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Washington Nationals Top 31 Prospects

Apr 11, 2023

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Washington Nationals. Scouting reports were compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as my own observations. This is the third year we’re delineating between two anticipated relief roles, the abbreviations for which you’ll see in the "position" column below: MIRP for multi-inning relief pitchers, and SIRP for single-inning relief pitchers. The ETAs listed generally correspond to the year a player has to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid being made eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Manual adjustments are made where they seem appropriate, but I use that as a rule of thumb.

A quick overview of what FV (Future Value) means can be found here. A much deeper overview can be found here.

All of the ranked prospects below also appear on The Board, a resource the site offers featuring sortable scouting information for every organization. It has more details (and updated TrackMan data from various sources) than this article and integrates every team's list so readers can compare prospects across farm systems. It can be found here.

Wood was a divisive amateur prospect, with some scouts seeing him as a center fielder with 70 raw power projection and others seeing him as an eventual first baseman with hit tool risk. So far in pro ball, Wood has been incredible. He hit .337/.453/.601 as a teenager in the Cal League before the Padres traded him to Washington as part of the Juan Soto blockbuster, after which he hit .293/.366/.463. He did this amid multiple wrist injuries, which is something to keep in the back of your mind in the event that it becomes a chronic issue, as Wood's wrists are an integral part of keeping his swing short enough to be manageable.

After initially showing feel for opposite field-only contact on the complex, Wood began to turn on balls more frequently in 2022 and started hitting line drive lasers to all fields, with his peak exit velocity topping out at 114 mph off the bat. That's a plus metric for a big leaguer and is ridiculous for a then-19-year-old who hadn't totally grown into his body. Wood was assigned to Wilmington to start 2023 and quickly hit his way (.293/.392/.580 with eight homers and 36 Mr. Celeries) to Harrisburg, where he continued to hit for huge power amid lots of strikeouts. Because of how long Wood is, it's likely he’ll always strike out a good bit, but he's shown good vertical barrel variability and is getting better at altering his stride direction and posture to compensate for his lever length. It's amazing how sentient his feel to hit is considering his age and size, and his all-around offensive potential has Sistine Chapel ceiling. His swing isn't geared for consistent lift at this point, but Wood has the raw strength to do damage anyway. Once his wrist and forearms get stronger, he might be able to be a little shorter to the ball without sacrificing power, and try to migrate closer to a Yordan Alvarez style swing and further away from a Cody Bellinger type, but it's super fun to watch Wood cut it loose and he's performing so well that it's hard to justify any sort of intervention.

It's tough to gauge where Wood's eventual defensive home will be. He takes a little while to get his legs churning, but once he's moving, he's a plus runner and has generated some home-to-first times in the neighborhood of 4.1-4.2 seconds. His huge strides enable him to cover a ton of ground in center field and he's not only a viable defender out there right now, but looks like a future plus glove. Still, this is a 6-foot-7 20-year-old who looks like Gumby even though he's listed at 240 pounds. He is going to add weight commensurate with his frame as he matures, and that might be 30 pounds or more. The way that shakes out will have a significant impact on his defensive future. That said, Wood is already defying convention by looking as good as he does out there at his current size. The broad strokes of this report read a lot like that of Adam Dunn at the same age: Wood has unusual top-end speed and athleticism considering his XXL frame, and while that comes with the possibility he fills out in a way that causes him to tumble down the defensive spectrum, there's enough power here to support such a fall and then some. This is one of the more exciting prospects in all of baseball, a potentially singular talent who could hit 40 homers while playing center field in his prime.

House was a very prominent high school prospect as an underclassman and started the 2022 season very hot, slashing .325/.408/.449 with a 141 wRC+ at Low-A through April before injuring his back in early May and sitting out a couple of weeks. When he returned, he was a completely different hitter. He struck out a third of the time and posted an OPS of just .602 before being shut down for the remainder of the season in mid-June. It's safe to assume he was playing through injury during that return appearance, which could account for the significantly depleted power (his average exit velo was in the 80 mph range). House was left on the offseason Top 100 list under the assumption that he’d return healthy in 2023. A fully actualized House has star-level ability, tools that give him rare enough ceiling to value him among the top 100 prospects even though the lost reps or the injury itself might have caused long-term issues and bust risk.

So far in 2023, House has rewarded that patience as he's pulverizing Low-A pitching, generating a 160 wRC+ in his first 33 games back with Fredericksburg. Most impressively, his defense has been fantastic. Because he's so big, House (who was a high school shortstop) was sometimes projected to right field because it's rare for athletes his size to stay on the infield. But his ability to bend and move at his size is incredible, he has plus hands, he can throw on the run, and his feeds to the other bases are accurate and timely. He not only looks like a sure bet to stay at third but is potentially an impact defender there, which is especially impressive considering he's coming off a season-altering back injury.

Offensively, House's triple slash line is fantastic, but there are some issues here. He's a bucket strider with poor breaking ball recognition, and he's going to have to do a better job of diagnosing sliders as he climbs the minors and faces pitchers who can execute slider location more consistently. All of House's impact contact is coming to the opposite field right now and he hasn't shown an ability to turn on pitches with power, which might be an indication that he has a hole in his swing on the inner half, common for hitters whose levers are this long. This is despite House's front side opening up the way it does throughout his swing. It's important to key on these details as House climbs the minors but for now the important thing is that he's healthy, performing, and his scintillating tools look to be intact. He's a high-variance A-ball hitter who looks an awful lot like Josh Jung did at the same age, oppo-oriented spray chart and all.

