Few teams in the history of this sport have undergone as drastic of a farm system remodel over 24 hours as the Nationals did this past year. When you trade a 24-year-old superstar and franchise cornerstone, it should come as no surprise that what you receive in return changes the whole landscape of your team, and that’s exactly what happened when Juan Soto was shipped off to San Diego in late July.
The potential sale of this team will pose tons of questions going into and throughout this season, and the big league team is destined to lose a lot of games again, but there is a lot to be excited about, particularly in the lower levels of the minors. It might not seem like it now, but the Nationals have positioned themselves for success down the line if they can focus on developing some of these stars waiting in the wings.
If there were to be any complaints on my end regarding this organization, it would be the lack of positional diversity. It feels like there are enough high-quality outfielders in this system to field three complete units. That’s great when looking at a depth standpoint, and we all know that not all of these prospects are going to become the players we want them to be, but I would love to see the Nationals diversify a little bit with their top draft picks. I currently have five infielders ranked inside of the top 30, and the majority of those players don’t have the highest ceilings. This team will be picking at #2 in this summer’s MLB Draft, so they’ll have an opportunity to pick up an impact player at a position of need (preferably a frontline starter / corner infielder )
Nationals MiLB Affiliates:
Rochester Red Wings (@RocRedWings) – Triple-A
Harrisburg Senators (@HbgSenators) – Double-A
Wilmington Blue Rocks (@WilmBlueRocks) – High-A
Fredericksburg Nationals (@FXBGNats) – Single-A
Florida Complex League Nationals – Rookie
Dominican Summer League Nationals – Rookie
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster
*= signifies member of 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2022
1. James Wood, OF, 20, Single-A
There might not be a single player in all of minor league baseball that has the physical tools that Wood possesses. Coming in at 6’7” and 240 pounds, Wood is far and above the most physically imposing position player in the Nationals system. He possesses a blend of size, power, and athleticism that make it easy to dream on. Guys like Wood don’t have the best track record of panning out, but when they do, they’re usually stars (See 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge). If he can become the player I think he can be, you’re looking at a perennial all-star and a face of the franchise type of player.
2. Elijah Green, OF, 19, Rookie (FCL)
Green is probably the best pure athlete in this entire system. At 6’3” and 225 pounds with 70-grade speed and 70-grade raw power, it’s easy to see why he has the hype that he has. The 5th overall pick in the 2022 Draft can run with the best of them and has a thump in his bat that few 19-year-olds have. His biggest red flag has been his tendency to strike out a bit too often. In his short professional debut, Green posted a strikeout percentage over 40%. Despite that, Green managed to hit over .300, slug over .500, and post an OPS over .900. I don’t put too much stock into a 12-game sample size in the FCL, but if Green can hit like that over a full season, the strikeouts will be overlooked. He’s probably the biggest “boom or bust” prospect in the system, but Green’s ceiling has superstar written all over it.
No. 5 overall pick Elijah Green homers in his pro debut for the FCL @Nationals — with proud pops @ericgreen86 doing the camera work.
Stats for all #MLBDraft picks: https://t.co/svhuiocgNl
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 9, 2022
3. Robert Hassell III, OF, 21, Double-A
Another massive piece of the Soto deal, Hassell really struggled after the move to Washington. Hassell played 75 games with San Diego’s High-A team, posting a .299/.379/.467 slash line, but dropped to a .216/.311/.267 slash line with a 27.7% strikeout rate in 37 games split between Washington’s High-A and Double-A teams. The talent is there, so I like to give Hassell the benefit of the doubt and blame the struggles on the move between organizations. Hassell was the top prep bat in the 2020 MLB draft out of Independence High School (TN) and has always been projected as a hit-over-power type of player. Hassell is athletic and good enough with the glove to stick in center but will need to find a way to consistently tap into a little more juice to move into Tier 1 for me.
4. Cade Cavalli*, RHP, 24, MLB
Cavalli is still listed as a prospect, but will undoubtedly spend the season with the big-league team. He’s been the Nationals top pitching prospect since he was drafted in 2020 and is an elite strikeout pitcher when he’s on. Cavalli has a big frame at 6’4” to go along with 4 quality pitches, including a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and a plus curveball. You’re probably already looking at one of the Nationals best starting pitchers in 2023, but he can really begin to solidify himself as a frontline starter if he can dial in his command.
