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Washington Nationals

This was the first year in a while that I enjoyed writing about the Nationals system.  While we won’t know for years whether the Nationals got enough for Juan Soto, they got four great young players (plus Luke Voit) in return.  While CJ Abrams and MacKenzie Gore are no longer eligible for the list, Robert Hassell, James Wood, and Jarlin Susana fill out three of the five top prospects.  Sure, the system was already down, so naturally, these players would rank high, but they all have future impact potential.  There’s also a lot to like with 2022 first-round pick Elijah Green, and while Brady House had a challenging year, the power alone gives him a high floor.  While they still have a long way to go, the Nationals are beginning the rebuilding process to compete again for a divisional title one day.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Robert Hassell
  • Biggest Mover: Yasel Antuna
  • Emerging Prospect: Brenner Cox

1. Robert Hassell (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 Fantasy Player
  • Tools Summary: Built upon an impressive 2021 season and just kept on hitting in 2022

It will not surprise me if Robert Hassell wins a batting title.  The kid can really hit.  While he hit 11 home runs across High and Double-A last season, I don’t see a significant power breakout in the making.  Instead, I think 12 to 15 home runs annually is a good baseline.  Therefore, you can dream of a .300 average, .380 OBP, 15 home runs, and 25+ stolen bases with plenty of runs scored as he’ll likely bat in the 1,2, or 3-hole.  He’s already one of the best prospects in the game, with a chance to rise to the very top before seeing Washington sometime in 2023 or 24.

2. James Wood (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: He’s 6-foot-7 with tremendous raw power and current plus speed.  In 2022, he showed plate patience and excellent contact skills.

James Wood is a large human at 6-foot-7 and a listed 240 pounds.  He’s also tooled up with double-plus raw power and speed.  Given his size, his speed will likely drop over time.  His approach and contact skills have been the most encouraging development this season.  In 71 games in Low-A, he struck out 20.6% while walking 12.7% of the time.  Given his wingspan, that is indeed impressive.  Assuming the strikeout rate can continue, he has impact potential at the highest level with 30+ home run potential with some stolen bases early in his career. 

3. Elijah Green (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Uber-athletic with significant raw power and 70-grade speed.  The questions surround his ability to make enough contact to get to the power and speed.

There’s a lot to “dream on” with the National’s first-round draft pick last June in Elijah Green.  The son of former NFL football player Eric Green, Elijah is a big, strong kid with excellent bat speed and running speed.  He’s an outstanding outfielder and should be able to play all three positions.  The development plan for the Nationals is to reduce his swing and miss tendency.  Perhaps, they will tone his swing down and work on his pitch selection as it appears he tries to destroy every semi-close pitch to the strike zone.  But, athletes like Green do not grow on trees, and Dynasty League owners who like to roster high-risk reward players should not hesitate here.  The ceiling is an All-star performer in the mold of Luis Robert.  The downside is that he won’t hit enough to make a difference.

4. Cade Cavalli (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has a plus arsenal that, if he can throw strikes more consistently, should be able to be a mid-rotation starter or maybe a little more.

If the Nationals were not one of the worse teams in baseball, Cade Cavalli likely would have already made his Major League much earlier than a spot start in late August.  He has a plus arsenal highlighted by a fastball that sits 94 to 95 MPH and a slider and change-up that both flash plus.  He can fight with his delivery and lose the strike zone, but when he’s on, he should be able to get big league batters out.  The upside for me is a solid number three starter, perhaps a little more if his control becomes more consistent.  I expect Cavalli to get plenty of starts in Washington next season.

5. Jarlin Susana (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP or Closer
  • Tools Summary: He has the size and big fastball to pitch at the top of the rotation, or as a fallback, he could pitch at the back of the bullpen.

Jarlin Susana was included with CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell, and MacKenzie Gore in return from San Diego for Juan Soto.  While he was the least famous of the group, he wasn’t simply a throw-in.  He’s 6-foot-6 and can throw 100 MPH with a wipeout slider.  He’s working on a change-up, but it’s clearly his third pitch.  The control isn’t there yet, but he played the entire season at 18, and with his size, it will likely take him a while to get everything in-sync to throw consistent strikes.  The floor could be a late-inning bullpen arm, but the upside is significant if he can develop better control and a serviceable change-up.

6. Brady House (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: His 80-grade raw power did not translate in his first kick at the can of full-season baseball.  He was shut down in June with back issues.

When you’re drafted in the first round, the expectations are high.  So, when Brady House demonstrated a poor approach with little power in his first exposure to Low-A, there was concern.  After all, his carrying tool is 80-grade raw power, and when you slug .375 with a couple of home runs, it’s not a good start.  Granted, he started the season as an 18-year-old, but he swung at everything and beat most of his balls into the ground.  Also, he was shut down in June with back issues.  I don’t know if that had anything to do with his poor start.  My position is that I’m still putting his upside as a Top 15 3B with 30+ home run potential, but we do need to see a better approach, or I’ll have to revisit my analysis.

7. Yasel Antuna (OF)

Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF with upside

Tools Summary: He showed an improved approach at the plate with plus speed and enough power to be a full-time regular at the highest level.