Cavalli climbed the minor league ladder quickly in 2021, starting the season at High-A and closing it out at Triple-A, claiming the distinction of being the hardest thrower at that year's Futures Game (touching 102 mph) along the way. He notched over 123 innings of work without an IL stint, which was a welcome development considering scouts had some injury concerns about him when he was in college, as his arm action is quite long and his delivery is pretty violent. Cavalli spent 2022 at Rochester, where he wasn't as dominant as in 2021 but still pitched well, amassing a 3.25 FIP in just shy of 100 innings. He made his big league debut at the end of August, after which Cavalli was shut down with shoulder inflammation. While shoulder problems can derail a pitcher's career, Cavalli looked fine during his first couple of 2023 spring training outings, again sitting 96-97 mph with the same powerful mid-80s curveball he began to emphasize more in 2022. He seemed poised to seize an Opening Day rotation spot but, in his third spring outing, Cavalli threw an 88 mph fastball to Brandon Nimmo and it was immediately clear that something was wrong. He had blown out his UCL and needed Tommy John, which will shelve Cavalli for all of 2023. The rate of TJ recovery is encouraging, so Cavalli's evaluation/valuation is unchanged — he still projects as a mid-rotation starter who is set to return in 2024.

Cavalli's fastball plays below its velocity, but his curveball is vicious and has ridiculous depth for how hard it is. His changeup also shows bat-missing ability and when it's combined with the vertical curveball, gives Cavalli two weapons with which to attack lefties. Pitchers who are built like this and are this powerful and athletic tend to pan out over time, even when they have suboptimal fastball shape, with Sandy Alcantara representing the best recent example. Cavalli's changeup and slider quality aren't quite to that level, but at one point, neither were Sandy's. It's common for pitchers with arm actions as long as Cavalli's to re-map their arm path during rehab, so let's be on the lookout for that when he returns next spring.

Vaquero is arguably the prospect with the widest range of possible outcomes in pro baseball. He is built like an 18-year-old SEC wide receiver prospect at an extremely projectable 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, and he not only had the most traditionally projectable frame in his entire 2022 amateur class, but arguably has the best baseball frame of any prospect to enter pro baseball since Luis Robert Jr. Once Vaquero's legs get churning, he reaches blazing top speeds, and he has a chance to mature in the Goldilocks Zone, where he retains enough of this speed to remain in center field for good, while also adding huge power through additional strength and physical maturity.

The mere possibility that Vaquero could end up as a powerful, switch-hitting center fielder separates him from most of the prospect population even though there are all kinds of relatively unknown elements to his game, mostly surrounding his hit tool. At a long-levered 6-foot-3, I had some pre-signing hit tool concerns akin to what quickly became evident with Robert Puason and Erick Peña, who both have builds/levers similar to Vaquero and who have been incapable of hitting pro pitching due to the length of their swings. While DSL pitching isn't exactly the same as the arms at minor league spring training, Vaquero's early-career bat-to-ball data are fine, not the ruby red flag we’ve seen with other top-of-the-class prospects. He hit .256/.379/.341 with a 17% K% in the 2022 DSL, producing underlying contact and power data that was relatively mediocre but was impressive for a teenage hitter who is new to switch-hitting. In fact, he has pretty good feel for the barrel from both sides of the plate and can adjust it to match pitch location with greater competence than most switch-hitters this age.

Because he's only likely to see anything close to consistently big league-quality velocity once he starts to face pitchers after the 2023 draft (the 2023 FCL will mostly be occupied by last year's DSL arms until then), there's still a huge amount of risk here, and Vaquero's distance from the majors and our inability to truly know how he’ll do against 92-plus mph heaters needs to be factored into his FV grade. But his ceiling remains that of a potential do-everything center fielder with power from both sides of the plate. And this is not an "either/or" situation. Vaquero has other "outs," to borrow a poker/Magic: The Gathering phrase, where he stays in center but has a one-note offensive profile, or moves to a corner but hits enough to still be a good everyday big leaguer. Basically every outcome between "boom" and "bust" is possible here because his tools and projection are so huge.

Henry is back after yet another injury, this time for thoracic outlet surgery, the latest and arguably most severe of a litany of maladies that date back to college. He was once a Top 100 prospect at this site because he has several plus pitches and appeared to be on the doorstep of the big leagues at the start of the 2022 season. He didn't break camp with an affiliate in 2023 and instead rehabbed a while longer in Florida before starting his parade through the affiliates in mid-May.

Henry's stuff is back. His fastball is averaging 94.5 mph so far in 2023, which is right in line with his velocity throughout the 2021 and 2022 seasons as a starter, though he's thrown harder than that in relief. It's a tailing heater with swing-and-miss utility at the top of the zone because Henry's arm slot is low and creates upshot angle. That pitch's movement mirrors the shape of his two-plane slider nicely, such that hitters diving to protect against his slider are liable to get blown up in on their hands. His low-80s changeup is his nastiest pitch, though, with eye-crossing tail and fade. It's dastardly enough to keep lefties off his fastball, which they get a nice long look at from Henry's slot. It's a starter's repertoire and control, but Henry's injury history is a strong long-term bullpen indicator and the only thing keeping him out of the Top 100. He would be a really nasty multi-inning weapon on a contender right now, but he hasn't thrown more than 47 innings in a single pro campaign because he's been hurt so often and that alters how he's graded. If he can stay healthy and hold this velo for 120 innings, Henry will be a mid-rotation starter.

Acquired from Oakland as part of the Josh Harrison/Yan Gomes trade (in what will likely turn out to be that franchise's last playoff push in that city), Millas has had a nice rebound to start 2023 after he struggled during his first taste of Double-A in 2022. The brutal grind of the position often hurts catchers’ offensive production as they play through dings and nicks, so perhaps Millas played through a period like this in 2022. He had a 66 wRC+, but has never posted a line below a 97 wRC+ before or since. Injuries have been a frequent part of Millas’ prospectdom. Dating back to college, he's had elbow, wrist, oblique and hip issues that have sidelined him at various points. He's performed with the bat and is a damn good catcher, but smaller-framed catchers like this tend to end up playing backup roles, especially if they’ve been injury prone.