5. Brady House, SS, 19, Single-A
House came into the 2022 season with a lot of hype, but a back issue forced him to spend much of his first full professional season on the IL. With CJ Abrams likely being the future at the SS position, a move to 3B is probably in the cards for House down the line. At 6’4”, 215 pounds, House has plus power and a plus arm, and projects to grow into even more power down the line. He had a borderline 30% K rate in his 45 games in Single-A last season, so if he can stay healthy and work on his pitch recognition, I think he could be a fringe top-100 prospect by the end of the season.
6. Cristhian Vaquero, OF, 18, Rookie (DSL)
Vaquero was one of the crown jewels of the 2022 International class, evidenced by the Nationals spending nearly all of their $5 million dollar pool to sign him. Vaquero didn’t light up the stat sheet in his first season of professional ball in the DSL, but the switch-hitting 18-year-old still oozes potential. At 6’3”, 180 pounds with fantastic speed, Vaquero is one of the best athletes in the entire system and I believe is poised for a big 2023.
7. Jarlin Susana, RHP, 18, Single-A
I’ve seen a handful of comparisons for Susana to Marlins top prospect Eury Perez, and it’s easy to see why. Coming in at 6’6” and 235 pounds, the 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic has all the tools that make it easy to fall in love. He already possesses one of, if not the most electric fastball in all of MiLB, topping out at 103mph. Like most at his age, command and development of secondary pitches are at the top of the list for things to improve on, but if he can do that, you could be looking at one of the top pitching prospects in baseball when the 2024 season rolls around.
Jarlin Susana (@FXBGNats) had his longest outing to date in the Nats system, pitching into the 5th with 6 strikeouts, allowing just 1 run on 1 hit.
The 18-year-old, whose fastball eclipsed 102 several times last night, has a 2.30 ERA since coming over via trade.#NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/n4DrIpGkwg
— Nationals Player Development (@Nats_PlayerDev) September 8, 2022
8. Cole Henry, RHP, 23, Triple-A
Henry is in desperate need of a fully healthy season. The 2020 2nd-round pick out of LSU looks elite when he’s healthy but has struggled to stay on the mound ever since his college days. He will be looking to bounce back from the dreaded Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, but if he can tap into his pre-injured self (0.76 ERA over 23.1 Double-A innings in 2022), you might be looking at a potential September call-up, especially with the pitching help that the Nationals will inevitably need.
9. Jeremy De La Rosa*, OF, 21, High-A
De La Rosa is another outfield prospect in this system that’s full of potential. He started off the 2022 season by absolutely dominating in Single-A Fredericksburg, posting a .315/.394/.899 slash line over 69 games, but struggled with the promotion to High-A (.195/.273/.271 over 32 games). Granted, he injured his hand and eventually needed season-ending hamate surgery, so it’s no surprise that the numbers fell off. At 21 years old, I’m incredibly interested to see how De La Rosa plays with a fully healthy season in High-A. He, like Susana, has the potential to boost himself into Tier 2 with a strong 2023.
10. T.J. White, OF, 19, Single-A
White is going into his third professional season, and he’ll still only be 19 for the majority of it, with barely over 100 professional games under his belt. Although the power hasn’t really shown up too much in games yet, it’s still his calling card as a player. He isn’t the most athletic and doesn’t wow anybody with the glove either, so the bat is going to have to carry him if he wants to make an impact with the big-league club. Because of fellow high-profile outfield prospects like Green, Wood, Hassell, Vaquero, and De La Rosa, White might be looking at a position change somewhere down the road. If White can stay healthy for the entire season, he might be poised for a breakout year, especially if he can tap into the power that makes him such an intriguing prospect.
#9 on last season’s Top 10 MiLB moments is TJ White’s grand slam!
White didn’t stop there. Including this game, he went 12-25 over a seven game stretch. That’s good for a slash of .480/.519/.880 with a 272 wrC+ 🤯 pic.twitter.com/hIl7jsU5ZG
— Nats Farm (@NatsFarm) December 23, 2022
11. Brenner Cox, OF, 18, Rookie (FCL)
When you look at teams that have the best farm systems, the ones who find underrated prospects in the middle rounds are usually at the top, and that’s exactly what the Nationals did with Cox. The Texas commit was drafted in the fourth round and signed for nearly double the slot value ($1 million), so that alone shows the Nationals see something of value in Cox. The 18-year-old has a pretty left-handed swing to go along with a plus arm and the ability to play all 3 outfield positions. He has a projectable frame at 6’3” and 200 pounds, so the hope is that he can grow into more power as he matures. He might struggle this year in Single-A, but I can see him growing into an above-average prospect.
