Washington Nationals

Despite the Nationals revamping their minor league system with their deadline day trades, it’s still a bottom quartile system.  That includes Cade Cavalli blowing up and looking like he can pitch at the top of the rotation.  There’s also Keibert Ruiz, who we like a lot.  He has the chance to be a Top 10 catcher in the league if not more.  Plus, given the high-profile trade, he’ll be given a long leash.  We also love Brady House, their first-round pick last June.  We doubt he stays at short but could be a full-time regular at third or the outfield with plenty of power.  After that, things get dicey.  Andry Lara has a great arm but has a long way to go.  Yasel Antuna looked better last season and could be a full-time regular.  Then things get even more suspect.  But, the system is better and will only get better as they continue their rebuild and eventually trade (he who must not be named).  Well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Cade Cavalli
  • Biggest Mover: Yasel Antuna
  • Emerging Prospect: Cristian Vaquero

1. Cade Cavalli (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Produced an impressive 2021 campaign where he flashed four-plus pitches but with inconsistent control at times

Cade Cavalli pitched in three levels in 2021 and while he didn’t always throw strikes, flashed premium stuff that should allow him to pitch at the top of the rotation.  His arsenal consists of a double-plus curveball and slider, a change-up that is improving, a fastball while not double-plus has enough velo and movement to set up his secondary pitches.  His lack of control is interesting as he’s very athletic and can repeat his delivery.  Most of his control problems occurred later in the season and fatigue could have played a role.  I think he works through that and with his arsenal, the ceiling is a strong number two starter if not more.

2. Keibert Ruiz (C)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Makes great contact with plus bat speed.  He’s an aggressive hitter and has historically, rarely walked

The Tuner-Scherzer trade at the deadline was criticized widely by many.  Did the Nationals get enough in return?  Well…that will take five years or so to answer, but Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz are talented players and have already shown the larger baseball fan base what they can do. After the trade, Ruiz spent some time in Triple-A before getting his chance in Washington in September where he played well. In 23 games, he hit .284 with only 4 strikeouts.  Now, he’s always been an aggressive hitter, so he’ll never walk much, but he makes great contact with plus power.  A reasonable stat line, once he gets established, would be .270/.330/.450 with 20 plus home runs.  In a batting average fantasy league, that’s a Top 10 catcher, slightly less in an OBP league.

3. Brady House (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Rookie ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B or Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Middle of the order hitter with plus raw power.  A move to third or the outfield is likely

The Nationals selected Brady House with the 11th pick last June.  His carrying tool is his 70 raw power born out of excellent bat speed.  At 6-foot-4, the swing can get long and with that, strikeouts will likely follow.  Plus, he was drafted as a shortstop, but given his size, I think a move to third or the outfield will also result.  He only played in five games at the Complex League, but he looked great.  I expect him to start the 2022 season in Low-A.

4. Andry Lara (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Raw and talented.  The control and command are still not consistent but there is size and a potential big arsenal

Andry Lara was our biggest mover last season and was that again this year.  Quite frankly, he didn’t do a whole lot statistically, but the upside is still high and well, the Nationals system is still not great.  He pitched across the Complex League and Low-A and showed good command of his 93 to 95 MPH fastball as well as a wipeout slider.  He still needs to develop a better feel for his change-up, but all the elements are there to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation.  But, he’s still very raw and only turns 19 in January.  Fantasy managers and National fans alike, need to show patience.

5. Yasel Antuna (SS)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 SS
  • Tools Summary: Knocking the rust off after TJ Surgery.  He has plenty of bat speed to hit for power at the highest level with a few stolen bases mixed in

Yasel Antuna was a sexy pickup in Dynasty Leagues a couple of years ago but injuries, including Tommy John surgery, have hurt his stock.  While the stat line didn’t look great this year – .220 with a.307 OBP in 70 games in High-A, he got better as the season progressed.  There’s plenty of bat speed and the swing works.  I don’t see a star, but he’s a kid to watch now that he looks healthy.

6. Jackson Rutledge (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: He’s a huge human with a big-time fastball and slider.  Spent time on the IL with shoulder stiffness and could have been a factor in his poor statistical year

Rutledge missed time last season with shoulder stiffness and once he was back, he never really got going.  Overall he pitched to a 7.68 ERA striking out over 10 per nine but also walking 5 per nine.  The obvious question: was he ever healthy?  Regardless, at 6-foot-8 and 250 plus pounds, he’s a huge man with trouble getting all of his long levers in synch.  He’s got a double-plus fastball-slider combination but has not yet shown a feel for a change-up.  While the Nationals continue to start him, you can argue that a relief role might work better as he could add a mile or two on his fastball.

