Despite tying for last in the National League East at the end of last year's truncated season, the Nationals are still only one campaign removed from capturing the organization's first World Series title. Entering 2021, they still have the relatively depleted farm system that comes with that territory. The ceiling of the group took a few more hits in 2020 (though for good reasons) when former Top-100 talents Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia both graduated from prospect status. Among those that remain, there are still some defining characteristics to be found among the collection.
The Nationals have one Top-100 prospect entering 2021 in No. 99 Cade Cavalli, but he forms just one part of what Washington front-office members call the Big Three, alongside Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. The use of "big" there is quite literal. All three right-handers stand at 6-foot-4 or above and feature plus to plus-plus fastballs. Considering Cavalli, Rutledge and Henry were first- or second-rounders in the last two Drafts, it's easy to see what the Nats valued when looking to add high-level talent to their system through that process.
There is also plenty of projectable young international names to go around in the next tier of the Washington system, led by No. 4 prospect Yasel Antuna -- an alternate-site standout who could be an above-average switch-hitter in time. Outfielders Jeremy De La Rosa, Roismar Quintana and Daniel Marte are still teenagers awaiting their full-season debuts and show flashes of carrying tools that could take them to the nation's capital in a few years. Like so many in the organization, they need to get back on the field regularly to start showcasing those skills again after the lost 2020 Minor League season.
The one theme that captures the essence of the full Nationals Top 30 is its homegrown nature. All 30 were drafted by the club or signed through the international market.
As for Top-30 prospects that could see Nationals Park at some point this summer, Seth Romero, Ben Braymer and Sterling Sharp all made their Major League debuts last year and should be trying to find their way back to a Major League mound soon. Catchers Tres Barrera and Jakson Reetz could also each get shots at backing up Yan Gomes. The Nationals have circled left-hander Matt Cronin as a potential quick-riser. The former Arkansas left-hander already shows two plus pitches and possesses just enough control to crack a Major League bullpen in 2021, only two years after he was selected in the fourth round.
Here’s a look at the Nationals’ top prospects
1. Cade Cavalli, RHP
2. Jackson Rutledge, RHP
3. Cole Henry, RHP
4. Yasel Antuna, SS/3B
5. Andy Lara, RHP
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2020 preseason list to the 2021 preseason list:
Jump: Daniel Marte, OF (2020: NR | 2021: No. 14) -- Marte was a solid performer in the Dominican Summer League in 2019 with 21 extra-base hits in 55 games, and the Nationals were especially encouraged by the way his offensive game translated to instructs in his first taste of stateside action. His best tools remain on the basepaths and in the field, but as the offense continues to round into form, Marte finds himself with plenty of helium.
Fall: Seth Romero, LHP (2020: No. 9 | 2021: No. 18) -- The 2017 first-rounder needed innings after Tommy John surgery and makeup-related issues kept him off the mound in the early years of his career. They did come at the Major League level, but 2 2/3 frames were just not enough, even at the top level, before Romero suffered a fracture of his non-throwing hand. The southpaw turns 25 in April, meaning time is getting late for him to have any chance of meeting the considerable ceiling he showed in college
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.
Hit: 55 -- Yasel Antuna (Viandel Pena)
Power: 55 -- Drew Mendoza (Jeremy De La Rosa, Roismar Quintana)
Run: 60 -- Daniel Marte
Arm: 60 -- Jackson Cluff (Daniel Marte)
Defense: 60 -- Armando Cruz (Tres Barrera)
Fastball: 70 -- Jackson Rutledge
Curveball: 60 -- Tim Cate (Cavalli, Matt Cronin, Evan Lee, Bryan Sanchez)
Slider: 60 -- Jackson Rutledge (Holden Powell)
Changeup: 55 -- Steven Fuentes (Cavalli, Romero)
Control: 55 -- Tim Cate
How they were built
Draft: 19 | International: 11
Breakdown by ETA
2020: 2 | 2021: 7 | 2022: 11 | 2023: 3 | 2024: 6 | 2025: 1
Breakdown by position
C: 3 | 1B: 1 | 2B: 1 | 3B: 0 | SS: 4 | OF: 3 | RHP: 13 | LHP: 5