The Nationals seemed like a longshot to make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series, when the team fell to 12 games under .500 (19-31) with a loss on May 24. But the Nats rebounded to have the best 80-game stretch in club history (54-26), finishing with a 93-69 record to secure the top NL Wild Card spot. From there, the Nationals defeated the Brewers, Dodgers and Cardinals in consecutive playoff series before edging Houston in Game 7 of the World Series to claim the District's first title since the 1924 Senators.
Homegrown talent was at the core of Washington’s surge, as former first-round picks Stephen Strasburg (2009) and Anthony Rendon (2011) excelled from start to finish, helping Ryan Zimmerman, the relocated franchise’s first ever Draft pick (2005), win a title in his 15th season. The fruits of the organization’s international efforts were obvious, as Juan Soto, in his age-20 season, emerged as one of baseball’s best young talents and more exciting players, while 22-year-old speedster Victor Robles left zero doubt that he’s the organization’s long-term center fielder.
However, Strasburg and Rendon also will be two of the more sought-after free agents this offseason, and they headline a larger group of 2019 Nationals hitting the open market. Those departures will lead to some roster turnover, and although the Nats don’t have a particularly strong farm system following years of playoff-inspired trading, they do have some young hitters who are nearly ready to make an impact in the big leagues in Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, the club’s only Top 100 prospects, and an overall deep crop of pitching prospects that they’ve accumulated in recent years via the Draft and international market.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR
Carter Kieboom, SS/2B: The 2016 first-rounder made his Major League debut in April and homered in two of his first three games, but ultimately returned to the Minors after appearing in just 11 games. Down at Triple-A Fresno, Kieboom posted a .303/.409/.493 line with 16 homers and 79 RBIs across 109 games.
Tim Cate, LHP: Selected by Washington in the second round of the 2018 Draft, Cate worked 143 2/3 innings between Class A Hagerstown and Class A Advanced Potomac in his first full season, pitching to a 3.07 ERA with 139 strikeouts and 32 walks. He allowed just six home runs and held hitters to a .244 average.
Nick Banks, OF (NR): The 24-year-old outfielder and former fourth-round pick (2016) turned the corner offensively in 2019, slashing a career-best .278/.338/.431 while reaching Double-A. He also showed more power, establishing career highs with 10 homers (tied) and 33 doubles, and did so while improving his plate discipline and approach. He finished the year with a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League.
Mason Denaburg, RHP (No. 5): Taken with No. 27 pick in the 2018 Draft and signed for $3 million, Denaburg’s stuff was down during his pro debut this past summer as injuries limited him to just 20 1/3 frames in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. The 20-year-old righty had minor shoulder surgery following the season but is expected to be ready for the 2020 season. With a clean bill of health, Denaburg, with his blend of athleticism and stuff, quickly could get back on the right track.
Draft: Jackson Rutledge, RHP, 1st round (No. 3); Drew Mendoza, 1B, 3rd round (No. 7); Matt Cronin, LHP, 4th round (No. 11); Tyler Dyson, RHP, 5th round (No. 20) Complete Draft list »
International: Andy Lara, RHP (No. 16); Pablo Aldonis, LHP; Roism Quintana, OF; Dawry Martinez, IF
Rutledge had some of the best pure stuff in the 2019 Draft among college pitchers, and the 6-foot-8 right-hander is exactly the type of pitcher the Nats love to develop. Cronin, one of college baseball’s top relief prospects during the spring, could reach the Majors quickly, and the club is hopeful that Mendoza will unlock his power potential after shifting from third to first base. Lara, a high-ceiling teenage righty, received the top bonus in Washington’s international class, signing for $1.25 million, while the left-handed Aldonis signed for $1 million. On the trade front, the Nationals used their farm system depth to improve the big league roster, dealing from their wealth of pitching prospects so as to upgrade the back of the bullpen.
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT
Carter Kieboom, SS/2B: Kieboom produced mixed results in his first taste of the big leagues last season, as he homered in two of his first three games with the Nats but ultimately batted just .128 with 16 strikeouts and four defensive errors at shortstop in 11 games before returning to Triple-A. That the 22-year-old can play anywhere on infield should help him crack Washington’s 2020 lineup.
Hit: Luis Garcia
Power: Carter Kieboom
Arm: Jackson Cluff
Run: Cole Freeman
Best athlete: Sterling Sharp
Fastball: Jackson Rutledge
Curveball: Tim Cate
Changeup: Seth Romero
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
While Rendon, Strasburg and Zimmerman underscore the Nationals' track record with first-round picks -- Bryce Harper and Lucas Giolito, too -- the team also has historically done well finding value in the mid-to-late rounds. Specifically, 13 of the 19 Draft picks on the Nats Top 30 list were taken in the third round or later. The meteoric rise and success of Soto and Robles reflect the Nationals knack for identifying and developing international talent, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Garcia, who doesn’t turn 20 until next May, became the organization’s next success story in 2020. Beyond Garcia, 16-year-old Andy Lara already flashes one of the higher ceilings in the system after signing $1.25 million last July, and club officials still have high hopes Yasel Antuna, who received a franchise-record $3.9 million bonus in July 2016, but lost most of ’19 to Tommy John surgery.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
The Nationals’ past three Drafts have been extremely pitcher-heavy, with the club aggressively stockpiling arms during the first 10 rounds after selecting a high-upside hurler in the first round. As a result, there are 18 pitchers currently on the Nats' Top 30 list, including nine ranked within the top 15 spots. But the organization’s emphasis on drafting and developing homegrown arms has also left it thin on positional talent, and there aren’t any potential impact bats in the system outside of Kieboom and possibly Garcia. How the Nationals address their likely free agency-related vacancies will impact their farm system, too -- especially if they opt to trade from their prospect depth.