7. Jeremy De La Rosa (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Athletic and toolsy but currently chases too many balls outside the strike zone

A lot of lofty expectations have been said about Jeremy De La Rosa.  He’s athletic, plus speed, plus bat speed, a good outfielder, with a feel for hitting.  What nobody told you is he chases a lot of pitches out of the strike zone.  At least he did when I saw him and his 2021 stat line supports that.  In 87 games in Low-A, he struck out 34% of the time.  While he’s still only 19, he’ll likely need to repeat the level next season and I will remind everyone that players who have a 30% strikeout rate in Low-A, have a much-reduced chance of being a successful Major Leaguer.

8. Armando Cruz (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Excellent defender who showed a more advanced feel for hitting than originally believed.  He needs to get stronger

Armando Cruz was the Nationals significant international signee in January.  He was known for his defensive ability and didn’t disappoint in his time in the DSL.  What did surprise me was his feel for hitting.  He made great contact (14% strikeout rate) and was able to work some walks (8% walk rate).  He also showed his speed by stealing nine bases.  He also slugged .319.  At 17, he needs to get stronger and while he’s only 5-foot-10, I think he could put on some good bulk.  He’s still years away but there is something here to work with. 

9. Cole Henry (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has a solid arsenal and threw strikes last season.

Part of the Nationals’ brand is to not fear injuries at the draft table.  They did it again in 2020 when they selected Cole Henry in the second round.  Overall, he has a solid arsenal with a plus fastball and slider with a feel for a change-up.  In 10 starts last year, he struck out 70 and only walked 12.  Why only 10 Starts?  He was out for half the season with a sore elbow.  He also missed time in college with a sore elbow.  The delivery has some effort but so far, he’s been able to throw strikes.  There is a number four starter, maybe more here but know the parameters if you decide to take a share.

10. Gerardo Carrillo (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Solid stuff but delivery says he’s a bullpen arm long-term

Carrillo was one of the other pieces in the Turner-Scherzer deal.  He’s got a good arsenal with a plus sinker-slider combination.  However, the delivery has some violence and he’s never been able to throw consistent strikes.  I think the Nationals throw him in the bullpen to extract some value. 

11. Aldo Ramirez (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Solid stuff and throw strikes.  Doesn’t have a true plus pitch

The Nationals acquired Aldo Ramirez when they traded Kyle Schwarber at the deadline.  He’s a 6-foot-1 right-hander with a 92 to 95 MPH fastball who throws strikes.  He only pitched 38.2 innings in 2021 because of elbow tightness.  He only made two starts for the Nats in the Complex League and the last outing went 1.2 innings with 6 earned runs.  He didn’t pitch again.  While ominous, we will not speculate.  When healthy, he could at least be a bullpen arm but has the stuff and control to start.  I’ll throw a number four starter on him or reliever.

12. Daylen Lile (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Complex League ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF if he develops power
  • Tools Summary: Nice swing and will likely hit.  He has below-average power and while there’s a little speed now, that is not expected to remain

Lile was selected in the second round last June.  He’s light on tools but the Nationals like his bat and believe he will hit.  In his first exposure last season, he didn’t set the world on fire, hitting .219 in 19 games in the Complex League.   While he walked a lot, he also struck out too much.  I’ve watched several videos of the swing and understand what the Nationals see in him.  He’s balance and short to the ball.  The Nationals believe they can unlock some power but tweaking his swing.

13. Donovan Casey (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Extra Bat
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing speed-power skills but the approach is not there

If we are ranking the four players in the Turner-Scherzer trade, Donovan Casey would be the fourth.  He has a little speed, a little power, and even went 20-20 in High-A in 2019.  But, it’s a bad approach and he rarely walks and strikes out too much.  There are some intriguing fantasy skills, but for now, I don’t think he hits enough.  And, the Nationals don’t’ have a history of helping players improve their approach.

14. Rosimar Quintana (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Complex League ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: There is bat speed that should turn into future in-game power

Quintana spent most of the season on the IL and consequently only got 20 plate appearances.  Since that is not much to go on, we can only say…we hear good things.  There’s bat speed that the team believes will turn into future in-game power and he shows a feel to hit.  The Nationals spent $800K to sign him in 2019, so there is a considerable financial stake in him.  Let hope we see more of him in 2022.

15. Cristian Vaquero (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Int’l player expect to sign ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with speed and the potential for future power.  It will come down to his feel to hit which I’ve been told is better than most in the class

Vaquero is one of the more famous international players expected to sign in January. The Nationals reportedly have the inside track on the Cuban outfielder.  He’s toolsy with a feel to hit and likely will cost north of $4 million.  I know someone who’s seen him (not an evaluator), but I was told he’s tall and lanky but with speed and serious bat speed.  Again, those comments were from a knowledgeable baseball person, but not a scout.