While Millas will likely be the switch-hitting Robin to Keibert Ruiz‘s Batman for the next half decade or so, he's going to be a luxury to have in that role. Millas is a plus catch-and-throw athlete with a rocket arm and amazing lateral quickness. He's a very rangy ball-blocker and quickly recovers whatever he doesn't smother. Millas’ exchange is a little slow because he flips his hips and tries to have a clean, complete motion on every throw down, so he "only" pops around 1.90, which is still plus. He used to throw from his knees very often but that appears to have changed in 2023, perhaps to remedy the issues he sometimes had with accuracy. His biggest asset on offense is his feel for the strike zone, though Millas can also do some low-ball damage against breaking balls that don't quite finish. He has a hole at the top of the zone big enough that big league pitchers will feel comfortable approaching him up there. Millas would be a Top 100 prospect if not for that hole, small frame and all. It's plausible Millas will buck trends and become physically dense and impervious to the 100-game primary catcher grind. He's an uncommon athlete for the position and looks like he spends time quality time in the weight room, but he hasn't caught more than 55 regular season games since 2021 and needs to prove it. Israel Pineda's injuries make it more likely we see Millas in Washington at some point this year.

Hassell was playing like his usual sweet-swinging self until he was traded to Washington as part of the Juan Soto blockbuster; after the deal, his performance took a nosedive. By the end of the year he was late on any sort of real velocity, struggling to get on top of fastballs up and away from him, and spraying most of his contact down the third base line, unable to turn on much of anything. Hassell went to the Fall League, where he broke his right hamate very soon after arrival. He had surgery and was shut down for the remainder of the fall. In the spring of 2023, a new, separate wrist issue shelved him for the first couple weeks of the minor league season, after which Hassell was given an extended, two-week rehab stint with Fredericksburg before he was finally sent to Double-A Harrisburg. After his uncharacteristic end to the 2022 season and the injury, it would have been ideal to strip down any previous thoughts on Hassell and re-evaluate him with fresh eyes in 2023, but the new wrist injury makes that a little more difficult since it may be contributing to Hassell's shrug-inducing early-season performance.

Hassell has long had deft hitting hands but a tightly-wound lower half in the batter's box and a very upright posture throughout his swing. It has contributed to his inability to turn on pitches and do pull-side damage, but the issue became more noticeable in 2022 as almost all of Hassell's contact was peppered down the third base line. That's mostly true again in 2023, as most of Hassell's hits have been singles served into shallow left field. This seems to be something Hassell is aware of, as he's mentioned to writers who cover the Nats that he’d like to do more pull-side damage. Because the adjustments are partially going to come from a more flexible and powerful lower half, it's not something that can occur overnight like a swing change — it's going to take time. But now that Hassell is at Double-A and close to the big leagues, the industry is fixated on the player he is right now and not jonesing to project on offensive skills that were supposed to be the bedrock of his profile. At peak prospectdom, he looked like a plus hitter who’d be fine in center field and who you hoped would grow into meaningful power. Things are more muted across the board right now and Hassell looks more like a fourth outfielder on a contender, a nice complementary player rather than a franchise cornerstone. He's fine in center field, good enough to play there for a big league team but not so good that it will carry him to a full-time role on its own. Most 50-grade or better major league center fielders have more power than Hassell does right now, and the few that don't have a special hit tool. This is a very confident and competitive guy who seems driven to be as good as he possibly can be, but until that leads to tangible, relevant adjustments, Hassell profiles as a solid part-time player rather than a true regular.

While he was still an amateur, Susana had a very, very late velocity spike and progressed from throwing in the mid-80s to the mid-90s in a very short period of time. Because he popped up late relative to his peers, most of the pool money for when he was first eligible to sign had already been committed and he opted to wait a year so that more teams could pursue him with a meaningful bonus. The Padres signed him for $1.7 million and pushed him to camp in Arizona during 2022 minor league spring training, much earlier than other teams tend to move their recent signees (though of course, he was a little older). Susana was seen a ton by scouts during minor league and extended spring training, and pitched in eight official games on the complex before the Padres traded him to Washington as part of the Juan Soto deal. After a couple more complex starts in Florida, the Nats promoted Susana to Fredericksburg, where he also began the 2023 season.

Already 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Susana is a developmental leviathan with both extreme risk and upside. His fastball sits 96-99 mph and routinely kisses 101, peaking at 103 mph, but its lack of movement and downhill angle make it shockingly hittable for a pitch that fast. It's not a given that the physically mature Susana will be able to sustain this level of arm strength when he's working a full slate of innings, and he hasn't yet worked more than four innings at a time in a single start. The track record of teenage pitching prospects who are already this big and throw this hard at this age isn't great, either. It's likely Susana will need to pitch more heavily off his slider in the future because of his heater's weird vulnerability. When it's right, his slider is already a plus pitch in the upper-80s, and it should mature as a plus-plus offering. While his three-quarters arm angle creates suboptimal fastball shape, its tailing action pairs okay with his slider and can blow up hitters in on their hands, especially when he's started them with an in-zone slide piece for strike one. Curveball and changeup development are long-term goals but it isn't like Susana has had to work through opposing lineups three and four times just yet, which is when he’d need to start mixing things up a little more. There's impact starter potential here but because of his round-down fastball playability and the history of young pitchers who are built like this, a relief role akin to Brusdar Graterol is more likely.

