If you go back and read my Washington Nationals Top 50 Prospects today, you can’t help but notice a significant omission. One of the top international prospects in this year’s class, a player who is inside some top 100 prospects lists without taking a pro-at-bat, was left off. At the time of writing, 17-year-old Cuban-born Cristhian Vaquero had not yet signed with Washington, so he was officially not a prospect. And, of course, he signed the day after the article was submitted. What can you do?
Vaquero is ranked the second-best prospect in this year’s international class, per MLB Pipeline. On Baseball America’s top international prospects, he’s number 1. After my list was published, I said Vaquero would have ranked 14th in the Nationals system. That may seem low, but most international free agents are still kids. Vaquero would be a sophomore in high school if born in the States. He is potentially a five-tool talent, a phrase that, in my opinion, is overused. But when you watch video and read the reports on Vaquero, it is an appropriate projection to use.
His name is Cristhian Vaquero aka “The Phenomenon.”
He’s the top international prospect.
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) January 15, 2022
There will likely be ups and downs with Vaquero’s development. So I try to temper expectations for these signings. However, after looking into Vaquero, I got more excited about this prospect. Vaquero is a player with tools and projection to dream on, who deserves the hype and could be the top prospect in the Nationals system in short time.
This was the second year in a row that the Nationals have spent most of their international bonus money on one player. In 2021 the club signed shortstop Armando Cruz to a $3.9 million bonus (roughly 73% of their $5.3 million cap), a club record at the time. This year the Nationals spent almost 95% of their international bonus on one player on Vaquero, nicknamed “The Phenomenon,” for $4,925,000.
Vaquero was born into an athletic family. His mother swam for the Cuban national team, and his father competed nationally in judo. Vaquero found success early in his baseball career, making the Cuban national baseball team at 11 years old. Eventually, he would leave Cuba for the Dominican Republic to improve his baseball skills. In the Dominican Republic, the natural lefty learned how to switch hit, which improved his pitch recognition.
It’s easy to forget that Vaquero is only 17 years old. He’s a physical specimen at 6 foot 3, 190 pounds. The frame just screams projection. He’ll likely top out around 215 pounds and has a real chance to stick in center field. Vaquero covers lots of ground and could be a plus defender. But if he does make a move to one of the corner outfield spots, he could still be a defensive asset. His arm strength is already easily plus plus, with throws from the outfield to home hitting 95 MPH. Right field is the likely landing spot if he needs to move off of center.
At the plate, Vaquero already has plus offensive tools. He makes good swing decisions has plus power and plus speed. The swing from the right side of the plate is still a work in progress, but that will likely improve as he progresses through the system. His swing from the left side is smooth and easy. He is already showing plus raw power with electric bat speed. Vaquero has already drawn comps to Juan Soto; both teenage outfielders signed out of the Dominican. Nationals Assistant GM of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia had the following to say on those comparisons;
“Soto had nowhere near the tools this kid [has].”
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) January 16, 2022
DiPuglia went on to praise Vaquero’s work ethic and drive. While researching Vaquero, every article tweet raved about his energy, the one trait that stood out to me. His love for the game and how he comes to every game with the same high-energy approach. This is a player who clearly loves the game and will be one of the more exciting players to watch in this system.
With 95% of their international cap spent on one player, Vaquero was the only signing of note for the Nationals. Washington signed ten players total, including Vaquero. The other nine follow;
Jorgelys Mota, SS, Dominican Republic — $250,000
Albert Casado, IF, Dominican Republic — $10,000
Misael Mojica, IF, Dominican Republic — $10,000
Helder Rosario, C, Dominican Republic — $10,000
Jeremy Bautista, C, Dominican Republic — $10,000
Ramon Cuevas, RHS, Dominican Republic — $10,000
Miguel Moreno, RHS, Dominican Republic — $10,000
Marlon Perez, LHS, Cuba — $10,000
Camilo Sanchez, RHS, Panama — $10,000
Despite only siging one notable free agent, Vaquero is arguably one of the top players available this winter. We may see Vaquero stateside this summer. The Nationals system is not robust. However, with the addition of Vaquero and the continued development of Tier 3 players, this exciting system could be on the rise.
Colin Coulahan is the Washington Nationals correspondent for Prospects1500. Colin first began covering sports as the studio producer for the University of Delaware football and basketball radio broadcasts and then for the Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team. He graduated from Wilmington University in 2010 with a degree in Studio Production. Since 2016 Colin has been playing in multiple dynasty leagues. He is married with 2 children and can be reached on Twitter @cjc07.