Nats' prospects poised to make splash in '22

October 19th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals bolstered their Minor League system this season with an active Draft and a massive acquisition of prospects at the Trade Deadline. The flurry of moves added depth around their top pitching prospects: right-handers Cade Cavalli (No. 1 per MLB Pipeline), Jackson Rutledge (No. 3), Andry Lara (No. 4) and Cole Henry (No. 7).

This season, players rose in the Minor League ranks, inching closer to their Major League aspirations. Batterymates Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray are among those who graduated from prospect status. The Nats also got early looks at their future talents with 2021 Draft picks Brady House (No. 2) and Daylen Lile (No. 9), among others, in Rookie-level ball.

Here's a look at some players who made their marks this year and could be poised for a big 2022 season outside of those top prospects, plus one key question that remains to be answered.

3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year

Noll is no stranger to the Nationals. The 27-year-old made his Major League debut with the team in 2019, and he has appeared in 15 games for the Nats since then. Noll spent this entire season with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, for whom he thrived over 118 games. He was named the Nationals' 2021 Minor League Player of the Year, was a Triple-A East All-Star and the Red Wings' Most Valuable Player. He slashed .300/.346/.494 with a Triple-A East-leading 131 hits. This season, Noll made appearances at second base, shortstop, third base and all three outfield positions. He made a strong case to be an option to fill a utility or backup role with an offensive pop next season for the Nationals.

The Nationals’ No. 22 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Adon began the season at High-A Wilmington and finished the year by making his Major League debut on Oct. 3, starting the Nats' season finale. Adon fanned nine against the Red Sox, behind only Stephen Strasburg and tying Reynaldo Lopez for most strikeouts in a big league debut in Nationals history (2005-present). Prior to being called up, Adon went 7-6 with a 4.97 ERA in 21 starts (105 innings) across three Minor League levels. Adon, 23, gave the Nationals a glimpse into his Major League potential to consider when building their 2022 pitching staff.

The Nationals' megatrade with the Dodgers was headlined by the acquisitions of then-prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray, but it didn’t take long for Casey to make his mark. Casey finished the season ranked as the Nationals’ No. 18 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and he also was named as the organization’s 2021 Minor League Defensive Player of the Year. The 25-year-old played every outfield position without committing an error across his 50 games since joining the Nats’ organization. At the plate, Casey hit .269 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 123 contests between his time in Washington and Los Angeles' systems. The Nats have right field solidified with Juan Soto, but there are opportunities to be had at the remaining outfield spots (and backups).

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022

Cluff is looking for a bounceback season after he was limited to 45 games because of injuries in 2021. The Nationals’ No. 19 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Cluff hit a combined .214 with six doubles and 10 RBIs across three levels of Minor League ball. He will benefit from getting reps this offseason while playing in the Arizona Fall League.

The 21-year-old catcher ended the season with momentum by collecting at least one hit in nine of his final 11 games. Pineda, ranked as the Nationals’ No. 27 prospect per MLB Pipeline, slashed .364/.382/.606 with a .988 OPS and two home runs in the month of September. He will participate in the Arizona Fall League on the Surprise Saguaros taxi squad.

1 big question for next season

When will Cavalli make his debut?

Cavalli, 23, is ranked as baseball’s No. 39 prospect by MLB Pipeline. In his first full Minor League season since being drafted with the 22nd overall pick in 2020, the electric righty rose from High-A to Triple-A. He led all Minor League pitchers with 175 strikeouts, including six starts with 10-plus strikeouts, over 123 1/3 innings. With a 7-9 record and 3.36 ERA, Cavalli was named the Nationals 2021 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and earned a spot on the Futures Team during All-Star Weekend.

The Nats emphasized throughout the year they would not rush Cavalli to the Majors for the sake of it, especially because he had not yet completed a complete season in the Minors. But he factors into Washington’s future pitching plans, and that time is likely to come in 2022. The question is, will Cavalli earn a spot in the rotation right out of Spring Training or will he spend more time in Triple-A before being called up?

“We're going to go with the best 26,” general manager Mike Rizzo said at the end of the season when asked about Cavalli. “And if he's one of the best five starters that we have and the plan is in place for him to start, we'd certainly consider him."