The sweet-swinging Baker has begun to see some time in the outfield. He played one game in center field in early May and, just before list publication, played left field three times in a single series. It would make Baker much more rosterable if he could play a second position, and left field is a logical side hustle because Baker doesn't have the arm strength for the left side of the infield and is still learning how to read the ball off the bat there. He is already a mixed bag at second base, with below-average hands, arm strength, and slow-twitch athleticism, relying on his elegant body control and predictably great on-field awareness to succeed. Baker will make some highlight reel plays because of his effort and acrobatic flare, but he's an average overall defender.

He's also a skilled contact hitter, with among the lowest swinging strike rates in the minors and one of the prettier swings in pro baseball, with a very athletic move to the baseball. Baker is short to the ball and can let pitches travel deep before deciding to swing. He can turn on anything on the inner third and spoils lots of tough pitches that he gets an extra beat to diagnose because he's so compact. There's low-and-away oppo ability here, but Baker tends to take pitches on the outer edge until he has to swing at them. Again, we’re not talking about an explosive athlete, as Baker is skilled and graceful but not especially twitchy or strong. He's still very lanky and could conceivably add meaningful strength deeper into his 20s than is typical of most players. That's the projection here, that Baker initially finds his way onto the big league roster as a 2B/LF part-timer and has some peak years as a second division everyday second baseman.

Lile was a sweet-swinging high school outfield prospect with a gorgeous lefty stroke and above-average bat speed. He showed all-fields power on the showcase circuit but his whiff-to-contact ratio wasn't especially impressive, so while Lile looked hitterish to the eye, some of the crude swing-and-miss data (mind you, this was mostly from the weird 2020 summer) didn't support that. It has taken until the early chunk of 2023 for things to break in either direction because Lile had Tommy John just before his first full season and missed all of 2022.

He broke camp with Low-A Fredericksburg in 2023 and has hit pretty well throughout the first third of the season, showing much better underlying contact ability than he did before the draft. And Lile still has the look of a good young hitter, with a classic lefty swing that's geared for low-ball contact and capable of some oppo spray. Ideally his swing would become more driven by his top hand as Lile gets stronger, but he's shown some ability to get on top of fastballs up and away from him and spray them the other way, or at least spoil pitches up there. He doesn't have special explosion or huge physical projection (Lile is of medium build, like LaMonte Wade Jr. or a lefty-hitting Connor Joe), and because we’re talking about a left field-only defender set to mature into average raw power, Lile probably doesn't have huge ceiling. If he's going to have a plus tool that carries him into an impact everyday role, it's going to have to be his hit tool. As a 20-year-old at Low-A, Lile should be hitting like he has been so far in 2023, but it's impressive that he's doing so after a whole year off. His high-end outcomes look something like David Peralta, with a strong side platoon option in left field the more likely path.

The son of two-time Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green, Elijah became "Draft Famous" during his junior year, homering a couple of times in high school tournaments held in big league parks and looking much toolsier than all but a couple of the prospects who were a year older than him. He was seen a ton as a junior because he played at IMG, which was home to a lot of 2021 draft prospects and served as competition for others. Scouts were blown away by his power and speed, but Green's swing-and-miss issues were a huge concern. He struck out in a third of his varsity at-bats in 2021, and swung and missed more than he put balls in play during that year's summer/fall showcase circuit. Things improved during his senior year much in the same way you’d expect them to improve if a player were repeating a minor league level for a second consecutive season, but there was still a ton of strikeout-related bust risk here. Enamored by his tools, the Nationals drafted Green fifth overall and gave him just shy of $6.5 million to sign.

He has struggled badly with strikeouts so far in pro ball, punching out over 40% of the time on the complex after he signed and again at Low-A so far in 2023. When he does make contact, Green is vaporizing the baseball, producing elite peak exit velos for a hitter his age. But there's virtually no precedent for a hitter striking out this much at this level and succeeding in the big leagues. Only a few current major league hitters have in-zone contact rates as low as Green does and none of them struck out anywhere near this much in the low minors, instead getting worse as they climbed and reached the big leagues where the best pitchers live. Especially as Green, who would produce the occasional 70-grade run time in high school, has already filled out and looks like he has no chance to stay in center field, it feels like he's already on thin ice. You’re essentially hoping Green turns into a righty-hitting version of Joey Gallo, where there's enough power to support a 20-grade hit tool. That's feasible but not likely.

After an up-and-down freshman year at Arkansas, Rutledge transferred to Houston-area junior college powerhouse San Jacinto and immediately looked like a first-round pick. He often worked 96-100 mph at San Jac, mixing in two good breaking balls. The 17th overall pick in 2019, Rutledge spent the first four years of his pro career barbecuing at the lower levels of the minors, including in 2022 (his 40-man evaluation year), when he spent the whole season in Fredericksburg. Rutledge pitched well enough to be added to Washington's 40-man even though he’d barely pitched above Low-A. The Nationals caught him up to something resembling a normal promotional pace when they skipped him over Wilmington and sent him straight to Harrisburg in 2023.

Rutledge has altered his delivery a bit. He's now using a modified two-part windup that basically has him working from the stretch the whole time, and his arm slot isn't quite as high as before. He's also throwing his changeup more frequently than either of his breaking balls, which may be a developmental focus rather than a true indication that Rutledge thinks it's his best weapon. His curveball is his nastiest pitch when Rutledge finishes it, though his feel for changeup location is better than either of his breaking balls. Previously projected in relief here at FanGraphs, Rutledge has started to check more starter boxes. He's holding velo more consistently than in the past, throwing strikes with his fastball, and showing competent use of four pitches in his first option year. I’m rounding down a little bit because of his fastball's playability, but Rutledge more and more looks like a no. 4/5 starter.

