Image credit: Victor Robles (Photo by Ed Wolfstein)
SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 10 Prospects
The Nationals spent all but three days in first place in the National League East last season, but they found the road much more difficult to travel in 2018.
Washington finished the first half at 48-48 and looking up at the upstart Phillies and Braves in the standings. Philadelphia and Atlanta entered the season with top-10 ranked farm systems, and both teams were reaping the benefits from their concentrations of young talent.
Led by perennial Cy Young Award challenger Max Scherzer, the Nationals had one of the best pitching staffs in the NL, but the club’s offense had performed worse than the league average. The Washington lineup felt the effects of ho-hum seasons by right fielder Bryce Harper and shortstop Trea Turner and prolonged absences by second baseman Daniel Murphy and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
The emergence of 19-year-old left fielder Juan Soto as one of the bright young hitters in the game was an encouraging development that could pay dividends in the second half. Soto began the season at low Class A Hagerstown before rocketing to the majors on May 20. He didn’t miss a beat. Soto hit .301/.411/.517 with nine home runs, all while showing a discerning batting eye, through his first 51 games.
The Nationals struck early to improve their bullpen, trading for the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera on June 18 to fortify a veteran relief corps that includes closer Sean Doolittle and former closers Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. Washington surrendered Double-A third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, high Class A outfielder Blake Perkins and Dominican Summer League righthander Yohanse Morel in the deal, deftly improving the big league team without sacrificing current value or blue-chip prospects.
As the trade deadline nears, the Nationals are obvious buyers, and they have shown no aversion to trading prospects to supplement the major league club in the past.
The Nationals could improve the most by upgrading at catcher, where neither Matt Wieters nor Pedro Severino has hit, or possibly finding a better everyday option at first base to supplant Matt Adams and Zimmerman.
1. Victor Robles, OF
Triple-A Syracuse (DL)
Robles has played in just four games this season after suffering a hyperextended left elbow while attempting to make a diving catch on April 9. He returned on a rehab assignment just before the all-star break. Had he remained healthy, Robles’ five-tool ability would have most likely earned him the big league shot that went to Juan Soto instead.
2. Carter Kieboom, SS
Kieboom earned a promotion to Double-A on June 21 after hitting .298/.396/.494 with 11 home runs in 61 games with high Class A Potomac. After a slow start, he made an adjustment with his plate discipline within the strike zone and has been rolling ever since. He probably will never be an above-average defensive shortstop, but he’s more comfortable at the position this year and scouts say he can stick there.
3. Luis Garcia, SS/3B
High Class A Potomac
Garcia began his first full pro season as a 17-year-old playing in 40-degree weather for the first time in his life. After struggling in April, he heated up with the weather and slashed .341/.371/.483 from May 1 to July 3 to earn a promotion to the Carolina League. Garcia has split his time between shortstop to familiarize himself with second and third base, but the team still sees him as a capable shortstop down the line.
4. Mason Denaburg, RHP
Rookie-level Gulf Coast League
Ranked the No. 22 player in the 2018 draft class, Denaburg bounced back from a biceps injury as a high school senior to go No. 27 overall to the Nationals. He throws a plus fastball that has touched 97 mph as well as an improved curveball that should be a second plus pitch. There’s still significant projection with Denaburg, but he has the athleticism and arm strength to take big steps forward.
5. Wil Crowe, RHP
High Class A Potomac
Crowe supplies a high floor as a college arm with impressive command of a solid four-pitch mix. Scouts outside the Nationals organization rave about Crowe’s ability to sequence pitches with above-average command that could wind up being plus. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is his best offering, with late sink and boring action, but he has good feel for a changeup, curveball and slider that are all project as at least average pitches.
6. Seth Romero, LHP
Low Class A Hagerstown
A first-rounder out of college in 2017, Romero is still in Hagerstown because he violated team rules during spring training and was sent home. That resulted in a late start to the season. Therefore, Romero was still getting stretched out while most pitchers are entering midseason form. Despite continued red flags because of his makeup, he has three potential plus pitches and a high ceiling if everything eventually comes together.