12. Jake Bennett, LHP, 22, Rookie (FCL)
The 2019 39th-round pick by the Nationals found his way back into their laps as he was taken in the 2nd round of the 2022 draft after 3 seasons at the University of Oklahoma. The Nationals seem to have a thing for big-bodied pitchers, and Bennett is no different (6’6”, 235 pounds). The big lefty isn’t going to blow you away with his stuff, but he is a safe prospect with good command that projects as a solid back-end starter (which the Nationals desperately need).
13. Andry Lara, RHP, 20, Single-A
Lara’s stats on the surface don’t look overly impressive, but the freshly turned 20-year-old still projects to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter at best, and a back-end of the rotation at worst. His delivery is incredibly simple, so repeating his mechanics doesn’t seem to be a problem for him. Standing at 6’4”, Lara has an above-average fastball that stays in the mid-90s and mixes in a slider and the occasional changeup. He had a borderline 4 BB/9 in over 100 innings last year, so if he can get that down and continue to throw strikes, he could make a big step in his development in 2023.
14. Zach Brzykcy, RHP, 23, Triple-A
Brzykcy had an absolutely dominant season as a reliever in 2022, and it seems like he’s on track to become the closer of the future. In 61 innings spread across 3 levels, Brzykcy pitched to a lights-out 1.76 ERA with 95 punchouts. His fastball is his primary pitch, and he throws it nearly 70% of the time. It’s an incredibly tough pitch to hit when he throws it right due to the amount of vertical break that he gets on it. He struggles with command at times which is why he’s always been a reliever, but he seemed to figure something out in 2022 and should be a good piece to the Nationals pen in the future.
15. Trey Lipscomb, 3B, 22, Single-A
Lipscomb didn’t get much playing time until his final season at Tennessee, but he surely made the most of it. The 2022 3rd-round pick slashed .355/.428/.717 in 66 games during his senior season and showed some good things in his brief 23-game stint with Fredericksburg. None of his tools really stick out as plus, but there also aren’t many holes in his game either. 2023 will be a good year to really see what Lipscomb can bring to the table as a prospect.
#VFL Trey Lipscomb made his professional debut tonight for the @FXBGNats and went 2-for-5.
Hit a three-run BOMB and an RBI single to drive in four runs. pic.twitter.com/MkCunJnSeI
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) August 10, 2022
16. Armando Cruz, SS, 19, Single-A
The 2021 IFA was one of the best international prospects in his class, and the Nats loved him enough to sign him for $3.9 million. His bat leaves a lot to be desired currently, but he possesses an elite glove at Shortstop. He makes a lot of contact (career sub 15% K rate), but he just doesn’t hit the ball very hard. He’s still only 19, so he’s got time to fill out and potentially add some power, but for now, the glove-first shortstop comes in at the back end of tier 3.
17. Jackson Rutledge*, RHP, 23, Single-A
Rutledge has not had the start to his career that he or the Nationals would have hoped. Injuries and command issues have plagued him, and the soon-to-be 24-year-old has been unable to even make it to High-A for more than a brief 10-inning stint in 2021. The 6’8”, 240-pound right-hander has the frame and the tools to be a legitimate big-league starter but is on the fast track to a future in the bullpen unless he can stay healthy and figure things out.
18. Daylen Lile, OF, 20, Rookie (FCL)
The 2021 2nd round pick out of high school underwent Tommy John surgery in March, so he was out for all of the 2022 season, but he should be a full-go for the 2023 season. He didn’t impress me too much in his brief stint in the FCL in 2021, but there is some potential there. He projects to have plus power, but he likely won’t ever hit for a good average. Like a few other prospects in this range, 2023 will go a long way in determining where he projects long-term.
19. Jake Alu*, 3B, 25, Triple-A
Alu “broke out” in 2022, and is the definition of a low-ceiling, high-floor player. I do think it’s likely that he breaks camp with the major league team, and I do think he has a good chance to be a regular contributor this season. He’ll be 26 in April, so it’s unrealistic to dream on him becoming a high-level player, but he should be a serviceable bat in the big leagues, especially for a rebuilding team like the Nationals.