As if they’re required to draft all the giant pitchers from Oklahoma, the Nationals popped Bennett in the 2022 second round. Bennett has a huge, statuesque frame, and his delivery is silky smooth despite a longer arm swing. He's so big and gets so far down the mound that his low-90s fastball can sneak past hitters even though it doesn't have huge life or velocity. He touched 98 mph at Oklahoma and sat 92-95 when he was really humming late in the year as Oklahoma competed in Omaha, but he's settled back into his usual 90-93 so far in 2023. It's fine — Bennett locates his fastball up and to his arm side where it plays best with great regularity, and he's a high-probability starter prospect in part because of his excellent fastball command. Bennett has an east/west operation aided by the movement of his slider and changeup. They’re both nastier than Bennett's fastball. His slider plays against lefties in part because his arm slot is tough for them to pick up, while his mid-80s changeup has plus fade, with both pitches hovering in the 80-84 mph range. It's fifth starter stuff with little bursts where Bennett is throwing harder and looks a little better than that. It was encouraging to see Bennett get a quick hook to an appropriately challenging level since part of what made him attractive as a prospect was that he’d be likely to move through the minors quickly.

After a handful of Triple-A starts at the beginning of 2023, Irvin was quickly promoted to D.C. and has made a few starts as of list publication. He repeats his delivery with fantastic consistency despite his lanky, 6-foot-6 frame, and fills the zone with a fastball that sits 91-95 mph and has touched 97 this year. It doesn't have bat-missing movement, but Irvin hides the ball for a long time and his size enables him to release it right on top of hitters, which takes them at least a few pitches to adjust to. Irvin also has a consistent, above-average two-plane breaker in the low-80s with about 13 inches of horizontal break that has the look of a "sweeper," though in Irvin's case scouts have called it a curveball forever. He's still largely a two-pitch guy, as his changeup feel really hasn't progressed to this point. He needs a third pitch, as his curveball is fairly distinguishable from his fastball out of hand and it's going to be important for him to have a pitch that keeps hitters off the fastball. His arm action is loose and whippy, but Irvin's feel for changeup execution is very inconsistent, scattering them all over. With a frame and delivery like this, Irvin is going to be an innings-eating big league arm of some kind, but he now essentially has his option years to find a third pitch before he ends up in the bullpen.

Cruz was the consensus best defensive player in the 2021 international amateur class, a flashy and acrobatic shortstop defender. He was tough to strike out in the 2021 DSL and 2022 FCL, with eyeball reports throughout that period indicating he needed to get much stronger in order to be a viable offensive player at the upper levels even though his bat-to-ball data was promising. Those cracks have begun to show, as Cruz made his full-season debut in 2023 and has performed closer to average from a contact standpoint. He's a great defender who plays with big energy, but it's very hard to see him making meaningful offensive impact and Cruz shouldn't be considered a high-upside prospect just because he's young. A reasonable outcome here is to hope Cruz develops enough physicality to be a Nick Allen type of player.

Acevedo was the 23rd-ranked international prospect from the 2023 class and signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic. One thread running through this system is the advanced lefty outfield stick with middling physical projection, and that describes Acevedo. His polished hit tool drives an otherwise vanilla corner outfield profile. Acevedo's pretty swing has some natural loft without taking away from his ability to make lots of contact, and he's loose in the hips and shoulders. He might hit enough to be a good everyday player despite the other tools being middling. He’ll begin his pro career as the DSL team's leadoff man.

Pineda has been on the prospect radar since he was 17 years old and has tracked like a high-probability backup catcher basically the whole time. Pushed through the minors very quickly early on, his offensive performance dipped in the seasons surrounding the pandemic, in part due to a broken finger. He rebounded in a big way in 2022, climbing three levels while slashing a combined .258/.325/.458 and making his big league debut at the end of the season. Set to open 2023 as the third catcher on Washington's 40-man, Pineda started the season on the IL due to another broken finger, then made it through just three rehab appearances in Wilmington at the end of May before he strained his oblique and was again shut down.

The long-term forecast here is still that of a backup catcher with pull power. Pineda isn't a great defender, but he plays with big effort and he does enough to project as a viable big league backstop. He's prone to slider chase but performed surprisingly well from an in-zone bat-to-ball standpoint throughout 2022, making roughly an average big league rate of contact. The slider chase is likely to be exploited if Pineda gets long-term major league exposure, but he’ll yank the ones that finish on the plate to his pull side. He’ll likely be the third catcher behind Riley Adams until his option years dry up, at which point Washington might be forced to move one of the two of them.

Part of the 2021 trade with Oakland for Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes, Shuman is a pitchability righty up to 94 mph who has command of four serviceable pitches and especially precise feel for a tight 82-85 mph slider. He repeated High-A as a 24-year-old in 2022 even though his peripherals were really good at that level in 2021, and Shuman was shutdown in July after 14 strong starts. He appeared to be a go for 2023, but instead had Tommy John in March and will miss the whole season. Don't sleep on this guy because he's already 25. Shuman has never walked batters at higher than a 6.6% clip at any stop during his pro career. His stuff isn't sexy, but he's super consistent and projects to have plus command, pointing toward a low-variance back-of-a-rotation role once he's back from surgery.

Ward's omission from Boston's 40-man roster last winter came as something of a surprise. Once upon a time, the 25-year-old righty was on track to claim a spot in the Red Sox rotation, but the delay caused by the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season was compounded by Ward needing Tommy John surgery the following year. He returned to the mound in July of 2022 and put up solid numbers, striking out nearly a third of his opponents throughout the remainder of the season. He then had a promising turn in the Arizona Fall League, where he looked like a big-league ready reliever with a mid-90s fastball and two above-average breakers. He was the first pick in the 2022 Rule 5 Draft and has stuck on Washington's roster. So far, he's been a walk-prone multi-inning reliever.