7. Daniel Johnson, OF
The toolsy outfielder started heating up at the plate after the first month of the season, but was placed on the disabled list on June 6 after having hamate surgery. The Nationals are most excited with his progress defensively, where he has improved his throwing accuracy, as well as his jumps and routes, giving him the ability to handle all three outfield positions, though he still fits best in right thanks to plus-plus arm strength.
8. Jefry Rodriguez, RHP
After a successful season at high Class A Potomac last year, Rodriguez has had mixed results in 2018, but he improved enough to receive a big league callup. He has worked as both a starter and reliever. Rodriguez has improved the command of both his fastball and curveball, allowing him to be more consistent from outing to outing, but he’ll get more Triple-A time to continue the improvement he has made in repeating his delivery and syncing up his lower and upper halves.
9. Yasel Antuna, SS
Low Class A Hagerstown
Antuna has struggled offensively in his first full season this year in the South Atlantic League. He’s playing shortstop nearly every day after splitting time at the position last season, with the club hoping to improve his foundation defensively and give him a shot to stick there in the future. He’s more comfortable there and his footwork has improved, but he’s had issues with throwing accuracy.
10. Raudy Read, C
After testing positive for the steroid Boldenone in the offseason, Read faced an 80-game suspension that has limited him to just 25 games this season. He was demoted to Double-A after 19 games in the International League, but scouts inside and outside of the Nationals organization still believe he could be an everyday catcher down the line, with above-average power, a plus arm and improved defensive ability behind the plate.
OF Telmito Agustin has taken big strides offensively this season, leveraging the ball with more authority thanks to improved body strength, though he did miss about a month with a dislocated pinky and recently had a more minor cramping issue in his leg that kept him off the field. He returned to action at short-season Auburn after thriving at high Class A Potomac.
High Class A Potomac C Tres Barrera is starting to make a name for himself among scouts thanks to his athleticism, quick hands and actions behind the plate. He had thrown out nearly half of basestealers this season.
RHP James Bourque dominated the Carolina League to earn a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg at age 25. The reliever is having a career year with an exciting fastball/curveball combination. He touches 98 mph and has a powerful 86-88 mph breaking ball with downer action that led to a dramatically increased strikeout rate.
Double-A Harrisburg SS Osvaldo Abreu posted a .636 OPS last year in the Eastern League and fared even worse this year.
Triple-A Syracuse 1B/OF Jose Marmolejos’ value is tied entirely to his ability to hit. After a slow start in his first run through Triple-A, he began showing signs of life in mid-June. He hit .299/.317/.462 in one 30-game stretch ending July 18.
OF Andrew Stevenson struggled to hit Triple-A and major league pitchers last year, and that trend continued this year.
OF Victor Robles has missed most of the season with a hyperextended left elbow.
OF Daniel Johnson has not played since June 6 after having hamate surgery.
OF Telmito Agustin missed half of May and June with a dislocated pinky and has also dealt with leg cramps.
3B Anderson Franco hasn’t played since June 1 with a quadriceps strain.
RHP Gabe Klobosits will miss the rest of the season after having Tommy John surgery.
RHP Luis Reyes last pitched on June 15 and is dealing with an oblique strain.
RHP Erick Fedde spent the first month of the season in Triple-A Syracuse before getting a spot start with Washington on May 23. After a brief return to the International League, Fedde rejoined the Nationals pitching staff and posted a 6.04 ERA through five games but exited his most recent start with a shoulder injury.
C Pedro Severino has gotten cups of coffee with the major league team dating back to 2015, but finally surpassed 130 at-bats this year. The 24-year-old catcher has played in 59 games while hitting .172/.260/.241 and throwing out 30 percent of basestealers.