2021 Washington Nationals Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
The Nationals’ farm system has provided little help to a big league club fighting to stay in the NL East race, but at least the organization’s top prospect earned a promotion and wowed at the Futures Game.
RIghthander Cade Cavalli, the No. 22 pick in the 2020 draft out of Oklahoma, dominated High-A East with a 3-1, 1.77 mark and 71 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. He’s running into more of a challenge at Double-A Harrisburg, where he started 0-3, 5.32 with 35 strikeouts but 19 walks in 23.2 innings.
Lefthanders Evan Lee and Mitchell Parker have taken the largest steps forward. Luis Garcia just barely eclipsed prospect eligibility, but he’s fared well against Triple-A pitching, hitting .304/.367/.593 with 12 homers through 135 at-bats. And it’s easy to get 2020 National League batting, on-base and slugging champion Juan Soto is still just 22 years old.
All four full-season affiliates are below .500, and the organization could use more prospect depth, although it feels it added key pieces in this year’s draft, headlined by No. 11 overall pick Brady House. General Manager MIke Rizzo has historically bought more than he sells at the deadline, but with the Nationals a semi-distant fourth in the NL East standings and well below .500, this may be one year where the team opts to sell and help bolster a very thin farm system.
TOP 10 PROSPECTS
1. Keibert Ruiz, C
Age: 22. Team: Triple-A Rochester
The top prospect acquired in the trade for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, Ruiz immediately becomes the Nationals catcher of the future. He is a plus hitter with elite-strike zone discipline and has grown into average power this season. He improved his swing path and pitch selection, got stronger and needed just 43 games between Triple-A and the majors to set a new career high in home runs. Ruiz has improved his game-calling defensively and gets strong reviews for the rapport he has built with his pitchers. His receiving has been solid but he still struggles to control the run game.
2. Cade Cavalli, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Harrisburg
The organization has seen Cavalli improve across the board, showing an electric triple-digits fastball along with a changeup and a slider that he can throw to both lefties and righties. He’s still learning how to navigate more veteran lineups and sequence his pitches properly.
3. Josiah Gray, RHP
Age: 23. Team: Majors
The second top prospect acquired in the trade for Scherzer and Turner, Gray missed nearly two months with a right shoulder impingement but returned in early July. His stuff remains intact with a 93-97 mph fastball and an above-average slider that draws swings and misses, and he was called up for his big league debut on July 20. Gray was immediately placed in the Nationals rotation and has the stuff and poise to stay there. He has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter with further development to his fringy changeup.
4. Brady House, SS
Age: 18. Team: TBA
Whether the 6-foot-4, 215-pound House stays at shortstop or not, the Nationals were thrilled to add his power bat to their system when they took him No. 11 in the 2021 draft. He had started the spring as a strong candidate to be the first pick in the draft. House, who just turned 18 in June, also has a strong arm, and in VP of scouting operations Kris Kline’s judgement, graceful actions in the infield. “He catches everything,” Kline said. “It’s smooth, it’s fluid.”
5. Andry Lara, RHP
Age: 18. Team: Rookie-level FCL Nationals
After being stuck in a hotel in Florida through much of last summer because of the pandemic, Lara has started well in the Florida Complex League. The 6-foot-5 Venezuelan had 16 strikeouts through 12.2 innings and was throwing a 97-98 mph fastball with an evolving breaking ball and a changeup. He has a smooth delivery, and the Nationals believe he can blossom into a frontline starter.
6. Jackson Rutledge, RHP
Age: 22. Team: High-A Wilmington
The 6-foot-8 Rutledge is working his way back after shoulder tightness affected the start of his season at High-A Wilmington, where he went 0-3, 12.66 in 10.2 innings. With his elite fastball, he could be a key piece as a reliever or as a starter as he develops.
7. Gerardo Carrillo, RHP
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Harrisburg
One of four prospects acquired for Scherzer and Turner, Carrillo is a short righthander with a big arm. His fastball sits 94-97 mph as a starter and touches 99 with a huge amount of sink and run. His short, hard slider is another swing-and-miss pitch and his changeup flashes average. Carrillo has trouble harnessing his power and has an alarming tendency to hit batters in addition to issuing too many walks. He throws enough strikes in short stints to be an effective reliever in the majors.
8. Armando Cruz, SS
Age: 17. Team: Rookie-level DSL Nationals
Cruz, who signed for $3.9 million just before his 17th birthday, has top-of-the-line defensive skills. He’s working on his hitting approach in the Dominican Summer League.
9. Cole Henry, RHP
Age: 22. Team: High-A Wilmington
Henry performed well before being sidelined at the end of May with elbow soreness. He was 1-3, 3.00 with 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 24 innings. His power stuff worked particularly well in a 10-strikeout game against Jersey Shore.
10. Mason Thompson, RHP
Age: 23. Team: Majors
Thompson spent the beginning of his pro career as a starter, but frequent injuries and a lack of control led the Padres to put him in the bullpen at instructional league last year. He flourished in the role and made his major league debut this season before being sent to the Nationals in the trade for Daniel Hudson. Thompson’s 94-98 mph fastball and power slider in the upper 80s play exceptionally well against righthanded batters and give him a chance to pitch in late relief. He is ready for the majors now and will help the Nats’ bullpen.