Ward can carve at times with his cutter/slider combination, with the latter featuring massive sweep. He attempts to set those pitches up with a low-90s sinker, but it's his worst pitch, and he might end up needing to pitch backwards against big league hitters. He has flashed a solid changeup as well, a pitch some feel he should use more in early counts to keep hitters from timing his fastball. Strike throwing and pitch efficiency were issues for Ward before the elbow injury, and can be the last things to come around when recovering from arm surgery. He may ultimately be a starter, but given that he's coming off just half a season and a TJ rehab, it makes sense for Ward's innings count to start his big league career in a long relief role and see how it goes. Here he projects to stay in that role long-term.

Brzykcy (pronounced "brick-see") was a power reliever at Virginia Tech and became one of the first 2020 undrafted free agents to emerge as a real prospect. He quickly went from sitting 94-95 mph out of the Hokies bullpen in his first 2020 appearance to sitting 96-98 and touching 99 in his last few just before the COVID shutdown. He spent his first pro season at High-A, performing very well from a peripheral standpoint (32% K%, 9% BB%) but not in terms of ERA, and the Nats sent him back there to start 2022. He leveled hitters at Wilmington and was promoted to Harrisburg in early June. There, he continued to dominate, punching out 35% of opposing hitters. He entered 2023, his 40-man evaluation year, poised to be a September call-up who stayed up for the last month or so of the season to preserve all of his option years, but Brzykcy instead succumbed to an elbow injury before the season and needed Tommy John in April.

Brzykcy does not have good fastball control; he's a grip-and-rip type of guy whose heaters often sail to his arm side because they have so much carry. His low-80s power curveball flashes bat-missing depth and his upper-80s changeup will occasionally have enough arm-side action to do the same, but Brzykcy's feel for both is even less consistent than that of his fastball. He pretty comfortably has big league quality stuff and needs to continue to polish his command to hold down a spot in perpetuity. It will be interesting to see if the Nationals puts Brzykcy on their 40-man this offseason even though he likely won't be back in action until closer to the middle of 2024. His fastball has traits that lots of clubs covet, and his injury oddly makes him more stashable for opposing teams since they can put him on the 60-day IL and clear a roster spot at the start of the 2024 calendar, then try to sneak Brzykcy through the tail end of the big league season to meet Rule 5 requirements and keep him in the org long-term. He's a likely middle reliever assuming his stuff comes back post-rehab.

Alu was a 2019 senior sign out of Boston College who made a push for a 40-man spot in 2022 when he hit very well in a season split between Harrisburg and Rochester. He debuted with the big club in mid-May of 2023. The prognosis for his long-term big league role is predicated on his defensive versatility. A third baseman by trade, Alu has lots of experience at second base and more recently in left field, which is where he made his big league debut. He isn't very good at any one spot, but playing a number of positions will make him more rosterable during this Nationals rebuilding phase. It means Alu's bat can make an impact on the game more often, and Alu can hit, just not with enough power to be an everyday third baseman. Built like a Smart Car with plus barrel feel, the short-levered Alu can let the baseball travel deep before he decides to swing. He can put the barrel on pitches all over the zone, he pokes stuff on the outer third to left field and can double into the gap that way, and he has enough raw power to be dangerous when he opens his hips to turn on inside pitches. It's a low-impact skill set, but versatile lefty sticks like this are convenient for managers to use as platoon Tetris pieces throughout a game. He's an above-replacement player with a skill set similar to Jace Peterson‘s.

Lipscomb didn't really break out until his fourth year with Tennessee, when he first began to get regular playing time and hit .355/.428/.717 with 22 bombs. The track record for hitters who perform at an elite level a year after they are first draft eligible isn't great, but Lipscomb certainly looked the part of a big leaguer athletically, and it was feasible that the pandemic and Tennessee's depth in front of him while he was an underclassman had obscured his true ability when he was first draft eligible. He was our 85th ranked amateur prospect before the 2022 draft and was selected 84th overall, signing for about $750,000.

Since then Lipscomb has performed at a league-average level at both Low- and High-A, showing some concerning underlying plate discipline for a righty-hitting corner infield prospect. He's an average big league athlete and a rangy third baseman with enough arm to stay there, though Lipscomb's more likely path to a big league role is by incorporating other positions into his skill set over time. It's easy to project him to the four corner positions, but Lipscomb is more athletic than Jake Alu, who Washington has tried at second base, so perhaps that's also in the cards. The offensive projection here — 50 future raw power with a 50 bat that plays down due to below-average slider recognition — would be fine for a multi-positional role-player.

Drafted as an athletic developmental project with a rare power/speed combo, especially for a switch-hitter, White has improved in some areas while faltering in others since entering pro ball. For instance, White's walk rates have trended up as he's climbed the minors. Unlike lots of other hitters for whom this tends to be true, his raw swing rates haven't tanked into the mid-30s, which sometimes indicates intentional passivity rather than true selectivity. White's swing rates remain close to average — he isn't going out of his way not to swing — indicating he's actually developing good feel for the zone.

Drafted with enough speed to perhaps play center field, White has instead moved from left field to first base, and has played there exclusively so far in 2023. He actually looks pretty good over there, especially for someone new to the position, but occupying a spot at the very bottom of the defensive spectrum puts a ton of pressure on White's bat, and his hit tool will make it tough to clear that bar in an everyday capacity. Despite the power and uptick in plate discipline, White's swing is grooved and he's going to strike out a ton. He’ll still have some roster utility as a switch-hitting bench weapon who can run into one in a big spot and be an occasional pinch runner, similar to Michael Toglia.

