shortstop prospects. Lindor is No. 4 on our Top 10 shortstops list (Seager is No. 6), and No. 10 overall, which tells you all you need to know about how deep shortstop is these days, even if not all of the prospects end up staying at short long-term.

While Lindor is only 20, he's really not that far away. He reached Double-A as a teenager and did not seem overmatched, even though he was the youngest position player in the Eastern League. Lindor only played 21 games there, so a little more upper-level seasoning seems fair. He's shown the ability to hit for average and get on base, something that will only improve as he gets reps against more advanced pitchers. Defensively, Lindor could probably handle the position in Cleveland right now. He's an outstanding shortstop with impressive tools across the board.

Lindor's makeup and natural leadership skills might match, or better, his glove. That will only help him continue to move quickly. Seeing Lindor in the big leagues at some point in 2014 is certainly not out of the question. Seeing him take over from Asdrubal Cabrera in 2015 seems entirely possible.

Do you think Byron Buxton could have a breakout like Mike Trout did in 2012?
-- Kyle W., Piscataway, N.J. (@Walk427)

What, Buxton's 2013 season wasn't enough of a breakout for you? I'm not sure how much more breaking out there is to do for Buxton, unless you're talking about skin blemishes for the 20-year-old center fielder and top prospect in the game.

In all seriousness, the Buxton-as-the-next-Trout conversation has been ongoing. It really started with what the two did in their first full seasons. Both surpassed expectations, even with Buxton being the No. 2 pick in the 2012 Draft. Both Buxton and Trout were thought of as high school guys with tools who might take a little while to get going. Both tossed those expectations out the window by earning promotions and raking in their first seasons. Trout's combined line in 2010: .341/.428/.490. Buxton came in at .334/.424/.520, so it's not exactly shocking the two have been compared with each other.

What I think you're getting at is whether Buxton can do what Trout did in year two -- that is, reach the big leagues, then have his big league "breakout" the following season. Buxton should start the 2014 season in Double-A, so he's following the same path. I'd still err on the side of caution rather than predicting he'll hit Minnesota this year. Even if Buxton doesn't, he should in 2015, where he could indeed get the chance to replicate what Trout did in 2012 in terms of winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.