11. Yasel Antuna, SS
12. Jeremy De La Rosa, OF
NEW After joining the FredNats in the second week of the season, De La Rosa quickly stood out for his sparkling defense and lefthanded power stroke. He’s hitting below .200 and still has a lot of growth to make at the plate, but there’s no question about his tools.
13. Matt Cronin, LHP
14. Donovan Casey, OF
NEW The fourth prospect acquired in the trade for Scherzer and Turner, Casey is an older prospect but does a little bit of everything with a well-rounded tool set. He has solid bat speed and above-average power, he’s a good athlete with enough speed to be an effective basestealer, and he’s a solid right fielder with a cannon for an arm. Casey swings and misses too much and has holes in his swing he needs to close, but his power, athleticism and defense give him a chance to rise as a reserve outfielder.
15. Tim Cate, LHP
16. Aldo Ramirez, RHP
NEW Acquired from the Red Sox for Kyle Schwarber, Ramirez continues to get stronger and throw harder as he matures and was in the midst of a strong year at Low-A Salem before the trade. His fastball velocity still has a wide band from 90-98 mph, but he shows the potential for a plus fastball and a plus curveball in the future. He also has a firm changeup that shows average potential and has good fastball control for his age. Ramirez is a long way away and requires a lot of projection, but he has a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter if everything clicks.
17. Daylen Lile, OF
NEW The Nationals' system was light on polished bats and they believe they found one in Lile, their second-round pick this year out of Louisville’s Trinity High School. Most of Lile’s value is tied to his bat, a simple, direct lefthanded stroke with minimal excess movement. He combines it with a mature approach and solid understanding of the strike zone. Lile is an average runner with a fringy arm and is likely ticketed to left field. That high school profile that can scare teams, but the Nationals are clearly convicted in his bat.
18. Riley Adams, C
NEW Acquired for Brad Hand at the trade deadline, Adams has plus-plus raw power and a plus arm behind the plate. He should hit enough to get to his power and is a good enough receiver to project to be the Nationals’ long-term backup catcher behind Keibert Ruiz.
19. Sammy Infante, SS
20. Jackson Cluff, SS
21. Drew Mendoza, 1B
22. Israel Pineda, C
23. Tres Barrera, C
24. Evan Lee, LHP
NEW Scouts were split on Lee as a hitter or as a pitcher when he was a draft-eligible sophomore out of Arkansas in 2018. Washington opted to develop Lee on the mound and he’s rewarding their decision. Lee is now touching the mid-90s with his fastball and uses his curveball as a putaway pitch.
25. Mitchell Parker, LHP
NEW The 6-foot-4 Parker was taken in the last round of the shortened 2020 five-round draft, but he has been one of the organization’s top performers. He led the Low-A East in strikeouts (85 in 57.1 innings) before his promotion to High-A Wilmington. Parker has shown plus ride with his fastball, which he pairs well with his curveball.
26. Mason Denaburg, RHP
27. Seth Romero, LHP
28. Drew Millas, C
NEW One of three players acquired from the A’s for Josh Harrison and Yan Gomes, Millas intrigues with his athleticism behind the plate and ability to switch-hit. He has a chance to be an above-average defender with a tick above-average arm and may be athletic enough to bounce out to second or third base if needed. His bat is light, but he gets on base enough to project as a potential backup.
29. Holden Powell, RHP
30. Branden Boissiere, 1B/OF
NEW A third-round pick this year out of Arizona, Boissiere signed for $600,000. That was below the slot value of $744,200, but the Nationals believe they added another proven hitter. He hit .300 or better in each of his three seasons for the Wildcats and has plus defensive skills at first base.
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LHP Evan Lee has taken quickly to some of the finer points of pitching after serving as a two-way player in college. He has a high-spin fastball and a 12-to-6 curveball.
LHPMitchell Parker was only a few picks in the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft away from going to Kentucky for his junior season, but the San Jacinto (Texas) JC product has taken well to his professional baseball education.
LHPBen Braymer cleared waivers and has struggled at Triple-A Rochester. He made his big league debut with Washington in 2020.
Added to the 40-man roster last offseason, RHP Steven Fuentes was bothered by a shoulder strain early in the minor league season. The Nationals placed him on the major league 60-day injured list on July 2.
A third-round pick in 2019, 1B Drew Mendoza wasn’t ready for the jump to Double-A, hitting .160/.274/.330 in 106 at-bats. He has fared better at High-A Wilmington with a .291/.382/.360 line through 86 at-bats.
Catcher Tres Barrera has seen some big league time after a rash of injuries behind the plate.
Injuries have interrupted the development of several high-profile arms in Washington’s system, including RHPs Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry, but no one has faced more setbacks than RHP Mason Denaburg. The 2018 first-rounder has pitched just 20.1 professional innings and needed Tommy John surgery in March.