It’s a new era in the Nationals farm system. It just took quality internal development, some promising Draft picks and international signings and one of the busiest Trade Deadlines in recent memory to bring upon that dawn.
A year ago, Washington sat at the bottom of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 rankings. Through all the changes, it’s certainly improved since then, although it’s not quite as strong a group as needed for a full rebuild.
On Opening Day 2020, the Nats boasted only one Top 100 prospect in 2020 first-rounder Cade Cavalli at No. 99. The right-hander has since jumped 60 spots after leading the Minors in strikeouts during his first full season. He’s now joined by another Top 50 prospect in 2021 first-rounder Brady House, a 6-foot-4 shortstop with the power potential to match his size. Cristhian Vaquero -- the club’s $4.925 million international signing this winter -- could easily join that trio someday as a five-tool outfielder.
But the biggest things Washington fans might need to get used to in 2022 are all the new faces. The club picked up five of its Top 30 prospects in trades at last year’s Deadline -- No. 7 Gerardo Carrillo, No. 11 Aldo Ramirez, No. 19 Donovan Casey, No. 20 Drew Millas and No. 28 Jordy Barley. That doesn’t count Josiah Gray or Keibert Ruiz, two of the key players picked up from the Dodgers in the Max Scherzer-Trea Turner blockbuster, because both graduated from prospect status late in 2021.
Whether the Nationals will be able to retool with their current batch of internal candidates or if they’ll need to dig deeper for a full rebuild is yet to be seen. Cavalli isn’t far from joining the Major League rotation and potentially giving the club its best homegrown starting pitcher since Stephen Strasburg. No. 3 prospect Cole Henry may not be far behind either, while No. 4 Jackson Rutledge has the elite stuff to help out as a starter or a reliever, depending on how his health and control hold up.
The bats remain farther away. House and Vaquero are the only position players ranked among Washington’s Top 10, and neither is expected to reach the capital before the middle of the decade. The organization has been vocal about its plans to increase technology and analytics in 2022, and how hitters take to that could decide just how successful this new emphasis on the farm is for Washington.
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2021 preseason list to the 2022 preseason list.
Jump: Mitchell Parker, LHP (2021: NR | 2022: 16)
The 2022 fifth-rounder has jumped firmly into the mix for the Nationals after a strong first full season. His 144 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings at Single-A and High-A ranked second in the organization, thanks to a low-90s carrying heater and a quality curveball out of his high-slot delivery. The 6-foot-4 southpaw could be a back-end starter or a solid two-pitch reliever. Either way, his Major League picture looks clearer one season into his career.
Fall: Tim Cate, LHP (2021: 8 | 2022: NR)
The UConn product might still possess the best curveball in the entire system. But that one pitch alone didn’t do him a ton of favors at Double-A in 2021. Cate finished with a 5.31 ERA in 96 2/3 innings for Harrisburg, fifth-worst among Double-A qualifiers. He didn’t miss many bats with an 18.6 percent K rate, and his signature control backed up some with an 8.5 percent walk rate. Without even average velo, he isn’t a bullpen candidate either, unless major changes come in his age-24 season.
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 -- Daylen Lile (Vaquero, Branden Boissiere)
Power: 60 -- Brady House (Cristhian Vaquero, TJ White)
Run: 70 -- Lucius Fox
Arm: 60 -- Jackson Cluff (Brady House, Armando Cruz, Donovan Casey, Israel Pineda, Jordy Barley)
Defense: 60 -- Armando Cruz (Drew Millas)
Fastball: 70 -- Cade Cavalli
Curveball: 60 -- Evan Lee (Cade Cavalli)
Slider: 60 -- Jackson Rutledge (Cade Cavalli, Gerardo Carrillo)
Changeup: 55 -- Cade Cavalli (Cole Henry)
Control: 55 -- Cole Henry (Aldo Ramirez)
How they were built
Draft: 13 | International: 11 | Trade: 5 | Waivers: 1
Breakdown by ETA
2022: 8 | 2023: 6 | 2024: 10 | 2025: 5| 2027: 1
Breakdown by position
C: 2 | 1B: 1 | 2B: 0 | 3B: 0 | SS: 7 | OF: 8 | RHP: 8 | LHP: 4