The Nationals had Yasel Antuna repeat High-A, and once again, he played well.  He kept his strikeout rate the same as in 2021 but showed significantly more patience at the plate while also hitting nine home runs and stealing 26 bases.  He’s still an above-average runner, and with his growing power and improved approach at the plate, he’s again on the prospect radar.  While you can argue that he has impact potential, we need to see what he can do in the upper levels of the minor leagues.  He did play the last 26 games of the season in Double-A and struggled, only hitting .143.  However, let’s see what he can do after an entire season at the level.

8. Cristhian Vaquero (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: He’s athletic with premium bat speed with a feel to hit.

Cristhian Vaquero was among the top international players who signed last January, and the Nationals paid him a $5 million signing bonus to secure his services.  He’s athletic with premium bat speed and is a well above-average runner.  In his first exposure to professional ball in the DSL, he didn’t disappoint.  In 55 games, he walked nearly as much as he struck out while stealing 17 bases.  He didn’t show much power, but the bat speed is there, and as he gets stronger, the power should arrive.  He has a long way to go, but the upside is significant.

9. Jeremy De La Rosa (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 OF
  • Tools Summary: He’s toolsy with a feel to hit, but he needs time to develop.

After being overmatched in Low-A in 2021, the Nationals had Jeremy De La Rosa repeat the level, and things improved.  He reduced his strikeouts in a meaningful way and showed more power, increasing his SLG from .316 to .505.  Granted, his BABIP was .408, but there was still growth in all the core skills.  The effort got him a late-season promotion to High-A, where once again, he looked overwhelmed in 32 games.  From a scouting standpoint, there continues to be a lot to like.  He’s a double-plus runner with excellent bat speed and natural power and has always shown an ability to work a walk.  He needs time to develop, and based on his progression to date; it could take another year before we see the big breakout.

10. Andry Lara (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has the size and premium fastball to get excited about.  He needs to work on his delivery, which will take time.

I saw Andry Lara last season, and there’s a lot to get excited about.  I know the 5.51 ERA and nearly four-per-nine walk rate per nine doesn’t look great, but he has the size and stuff to one day pitch at the top of the rotation.  I had his fastball that evening up to 97 MPH with a slider that missed bats.  The change-up didn’t have a ton of fade, so it’s still a work-in-progress.  He doesn’t repeat his delivery well, leading to the walks.  If he can fix that, which I think he can, I could see a number three starter, maybe a number two starter down the road.  He pitched the entire season at 19, and given his lack of professional innings; you could see a level a year before he sees the Major Leagues.  In other words, fantasy managers need to have patience.

11. Armando Cruz (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 SS
  • Tools Summary: He’s a plus defender with enough speed and power to have the floor as a middle-infielder on a fantasy team with upside.

Armando Cruz was the Nationals’ big 2021 international signee, inking a $3.9 million signing bonus.  He’s been compared defensively to Jose Iglesias but with significantly more offensive upside.  His swing is simple and short to the ball, with enough bat speed and natural power to suggest at least average future power.  He’s also a solid-average runner and should maintain that as he moves through the minor leaguers.  The overall package doesn’t scream fantasy-friendly, but he’s still very young and could develop more power as he matures.  However, his defense gives him a high floor and at least a utility player profile at the highest level.

12. Cole Henry (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He had surgery to relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in June and missed the rest of the season.  The overall package gives him a ceiling of at least a mid-rotation starter, but until he comes back healthy, the future is uncertain.

Cole Henry has struggled with arm trouble since college, but he missed most of 2022 after having surgery to relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.  Given that the success rate of this type of surgery has been inconsistent, you have to be concerned.  When healthy, he’s got the kind of arsenal that can allow him to pitch at the top of the rotation, but until we see him back and pitching healthy, he’s a “hold” for me.

13. Jake Bennett (LHP)

  • Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has the size to remain a starter, but the stuff and delivery point to a back-of-the-rotation arm.

Jake Bennett was the Nationals’ second-round pick out of the University of Oklahoma last July.  He’s more command and control than stuff but has the size to be a Major League starter.  If he can find another tick or two on his fastball, the ceiling could go up, but he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter for now.  Since the Nationals have a history of developing a starter, I’ll put his ceiling as a number four starter.

14. Brenner Cox (OF)

  • Highest Level: Complex ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Athletic and toolsy, but he needs to work on pitch recognition skills.

The Nationals played well over slot to sign Brenner Cox in the fourth round last July.  He’s athletic with plus bat speed and is a plus runner.  He didn’t focus on baseball full-time in high school as he split his time between the diamond and the gridiron, so his pitch recognition skills still need work.  But the tools are fantasy-friendly, so he needs to be on the radar of fantasy managers.

15. Mitchell Parker (LHP)

  • Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Reliever
  • Tools Summary: He took a step backward as his control failed him.

When the Nationals took Mitchell Parker in the fifth round of the 2020 Draft, they knew he didn’t throw hard but thought he could develop into a Major Leaguer with his ability to throw strikes.  Unfortunately, the strike zone eluded him in 2022, where he walked 6.0 per nine.  His fastball has a high spin rate, so it plays up, and his splitter has developed into a plus offering.  If he can find the plate, he could develop into a back-of-the-rotation arm or, more likely, a bullpen arm.

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