Saenz was squeezed out of the Texas A&M rotation until his fourth year there, when he struck out 104 and walked just 23 across 84 innings. His performance dipped during the back half of 2022, after Saenz (pronounced like "signs," which many of you already know from hearing/saying Olmedo Saenz's name pronounced 20 years ago) was promoted to Wilmington, but he's rebounded nicely to start 2023. Yes, Saenz is 24 but he didn't pitch a ton at A&M, and he has the look of a classic lefty backend starter with a good changeup. Saenz has a short, vertical arm stroke that hides his fastball well, he mixes in two different breaking balls, and he throws a ton of strikes. Because we’re talking about bottom-of-the-scale fastball velo, it's probably more correct to project Saenz as a no. 6/7 starter than a true rotation stalwart.

Willingham was at Snead State Community College in Alabama for the first part of his college career before transferring to Georgia Tech in 2019. He didn't pitch well in his only Division-I season, but the Nationals liked his frame and delivery enough to roll the dice in the 17th round. Since 2021, Willingham has had a nearly five-tick velocity spike that largely took place between 2021 and 2022, and he's now sitting 94-95 mph with big ride at the top of the zone. Willingham's slider is fine, but his command of it is not. His fastball has tons of margin for error in the zone, so it's fine that Willingham doesn't command it with precision, but his slider needs to be located to play well. After a dominant start to the 2023 season at Double-A Harrisburg, Willingham was promoted to Rochester not long before list publication. He has a chance to make his big league debut this year; hopefully, better slider command will be forged in the big league fire. If not, he still has utility as an up/down reliever with one plus pitch.

Parker is a lefty with a due north arm slot that creates plus riding life on his low-90s fastball. He's been hovering in the 90-92 mph range since he was in high school but is capable of missing bats at the letters despite the below-average velo, and his fastball pairs nicely with his 12-to-6, mid-70s curveball. Parker has also added a new slider in 2023. His elaborate delivery is deceptive but also hard to repeat, and Parker still needs to polish his command if he's going to have a long big league career. Still, his fastball's playability, coupled with his ability to create depth on his breaking ball because of his arm slot, makes Parker an interesting long-term sleeper, especially if he ends up throwing harder if/when he moves to the bullpen.

Cate is back on the big league radar in 2023 after a move to the bullpen has him missing bats with Harrisburg. He had been trudging through the mid-minors as a starter, at times dealing with injury (though not since 2021) and posting an ERA over 6.00 with the Senators in 2022. Now that Cate is in the bullpen, sometimes working a couple of innings, he's had a three-tick velo spike and is now sitting 92-93 mph, per Synergy. He's also added a mid-80s slider, a totally new feature for Cate, who has mostly been a fastball/curveball guy since college. Cate's feel for locating his slider in that chaseable glove-side location is pretty good considering that the pitch is new. He now has four distinct pitches, and the arrow is pointing up on his velocity and overall performance. He seems likely to provide low-leverage bulk innings, maybe more if this is the start of a trend rather than his arm strength ceiling.

Ferrer is a stocky lefty reliever with a mid-90s sinker and a good changeup. He also has one of the shorter arm strokes you’ll ever see, in part because of how compactly he's built and in part because of the mechanics of his upper body during his delivery. It looks like Ferrer is throwing 95 mph with very little effort, which is rare for a short pitcher. Ferrer has an above-average changeup, but his feel for locating isn't great, and secondary pitch command is the area where it's most vital for him to improve if he's going to be a core lefty bullpen piece. As simple as his delivery is, it's quite stiff, and Ferrer isn't the sort of athlete for whom I’m inclined to project long-term command ceiling. He's a grounder-getting up/down lefty barring improvement in this area.

De La Rosa has had long-documented swing-and-miss issues, but it's still surprising that things have cratered as badly as they have early in 2023, especially considering he already got a taste of High-A at the end of 2022. He's striking out in nearly 40% of his plate appearances and has a slash line supported by an unsustainable BABIP as of list publication. De La Rosa is getting absolutely worked by breaking balls, including many that don't finish anywhere near the zone. You expect a player's strikeout rates to trend up as they climb the minors, but the degree to which things have increased here (De La Rosa had a 25% K% and 147 wRC+ repeating Low-A last year, and a 28% K% in the final month at High-A) is troubling. Does De La Rosa have an adjustment in him? Breaking ball recognition isn't something you can fix with a mechanical tweak. De La Rosa still takes a really healthy rip and he's only 21, and I want to stay on plus lefty power like this a while longer.

Acquired from Boston in the 2021 Kyle Schwarber trade, Ramirez didn't pitch in 2022 and hasn't yet in 2023 as he recovers from a TJ. Recall that Ramirez also had arm issues throughout 2021, so it has been a few years since we’ve seen him totally healthy. Fully-operational Ramirez has a vertical arm slot and hand position that create backspin that will let his fastball play atop the strike zone, though he wasn't working up there as often as he could. His slider has effective, vertical movement, and he has fairly advanced arm-side changeup feel. An average athlete with a smaller frame, Ramirez experienced an unexpected velo bump that began at 2020 instructs, where he was 92-94 mph and topping out at 96 without having lost any command. He was viewed as a changeup/command backend type before the velo bump. Still just 22, Ramirez's injury history is long enough to throttle him down into this FV tier and re-evaluate him when he's finally healthy.