Jake “Bleeping” Alu 💪 pic.twitter.com/bOFOsJw2X0
— Rochester Red Wings (@RocRedWings) September 18, 2022
20. Roismar Quintana, OF, 19, Rookie (FCL)
21. Jared McKenzie, OF, 21, Single-A
22. Will Frizzell, 1B, 23, Single-A
23. Jose Ferrer*, LHP, 22, Double-A
24. Aldo Ramirez, RHP, 21, Rookie(FCL)
25. Gerardo Carrillo, RHP, 24, Triple-A
26. Thad Ward*, RHP, 26, Double-A
27. Mitchell Parker, LHP, 23, High-A
28. Branden Boissiere, OF, 22, Single-A
29. Rodney Theophile, RHP, 23, High-A
30. Darren Baker, 2B, 23, Double-A
31. Sammy Infante, 3B, 21, Single-A
32. Israel Pineda*, C, 22, MLB
33. Matt Cronin, LHP, 25, Triple-A
34. Jeter Downs*, 2B, 24, MLB
35. Jake Irvin*, RHP, 25, Double-A
There are a couple of players in this list that I was tempted to put in tier 3 but will stay in this tier simply due to having not seen enough from them yet. Quintana is a 19-year-old with plus raw power that I can see moving up these rankings fairly quickly. Carillo was a part of the Dodgers trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA. He has an electric fastball but has been moved to a full-time reliever role due to injuries and an inability to throw strikes consistently. Frizzell has absolutely destroyed baseballs ever since his professional debut but simply hasn’t played that many games. In 45 games in 2022 between the FCL and Single-A he slashed .388/.449/.671 to a 1.119 OPS. Ward was the No.1 overall selection in this year’s Rule 5 draft from Boston. He has the potential to be a back-end starter but I see him more as a long reliever this year with the big-league team. Theophile pitched to a 1.29 ERA in nearly 50 innings with Single-A Fredericksburg but struggled with his promotion to High-A. Downs is probably the most well-known player in this tier, but for the wrong reasons. The former top prospect for the Red Sox and headliner in the Mookie Betts trade is hoping that a change of scenery helps him find himself again.
36. Yasel Antuna, OF, 23, Double-A
37. Jacob Young, OF, 23, Single-A
38. Drew Millas, C, 25, Double-A
39. Seth Shuman, RHP, 25, High-A
40. Manuel Cabrera, SS, 16, International signee
41. Mason Denaburg, RHP, 23, Single-A
42. Bryan Polanco, RHP, 21, Rookie (DSL)
43. Leandro Emiliani, 1B, 22, High-A
44. Alex Troop, LHP, 26, Triple-A
45. Drew Mendoza, 1B, 25, High-A
46. Daniel Marte, OF, 21, Rookie (DSL)
47. J.T. Arruda, SS, 25, Single-A
48. Andy Acevedo, OF, 17, International signee
49. Edwin Solano, SS, 16, International signee
50. Elian Soto, 3B, 17, International signee
Antuna might be the most controversial ranking in this list. Some have him ranked inside the top 20, but he’s going into his 6th season in the organization, and I just don’t think he’s progressed enough to rank higher. Cabrera, Solano, Soto, and Acevedo are all 2023 International picks, but they are incredibly hard to rank at this point, so they’ll land down here for now. Cabrera likely has the most potential out of the four, especially if he can continue to fill out. Young was the Nationals minor league Runner of the Year winner. He swiped 52 bags in 59 tries to go along with 8 triples in Single-A Fredericksburg. Denaburg has a 60-grade curveball and an above-average fastball and could potentially make an impact down the line, probably out of the bullpen. Mendoza has some of the best raw power in the system but strikes out way too often and struggles to put the bat on the ball.
Any thoughts on Leonel Valera?
Appreciate the comment!
Admittedly, I think Valera is someone that I overlooked. He’s been with the Dodgers for so long that I forgot he was even signed by the Nats. He would probably fit somewhere into tier 4, as I can see him potentially making an impact as a utility bat. His K% has been pretty egregious since he moved past Single-A (above 33% over 2 seasons), but he has some good pop. Not sure where he fits in the infield, especially with CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia in the middle, but he could end up being a decent hitter, especially if he continues to tap into that raw power.
Daylen Lile is a hit over power guy. Why is it that he’ll never hit for good average?
Thanks for the response!
Lile is really difficult to project because he’s only played 19 games professionally, and it wasn’t like he was an elite college hitter. He was a high school bat from Kentucky (a good but not great HS baseball state). When I say a “good” average, I mean I don’t see Lile being a .280-.300 avg kind of guy. I can see him sitting more in the .240-.260 range with a good OBP (he isn’t afraid to take his walks, which I like). Obviously, Avg isn’t a stat I’m judging a player on, but I’d love to see him play a full season before I buy into his hit tool completely. I do think there’s more power there than people give him credit for. He’s a freshly turned 20-year-old, so hopefully a fully healthy season can show us what he’s really made of!
Just curious why prospect lists fluctuate so much over a half season? This is not the first time I’ve seen a player ranked 13th overall (Evan Lee) in a system completely removed on the next list. How do we maintain faith in a sites organizational rankings when it seems that the writers don’t have much faith in the previous ranking?