Rays acquire Karns in Lobaton deal

Right-hander joins already deep Tampa Bay pitching prospect pool

Nathan Karns held opposing Double-A batters to a .224 average over 23 starts during the 2013 season. (Carl Kline/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | February 13, 2014 2:25 PM ET

The old adage claims, "You can never have too much pitching." For the Rays, it's more than just a saying -- it's a philosophy.

Tampa Bay has reportedly acquired right-handed pitching prospect Nathan Karns from the Nationals on Thursday in a deal that sent catcher Jose Lobaton, left-handed prospect Felipe Rivero and outfield prospect Drew Vettleson to Washington.

Karns, who checked in at No. 5 on MLB.com's latest list of Nats prospects, joins an organization already wealthy with arms at the top levels. Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Enny Romero each pitched at Double-A or higher and made Major League appearances in 2013.

Karns has followed a very similar path. The 26-year-old right-hander went 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA, 155 strikeouts and 48 walks over 132 2/3 innings (23 starts) for Double-A Harrisburg last season. He led the Eastern League in ERA, was second in strikeouts and finished third with a 1.18 WHIP. He made his Major League debut on May 28 and made three starts at the game's top level, finishing with 10 earned runs on 17 hits (five home runs) in just 12 innings for a 7.50 ERA.

The Texas Tech product was taken in the 12th round of the 2009 Draft after struggling mightily (7-11, 6.90 ERA) in two years with the Red Raiders. He didn't take the mound as a pro until 2011 due a torn labrum that sidelined him in 2009 and 2010. He made his full-season debut in breakout fashion, putting up a 2.17 ERA, 148 strikeouts and Minors-best .174 opponents' average en route to being named the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Karns features a plus fastball and an impressive curveball that generates plenty of swings and misses, leading to the high strikeout totals in the Minor Leagues. His changeup lags behind those two offerings and has kept him from becoming a top-of-the-line prospect. The same could be said for his command, as evidenced by his 3.26 BB/9 for the Senators in 2013.

All the same, he provides the Rays with even more depth at a time when they've already lost starter Jeremy Hellickson for the first six to eight weeks of the season following elbow surgery. (Odorizzi is expected to take his slot in the Major League rotation.) The biggest benefactor of the deal might be reigning International League champion Triple-A Durham, which is likely to sport Karns, Romero, Colome and left-handed prospect Mike Montgmery in its rotation come Opening Day.

Lobaton, meanwhile, moves to the Nationals where he will back up starting catcher Wilson Ramos. The 29-year-old slashed .249/.320/.394 with seven homers and 32 RBIs over 311 at-bats for the Rays last season. He caught only 14 percent of would-be basestealers from behind the plate. The Venezuela native became expendable when the Rays acquired Ryan Hanigan (he of the 45 percent caught-stealing percentage) from the Reds with Jose Molina also on the roster.

Vettleson was a first-round pick (42nd overall) of the Rays back in 2010. The 22-year-old outfielder hit .274/.331/.388 with four homers, six triples, 29 doubles and 62 RBIs for Class A Advanced Charlotte last season. He was Tampa Bay's No. 10 prospect, according to MLB.com, at the conclusion of the 2013 campaign. His biggest present tools lie in the outfield, where he exhibits an above-average glove and arm. (The arm, in particular, comes from his days as a high school pitcher.)

Rivero, also 22, went 9-7 with a 3.40 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 52 walks in 127 innings for Charlotte in 2013. Like Karns, the Venezuelan southpaw's strengths lie in his fastball and curveball with his changeup and overall command still needing improvement. The 6-foot, 150-pound hurler, who MLB.com pegged as Tampa Bay's No. 18 prospect in its last rankings, is likely to start the year at Double-A Harrisburg along with Vettleson.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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