Cox was signed away from a Texas commitment with a cool million as a fourth rounder. He has a gangly 6-foot-3 build and a classic lefty swing, and he showed proclivity for low-ball lift and airborne opposite-field contact in high school. He broke camp with the Fred Nats to sink or swim at the bottom of their order, and he's underwater pretty deep throughout the first third of 2023. Cox desperately needs to add strength and find a way to shorten his operation so he can get on top of high fastballs; he's swinging underneath them a ton. It's very early here and Cox only played in 10 GCL games last year, so his assignment was pretty aggressive. This was Cox's draft-day FV grade — he was a fine high school flier in the $700,000 to $1 million range and is trying to find his footing.

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Other Prospects of Note

Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

Catching DepthDashyll Tejeda, OFCarlos Batista, OFNathaniel Ochoa Leyva, SS

Tejeda, 17, is a projectable, tightly-wound righty-hitting outfielder with above-average bat speed. Batista, 17, is also a speedy outfielder, but he has less physical projection. Ochoa Leyva was a 2022 high school draftee from Canada who got a little over $300,000 to turn pro rather than go to Alabama and play for Brad Bohannon. He's a well-rounded collection of 40-grade tools with a shot to grow into a bunch of 50s.

Stalled OutTommy Romero, RHPMatt Cronin, LHPJoel Peguero, RHPAndry Lara, RHPEvan Lee, LHPMason Denaburg, RHPGerardo Carrillo, RHP

This whole group has been on the main section of the list in the past but is either hurt or struggling right now. Romero and Cronin have riding upshot fastballs that punch above their weight, but neither is throwing strikes right now. Peguero, 26, is the opposite. He sits in the mid-90s but is still pretty hittable. He was a minor league free agent sign who spent the bulk of his early career with the Rays. Lara is the youngest of this group at age 20. His velo is down this year, sitting closer to 92-93 mph than the mid-90s we saw at peak. Lee looked like a rock solid lefty middle reliever after 2021, but he's had a rockier go of it since then, and the 25-year old is walking a batter per inning with Harrisburg right now. Denaburg and Carrillo were both big acquisitions, Denaburg as a famous high school prospect and Carrillo as a hard-throwing part of the Turner/Scherzer trade. Denaburg is healthy but wild right now, while Carrillo has dealt with many injuries, and when he's been healthy the last two seasons, he's only been sitting 92-94.

Can You Be a Piece?Jacob Young, OFPaul Witt, CLucius Fox, SSJohnathon Thomas, CFSammy Infante, 3BRoismar Quintana, OF

Young has a very compact swing and is making a ton of contact and stealing loads of bases right now, but he's only playing defense in the corners and would have to be a very special contact hitter to profile there with so little power. He was Washington's 2022 seventh rounder out of Florida. Witt was a 2020 undrafted signee who played shortstop at VCU. He has moved behind the plate this year and is crushing the lower levels with the bat as he tries to find his footing defensively. Fox is only playing the middle infield spots now. The days of hoping he’d be a speedy super utilityman who fits as that guy on a roster are probably over; he's just an upper-level shortstop replacement at this point. Thomas, a 2022 19th rounder from Texas Southern, can really fly and go get it in center field, and he brings a positive clubhouse vibe with his cleats and glove. Infante (via the draft) and Quintana (via international free agency) each signed for about $1 million bucks as amateurs and are striking out a lot for corner guys in A-ball.

Relief ShotTyler Schoff, RHPLuke Young, RHPMichael Cuevas, RHPRiley Cornelio, RHPMarquis Grissom Jr., RHP

Schoff, 24, signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2021 draft and has now missed a ton of bats with his cutter and curveball through High-A. He could use a pitch that moves arm-side. Young signed out of Midland JC (TX) for $250,000 as the Nats’ 2022 11th rounder. He has a riding low-to-mid-90s fastball and a delivery that points to the bullpen. Cuevas, 21, was a 2019 high school draftee who is now with Harrisburg. He only sits 90 mph, but he's capable of missing bats with his slider and changeup. Cornelio (TCU) and Grissom (Georgia Tech) are both recent draftees from big college programs who have a plus secondary pitch (Cornelio's breaker, Grissom's changeup) and, like Cuevas, would benefit from an eventual move to the bullpen if it means they’ll throw harder.

System Overview

You can't gauge the pace and quality of Washington's rebuild by looking at the farm system alone because so many of the pieces they acquired are already in the big leagues. CJ Abrams is struggling and hasn't gotten any stronger. McKenzie Gore is still a bit walk-prone but his strikeouts are up. Josiah Gray has become a cutter-oriented groundball guy. Keibert Ruiz is doing a weird Willians Astudillo impression on offense. It's far too early to actually assess any of that group, especially Abrams, who was injured and rushed before he was traded. This system has a handful of potential cornerstones in Wood, House, Green (if you like — I clearly have one foot out the door already), and maybe Vaquero. That's more young hitters with gigantic ceilings than the typical org, but in most other respects, the Nationals system is a little south of the average farm. Adding the second and 40th overall pick in the coming draft should push them just north of the MLB median.

On last year's Nationals list, I griped about how slowly they were promoting their prospects and opined that I thought they were making roster decisions harder on themselves by slow-playing relevant guys who demanded 40-man consideration. They seem to have altered their approach to promotions, as they’ve already run a few guys up a level in 2023, with Jackson Rutledge's Double-A assignment also a big indication that things have shifted here. Just combing year-over-year pitch data shows the org has been more apt to give their pitchers a second breaking ball this season. This hasn't been one of the orgs where random late round/undrafted arms pop in a big way after they’re in the system, but there are suddenly a few examples led by Brzykcy, Willingham, and Schoff. An abnormal chunk of the pitchers in this org have been impacted by injury during the last year or so — by my count, seven of the pitchers on the main section of the list have been dinged since the start of 2022.