3 predictions for the Nationals' 2023 season

December 24th, 2022

There are New Year’s resolutions, but how about new season predictions? There are many facets of the Nationals to consider, from the Major League level to the Minor League system to the Draft. As we look ahead to 2023, here are three things I am thinking and my predictions for them.

Prediction: CJ Abrams will take leap into Gold Glove Award-finalist consideration

There were head-turning moments in Abrams’ 44 games with the Nationals that offered glimpses into his defensive potential at shortstop. These electric plays gave pause to think: How will he continue to develop as he gets older, having turned only 22 on Oct. 3? How will he improve with more consistency, having been traded to the Nationals at the Deadline? How will he continue to grow in his first full year in the Major Leagues, having spent time in Triple-A with San Diego and Washington this past season?

Abrams already earned Major League Baseball’s Electric Play of the Week recognition for a double-take stop and throw against Alec Bohm and the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in mid-September. Manager Dave Martinez noted then, “I’m watching him make plays I haven’t seen made in quite a while.”

Abrams has demonstrated adaptability by adjusting to a new team in a short period of time. He also quickly established a strong chemistry with 22-year-old second baseman and lockermate Luis García to set the foundation for Washington’s young middle infield of the future.

This past season’s National League Gold Glove Award finalists at shortstop were Dansby Swanson (winner), Ha-Seong Kim and Miguel Rojas. It is not ridiculous to think that with a complete Major League season to grow and showcase his skills, Abrams could join that list next fall.

Prediction: Hunter Harvey will earn saves

Harvey is coming off a career-best season in which he posted a 2.52 ERA out of the bullpen and allowed only one home run in 39 1/3 innings. The 28-year-old right-hander implemented a four-pitches-or-fewer approach to each batter -- a strategy he learned from his father, former Major League closer Bryan -- that helped lead to his success his first season in Washington.

That hard-throwing efficiency could make Harvey a fit to pitch later in games more often. He took the mound most frequently in the seventh frame and he finished seven games, for the following ERA/inning breakdown (fifth inning on):

Fifth inning: 5 1/3 innings, 3.38 ERA
Sixth inning: 6 innings, 1.50 ERA
Seventh inning: 14 1/3 innings, 3.77 ERA
Eighth inning: 4 1/3 innings, 0.00 ERA
Ninth inning: 5 innings, 1.80 ERA

Harvey had been considered for closing during his time with the Orioles, but that opportunity was curtailed by injuries. Now healthy, he could give the Nationals another option behind Kyle Finnegan and earn his first career save -- and possibly more.

Prediction: Jake Irvin will be a prospect to watch

When the deadline approached to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, the Nationals included right-hander Jake Irvin on their list. He is poised to continue garnering attention this season.

Irvin, 25, was a fourth-round pick by the Nats in the 2018 Draft. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound starter’s pro career was halted when he underwent Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2021 season. Irvin returned to the mound this past season, and he made 24 starts between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg. He pitched to a 3.83 ERA across 103 1/3 innings.

As the Nationals develop their young core of pitchers -- which includes Josiah Gray, 25, fellow Oklahoma alum Cade Cavalli, 24, and MacKenzie Gore, 23 -- Irvin could put himself on the path this season to be considered as part of that mix in the future.